Taking heed of the ‘African Roar’ of hope

Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore

“African Roar”, edited by Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor W. Hartmann, is an eclectic collection of short stories by African writers, united in their refusal to be silenced by sea-faring monsters, and be fettered by geographical or cultural boundaries.

They ramp on a roar to announce their grandiose arrival on the literary scene to tell their story of toil, subjugation, turmoil, hurt and hope.

Told in different individual voices, the stories interact and merge into one collective roar that transcends cultural and ethnic anxieties.

Though most of the writers, six of whom are Zimbabweans, write from outside their own homelands, the stories are set in their own countries, which lends them an authentic African savour.

Using a child heroine in “Big Pieces, Little Pieces” Novuyo Rosa Tshuma highlights the mordant nature of intolerance and stoicism.

The girl relives the heinous torture and violence perpetrated on her mother and sister by their incorrigible, intolerant and brutal father.

She is taught from a tender age to believe that in a patriarchal world, it is normal for women to be “disciplined” for their infirmities and foibles. Her taciturn mother is always reminded by her husband’s sister, Auntie Tshitshi, that she should learn not to make him angry, and that she should endure, because lobola was paid for her.

Sadly, the narrator’s mother stoically bears the beatings and the yelling from her husband, whose warped mind tells him that a good woman is one who is docile, and neither talks back nor imbibes.

Events get to a head when the narrator’s sister, whom she takes back memory lane through the story, accidentally breaks her father’s beer mug when cleaning it.

In blind rage, father pummels, kicks, yells and swears at the hapless child, ranting: “You stupid. Your faulty. Stupid like your mother. Stupid. You stupid?”

Feeling the pangs of motherhood, and sensing danger, the mother tries to intervene. He strikes her so hard that she “seemed to be flying, flying right across the room. Her head hit a corner of the coal stove and she fell face down, a sick crack, crack with each bounce.”

Eventually, she dies and her husband is arrested, leaving their three young children at the mercy of the predatory world.

In “Big Pieces, Little Pieces”, Tshuma takes a swipe at the sadistic nature of man, his impatient and chauvinistic inclinations, which impedes familial cohesion; and his obsession with trivial issues; and blindness to crucial ones.

Indeed, the little garments of our existence are ever stitched to the bigger cloth of our actions.

Kola Tubosun’s “Behind the Door” visits the thorny issue of HIV/AIDS.

The protagonist is caught up between his nerve to go for a test and the reality that he may have to face if the coin drops to his disfavour. The pain of waiting for the results seems to be more intense than the mere need to know his status and what the aftermath has in store for him.

The narrator’s pain is compounded by the female phlebotomist, who tells him that one in 10 people test positive for the virus every day. Much to his relief, he tests negative.

The motherly phlebotomist admonishes: “You young children of nowadays should at least consider your parents before you take your stupid risks. If you don’t consider your lives, you should at least consider theirs.”

About to leave, the narrator sees a young man of his age, who had come earlier than him, crying behind the door as fate frowns at him.

Masimba Musodza’s story “Yesterday’s Dog” explores two epochs on the Zimbabwean socio-political landscape through an intelligence officer, Stanley, and Nyamhanza, a former soldier in Ian Smith’s army in the liberation struggle.

It examines the possible outcomes of hunting as roles shift. The former soldier once tortured the brilliant and young Stanley over flimsy charges emanating from jealous neighbours.

The pain and suffering that he endured at the hands of Nyamhanza and his cahoots, inspired him to join the liberation struggle. After Independence in 1980, he became an intelligence operative. Unbeknown to him the former “dog” asks for a lift from the once upon a time prey.

Through an inevitable change of roles, the former soldier is pitted against his victim, who is determined to mete out instant justice.

However, Stanley’s better judgment wins over his momentary madness, and he reminds the man of his heinous deeds. He lets him go free, after spoiling him with beer. It dawns on Stanley that assuming the soldier’s role could easily create enmity, hence, he decides to defend what he believes in—peace.

In the short stories “Quarterback & Co.” and “A Return to the Moonlight”, Chuma Nwokolo Junior and Emmanuel Sigauke, respectively, poke at the allure of the Diaspora on treasure hunters who inhabit the African continent.

However, the succivorous West saps the hunters dry as it is bent on profiteering and protecting its capital.

The migrant hunter awakens to the reality that away from his fortress, he is just a fly that can be swatted by the back of the hand in the blink of an eye. Therefore, he should make hay while the sun shines.

Sigauke purveys societal expectation on those who leave for the foreign hunt and the rather puritanical nature of the hunters, who cling onto past toils to justify their long absence from home, instead of bettering their lot.

The first person narrator in “A return to Moonlight” chronicles her brother Ranga’s return from America after a 10-year hiatus, which exposed them; her mother and herself, to the village rumour mill.

Ranga, who has been sending money home through Fati for five years, has failed to build a proper house for his mother. She lives in squalor. The house he thought he was building stands like a ghost in the yard, roofless and door-less.

Realising the shame of having nowhere to sleep with his wife, Noma, he decides to drive to Zvishavane where he had booked a hotel room.

His wife saves the day by refusing to go with him, insisting that he should feel the pain of living in a roofless house when one has a son in the Diaspora.

Meanwhile, the reader also learns that Noma has facilitated her parents’ passage to the United States, so that they could live comfortably.

Ranga, whose mother picked it from the grapevine, has married without her blessings, and he tells them that he only paid US$5 000 as bride price, because her parents were “reasonable.”

The rationale of the selfish prodigal son is also echoed in “Tamale Blues” by Ayesha H. Attah. The story tackles the painful nature of love, especially when it seems to sprout from the least of places, where it is unlikely to withstand the vagaries of outside forces.

The quintessence of love and its permanence of memory on individual psyches have been engagingly tackled in Ivor W. Hartmann’s “Lost Love”. The destructive nature of superstition and religious fanaticism find home in Ayodele Morocco-Clarke’s “The Nestbury Tree”.

Beaven Tapureta’s “Cost of Courage” highlights the nature of hope in a society so burdened by anguish that the only acceptable reasoning is: the seed of hope does not only need a conducive environment to germinate, but will never see its petals above the soil.

But as hope seems to be in constant flight, and dreams fading “before they sprout”, so will the African writer keep on roaring.

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