The political importance of Dambudzo Marechera

dambudzo_marecheraI have spend the last three years reading for a doctorate on the life and works of Dambudzo Marechera. (Pictured: Dambudzo Marechera)

I am a great admirer. He gave me the gift of probing things, of asking questions, of not believing everything at face value. I never met the man, and I am glad I never did. My relationship with Marechera is as a reader of his writings. And then I encountered the many myths and legends of the man. If Dambudzo Marechera had not existed, Zimbabwe would have invented him.

Who was Dambudzo Marechera? What I think, after having plowed through virtually all the books written by and about him, is that he was not only one of the greatest Zimbabwean writer, but also one of its most unusual and impressive literary practitioner. Quite disconcertingly, instead of revealing himself a little more with every page I read, Marechera seemed to disappear progressively. His life and work teem with contradictions of every sort.


One of the questions Marechera embodied was that of identity, in the most mathematical sense of the word, and he dissects its complexity in The Black Insider. It seems, he did everything in his power to confound and confuse us, to throw us simultaneously on and off the scent, to pull us into a dizzying dance of identities that pulverizes all possible points of reference and, ultimately, compels us to ask ourselves the same question he seemed to ask himself every minute of his life: who is Dambudzo Marechera and does really exist? The incomprehension into which he plunges us gradually takes on the aura of a philosophy.

Is there a single irrefutable statement that can be made about him? He was born. That much is certain. But his age changes with every retelling of his history growing up in Rusape. What about his name? For a long while, he was known as Charles Marechera but it seems the expulsion from Oxford University for disorderly behavior and other unspecified misdemeanor and the subsequent publication and fame of his maiden book, The House of Hunger, he became widely known as the writer we all know as Dambudzo Marechera.

Marechera offers a unique and invaluable record of pre- and post-independence Zimbabwe as he lived to witness the transition. But what most Marechera scholarship stubbornly fails to acknowledge or suppress in its vein to Europeanize him and despite the authors own denials and apparent controversies on the matter is that he was a Zimbabwean and it is clear Zimbabwe was the centre around which his creativity largely revolved.

The European experience deepened his insight into human affairs. From the very beginning, he contrasted strikingly with the closed, static and monolithic bravado the new Zimbabwe government adopted in the first years of independence. Instead of change, he saw ignominious stasis. Marechera was uncompromising in his pursuit of the often unpalatable truth.

While Robert Mugabe & Co attempted from day one to create a whole generation that thinks in a Zanufied way, it was in this context that Marechera helped to keep alive alternative and pluralistic concepts of political and individual morality, social justice and national identity. And it is partly these values, and his colourful personality that The House of Hunger Poetry Slams held in Harare and Johannesburg celebrates.

Stripping naked

On his return from exile in 1982, what Marechera saw was what he had always known before he left: nothing had changed in the house of hunger. Its spiritual emptiness was even more apparent. The nemesis was no longer white. The new leadership had replaced the whiteman in his big house and even copied the way he conducted his business.

In any case, Fanons pitfalls of consciousness were manifesting in this theft every hour that the new black middle class lived, and the immoral ground on which they stood. This was the subject of his last book to be published in 1984 while he was still alive, Mindblast.

Marechera did not agree with the politically instrumental view that literature must serve the revolution and its leaders. He is the only writer who articulated the black rage of the deceived povo in a manner unprecedented in Zimbabwean literature. His style of communicating this rage bespoke of a boiling urgency and an audacious sincerity. Marechera was a chronicler of rage because of his great love for his people. His love was neither abstract nor ephemeral. It was a strong bond with a devalued people whose daily struggles he identified with.

And the only way for him to reach the truth was by dismantling or stripping naked any kind of disguise, pose or attitudinizing. This is where Marecheras political importance lies. He confronted the atrocities committed against his people in colonial Rhodesia, and more significantly he attacks falsity and pretence in post-colonial Zimbabwe.

Tinashe Mushakavanhu is a young Zimbabwean writer and academic. He teaches English literature at the University of Kent in England.

Post published in: Opinions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *