«SEMINAR PAPER: 8 MAY 2006 Abstract The paper is an exposition and a critique of selected novelistic voices in Shona whose subject matter also ...»
Miriro, too, suffers the same fate as Belinda. Nokuda kwekupera muviri kwaainge aita ndainge ndatotadza kumuziva… (p.127). (Because of the excessive loss of weight, l had almost failed to recognise her). Although the author has some attention-grabbing insights on HIV and Aids, his psycho-intellectual manoeuvres lead him to place both genders on a linear scale to see which poses the greatest danger to society. Such dichotomous gradation leads him to make wrong moral conclusions that nihilate his contributions towards HIV and Aids education. Firstly, it is only women who experience both the physical and psychological traumas associated with HIV and Aids. Secondly, despite his promiscuity, Cephas is portrayed as a hero who only experiences a modicum of psychical torment triggered by his suspicions that he might have contracted the disease. All female characters, far from being depicted as sexual heroines become helpless victims of the very sexual encounter which affords characters like Cephas social greatness and sexual hero status. When it comes to the sexual encounter, we state that both genders are consummately and complementarily heroic. Mukwazhi’s projection of sexual heroism creates a dangerous social impression where male promiscuity becomes permissible because it does not lead to Aids. Nhai mwari dai ndangorega kuva muchitima chisingadzikwi ichi. Zvino ndazodzidza chidzidzo (129) (My God, l wish l am not in the same train where one cannot disembark.
However, when the novel ends, Cephas is happy and is leading a settled life with Mercy, a young school girl who is one of his erstwhile sexual partners. In this regard, it can be noted that the author’s unbalanced understanding of gender in the African context compels him to foreground Cephas as a paradigm of sexual heroism. He becomes a standard of value and valuation. For all his careless sexual shenanigans, he is given a second chance and is even rewarded with a young school girl for a wife. On the other hand, all women characters are eliminated from the scene through HIV and Aids. Some of them include Belinda and Mirirro. While Florina might not have contracted the disease, she has been wasted and elbowed out of active life. Mukwazhi’s novelistic effort is not likely to be helpful in the fight against HIV and Aids. It sends wrong signals that have the potential to mislead. Since literature written in Zimbabwe’s indigenous languages is accessible to many people, young and old, it becomes very dangerous to generate such dysfunctional images and messages. The biggest consumer is the education sector, particularly secondary schools where the Shona novel is a compulsory element in the curriculum. Young readers are most likely to be invited and shepherded into a dangerous and straitjacketed conceptual and existential trajectory where the male reader thinks it is normal to have a pluriformity of sexual relationships because he can get away with it. This conception of heroism is dangerous in a context where such typologies of conquering and domination are at high risk of contracting and spreading HIV and Aids.
Mapenzi is a novel which reflects what the author characterises as mass neurosis in post-independence Zimbabwe. The story is narrated through various neurotic voices that stand for different forms of social neurosis. The neurosis is triggered by a number of problems that people face in the contemporary dispensation, particularly the faltering economy. It is in the depiction of this universalised neurosis that the author raises some intriguing perspectives with regard to issues of HIV and Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases. This dimension is shown through Bunny, a male character who experiences severe psychopathology as a result of his relationship with the late Maud.
Maud is a widowed woman who draws Bunny into the deadly affair. Heaven is also another woman who brings out this theme. Unlike Mukwazhi, Mabasa, to some extent, attempts to strike a balance in his discussion of the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases even though this is not very palpable. He juxtaposes irresponsible male characters with neurotically constituted female characters and blames them for the problems in society.
Firstly, Mabasa depicts Sabha an irresponsible and promiscuous male character like Cephas in Zvibaye Woga. He is married but brings different female prostitutes to his home and sleeps with them in the presence of his wife. As a consequence, he infects his wife with a sexually transmitted infection.
Chokwadi kana ini ndikafa ndinenge ndaurayiswa nemurume wangu.
Chokwadi here asikana, mukore uno nemamiriro awo munhu ungapewo mukadzi wako chirwere chenjovhera? (100) Honestly, if l die it is all because of my husband. How can someone infect his wife with an STI in today’s world?
However, this incident is not given much descriptive attention in the novel. It is mentioned in passing.
Rather, a lot of descriptive attention is given to the Maud and Bunny affair. The attention extended to this affair is just overwhelming. In this affair, it is Maud’s sexual cunningness that wins Bunny and lands him into life-threatening problems. We are told
Kana kuti ndizive kuti chavaindinetsera chii nekundipa miyedzo yakadaro zvinotonetsa kunzwisisa…vakataura vakasimudza rimwe gumbo voriturikidza pamusoro perimwe. Vakabva vangosara zvavo vayanika zvidya zvese panze.
Ndakarohwa nehana. Ndakadikitira. Vaive vandibata- bata kusingapukutiki neruoko. Vaive vanokora mwoyo wangu netsinga dzose (41 & 78).
I do not even know why she was giving me such temptations… She talked while purposefully lifting one of her legs and placed it on top of the other. As a result, all her thighs were exposed. My heart beat fast. I sweated. She had just snatched my heart with all its arteries.
As a result of her behaviour, Maud is portrayed as a wanton and dangerous temptress who takes advantage of Bunny’s desperate situation. Maud’s actions are a defiance of logic, the logic that characterises rationality. She is aware that Bunny has a girl friend that he intends to marry but proceeds, in the words of Chinweizu, to act like a murderer tasked to perform surgery on a patient. All the psychological problems that Bunny eventually faces after realising that Maud had died of HIV and Aids are connected to this event. His performance at work is grossly undermined such that he has to be rested. He loses all balance and sanity. While Mabasa is showing the psychological effects of HIV and Aids on those who are not sure of whether or not they have contracted it, the broad picture is that it is precisely the female principle that is to blame.
The message, therefore, is that men are supposed to guard against this dangerous section of humanity. In this regard, Maud falls into the same category of characters like Belinda and Miriro whose propensity for destruction is insatiable. Mabasa seems to adopt the same creative method as Mukwazhi in that women characters that spread the disease to unassuming men are quickly edited out of the process while the male characters are given the benefit of the doubt. For instance, both novels end with Cephas and Bunny effervescent and preparing to start again. While starting afresh is not a problem at all, the problem lies in that this benevolent creative gesture is only extended to male characters alone, WHY? In the case of Bunny, there are prospects that he will settle down with
young Charity as we are told by Magi, Bunny’s sister that:
I suspect kuti Bunny ari kuda Charity chete. Asi ndakamuudza kuti asazove irresponsible nemwana wevaridzi (166).
I suspect that Bunny loves Charity. However, I told him that he will have to be responsible.
The same dimension comes out in Zvibaye Woga where cephas comments that:
Rechimangwana ini nemhuri yangu takafumorova nzira todzokera, iwo mufaro riri jawi. Takafamba hedu zvakanakisisa (154).
The following morning my family and l went back filled with happiness. We had a splendid journey.
He is now leading a settled and disease free life with Mercy who remarks that:
Life is a journey. You encounter various obstacles, steep ascents and descents.
That is life.
Mabasa also manifests this tradition of visualising women as dangerous through Heaven, Maud’s cousin.
Ndakatarisa mubhurukwa maRueben ndikaona chinhu chemwana chapera basa netupundu twainge maronda (144).
I looked into Heaven’s shorts where l discovered that his penis had been covered with some rushes which looked like sores.
When being examined by Charity, his mother’s young sister, Rueben confesses that, ndiHeaven aitamba nechinhu changu achichiisa pane chake (p.144) (It is Heaven who was playing with my thing while placing it on hers). While Heaven’s behaviour is attributed to a deep-seated neurosis or upenzi, the fact that the author juxtaposes a woman and a ‘man’ is enough evidence for us to identify a common trend in the novel in which women are potentially destructive and irresponsible.
While Mabasa might have intended to portray the neuroses in contemporary Zimbabwe, he unconsciously contributes to a growing deleterious proclivity in Zimbabwean literature in indigenous languages to generate discourses that conceptualise existential realities in terms of gender difference and binaries. Again, Mabasa tends to pay too much attention on the University of Zimbabwe’s female students. These are presented through Magi and Maud. Emphasis is largely on their sexuality, which poses a danger to the nation as Hamundigone says with reference to Kundai: Kubva moshanda zvakanaka nhai chimhandara, asi musatiurayire nyika (31) (We wish you work well but do not destroy our country).
Male characters are said to be mapenzi (foolish people) because they have adopted strange names like Castle Great. During one of his numerous visits to the
University of Zimbabwe, Vincent observes that:
Upenzi hwevakomana ndewekupedzera mari kudoro. Vamwe vakomana vakazenge votopiwa sadza kuclinic kupera kweimwe term vasisina mari? Ivavo dzakanga dziri shasha dzekunwa doro paUniveristy. Vaitove nemazita avo edoro: mumwe ainzi Mascud mumwe achinzi Castle Great (86).
The boys’ madness lies in the manner in which they waste money on beer. At one point some of them had to be given sadza at the clinic after they had squandered their money. These were well known for drinking beer at the University. Some of them had names of beer brands: one was MaScud and the other was Castle Great.
In as much as deriving identity from brands of local beer is said to be a reflection of upenzi, one can hazard to say that the names are underlined by a sense of greatness, particularly Castle Great. The disparities in the nature of upenzi are explained in terms of gender. Male students are social neurotics largely because they are irresponsible and lack proper planning skills. According to the author, this behaviour has nothing to do with HIV and Aids. On the other hand, female students are mapenzi (foolish people) because their behaviour has the greatest potential of causing Aids. Although this variation might be an unconscious act by the author, he, nevertheless is articulating a stultifying gender modality.
In this day and age, the threat posed by HIV and Aids has ceased to be a preserve for laboratory scientists and medical professionals. It has become a political, social, economic, cultural, intellectual and ideological problem. McFadden observes that the medicalisation of the HIV/Aids problem was a debilitating and subversive conceptual
error. She says that:
Virtually all literature on the subject was premised on the assumption that this was a problem for the health system to resolve. This resulted in several important consequences which should really be spelt out more clearly in a critique of the relationship between medicine/health, gender and class in Africa, especially with reference to the problem of Aids (159).
Literature, because of its fluidity and flexibility in the social theatre is well positioned to collapse these fields together since it is part of the daily dialogues that people conduct among themselves. Creative artists must be conscious enough to effectively play their part by generating functional messages. Writers who choose to discourse on matters like Aids whose gravity is a matter of life and death must bear in mind that they have transcended the thin line between ‘fiction’ and society. Theirs ceases to be ‘fiction’. They are dealing with lived and liveable experiences whose repercussions on society can not be underestimated.
It is also absorbing to note that writers discussed in this paper are all male writers pontificating on national issues that embrace women. The images they create and the conclusions they draw with regard to gender problematise the field particularly with regard to the politics of gender representation. Preoccupation with stereotypical images of women trammels and delays national triumph over the dangers posed by HIV and Aids. It is for this reason that Furusa (1998:79) points out that, “Africa will only develop when her men and women pick up hoes and shovels, mix mortar and mould bricks that lead to their vision of the future.” In this regard, the Aids riddle mandates new creative methods and levels of conceptualisation that transcend narrow gender stereotypes.
References Primary sources Mabasa, I. 1999 Mapenzi, College Press, Harare.
Mukwazhi, A. 1996 Zvibaye Woga, Mambo Press, Gweru.
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Ani, M. Yurugu: An African- centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, Africa World Press, Trenton, Asmara, 1994.
Armah, A. 1973 Two Thousand Seasons, Oxford, Heinemann 1973.
Baldwin, J. ‘The Role of Black Psychologists in Black Liberation.’ in A. Burlew et al. (eds). African American Psychology, Theory, Research and Practice, Newbury Park, CA, Sage Publications, 1992.
Chimhundu, H. Duramazwi ReChiShona, College Press, Harare, 1996.
Chinyowa, K. C. ‘Gender Development in Shona Literature’ in E. M Chiwome and Z. Gambahaya (eds), Culture and Development: Perspectives from the South, Mond Books, Harare, 1998.