Friday, August 13, 2010



By Neo Mvubu

Many have spoken volumes of an incredible woman of Africa. They have beaten their drums and ululated for a Zimbabwean queen who possesses a mighty sword; the sword of putting words onto paper. Tsitsi Dangarembga, the author of Nervous Conditions, could not have placed it any better.

The book reflects on the daily lives of the people during and after the colonial rule in Zimbabwe. The voices of her character have more depth and every one of those characters has a voice, a strong voice that cannot be ignored. Tambu the main character in the book sees her loved ones change after getting exposed to the Western culture. She sees herself also going through it when she enrolled at a mission school.

We walk a path of life with Tambu as she grows from humble beginnings to becoming an educated woman in her community. We see the pride in her mother’s eyes and also her fears after losing a son to these Western values. Her mother mentions ‘the Englishes” saying that English took her son away and that is also taking her daughter away too.

We see Babamakuru who has a burden of looking after his entire family from his earnings as a teacher, we see the pain he goes through and this is reflected in his wife, who cannot bear to see his husband go through this pain. Many at home appreciate what he does for the family but they do not understand the work that goes into providing for all those goods.

Nyasha on the other hand is Babamakuru’s child who grew up in England and spent most of her childhood at the mission school. She speaks this English that Tambu’s mother talks about vividly in the book and she forgets, she forgets her home language and forgets her childhood friend Tambu. Nyasha smokes, drinks alcohol, and does all those things that are foreign to a traditional home in Africa. She is then isolated from her larger family because she does not fit in anywhere.

We are given different perspectives in the book and Tsitsi Dangarembga, the author blends all these characters beautifully. She creatively infuses their spirits in one book and carries their souls with wisdom.

The book reminded me of when I went to a model C school, I had a coloured, Indian, white and black friends and we would all speak English. For me, there was no racism; it was just me and my friends playing. After a few years I could hardly speak Setswana fluently that was difficult for me to socialise with my own people. I was like an outcast and for many years I didn’t know why until someone said it. Throughout my high school years, I was called a snob by the same people I went to primary school with. I was in a way mocked for not knowing my home language, for being lost in transformation, in the rainbow nation.

My parents were happy I was getting a good education, they were proud that I could speak English, like there was a colonial mindset behind them that said knowing the language meant you were intelligent. I never meant to forget where I come from, I didn’t plan going to a model C school but I have a choice now and I speak Setswana and I feel that I am coming back to my roots.

Working as a journalist gave me a wake up call, I had to speak Setswana, I had or how else could I speak to a person who does not know English. I had to re-learn my home language at 19 years old, it was embarrassing at times but I did learn. Now I fit in everywhere, and I am proud to be a black woman who grew to know herself, where she comes from and what makes her who she is.

Nyasha in the book couldn’t have put my experience any clearer, she forgot where she came from. What western cultures do is belittle your own language of which language is the backbone of every culture, without it you lose your values, your ancestors, your roots and most of all you lose yourself.

I recommend every person, young or old, to read this book. It is a book that makes you remember why being rooted is so important to a human being, an African.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Book: The Guillotine (2001)
Author: O Bolaji
Reviewer: Pule Lebuso

The Guillotine is the title of the 2001 collection of short stories written by Bolaji. There are ten stories in all in the book, and they are all short stories, ranging from 4 to ten pages. These stories were written between 1996 and 2000, and at least half of them had been published in various newspapers and magazines.

The Drunkard, one of the short stories, is a powerful, didactic, piece of fiction; it contains the usual humour and interesting 'scenes" one has come to expect from Bolaji. The character of Malome in particular, a famous charlatan is brilliantly done. Here is the voluble township wiseacre, full of himself "I'm a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst “ he says absurdly, with self-importance.

After reading this story, we are left in no doubt that excessive drinking is not only irresponsible, but dangerous. We are filled with disgust when we read: "The next thing he (Elias) remembered was waking up somewhere in the township, far from his own place, and feeling extraordinarily uncomfortable - in the discarded chassis of a car. He hated himself, seeing some blood stains on his clothes and body, feeling a horrible wound on his face, drenched in his own urine and vomit; hating his own goddamn awful body smell"

(The Guillotine, page 39)

Love Hurts, one of Bolaji's most popular writings (originally published in Drum magazine over a decade ago) is also reproduced in this collection, in book form. A new generation of readers can enjoy this short story that enhances Bolaji's reputation as "African master of the unexpected"

Although interesting enough, The shocker is rather mediocre but deals with the well-worn theme of disappointment in love. The Blabbermouth is a simple enough story too. The language seems quite harsh in the opening paragraphs with the author obviously angry and disgusted with exceeding dishonesty. The conclusion of the story is full of bathos, though.

Two short stories in this collection deal with the supernatural: The Dream, and The Ghost. Both have the usual Bolaji "twist"; The Dream is an interesting story weaved around the Italian phrase "delle bestie con le belle voci". In The Ghost we are introduced to a delightful lady who is too good to be true:

"He felt that there was something 'different' about her, the unearthly glow of her skin...the ethereal whiteness of her teeth: even her voice was so melodious that it defied sweet, congenial rhythmic bells ringing harmoniously"

(Page 44)

Many men young and old, have commented that they found the story The Narrow Escape the most interesting and the funniest. It certainly is an enjoyable story as a young man who cannot stop himself from "seducing" a sexy young lady apparently finds himself in serious trouble

Another Little Drink has a twist of its own too, and one cannot but wonder at the folly of the young man involved here. We are also reminded of the Sarafina 2 play.

The Blackmailer, another popular story of the author's is reproduced in this book too; and in this version some other paragraphs have been added. This is Bolaji doing what he does best: quickly building up a tale, which ends in a completely unexpected manner. It turns out that nobody in this story is what he/she first appears to be.

Now for the very short story, The Guillotine. It is food for some thought. It can be viewed as pathos, bathos, or even idiosyncracy of the highest order. I have heard some readers even claiming that it "symbolises" the sacrificial nature of the author himself, with the protagonist being something of a martyr. This impression is accentuated because the author writes the story in the first person.

In The Guillotine the patent unfairness of the fate and plight of the narrator has to be viewed against the backdrop of his obvious emotional "immaturity" and idealism as he willingly opts for death:

I said: "Sir I want to die too". I moved into the tumbril and a great gasp and shout went through the town. The man in charge said: "Why do you want to die?" I explained that my heart had been broken by a lady. And I heard a horrible peal of laughter, a gargantuan tidal wave of derisive laughter...And the crowd began to chant: "He must die! He must die! the naive man must die...the sentimental guy must die first!!!"

(Page 29)

We should however note that The Guillotine is pure fiction and we do not need to read much into it. The protagonist passionately demonstrates the type of suspect, ultra idealistic love exemplified by Doctor Kawa in Lenrie Peter's novel, The Second Round. It is also interesting that at least once (in a personal poem) Bolaji confesses that he himself "has always been a stickler for romantic love" The short stories in the book, The Guillotine are indeed "mouth watering"