Shimmer Chinodya’s ‘Strife’

A dialogue on Zimbabwean masculinity


HARARE – As I was watching the articulate presentations by Professor Ezra Chitando and Nocthula Moyo on Shimmer Chinodya’s latest award-winning book “Strife” last week, I took note of the demographics of the room.  The crowd of at least 60 people, most of whom were black men, a few Caucasian men, four black women including Ms. Moyo and myself and the six or so other women who were there were mostly European from different countries. This cosmopolitan mixture of people, one would think, would provide a dynamic for a very rich exchange and dialogue on Zimbabwean masculinity. Yet it also gives a glimpse of the everyday reality of living in a country dominated by the patriarchal practices of our African fathers, brothers, uncles, as the men in that audience also dominated the ensuing discussion.

Moyo only spoke after Chitando as a subtle indication of this domineering context.  Due to our socialized contexts of what is masculinity and femininity, the almost absence of black women is that most were probably fulfilling their domesticated roles of being at home, cooking and taking care of the family – with no free time to come and engage on this topic at Book Café.  Isn’t that why patriarchy continues to reign?  And continues to fail to provide a sound collective leadership in post-colonial Zimbabwe, with women being mostly absent from key economic, political and decision-making.  

Shimmer Chinodya’s ‘Strife’ is a social commentary on this particular dynamic through the lens of a family, where the father, Dangwe, struggles with the tension between Christianity and traditional African ancestral practices while asserting his authority as the head of his household. Men have been socialized to believe that they know best, that they are strong, tough, emotionally unavailable, always know best, and they are the ones who know how to run the world. And just look at our world!

Professor Chitando aptly describes Zimbabwe’s collective failure of leadership as an exhausted outworking of patriarchy. He also asserts how the authoritarian, insular, emotionally aloof and benevolent dictatorship that our current regime exerts cannot work anymore. His quote from “When A Man Cries” that says “I’m happy I cried. A man needs tears. Without tears, a man is incomplete” emphasizes how Zimbabwe needs men who will cry when they see the endless queues of humanity trying to get out the paltry Z$300 daily allowance.

Moyo reflected on how in “Strife”, the character Moloshi is very symbolic of the typical Zimbabwean family man – who seems to leave his families behind and occasionally throws food at them.  How do you transform this recluse masculinity to becoming more home-based, willing to interface with his female counterparts on a regular and more meaningful, sensitized, open minded level while building one’s family, community, nation?

Several men in the audience said they felt attacked by Chinodya’s portrayal of men in his book. Yet others voiced that they have resorted to mentoring younger generations of men through their NGO work or churches to deconstruct the present domineering masculinities that promote a violent, promiscuous, unaccountable, competitive nature that coerces women into submission. They are trying to encourage them to engage in more sensitive, respectful, power sharing behavior with women and girls.

We need to find a way of being that suits our customized life today. In Zimbabwe, our Shona and Ndebele cultures have been evolving, especially with the interface with colonialism and post colonialism.  So what do we keep, what do we throw out?

A challenge for Zimbabwean masculinity is to break away from the strict mindsets of being only one category of qualities. Why can’t masculinity embrace all of these qualities and break out of the confines of dictated manhood? Women can help. We need to transform our mindset on what a man should be and help them to break out of the old mould.

Post published in: Arts

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