ZIMBABWEAN literature has this year-end seen the entry of a fresh name in the world of its authors, with the new debut novel by writer Robert Mukondiwa, whose book, The Judas Files, hit shelves in November to critical acclaim from his peers.
BY AMEYAW DEBRAH
Not an entirely new name in the world of writing, Mukondiwa has always been known as a journalist of repute ever since his days at public media house, Zimbabwe Newspapers, and desk editor of the tabloid H-Metro, for which he has won credit as what used to be the soul of the product until he left in 2012.
“I have always felt I was an author deep inside ever since I was young. Journalism yes, that became a passion that grew in me, but I was always a storyteller, perhaps not as a profession, but definitely as a strong suit,” he says as I interview him at a city hotel a stone’s throw away from where he carved his name as a journalist at Herald House, which now seems like a world away from the person that he has become.
He is reputed as a gifted storyteller and his descriptive prowess and power of language sets him above his peers among Zimbabwean authors, but definitely way ahead of his media contemporaries.
He is a great writer. The sad thing is he not only knows it, but is cocky about it as well.
“It’s not arrogance. It is just confidence in my work. You see, many people don’t have me top of their lists of favourite people and that’s OK. My work has to speak for me instead and that’s why in The Judas Files, I let the pen speak,” he says.
The powerful emotive pieces in The Judas Files are short stories that have a great bearing on Zimbabwean society and African experiences in general.
Yet there is a world view that is evident in the short stories which he chooses to call files, hence the name The Judas Files.
“If prostitution was a religion, Rejoice Chinharaunda would be the Pope,” says an opening line in one of his stories named State Of The Nation.
Such powerful lines are what mark the majority of the stories. Controversial, charged, emotive and sometimes angry and even altogether violent, the stories seem to reveal a man who has been observing his nation and wider society for a while and has taken his time to put pen to paper.
Do the stories reveal an anger inside of Mukondiwa the writer? Is he himself a violent angry soul?
“I think I am now beyond anger,” he says coolly with a stone face.
“I come from a society in which it is pointless to be angry. Channel that energy towards something you love the most. That is perhaps what I am good at,” says the man, who once said he was among the top three writers of all time in the history of writing.
I reminded him of that phrase which he uttered at the same place half a decade ago when he was the almost invincible and much disliked Deputy Editor of the tabloid.
If he is the third best writer in history, as he said back then, does he still contend so and if so who are ahead of him?
“Am I still third best writer in history? Yes. Perhaps. Who is ahead of me? I guess in first and second position would be God and Jesus in that order; I am in no hurry to claim their crown nor will I ever attempt to write something as beautiful and profound as the Bible,” he says and shows a hint of a smile, the first since this meeting started, but rather tensely.
If anything, he has changed from the young friendly editor. Time and perhaps experience has shaped the new man; but while he smiles less, I get a sense that he is a better person and more grounded.
His work in The Judas Files reveals the strange aura of maturity which is almost scary.
He used to be targeted and disliked and after leaving his old job, has gone rather quiet. Does he like the fact that he now has less active adversaries?
Certainly, he is hated less after leaving his old job, which put him in line of fire no doubt.
“This is planet earth not the Big Brother house. Yes people didn’t like me, yes many still don’t, but nobody is voting me off the planet, nor will anybody rob me of my talent. I don’t lose sleep over being liked or disliked. It is a warm feeling to be liked, but certainly not lethal to be disliked. I have special people. Close people who know the real me and believe it or not, like the real me.
“I try to show that in my stories that we may not like each other, but we should learn to get along for the sake of our society to thrive. Your doctor may be a Muslim and you a Christian, yet he must give you great care and you must be warmly thankful for it in spite of your differences. [United States President] Barack Obama is probably drinking milk that comes from Gushungo Dairy, for all we know. Get over petty differences and just get along for heaven’s sake!”
His stories speak of the importance of looking beyond people’s inadequacies and differences and getting along.
The Witch From Dotito, for example, is a story of social commentary, but it gets one thinking and pushes a theme of everybody being important to society, remind those in positions of power that we all lack the moral authority to judge others, but should celebrate each other’s contribution and powerful strong points.
In short, he is saying nobody is perfect and nobody, but perhaps the Supreme Being, has the right to judge.
“Every Zimbabwean behaves as if they have been elected to the Supreme Court bench. We are very opinionated. Very judgmental.
It’s good sometimes; it has been disastrous of late. Yet we all have our dark crevices and our weaknesses. We are a better society if we harness and harvest our positives for the good of society rather than ride all day long in the blistering heat on our high horses and judge the next person,” he says, fiddling with the Chelsea emblem of the football jersey he got as a gift for his 35th birthday.
“We have become a nation of vigilantes somewhat.”
Yet the negativity of the vigilante justice mentality is explored in the story Terry Masuku Is Dead? in ways that shock the reader with explicit language that describes a palpable sense of violence and extreme hate as he speaks of revenge, paedophilia and love.
Every story is a new experience and sometimes, it is difficult to believe that Mukondiwa, with his wit and humour from ages past, is the same person today who has put together this beautiful, yet venomous work of art.
The Judas Files is a masterpiece, but it may leave you reaching for your shrink’s number as it tends to be dark and shocking.
The rape scene in the story The Parable of The 7 Sowers, for example, may leave rape survivors transported back to their most violent memory, yet his bitter-sweet battle for women’s rights and castigation of domestic and political violence in the story is the beautiful other side of the coin which rates as, at least for me, one of the best in the collection.
Those seeking humour will fall in love with the Doggy Bag Diplomat and it may leave the Zimbabwean government with a bit of egg on face through its wit and frank dig at the diplomatic service.
Signing a copy of the book for me after the interview, I peer into the writer’s eyes and see a sincerity as I ask a final off-the-cuff question.
Many of the stories tell of a man who is disillusioned with his country, his people and has finally been brave enough to write on sensitive subjects.
For a person who always said he would never live anywhere in the world, but Zimbabwe, has his love affair with his country changed?
“Not at all. I guess an old friend of mine summed it up best for me. I love my country and that’s a given. Does my country love me? That is only a question my country can answer,” he says, as he reaches for his bottle of water and his afternoon cucumber sandwiches from his British High Tea order.
The World Version of The Judas Files is available on Kindle and Amazon from December 2015 in a special Christmas Edition. — Online