Not too many people outside of Zimbabwe have heard the name of Dambuzo Marechera, while many have heard of Chinua Achebe, whose 1958 work, Things Fall Apart, was hailed as the definitive African novel. For Marechera, as well as for me and so many others of the generation whose parents fought the second Chimurenga or Rhodesian civil war, things fell apart, as well, in more ways than we could have told.
We were the children of our parents – and therein lay a problem. Neither Marechera nor I had any choice in the matter. Marechera was born in 1952, into a rural community in what is now Zimbabwe. When he was about to turn 16, I was born. His awareness of politics and the world around him would have taken form in his teenage years, when the white colonial regime of Rhodesia declared its independence from Britain, thus crystalising the political structure of the society as a system which would probably be white-ruled for a long time to come.
I was born three years after pronouncement of white independence. Five years before I was born, the country had seen the beginnings of a guerilla war – for there were those who wanted their independence from the whites, whilst the whites wanted their independence from Britain. So, I was born into a situation that had a backdrop of guerilla war and suppression of black ‘insurgency’. I was born on the white side of the fence, in glorious and expansive rural style suburbia. Marechera was born into rural huts and ultimately into the black ghetto of Vengere Township. Given these obvious differences, what can we have in common?
The question might well be asked, and the most honest answer is that we were both children of our parents. Black and white we may be, but neither of us decided to afflict war on each other. That was a decision undertaken by those who represented our parents. Marechera and I were both in some sense born on the wrong side of the fence. The global community was for the black guerilla fighters and against the white oppressors, and yet, actually, they were taking sides with one or other of our parents. We – the children of our parents – were never asked about our views. We were never given a choice.
So it was that Marechera, child of his parents, grew up struggling against the tide. Offered an education in English, he was keen to follow through to get out of his ghettoised environment. Meanwhile, his parents raged against him learning English, causing him to burn his school books in anguished confusion or protest. I, however, the child of my parents, was caused to emigrate a few years after the guerilla war had ended with the country falling into the hands of a black majority.
Being the child of my parents, the war didn’t end there for me. In fact, it was only just beginning. For little did I realise that sacrifices do not go unrequited. The Rhodesian war only began for me, upon migration to Australia, when I had come of age. I was 16 at the age of my Zimbabwean exit. It was the year 1984. We had barely found our feet in an altogether different culture, when it was already time for me to requite the parental sacrifice.
It began with condemnation that came about because I was both socially lost on one hand, and that I was seen to be adapting to what must have been presumed to be the nefarious and decadent values of the first world, on the other. Poor adaptation and the cultural values that I had adopted through partial assimilation meant that all my parents’ sacrifices to keep up an ideological purity had been entirely in vain. I was not growing up with the values that they had battled for against Dambudzo’s parents. So, I was worse than a traitor, from my parents’ point of view. I was somebody who was undoing history – and undoing them, in the process. Each difficult step I made towards adaptation to the new and foreign culture earned its punishment. To break me down and make me repent was my parents’ goal – the unspoken agenda they had against my growing up in ways which hadn’t been prescribed.
This brings me to why I relate so much to Marechera. Reading his works, I am made aware of how the simplicities of our parents – and indeed of the global community, in supporting one faction of our parents against another parental faction – have led to intellectually impoverished perspectives. Marechera and I have both revolted against moral, social and political oversimplifications, in favour of a level of understanding that takes into account the human elements of suffering, and what it means to be historically (and socially) contingent beings – the children of our parents.
Reading Marechera’s works, I encounter the complexities of emotional life, in forms which do not compromise the meanings of experiences, in order to please the powers that be. Marechera writes in a complex way and this complexity is his integrity, for as he says:
The tyranny of straightforward things is more oppressive and more degrading than such idle monstrosities as life and death, apartheid and beer drinking, a stamp album and Jew-baiting. One plus one equals two is so irrefutably straightforward that the unborn child can see that even if man was wiped off the face of the earth one plus one would always and forever-equal two.