It is difficult to name a Zimbabwean writer more prolific than Charles Mungoshi, a literary giant, who bestrode the local literature scene like no other writer. It is a quirk of Zimbabwe’s own international isolation, due to the country’s poisoned political environment, that Mungoshi is not a household name on the continent or worldwide as, say the late Chinua Achebe of Nigeria, who would be a fitting contemporary.
But that did not diminish his body of work which stood out on its own, winning him recognition internationally. A prophet has no honour in his own country, reads the Bible in John 4:44, but Zimbabwe could buck that trend of narcissism and recognise the best of our own and treat them as such while they are alive and well enough to enjoy the applause.
In the wake of the government’s bestowing the late music icon Oliver Mtukudzi with a national hero status when they failed to even grant him a diplomatic passport as the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s cultural ambassador, it appears the attitude of honouring the dead instead of respecting them while they are still breathing is widely embraced all the way to the highest level in our government.
For years, there have been calls to acknowledge Zimbabwe’s notable artistes such as Cont Mhlanga and Albert Nyathi, who are considered to be true arts and culture ambassadors for their extraordinary contribution to the country’s arts industry, while they are still breathing.
Why wait to honour these artistes posthumously?
The government’s actions have not been significant enough to show how they value the arts and culture sector which, for some countries, is a billion dollar industry that contributes significantly to the country’s gross domestic product.
While the death of the late prolific and multi-award-winning writer, Mungoshi had triggered extensive calls for him to be declared a national hero in recognition of his immense contribution to the development of local literature, little if nothing, has been done by this government to try and save the life of this much-celebrated literature guru.
Mungoshi’s decade-long fight against a neurological condition appeared to have fallen on the deaf ears of government as they were no interventions to at least try and save his life. While the government appeared to have ignored the call to honour Mungoshi, other institutions have not overlooked his contribution as he has been honoured by various institutions. In 2003, Mungoshi was conferred an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Zimbabwe, having won multiple awards, which included Zimbabwe’s 75 best books where he was in the top five lists in both Shona and English categories.
There is no doubt that Mungoshi, who passed on at the age of 71, carved his own piece of history, both on the local and international literature radar as one of the best authors to have emerged from Zimbabwe.
Even after his death, no doubt, Mungoshi’s literary works will remain among Zimbabwe’s most important cultural products on the creative writing front. Mungoshi published 18 books, among them Makunun’unu Maodza Moyo (1970), Coming of the Dry Season (1972), Waiting for the Rain (1975), Inongova Njake Njake (1980) and Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (2013).
He twice won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize of Best Book in Africa and as a result was invited to meet the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth. One of his poems was curated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011 as a permanent display in Seattle, Washington, the United States.
May Mungoshi’s body set for burial today in his rural Manyene, Chivhu, rest in peace.