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The Republic: Memory and local knowledge are our weapons


It has been a month of funerals – of those well-known and of those who never warranted a mention in a newspaper.

Edgar “Two Boy” Tekere, Hilton Mambo and Evans Ndebele were the most prominent amongst those that have recently departed.

Among the uncelebrated was my dear Sekuru Thomas who lived in a place in Rusape that we have always called Pifeni and yet the missionaries would have preferred us to call it by the name they gave and we corrupted: Epiphany.

On the day he passed away my mother called and said: “I had been thinking of asking you to interview him and record the stories of his life as a young man in Mafikeng and Port Elizabeth.”

She did not realise it but my mother’s words took me back to 21 years ago when my grandmother passed away.

Now everyone seems to have a grandmother they love or loved and I am sure even birds have grandmothers.

We can all rave about how special she is or was so I am not going to hit you with some sentimental stuff hoping you reach for Kleenex and shed a tear with me.

What I want to say is that two decades later I have come to the terrible realisation on the magnitude of my loss. My grandmother was a devout Anglican who never seemed to be able to sit down and relax — she would either be in her field or the vegetable market or fetching firewood or cooking or doing a dozen other things.

She also knew so much about plants and their medicinal value. Living with my grandmother (I had decided at a very early age that I would live with her), I rarely set foot at Dr Chizarura’s surgery in Sakubva — it was a place for others.

She seemed able to fix every little ailment I got. But I was not the only beneficiary of her knowledge — the whole section of our township would bring their babies for treatment of their fontanelle (nhova) and much more.

Now with her gone I can’t even recall a single herb — not one — and yet I am the one that accompanied her to pluck same from the bushes of Dangamvura, Dora and Weirmouth.

So two decades later I have my brood of kids screaming in pain every other day — it could be fever, toothache, the flu, some sport injury, headache and I just rush to the doctor.

No wonder my local pharmacist loves me to bits — I am always there being given all sorts of concoctions that just serve to hurt my wallet.

But surely this could have been a different story.
Caught up in that oversimplified century-old conflict of tradition versus modernity, I chose to be “modern”.

What could a semi-literate woman teach besides the value of her unconditional love and core values? Was it not better to get a tablet than drink some strange-tasting stuff stored in a “family size” Coca-Cola bottle or worse, a 750ml Panol bottle?

Was I not on my way out of township life via the passport of education?

Like many of my generation, and those before, I sought to run away from what I was in order to assume something else that has transpired to be not exactly sustainable. We sought to erase indigenous knowledge, memory and identity.

Now in the death of each person a library of memories is extinguished. When Tekere died I took out my copy of his autobiography, Tekere — A Lifetime of Struggle. It is great that Dr Ibbo Mandaza managed to get Tekere to write the story of his life. It is written in Tekere’s blunt and colourful language and yet one feels the story is brutally edited.

There was so much more to the man than could be captured in a mere 180 pages.

This was a man who lived with us in Mutare, drank with us, argued with us and laughed with us.

He was much loved but I think we could have done more to document his story.

The one Tekere story that his autobiography does not do justice is the Bob Marley one. A scant half-a-page is what this warrants and yet Marley’s coming to Zimbabwe in 1980 was a seismic moment.

Overnight reggae became embedded in our social life and Marley’s lyrics shaped a generation’s views on the “Babylon System”.

How did “Two Boy” pull off this coup? What happened behind the scenes? Where are the photographs? Where is the film footage? Too many questions and rather late . . .

Still I take my hat off to people like Joyce Makwenda who has done a brilliant job in documenting the history of township music and yet when she started out she had no training as a researcher or historian.

She was simply driven by passion — the desire to tell the story of the music she had heard as a girl.

I understand we cannot all be writers but we have stories to tell — to pass on.

Stories of your name, of where you were born and what happened.

Stories help us build an identity. In stories are also the values and knowledge of a people.

But stories are never neutral hence our national history will forever be contested. As we all know those in power will always attempt to rewrite history.

But ordinary people also have the power to tell their own stories and pass them own.

They also have local knowledge — of land use, flora, fauna, weather — you name it, and somebody knows something profound about it.

We need to tap into that memory and knowledge and not regret the way I do.

The last word belongs to Robert Nesta Marley quoting Marcus Garvey: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots .” Now that’s kenge wisdom.

Chris Kabwato is the publisher of www.zimbabweinpictures.com

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