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Dambudzo Marechera, a famous Zimbabwean prose writer was born in Vhengere Village in Rusape in 1952 and died in 1987, at the age of 35 having published three novels, some short stories, poems and essays. He is recognized as one of the most influential postcolonial African writers. Marechera’s works demonstrate his skills as a poet, playwright and novelist extraordinaire.
Marechera’s contribution to African literature however is not given the place it deserves mainly because of his different prose style which is divested from that of leading writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe and Ayi Kwei. The latter wrote in a social realist mode that is easily accessible by readers while Marechera was influenced in greater measure by the European modernists whose style is complex and self reflective. Marechera’s critics were mainly fellow Africans who saw European style as treacherous to the anti-colonial struggle. It must however be noted that although Marechera acquired and mastered expertly the thought-processes and values of the English language, he still criticized colonialism and neocolonialism using his European modernist prose style. Marechera was not patronized nor was he co-opted into this literary establishment which he elected as his mode of expression. The spirit of his writings remained African. He advocated for equality of all races in institutions, especially Universities as he wrote piercing criticisms of the colonial system in Zimbabwe in particular and Africa at large.
Marechera had left Zimbabwe for the United Kingdom when it was under white minority rule. When he returned in 1982, it was ruled by a black majority. What annoyed him was that apart from the independence euphoria nothing much had changed except that power had changed hands from a white to a black government. He was quoted in an interview saying “Our revolution has only changed life for the new black middle class, those who got degrees overseas during the struggle…. Fr those who committed themselves to become fighters… Most of them are now unemployed and live on the streets.” Marechera was also a fierce critic of the new black government for its suppression of freedom of speech and the banning of his book Black Sunlight in 1982. In 1985 his new book Mindblasts came out in and most Zimbabweans were shocked by the stridency of his attack on the new government. Such was Marechera’s unbending commitment to see a free society untainted by injustices and repression which Zimbabwe had just disbanded in a bitter war of liberation. Marechera’s figure therefore towers not only as a writer of note, but also a human rights defender and an advocate of good governance through his writings. According Veit-Wild, “His cosmopolitan outlook and anarchist views did not fit into the landscape of Zimbabwe just after independence.” This shows that Marechera had become militant in his writings which now expressed his firm belief in anarchism to fight bad government systems.
Marechera redefined the way we look at African literature by expanding the horizons of what can be written about by an African writer. This is well captured in the House of Hunger where he expressed this view thus:
to insist upon your right to go off on a tangent. Your right to put the spanner in the works. Your right to refuse to be labeled and to insist on your to behave like anything other than what anyone expects.Your right to simply say no for the pleasure of it. To insist on your right to confound all who insist on regimenting human impulses according to theories psychological, religious, historical, philosophical, political, etc… Insist upon your right to insist on the importance, the great importance of whim.
Some of Dambudzo Marechera’s works are: The House of Hunger (1978), Black Sunlight (1980), Mind Blast (1984), The Black Insider (1990) and a collection of his poems called Cemetery of Mind published in 1992 by Boabab Books.
Obert Bernard Mlambo, Ph.D
University of Zimbabwe