Short story anthology captures Zim in motion

GEORGE Orwell established that all art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art. To escape a trap of writing politically conscious content while maintaining balance at the same time calls for outstanding intellectual tact.

Title: Aluta Continua: The Struggle Continues
Author: Kudakwashe A. Manjonjo
ISBN: 978-0-7974-8484-9

By Beniah Munengwa

This is exactly what Kudakwashe Manjonjo does in Aluta Continua: The Struggle Continues, but with mixed success. The short story anthology dramatises key historic moments in Zimbabwe from the colonial to the independence era. The author’s portrayal of the government is largely condemning.

It carries nine pregnant short stories, but none of which borrows from the typical African short story tenets whereby the narrator was always a child, innocent and unbiased.

It succeeds in the process of painting a picture of a Zimbabwe in the far and recent past. Outstanding encounters which include when Sally Mugabe learnt of Grace’s intrusion into her marriage, the rise of Evan Mawarire, the abduction of Itai Dzamara, the fall of Robert Mugabe and events from the colonial era make the body of the book.

In some way, it is an extension of Manjonjo’s interpretation and reading of historical happenings through an eye of a hands-on political activist. The words are pushed by the chant, ‘Aluta Continua’ which was the rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during Mozambique’s war for independence.

The first story, Fanon’s Wife, reveals the problem associated with love in the time of war or of social upheaval. Sally, a university student and activist fighting against Ian Smith’s rule, finds love in Tsungi who is a Selous Scout. Their ideological and systematic differences haunt their relationship at the height of war and lead to heartbreak.

After Sally is expelled from the University of Zimbabwe, she gets a scholarship and sets to leave for Europe. But the story does not end without suggesting on how black people should unite and work together even against different political backgrounds as diversity breeds a cross-pollination of ideas.

The name Sally is picked from the heroic Sally Mugabe. It has a strong presence, recurring also in the short story Confessions, in a collection of short stories which has a wide interplay of real and fictitious characters.

The story also reveals the flaws of student activism, as a prototype of the bigger picture of the country’s political landscape. Achebe in Anthills of the Savannah probes, “Do you not buy and sell votes, intimidate and kidnap your opponents as politicians used to do?” (pp160). Wilfred wants to use his influence to lay a fellow comrade, Sally. At the same time, when confronted with Smith’s machinery, he’s the first to surrender.

“I celebrate and criticise the leading protestors, women and youth, and give warnings of our coming times especially with an over-ambitious military and weakening opposition parties,” Manjonjo was quoted saying elsewhere.

Revolutionary Lover carries on from Fanon’s Wife in problematising love in a polarised society. It probes questions such as, can the poor date the rich and can the free date the oppressed? Section D is set in prison where a woman activist seeks to change the situation of neglected prisoners.

However, it reveals the problems of leading a people you are not fully connected with. By pushing beyond the boundaries of authority, one can worsen the already fragile power relations.

Although all the stories walk through the avenues of politics, The Maid takes a feminist slant as it tries to empower abused women. It suggests solutions to women’s socio-economic problems while at the same time celebrating them as equally outstanding beings. Just like in Section D, the solutions offered are rushed and cannot directly translate to positive change in the life of an African family.

The meteoric and unexpected rise of Evan Mawarire is laid bare in the short story, Calm in the Storm. In the story, the writer pays tribute to Mawarire’s bravery and initiation and the supportive role of a loving wife.

My Brother’s Keeper recollects in close detail, the life of Itai Dzamara’s role in dedicated activism and the story is unfolded by his brother who reads from Itai’s diary.

The brother is inspired yet haunted by the absence of a brother who never said goodbye, and an independent country that is without freedom.

Confessions is a product of imagination. Robert Mugabe is given the name Michael and through his character, we witness the ousted President refusing to let go of power. It also imagines the conversations that Robert might have had with Sally regarding his infidelity and Sally’s vision for the country.

In one of the reflective conversation with the character, Father Moyo, he contemplates, “I blame myself for not listening to Sally. I blame myself for giving Grace so much power…”

Exploring in depth a rural society’s interface with need, with love and with power is the story, Sellouts. Whoever owns the keys to donations is under the cover of the night granted permission even to devour one’s sweetheart. But when one’s caught, the use of violence can be justified, showing that violence is one of functional tools in dishing out impromptu justice in the Zimbabwean society.

The book’s title suggests that the struggle for emancipation, freedom and development continues. From before independence to after Mugabe is gone, no element in the book suggests that man has finally reached a point of full contentment.

Because Mugabe and his machinery grow into anthills of the past, I think Manjonjo’s book will act as a reference point for the true experience of what it was like to be under him as a leader, especially to anyone who was not yet born or too young to capture it all as it happened.

At the same time, it remains an attempt to put history into fiction, a process which is hindered by this book’s explicitness of events that are in the public domain. It becomes a readable brochure on current affairs.

Like most new self-published projects, Aluta Continua is marred by a litany of grammatical errors, with the choice of font, layout and heading style mundane. The cover is probably the redeeming feature. It shortchanges the beautiful expectation evoked by the cover.

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