When Dambudzo Marechera met Aaron Chiundura Moyo . . .A brief history of Zimbabwe’s language wars: Part 1 The late Dambudzo Marechera

Onai Mushava revisits the cold encounters of two of Zimbabwe’s best known writers, Dambudzo Marechera and Aaron Chiundura Moyo, in conversation with their contemporaries and critics.

Dambudzo Marechera’s moods switched between extremes like an Eskimo in Hades.

Everyone around him was the shadow of a conspiracy to be resisted with unpredictable outbursts.

Sometimes his big ideas had to be personalised against an immediate target; sometimes he was the drunken master with his unconscious in the open.

Aaron Chiundura Moyo, the renaissance man with a neat afro, cross belts and a hunky smile, politely brushed disses aside and gave nothing away. Yet both men could not feel at home during the writers’ workshops of the early 1980s.

Newly home from exile, Marechera never stuttered about being Zimbabwe’s best writer. Except that his manuscripts were hardly making it past the editors.

Some of these editors were Mambo Press’ Chenjerai Hove, ZPH’s Charles Mungoshi and College Press’ Stanley Nyamfukudza.

They felt Marechera was not communicating with “the people”; he was certain that the “village writers” were spiking him to protect their own turf.

Workshop organiser Nyamfukudza came around to publishing Mindblast not long before the 1984 book fair, but Marechera remembered him as the State agent who had helped writer-politician Eddison Zvobgo to strong-arm him away from the 1983 book fair.

Aaron Chiundura Moyo

Moyo had more modest reasons for feeling left out.

The Ziva Kwawakabva writer had found his way from a hard childhood at Shoeshine Farm and yard jobs in the city to the centre of the arts scene along with his brothers, sungura pioneer Jonah Moyo and mbira-guitar pioneer Joshua Dube.

But, in the early 1980s, homecoming scholars and writers in English, sidelined during the Rhodesian Literature

Bureau era, had taken over the Harare scene.

Moyo felt some type of way among them for not having finished school and broke this lettered company’s English-only code with his Shona presentations.

“Take him out; he is not a writer! Munyori, not an author,” was the first time Marechera played an Honourable Madisa on Moyo.

Although Musaemura Zimunya remembers Marechera holding no permanent grudges and never repeating an insult, Chiundura was not so lucky.

After the workshop, the two writers would reunite to co-present a seminar at a school in Highfield, Harare.

“Uyu Aaron munyori; he is not a writer,” was the introduction Moyo got from the writing friend he had bought a cab ticket and chikari (traditional beer) for on the way.

Marechera made good on the distinction between writer and munyori by denying Moyo the stage till the day was almost over.

Students walked out on Moyo’s belated presentation as English-language writers also used to, back at the workshops.

College writer, village storyteller

The literary divide of the early 1980s provided for drama of this sort, Zimunya recalled, though he had no recollection of the workshop incident.

Most of those writing in English had been literature students in high school and university, therefore intimate with theory and confident in expressing themselves, he explained, while Shona writers relied on their own initiative and natural talent.

Moyo was such a self-taught writer, having failed to go beyond junior certificate.

“Particular immersion in English could spawn attitudes of pride, arrogance and superciliousness — or the impression of such, depending on the occasion or audience.

And Dambudzo, ever the well-rehearsed and articulate posier, was never one to miss the opportunity to impose himself on his audience,” Zimunya said, adding that those less familiar with Marechera’s wilding would forever find him insulting and repulsive.

Marechera was a man of ideas and a child of crisis.

Ideas in time of crisis are not merely expressed but embodied; politics is not just your conviction but your condition.

Marechera was negatively conditioned by the rootlessness, violence and repression of the colonial township.

If he sounded extreme in his views on fellow writers — this was the dude who once said Charles Mungoshi was not an artist and was disappointed with Wilson Katiyo and Zimunya for double-crossing their writing with day jobs — he probably saw in them faces to pin to his ideas.

In Moyo, he found an immediate target for his well-documented resentment for Shona novels.

“Somehow, they kept on inviting me though all my addresses were in Shona to the disappointment of many in attendance. Some walked away as soon as I stood to speak,” Moyo recalled.

“When asked to use the ‘correct language’, I would passionately stand my ground and say ‘No!’ Chenjerai Hove and Stephen Chifunyise did not like this bad habit of speaking in a local language but Musaemura Zimunya seemed to enjoy it in a way,” he said.

Writers’ platforms of the time were not made for writers like Moyo.

“Following the birth of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) and Zimbabwe Writers Association (ZIWU), whose chosen language of communication was English, indigenous languages writers were further marginalized from the perceived centre of literary culture and glamour,” Zimunya explained.

“The majority of ZIWU’s membership wrote in English, even though we had Giles Kuimba in the executive structure. Thus the literary divide was to widen even further. At the time neither ZIBF nor ZIWU made any deliberate effort to reach out to the indigenous languages writing community, a development which led to the formation of the Zimbabwe African Languages Writers Association by the aggrieved authors,” Zimunya added.

While some writers of “status” feigned hospitality, Dambudzo Marechera did not hide his dislike of me and disqualified me as an author twice,” Moyo recalled.

The first time Moyo attracted the munyori interjection, he had made a contribution in Shona.

Bad boy strikes again

There was no question about going toe-to-toe with Marechera, a bad boy and cult hero worshipped by fellow writers.

Moyo took comfort in that few people had heard the interjection and let it pass.

He would soon catch the Marechera show again at a book event officiated by President Canaan Banana at Kingston’s Bookshop. The literary community was already packed inside the venue when a not-so-sober Marechera showed up, making funny remarks that shifted the attention to him.

“His readers followed him to the bookshelves. I was busy looking at new publications on the Shona Section and pretended not to have noticed him. He went to the English Section with all eyes on him and would pick a book, take a look, put it back and so on. We did not know that he was, in fact, looking for his new book, Mindblast, but somehow couldn’t locate it,” said Moyo.

A restless Marechera addressed himself to the seated delegates at the top of his voice:

“My new book has been banned! Look they have banned my book!” He had already tasted this ordeal when his second novel, Black Sunlight, got banned for “obscenity and blasphemy” while he was still in UK. “I couldn’t ignore him because I wanted to read the new ‘banned’ book,” said Moyo.

A second undressing

Next time fate brought Moyo his way, Marechera would undress him in front of high school students.

This was the doing of their mutual former student, one Makahamadze who had frequented Moyo’s place for writing lessons as a Form 4 student before going on to study literature in Mr Marechera’s A Level class at Ranch House College.

By the 1984 book fair, Makahamadze himself had become a teacher at a Highfield school.

He invited Moyo to address students as they had one of his novels on the syllabus.

“He advised me that I was going to share the stage with Marechera and I liked it very much because I wanted to show Dambudzo that a munyori was equal to a writer in front of students.”

Makahamadze was to meet his two former teachers on corner Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere and travel with them to Machipisa.

He, however, excused himself to go ahead and take care of school business, leaving Moyo to wait for Marechera.

The Mindblast dude arrived, unusually dressed in a suit and coldly nodded to Moyo’s greetings.

“Where is the car to take me to the school?” Marechera asked.

Moyo said no car had been arranged. They had to catch a Peugeot 404.

“Who is going to pay?” Marechera asked.

“I will,” Moyo answered.

Moyo jumped into the back of a cab whose seats were already packed, mindful of commencing time.

“Comrade, munosara (you will be left behind)!” he shouted at Marechera.

Cde Dambudzo jumped in and they shared the boot of the 404 to Machipisa in silence.

Marechera was thirsty on arrival.

They quibbled over the time they were expected at the school and Moyo agreed with Marechera that they still had minutes to kill.

They entered a bar near Gwanzura Ground where teetotalist Moyo bought Marechera two jugs of chikari as he had no money for clearer beer.

Marechera downed his beer in silence while Moyo resented his friend’s coldness and lack of “Fadza Mutengi” (please-the-buyer) ethic.

The two celebrities had expected a rousing welcome but the school was bent to routine and their young host was nowhere in sight.

Makahamadze was, in fact, frantically negotiating with other teachers to release students for his seminar.

Marechera saved himself the awkward spectacle by disappearing into the classroom of a former classmate.

A teacher who liked Moyo’s novels called him into his own classroom and asked how such big writers had been fooled by a temporary teacher who was new at the school.

But it was not hard for the teachers to quickly gather a star-struck audience for the writers. Marechera went over to ask Moyo how much money he had been given. “Nothing,” the television guy said, and Marechera shouted that he wanted his money.

Meanwhile, Marechera’s teacher friend had managed to administer some order… TO BE CONTINUED / https://brittlepaper.com/

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