BETWEEN THE LINES:PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
Author: Tafadzwa Mahachi
Publisher: Royalty Books (2020)
UNDAUNTED tells the story of a young man in a quest to establish a just society in Malawi free of tribalism and corruption. The protagonist, Peter Ntini, is a lawyer who belongs to the minority Tumbuka tribe.
Throughout the story, told in the intimate first-person narrative, Peter Ntini traces his history, from how his Chewa mother courted the ire of her family courtesy of her decision to marry a Tumbuka man and how he transitions from farm to city life as an ambitious young man.
Working at a farm, one of the older workers, Kizito, urges him to travel to Lilongwe and carve out a better life for himself.
In Lilongwe, he links up with Kizito’s younger brother, Yamikani, who orients him to city life.
The journey from the farm in Machinga village to the urban metropolis of Lilongwe is used as a leit-motif, speaking to Peter’s inner journey — that of self-discovery and coming into being. It enables him to learn more about his parentage and origin, including his family’s political connections through his late grandfather, Hastings Ntini.
Peter is astounded by the erosion of cultural values and morals he finds among the urban dwellers, and is equally shocked by how Christianity has robbed Africans of their sense of being.
He muses: “Education destroyed our reasoning, thwarted our thinking and enslaved our creativity. Where we had more answers, education imposed a way to follow with no deviation. A yardstick was canonised for our beliefs and anything outside the given proportions was termed ungodly. That’s how education enslaved us…
“The city was not close to anything I had imagined. People seemed less concerned about the welfare of others. The young boys cared less about greeting their elders and life seemed generally faster.”
After teaming up with Yamikani and his friends — Damister and Conless — he slowly begins to ease into city life, discovering in the process that Yamikani’s father is a Member of Parliament for Blantyre and the family is politically-connected.
Yamikani is a former presidential bodyguard during the era of political strongman Kamuzu Banda although Kizito’s political star never shone after he ran as a ward councillor in Ndirande several times without winning any election.
Mahachi traces how their father rose to become the secretary-general of the United Democratic Party, courting the wrath of one Kondwani Bwanali who was contending for the same position who concocted a theory that Luke Banda, who was Yamikani and Kizito’s father, was plotting to assassinate Kamuzu Banda.
That marked the beginning of the waning of the family’s fortunes and the saga had a messy end with the assassination of Luke Banda in a hit organised by Bwanali, who later becomes president after a series of promotions.
Fearing for their lives, Kizito and Yamikani escape to Mozambique for several years before returning under disguise with new identities.
While Kizito entirely shuns politics, Yamikani plunges into politics headlong and has several confrontations with the administration, leading to the ban of all his businesses.
Kizito learns more about his father from Yamikani. But it is the encounter with his father’s brother, Divas, that unravels more information.
The confrontation with the government increases, leading to Peter and his colleagues’ arrest on charges of treason but are taken to the presidential mansion.
In the book, Mahachi uses his experience as a missionary in Malawi to render authentic scenes and experiences in the novel.
He writes his story in gripping fashion, making it a page turner, particularly for those readers interested in African politics.
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