Prince Rayanne Chidzvondo
Real things have been happening lately. Rude awakenings, like how the world is made of stories. Not atoms and molecules — stories. Sometimes these stories are the sunlight that lands on your face during warm winter days, they dance about the surfaces of the world in what becomes history, but with fluidity and grace. Sometimes they bite. Like fact.
“These Bones Will Rise Again”, is a book by essayist and novelist, Panashe Chigumadzi, and a reflection on Robert Mugabe’s ouster, exploring events leading up to the transitional government that brought his 37-year rule to an end.
In a searing account, the book explores the heady post-independence days of the 80s, the economic downturn of the 90s, through to the effects of the fast track land reform policies at the end of the century.
Out of Zimbabwe’s official versions of history, Chigumadzi wrests a complex, and personal history of the past and present through intercession with two ancestral spirits — anti-colonial heroine Mbuya Nehanda, the founding ancestor of Zimbabwe’s revolution, and her own beloved grandmother, who passed shortly before the rise of the new government.
In a male dominated society and historically in our generations, we have been mostly exposed to heroes. It has always been the story of a man taking lead. In some cases, the heroine, written by a male author, was masculine, taller and something less relatable to. Panache Chigumadzi, a heroine on the writer’s pen, reflects the struggles of two women generations apart from hers.
Panache deviates from the predictable normative by tracing the story of two women of influence in her life. Mbuya Nehanda, a female spiritualist leader from Mashonaland and a key leader in the First Chimurenga uprisings against colonial settlers. Then the story of her own grandmother, Mbuya Chigumadzi.
I’ve met writers before, and most times they seem to be cut more or less from the same cloth. They tell stories because they’re afraid of life, or have a profound deeper craving for acceptance and glory. We need writers who fear nothing, writers who do not sugar-coat things in order for them to be swallowed by the masses.
“I am interested in writing about Zimbabwe, and in particular Zimbabwean women in my fiction, I write about all people in Zimbabwe dealing with the current social, political and economic changes. Those are the things that fulfil my work,” Panashe says.
The first time I met Panashe, there was something different about her. She wasn’t afraid, or as awkward as I tend to get around other writers. Something about her reminded me of deserted libraries whose history threatens to flow out at hello and drown you whole.
We pour our souls into stories, letting the world think our thoughts, letting them into our lives, even if only for a moment. Maybe because pictures capture a strange beauty that is overlooked in reality, the sampled text, “The Story of a Life in a Single Photograph”, from “These Bones Will Rise Again” has Panashe dig deep into the image of the woman who would become her grandmother.
Hosting a non-fiction workshop organised by Litfest at Theatre in the park, Panashe Chigumadzi took writers through the essence of storytelling, marking a stride on how sometimes the most intriguing stories are true.
Being the founding editor of Vanguard Magazine, a platform for young black women coming of age in post-apartheid South Africa, Panashe was born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa where she still raises the Zimbabwean flag high.
As we sat during the workshop, absorbing everything in, we read “The Story of a Life in a Single Photograph”. Maybe in a photo taken at an exact moment of her grandmother’s life; a particular frame of memory opened us to the journey of women who have come before us. Covered in a filter of reminiscence; the scent of originality in her words are almost moving. Chigumadzi probes with appeal, the burden of undressing a woman off everything else she has been known to represent by telling a sole story of a woman’s survival and independence of mind.
I always like to say, our grandmothers were feminists to, we just did not pick it up well enough. And while I’m writing this and as nostalgia sinks its teeth into my skin, I guess I’m realising that it’s not the view I miss — it’s the walk on the pavements of a history we find in people around us — something not be taken for granted. And through Chigumadzi, I am also noticing, real things have been happening lately.
Interestingly, she was first published in her school newsletter, over a poem about the slide in her garden, a publication which she still has at home. This serves as a reminder of how she was born with writing within herself, as a talent beyond everything we relate to now.
During the period between Grade 11 and 12, she developed her first long short story and from the story she developed her debut novel “Sweet Medicine”. The book was published in South Africa 2015 by BlackBird Books to critical and popular acclaim, winning the K Sello Duiker Literary Prize in 2016.
“Writing is natural to me, I have always loved words and reading and so it’s just the things I gravitate to. It’s something I love doing and something I enjoy doing.”
“Everything that I do, all the spaces that I move in, from academia to writing as a novelist or writing as a columnist for different papers and being a contributing editor or being curator for a festival. Everything I do has something to do with words and writing. My business is the world of words,” he says.
“Sweet Medicine” is set in Harare, exploring the life of a young graduate Tsitsi, who seeks romantic and economic security at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic woes in 2008. The book has been described as one of articulate descriptions and creative abilities, certifying her spot as a remarkable rising wordsmith.
“I had the ambition to be published, at least from when I started writing that short story that became ‘Sweet Medicine’.
“Although I studied accounting, I realised this was not my passion and I wanted to write for a living. I wanted people to read my work, in the same way I would read the works of those I admired.”
“I decided I wanted to pursue writing when I was in my final year of study at Wits University. It came out of a desire to share my work with other people.”
Hosting non-fiction workshops around Zimbabwe has been a good way for her to re-engage other writers, and it is a necessity in keeping the movement alive.
She shows writers everywhere that there is always more to be said and many ways to exploit writing.
Her means to give back to the Zimbabwean writing community are remarkable, following a trend of ‘up-and-go’ by most Zimbabwean writers.
Writers are the future of the history to be told in generations to come. And if one also believes in real things happening, perhaps it’s time these stories were told, after all, tomorrow is another day. Literary indulgence always sets free.