«SEMINAR PAPER: 8 MAY 2006 Abstract The paper is an exposition and a critique of selected novelistic voices in Shona whose subject matter also ...»
The insinuation in the above excerpt is that men are responsible because they are endowed with reason. In the eyes of Cephas who is the author’s voice of reason, such behaviour is irrational. It is this kind of behaviour particularly by women that leads to the spread of HIV and Aids. As pointed out before, the difference between men and women is underlined above. Cephas is convinced that men who constitute the rational majority are reneging on marriages because women have become imponderably irresponsible.
Vasikana vashoma kwazvo vanoita zvekukumbirwa. Vazhinji vave kungoita zvekutizira ivo vave nenhumbu kare vopinda mumudungwe wemvana dzadai kutekeshera nenyika (107).
Very few girls today are properly married. The majority simply elope on discovering that they are pregnant joining the long line of deflowered women who have been rejected by men.
This overgeneralisation and oversimplification of women’s behaviour is rather too reductionist. It is premised on the general yet misguided assumption that their actions are not informed by reason. The wholesale condemnation of such women who are in fact victims of irresponsible and bastardised African patriarchy is a mechanism for the absolution of promiscuous men like Cephas Tsvangirai.
The same also finds obtains in Mabasa’s Mapenzi. However, unlike Mukwazhi Mabasa locates female irrationality within the broad context of economic forces. It is such forces that plunge female characters into the scheme of things where irrationality becomes logos. This aspect is largely shown through Saru, Maud, Magi and Kundai. It is in his presentation of Heaven that the author adopts a modality which projects women as blatantly irrational. She sexually abuses young Reuben and infects him with a sexually transmitted disease. The only reason that we get from the novel is that Heaven is rather a loony character.
Female sexuality, a cursed sexuality?
Writers discussed in this section emphatically declare heterosexual relationships as the dominant method of HIV and Aids transmission. Their centralisation of the sexual encounter is out of the realisation that it is critical to humanity. Sex is celebration of life and acknowledgement of presence. Among African communities, the sexual encounter affords identity and other social labels and titles. These are important as they mark personal and group development. One becomes wife, husband, mother, father, mother in law, father in law, son in law, daughter in law through giving and receiving sex. Active and determined participation in the sexual act is considered an indisputable duty. In other words, the ability to responsibly give and receive sex is a virtue. It is against this sociocultural backdrop that it towers as the dominant mode of transmission. However, the writers are conspicuous in their adoption of an axiological paradigm that is premised on narrow-gendering of the transmission of the deadly disease. Female sexuality towers majestically as a threat to the survival of mankind. It is against the backdrop of such a conceptual modality that we contend that such a position petrifies and stultifies collective attempts to contain the disease.
I refer to this proclivity by most indigenous writers to think along narrow gender lines as the creative pathology of a ‘borrowed’ and ‘bastardised’ patriarchy which is nothing but a cosmology of illusions, a fictitious and mind-dependent set up that is passed on as a divinely ordained state of affairs. In the words of Ama Ata Aidoo, it is merely “a warmed up leftover from colonization” (1998:47). Mukwazhi, in Zvibaye Woga, pontificates on HIV and Aids through the image of Cephas Tsvangirai, who is his central character. Cephas, the author’s voice of reason is characteristically deployed and thrust at the nexus as a gigantic tarantula whose Herculean and gargantuan sexual exploits enable him to circumvent, and slalom tantalisingly past ‘gukurahundi remukondombera - Aids, chirwere chisingarapike icho chinoparadzirwa kunyanya nemabasa eupfambi (130). (The storm of destruction-Aids, the incurable disease that is spread through prostitution). His insatiable sexual appetite is whetted by a community of easy-to-bed girls who include Miriro, Belinda, Florina, Lucy, Mercy and a host of others who are not mentioned by name. We are made aware of their existence through Florina
who says that:
Ipo pano pane zakwatira rezvisikana zvokuti zvimwe zvana zvechikoro ndakambozvinyorera tsamba. Iko zvino kana mutownship umu hazvisviki zvichitya. Chimwe chacho chinotengesa muchitoro ndakachipa yambiro (62).
Here he has a lot of girls and some of them are school children l once wrote to. Today they are so afraid that they seldom come to this township. I have also warned another girl who works at the local store.
Amazingly, Cephas is exonerated of any wrong doing by the author. The multivariate conundrums that he faces are said to be a consequence of female sexuality, a putative cursed sexuality.
The author’s understanding of promiscuity is biased against women. This can be observed in his depiction and description of pfambi (prostitute).
Pfambi munhu anorarama nekutengesa muviri wake kwete nokuti anoda asi kuti uyu munhu asina kukwana zvekare nokuti anovenga vakadzi vose vane dzimba dzavo nokuti vanochengetedza varume vavo zvinova zvinomuradza nenzara ashaya anomupa mari…Pasi rose rapfugamiswa negukurahundi remukondombera…chirwere chinoparadzirwa kunyanya nemabasa eupfambi. Izvi pfambi dzacho dzinozviziva… (13).
A prostitute is a person who survives by selling his body not out of choice. This is an insane person who hates all women because they lead settled lives and protect their husbands. This does not augur well with her because she cannot buy food after failing to get ready clients. The whole world has been brought down on its knees by this storm of destruction, AIDS, which is spread largely through prostitution. Yet, the prostitutes are fully aware of this… Reference to pfambi is also witnessed in Mabasa’s Mapenzi where the dehumanising nature of Harare, the capital city, is likened to what the author sees as the destructive
potential of women. He says:
Harare zipfambi rakazvipenda penda zvakadarikidza mwero (32).
Harare resembles a female prostitute that has over applied make up.
Among the Shona people the term pfambi (promiscuous person) has never been myopically used to refer to women alone. It is gender neutral.
In Duramazwi ReChiShona (Shona dictionary) edited by Chimhundu (1996), the term pfambi is defined as:
Mukadzi anorara nevarume vakawanda kana murume anorara nevakadzi vakawanda…378.
Surprisingly, writers who are supposed to be the “sensitive point of the community” and are “supposed to march right in front” decide to mutilate the indiscriminate usage of the term. This conscious creative attempt, in which women are the only gender that is burdened with the anti-social label pfambi, dispatches a powerful statement where they stand as the sole transmitters of HIV and Aids. There could hardly be a plainer social picture of women as representing the symptomatology of destruction than this. This is to say the image of women we are given increasingly makes it difficult to distinguish between them and HIV and Aids. These writers are no more to be trusted than the early generation of Shona writers like Chakaipa, Zvarevashe and Chidzero who were the avowed enemies of the Shona people actively engaged in the nullification of Shona culture and history. In a profound sense they have shown themselves to be highly susceptible to value delusions. The fight against HIV/Aids is trammelled by such literary blundering which occupies itself with a pathological subversion of positive and balanced presentation of gender relations.
No great imagination is necessary in order to recognise that Mukwazhi is on a mission to incriminate the female principle for the numerous problems that contemporary Zimbabwean society faces. His canonisation of women as responsible for the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and the virus which causes Aids is seen in his depiction of the relationship between Cephas and one of his girl friends, Belinda. A
few days after sleeping with Belinda, Cephas remarks:
Kuzoti muzuva repiri Belinda aenda ndakatanga kunzwa muviri wangu kurwadza zvandainge ndisati ndambonzwa nokudaro ndakabva ndaenda kwachiremba (80).
A few days after Belinda had left l began to experience some strange pains in my body and l consulted a medical doctor.
Cephas is told by the doctor that:
Anyway, Mr. Tsvangirai, mhezi dziri panhengo dzemuviri wenyu dzinotaridza kuti mune chirwere chenjovhera chakaipa kwazvo chinonzi gonorrhea (80).
Anyway, Mr. Tsvangirai, the sores on your private parts indicate that you have a very dangerous sexually transmitted disease known as gonorrhea.
The author uses the above sentiments to underscore the fact that, while female sexuality is desirable, it is a cursed sexuality. Men are victims of this sexuality. We argue thus because despite his many sexual relationships, Cephas is not accused of spreading any diseases. This is despite the fact that he has unprotected sex with all of his sexual partners. Instead, he accuses Belinda saying, izvozvi uri kungofamba uchingokusha chirwere chako kuvarume vakawanda vasina chavanofungira (82). (Right now you are simply spreading your disease to innocent and unsuspecting men) In this regard, the writer constructs a subversive binary where female characters stand for social death while men are only blighted by women. Mukwazhi subscribes to the myths and “inbuilt biases against women in relation to STDs and other sexually related problems. In [postcolonial] Africa, STDs, still carry the double stigma of being sexually related as well as being believed to be a woman’s disease” (1992:159). While McFadden does not explain the historicity of such inbuilt biases, this dichotomised social order based on bad and good principles is not the best in coming up with a functional and sustainable HIV and Aids policy. Cephas is equally capable of transmitting STDs as Belinda and any other woman. This blame game cannot solve our problems. The HIV and Aids puzzle commands collective effort where both genders assume responsibility.
Literature is not an individual paradise. It is meant for public consumption. The images that are generated in literature are likely to have a bearing on decision making, social relationships as well as socialisation. Images that only present women as active and potential carriers and spreaders of deadly maladies are unhealthy for national development and nation building. Such images have the capacity to become, in a profound sense, compulsions which severely inhibit the individual’s growth as a person, rendering her psychologically and even intellectually inflexible. Since they are a reflection of an individual’s place in the world, they mark her way of life as fundamentally truncated and putrefying. The point that we are emphasising, for instance, is that such literature has durable psychological effects not only on the young girl but indeed on any woman who finds herself continuously presented and represented as a potential carrier of social problems and deadly diseases. Ephraim (2003: 75) equates such images to definitions which have the capacity to delimit an individual’s sphere of
influence. He informs us that:
…to name and define before hand the nature of things, is at once remarkable and enviable…For to be able to name and define things is, in a lordly sense, to hold power over them.
Eventually Belinda contracts Aids. The contrastive discourse used to describe Belinda and Cephas is carefully constructed marking the author’s commitment to the visualisation of society and HIV/Aids through the lenses of gender difference and
dichotomies. Cephas describes Belinda in the following words:
Kuonda kwaainge aita kwaitotyisa. Shaya dzose dzainge dzanyura iro bvudzi ave marangwanda chaiwo. Kana ari maoko dzainge dzave tsostso zvekuti wainyatsoona kuti mabhonzo ega zvawo asara asisina nyama.Meso ainge awira mumakomba iwo acheneruka kuti mbu-u (124).
The manner in which she had lost weight was just appalling. The cheek bones had sunk and the hair had vanished. The hands had become mere sticks and one could see that nothing was left except fleshless bones. The eyes had sunk into their sockets.
On the other hand, Cephas is healthy and strong. Belinda even expresses shock on
discovering that Cephas is very healthy. She asks:
Ha-a ndiwe zvako Cephas? Ko, kusimba kudaro uri kudyei zvako mugoni? (124) Oh!, it’s you Cephas? What is it that you are feeding on which makes you so healthy?
While it is possible to estimate that Cephas might not have contracted the disease, the contrast between the two generates the impression that men are not at high risk. It is only women who undergo massive psycho-physiological devastation. This is wrong and unacceptable. A writer’s creative vision must not be distorted by what might turn out to be a personal disregard of the female sex. In Ngugi’s words, it appears as if Mukwazhi is trying to persuade us, to make us view not only a certain kind of reality, but also from a certain angle of vision…(1981:6). Responsible acts of literary creation must be informed by a people’s world view. The African world view emphasises harmony, balance and unity of purpose. This is what is demanded by the challenges facing Zimbabwean society today. It is a philosophically and pedagogically fatal mistake for African writers to embrace a polarised cognitive mode, especially in the contemporary context that is fraught with HIV and Aids. In the words of Baldwin, “in the 1990s and beyond [our writers] must be about developing basic models of the human condition that are consistent with the African world view” (1992:56).