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Seewell Mashizha: Telling our own stories as we see them
12/01/2017 00:00:00
by Seewell Mashizha
 
 
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INVARIABLY Africans have many of their stories told for them by others. This anomaly is unavoidable in situations where external powers wield the power and are firmly in control. Whenever this is the case, the official narrative is always one that exalts the invader and denigrates first nation peoples. For this reason, education must continue to be the arena in which mental decolonization is forged. The downside of colonization is the loss, in some cases, of a people’s collective memory. We lose our faiths and belief systems and acquire new but alien ones. We acquire new superstitions such as the myths surrounding Friday the 13th of a month. We have no heroes, only villains! Our cuisine more or less disappears and it becomes chic and in vogue to gorge ourselves on foreign foods and acquired tastes.

Generosity is our curse in more ways than one. We create sympathies for our oppressors. There are those who unquestioningly accept the false doctrine of inferiority according to which all black men are hewers of wood and fetchers of water for the white races. When we are in such a subservient frame of mind we accept whatever is thrown our way.

When I first got to do history at school we had a text book called ‘Heroes of History’ in which there wasn’t a single black hero. We learned European myths such as that of St. George slaying the dragon as if they were matters of fact. As we went higher up the ladder we began to hear about missionaries and explorers sent to explore darkest Africa, civilize her heathen peoples and establish Christian civilizations. Thus we were told that David Livingstone ‘discovered’ the Victoria Falls when the truth was that someone showed him this natural wonder. There were riverine dwellers on both sides of the river. These people must always have gazed at this joyous wonder of nature in perpetuity. Livingstone went on to give a name to the waterfall as if we did not have a name for it. Zexie Manatsa in his ‘David Livingstone’ song lambasts the missionary explorer with the words:

This man, David Livingstone, was a liar
The Batonga were there when he arrived

Years later, adventurer and journalist, Henry Morton Stanley was commissioned by George Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald in 1871 to travel to Africa and find Livingstone. An online journal of eye witness account history records that ‘Leading an expedition of approximately 200 men, Stanley headed into the interior from the eastern shore of Africa on March 21, 1871. After nearly eight months he found Livingstone at Ujiji, a small village on the shore of Lake Tanganyika on November 10, 1871’. That meeting gave us the oft-quoted line from Stanley: Dr. Livingstone, I presume?



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Some 150 or more years later, Zimbabwe’s iconic musical export, the Bundu Boys in their ‘Jit Jive’ song were to satirize the meeting by singing:

Back in the Bundu
Is where we are from
And guess who’s there to find you?
Dr. Livingstone obviously.

Colonial history records that when Livingstone died in Africa on April 30 in 1872, his two faithful servants Susi and Chuma cut out his heart and buried it under a tree before carrying his body to the coast for shipment back home. The two were the epitome of what good African servants should be like. And we soaked it all in. Similar stories of servitude found their way into the white man’s history. Bernard Mizeki and Moleli were held up as typical examples of the good African, saved and civilized. After his martyrdom, annual pilgrimages to the place of Bernard Mizeki’s demise have become the order of the day with devoted Anglicans making it their unflinching duty to worship there once a year every year. It is not clear whether the man will ever be canonized. When I ponder over this I hear a liberation war singer singing:         

There is St Peter and there’s St. John
Where is St Nehanda, oh you imperialists?
And where’s St. Kaguvi?

Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, Zimbabwe’s two folk heroes were tried, convicted and swiftly executed by the colonists. They were made to look like common criminals. Kaguvi converted to Christianity before his execution, but Nehanda, the first black woman freedom fighter in Zimbabwe would have none of it. While the colonists made it look like the soul of any native fighting the regime was in mortal danger, numerous crimes committed against the indigenous people of Zimbabwe were glossed over.

The exploits of our heroes, the likes of Chingaira, Kunzwi Nyandoro and Mapondera were treated lightly as the actions of a few misguided Africans needing to be eliminated to stop the barbaric savagery of their rebellion. Allan Wilson received more attention for being routed with his patrol at Shangani than did Lobengula. Thereafter, the popular story was that Lobengula had gone north in his wagons and died of small pox. However, the Ndebele people have a different narrative. The Ndebele King is rumoured to have been alive and well in Barotseland across the Zambezi in what is now Zambia. One hopes that some of the documents of the time have survived and that if they have they can be declassified. But in terms of oral tradition there may no longer be any credible sources alive. We need historical novels and movies that capture these things. We could make quite a few epic movies around the lives of several of the big players in the drama that unfolded after 1893. The story of Chief Chiwashira, a Muhera chief, and how he shaved a white woman’s head, made her grind finger millet and married her, earned him the death sentence. This chief, like Chingaira of Makoni, was decapitated.

Mayford Sibanda’s ‘UMbiko kaMadlenya’ is the story of the bitter civil war following the death of UMzilikazi KaMatshobana, the founder of the Ndebele state. Urged on by his wife who was a daughter of the dead king, Mbiko would have been the usurper had he succeeded against Lobengula. The story is told with aplomb and imagination and can easily become a classic if translated or when immortalized on film and video.

Africa needs to look at how institutions of higher learning can liaise and come up with coordinated works on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKSs). Look at the billion dollar industry created from the ananse story of West Africa. Spiderman is big business now. Greater coordination will be necessary going forward.

There is much that can be done to counter all the negative forces. We can help build our country by doing a number of things including the teaching of ethics from very early on, the teaching of civic education and entrepreneurial skills. History and culture should also have pride of place in all this. Our sense of oneness can become much more solid and enduring in such circumstances. These things should be done in a way that is quite distinct from regimentation and parochialism. While, ultimately, the collective good should be the destination, the recognition of individual talents, skills and worth should be a foregone conclusion. One way of ensuring that this is so, is to take on board and/or resuscitate old indigenous values according to which, for example, children are everybody’s children.

The Shona proverb, “Mugoni wepwere ndeasinayo’ (Experts on children can only be those with no children of their own} is instructive. Thus when Edwin Tsvangirai, the son of GNU premier Morgan Tsvangirai, is allegedly caught up in shady water chemical deals for the City of Harare, there is nothing to celebrate. Next could be anyone’s son. Of course the honourable Mr. Tsvangirai must, if the allegations are of substance, reign in his son since such activities as cited are in the end anti-people and have a potential to impact negatively on his political project. Corruption is a social cancer that can cause total disaffection for anyone practising it, tolerating it or willy-nilly aiding and abetting it.  This is reminiscent of Julius Malema railing against Zuma: Mr. President, how can you rule the country if you can’t rule your own family? The episode also makes me think of Muammar Gadhafi refusing to allow his father to be allocated a house until every Libyan had one.

In telling the African story in general, and Zimbabwe’s in particular, objectivity and imagination are both necessary. In these days of fake news, there is a need to be vigilant and to habitually appraise, and if necessary, admonish ourselves. In this way we can make use of various types of capital at our disposal. Take for instance, the issue of domestic tourism. It is quite disheartening to have to admit to foreigners that one has not been to the Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe or the Chinhoyi Caves. Charity begins at home!

Stakeholders in the tourism industry must get busy, and that includes writers. Zimbabwean travel magazines need to be ‘sexier’ than at present. One way of making that happen is to ensure that the stories are attractive and irresistible.  We need to do these things ourselves, and do them diligently. That is how to start downstream industries, especially now that Zimbabwe is embarking on a new educational curriculum, and now that the constitution recognizes 16 different languages. There’s a mine of cultural wealth out there just waiting to be exploited in all these languages. Digitalization is also going to create opportunities in terms of dramas and feature films in Zimbabwean languages. There can be wider patronage and use of the electronic media as well as print media.  

The last album by the immensely popular James Chimombe was ‘Jemedza’ in which he was philosophical about his impending death. Weekly trips to his rural home with his music playing can be a huge attraction. Revellers would see for themselves the places he sings about in the song. A good tour guide who can talk about the places cited in Jemedza, and also help invoke the necessary sense of the numinous, can make the trips come alive. Employment and industry can grow around this idea. The Chimanimani Arts Festival is a precedent. Locals look forward to this festival which makes their mountain paradise come alive. Every enterprising person makes something out of the festival. If with time the economy improves and people’s disposable incomes also improve, consumer patterns will be enhanced dramatically. When people have money even those who are half-dead rise.

Africa it’s time. Zimbabwe, it’s time.

 


 
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