Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
History is stubborn, for it is reflected in the present and the future. The need arises, therefore, to go beyond history as a silent past, but as a source of the agency and inspiration that move and speak in the present and the future.
If only the past hurts, wrongs and travails are evoked ad infinitum in the hope of extrapolating meaning in the present, the future then becomes a battleground where scars are used to heal fresh wounds.
In whatever negativity that visits a people, there is positivity, as history aptly records, recalls and preserves.
A people should be inspired by its heroes and heroines, who may be seen as villains by others, for in that lay the connectivity required for a haul forward.
After alienating Africans from their culture, as inspired by collective memory, by projecting it as a quintessence of evil (Fanon, 1967) and capturing their shrines, Europeans enforced their own Christian God on the indigenous people (calling it Christian civilisation), and installed themselves as the new gods.
Cecil John Rhodes and his fellow settlers were aware of the pivotal role that culture plays in the everyday lives of Africans, therefore, through Christianity, they robbed Africans of their spiritual connectedness to the land of their ancestors by destroying or capturing their shrines.
The African culture, for example, is clear on the significance of the female character in the African’s story. That the woman is culturally oppressed seems to be a colonial misnomer.
Colonialism robbed women of their expressive voice through song and dance by outlining what is moral or immoral.
African traditional dances, like Mbende (Jerusalem) which expresses fertility, regeneration and vitality, were considered sexually provocative and barbaric; expression of sexual dissatisfaction on the part of women was said to be unChristian.
Playing the drum and mbira, especially by women, was considered barbaric and unChristian.
Thus, the women’s vent of expression was closed and today’s couples find it difficult to talk about intimate issues, not only to their relatives, but within the confines of their own bedrooms.
History, especially Zimbabwean history, cannot be complete without reference to two women; Lozikeyi Dlodlo, Lobengula’s first wife, and Nehanda Nyakasikana, the heroines of the First Chimurenga, and epitomes of the liberation struggle that gave birth to independent Zimbabwe .
In the book “Death Throes” (1990), Charles Samupindi reincarnates Nehanda’s monumental personality using archival facts.
Aware that the interface between history and literature should remain active in ferrying societal mores and values from one generation to another, Samupindi fictionalises Nehanda’s trial for murder in a colonial court seeking to give legitimacy to the plunder, molestation and defacement of the African landscape.
As Hove (2002) maintains, the history of a nation loses meaning if its aspirations and hopes are relegated to history books. It is in a people’s fiction that history finds both spiritual and physical space as a lived experience.
It is in this vein that Samupindi revisits the history of the First Chimurenga through archival material to bring to the fore the nature of the resilience of a people chained, manacled, displaced, dispossessed and brutalised in the name of civilisation.
The telling point is the hypocritical face of justice that the empire projects in a quest to keep the rightful owners of the land, the subaltern, permanently chained. The novel can be read in juxtaposition with current trends of democracy that seek to keep the formerly colonised in perpetual bondage, disguising it as justice. But whose justice, when Big Brother’s involvement in the colonies and former colonies smacks of injustice?
In “Death Throes” Mbuya Nehanda is on trial for the murder of Native Commissioner Pollard, “a white man! . . .” arrogantly believed as not only a white man, but “a man of principle.
“A man who had vowed to eliminate with brutal swiftness anything that stood for Africa and replace it with white man justice, white man administration, white man order and civilisation”.
Along with her co-accused, Hwata, Zindoga and Gutsa, Nehanda is tried by C Bayley, a magistrate, and friend to the slain Pollard, before she appears at the High Court presided over by Judge John Philip Fairbairn Watermeyer.
Her crime, according to the settler administration, is scheming and orchestrating “a resistance against white man’s ‘civilisation’”, and she is, therefore, “subject to the scales of justice. White man’s justice”.
Nehanda, on trial for murder against the “Queen (of England, 10 000km away)”, embodies the nation’s resistance to colonial rule and its apparatus of plunder and oppression.
Reflecting on the rich endowments of her land “she wore brass, copper and gold bracelets around her wrists and long wrinkled neck. A gold chain also hung loosely around her neck”.
To the whites, she is a violent “barbaric, false, self-acclaimed Shona goddess who instigated these primitive apes to resist subjugation by setters and hence, civilisation”, but she finds it illogical to be tried by a colonial magistrate or judge in a colonial court for urging her people to fight for what belongs to them; their land, their humanity.
Without flinching, she tells Herbert Carstens, Acting Public Prosecutor, appearing for the Crown, “I told my people to stand their ground against these foreigners who were snatching away their land, cattle and their heritage — plundering and routing in the process.
“They have decimated us as they did the Ndebele. Now the land is the playground for vultures”.
To the coloniser, the African is a lesser human, described in beastly terms as is highlighted through reference to the House of Lords where a heated debate raged on whether blacks, “were beings or apes”, or whether they “were to be accorded human status or were they to be placed on the same level as chimpanzees and monkeys whose only value was to grace the museums along Downing Street?”
This warped thinking played out in the British House of Lords last year (2019) when Zimbabwe became the subject of debate with one Palmer Cross asking whether or not the British government was considering recolonising the country.
“My Lords, has the minister ever considered the idea of recolonising Zimbabwe? It is tragic to see what is going on,” he shamelessly drooled.
The empire may talk of rule of law, democracy, justice or violence, but its history is tainted with the blood of innocent Africans, whose only crime was, and still is reclamation of their ancestral land.
As Franz Fanon aptly points out in “The Wretched of the Earth” (1967), decolonisation is violent, because colonisation is a violent phenomenon.
Both in the historical and fictional experience, Mbuya Nehanda “the witch was to hang by the neck till she was dead”, but the people’s revered heroine tells her tormentors “I warn you oppressor that these bones will one day rise and wage a thunderous war to reclaim their heritage.”
Realising that spirituality is key to the struggle, as Nyaradzo Mtizira highlights in “The Chimurenga Protocol” (2008), “awe-inspiring individuals”, like Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, “whotowered over the battlefield and motivated the fighters of the Chimurenga to feats of heroism against the settlers and the British forces”, were captured and hanged.
Chigwedere (2014) complements the essence of spirituality to Africans and how settlers dealt with the issue when he notes: “The agents of colonialism were left in no doubt that the Resistance War called Chimurenga was called for by the Shona national spiritual authorities with Murenga at the apex.
“But they also observed that these ancestral spirits operating through human mediums, organised the whole war through the chiefs (Chigwedere, 2014:7).
“The settler authorities from then on declared war on “Shona traditional religion” and instructed that “whoever claimed to be a medium of a national spirit such as Chaminuka, Nehanda, Kaguvi or Mukwati, should be shot on sight,” Chigwedere (2014) wrote.
Indeed, Mbuya Nehanda, the paragon of virtue and epitome of Zimbabweans’ struggle to unshackle the fetters of colonialism and slavery did not die in vain, for her bones did rose to inspire her people to independence and freedom.
As the struggle for total liberation against the erstwhile coloniser, who comes in many disguises, takes another dimension, the story of Nehanda Nyakasikana (Charwe) should continue to be told from generation to generation, for she is one of the women worth our celebration as a nation.
It is befitting, therefore, that the heroine’s memory is immortalised in a monument, for the spirit of struggle against colonial subjugation to remain intact.