Writer exposes hardships faced by migrant workers

Internationally acclaimed fiction writer Spiwe Mahachi-Harper has published her third book titled ‘Footprints in The Mists of Time’, tracing the hardships faced by migrant workers.

Spiwe Mahachi-Harper: her narrative defines the nature of colonial exploitation in Southern Africa.
Spiwe Mahachi-Harper: her narrative defines the nature of colonial exploitation in Southern Africa.

The whopping 181,008-word tome is believed to be the longest novel by a Zimbabwean. “Wellington Kusena’s Shona novel of 2011, Dzimbabwedande, was the longest at 108,264 words until I published my book recently,” said the author in a recent interview.

Footprints is a wide-ranging historical novel based on the life and times of generations of migrant African labourers who settled in Southern Rhodesia before it became Rhodesia and subsequently Zimbabwe. This is a welcome alternative to the dry history that tends to work with facts, maps, figures and diagrams.

This book traces four generations of workers of Malawian origin, beginning with Bhaureni Nyirenda’s journey from Nuhono village in the Nkotakhota District of then Nyasaland in 1899, to settle at Southern Rhodesia’s Patchway Valley Mine in Gatooma (now Kadoma) District. He moves from Bhaureni to his son Masauso, through to grandson Chakumanda and great grandson, Mavhuto (in the present day) and their wives, children and neighbours who are variably from Zambia and Mozambique.

The story explores the treacherous journey from Nyasaland (now Malawi) to Southern Rhodesia on foot, drifting slowly in different droves and waves of various sizes. This is a story about the oppression of people and their consistent dehumanisation on the farms and mines, leaving the conscious reader with a suggestion that Africans have travelled a very long road of suffering.

This is a story about the anxieties of people brutally isolated and trapped in localities far away from their original homes. It explores the particular agony of moving on and ever drifting without finding an anchor and with no ability to return to the source. The narrative defines the nature of colonial exploitation in Southern Africa.

The book also traces segregation and xenophobia directed at migrant workers.

“On the other hand, the migrant labourer is reminded by the indigenous Shona people and ironically, the white man, of not belonging to Southern Rhodesia. They are MaBhurandaya or MaBwidi, who come from the compound and no sane person should befriend or marry them. All they do is get marooned here and shed tears when homesick. They sweat in the mines and suffer and die from the dreaded respiratory diseases from the dusty underground. Their destiny is the mine cemetery which is just a junk-heap,” added Mahachi- Harper.

“Yet these migrant workers have made enormous contributions to the various societies where they settled. If truth be told, migrant workers’ names are found within the ranks of ZANLA, ZIPRA, ANC and other such organisations which liberated the region from colonial domination. Their role in the politics, sports and arts of the region is very difficult to ignore,” she said.

Mahachi-Harper has also published Trials and Tribulations and Echoes in the Shadows. A trained teacher with a degree in French Culture and Civilisation, she divides her time between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom.

Post published in: News
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