WE have been on a lull for quite a long time following the schools holidays. Now it is back to school and therefore back to business as usual.
Remember the November examinations are beckoning and we have no time to spare.
This time around we begin with the Advanced Level set-book, The Uncertainty of Hope and our first port of call is background to the novel.
Incorporating background information into the introduction is intended to provide the reader with critical information about the novel, in particular focusing on the historical events that inform why the author set out on this poignant literary piece of work.
Sufficient background information helps your reader determine if you have a basic understanding of the novel and promotes confidence in the overall quality of your appreciation of the text.
Forms of contextualisation in the study of any particular literary text may be cultural, economic, historical, philosophical, spatial, political, social and temporal.
Part one of our analysis of the novel, The Uncertainty of Hope, will be confined to understanding the author’s biography stated against the philosophical forces that influenced her.
Valerie Joan Tagwira graduated from the University of Zimbabwe’s Medical School in 1997.
She studied and worked as a gynecologist in the UK before she returned to teach and work at Harare Hospital.
She is working as an obstetrician and gynecologist in Harare and lectures at the University of Zimbabwe in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Tagwira has a strong interest in health-related and developmental issues that affect women.
Her first novel, The Uncertainty of Hope, won the NAMA award in 2008.
Her short story ‘The Journey’ was published in the Caine Prize Anthology 2010, and ‘Mainini Grace’s Promises’ was published in Women Writing in Zimbabwe, translated into Shona for the anthology Mazambuko.
Background to the novel
The novel, published locally by Weaver Press, depicts the life of protagonist, Onai, who is a market vendor facing an avalanche of social and financial challenges in the Zimbabwe of the early 2000s which was characterised by sanctions-induced hyperinflation and political unrest.
The author chose ‘Operation Murambatsvina’ as the backdrop for her first novel; a painful story of domestic abuse, poverty and the fragility of survival in Zimbabwe’s high-density suburbs.
The effects of the clean-up operation fell hardest on urban neighbourhoods like Mbare in the capital Harare where a deepening economic crisis had left millions to daily re-invent their survival, earning a living as best they could through the informal sector.
Tagwira’s debut novel is set in that densely populated suburb of Mbare and explores the complex lives of Onai Moyo – a market woman and mother of three children – and her best friend, Katy Nguni – a vendor and black-market currency dealer.
The novel gives an insight into the challenges faced by a wide cross section of Zimbabweans.
The ripple effects of the economic sanctions imposed by Britain, EU and the US in 2000 followed the accelerated fast-track Land Reform Programme.
This point needs emphasis because the novel does not make an effort to situate the grinding poverty against the backdrop of historical political and economic persecution of Zimbabweans by Britain and its allies.
What the book shows is the struggle to survive; to create hope out of hopelessness.
Yet our children need to understand that the tribulations originate from the material history of colonisation and, especially the conditionalities set by the first Constitution which left Zimbabweans politically independent, but economically entrapped.
Yes, our children must know that the Lancaster House Constitution delivered Zimbabwe in 1980 but with too many strings attaching the newly independent nation to its former aggressors’ interests.
There is no debate about the fact that that document was not a people-driven piece of legislation or that it was not a people’s Constitution. Yet to date much has been written about land reform in Zimbabwe, but with little or no reference to the role Britain and ‘New Labour’ played in fomenting the anger that sparked the seizure of white farms.
The bulk of the blame has squarely been put on President Robert Mugabe’s Government, even though Britain’s Labour Party’s arrogance might have played a bigger part in the hostile takeover of British settler-owned farms by landless black Zimbabweans.
Melvin Mpandawana summarises this point aptly as follows:
“Independence saw the transfer of power from the minority whites to the black majority.
There was, however, only a minimal transfer of land to the black masses.
Land still belonged to the descendants of the British settlers.
At the expiry of the 10-year moratorium on land, the Government started reviewing land reform, or rather lack of it, as the white farmers had not been forthcoming in relinquishing land under the ‘willing-buyer-willing-seller’ clause of the Lancaster House Constitution.
Funds that had been promised by the British had not been provided either.
Only £44 million had come through against a budget of US$2 billion.
Whilst the Conservative Government was not that forthcoming with resources, they were at least willing to engage in discussions.
That was soon to change when the Labour Party took office at number 10 Downing Street in 1997.
At the CHOGM meeting held in Edinburgh in 1997, Tony Blair outlined a new blueprint on bilateral relations.
Essentially the Labour Government set new rules for engaging with developing countries.
The new blueprint at best did not acknowledge its colonial past and that agitated the Government of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s delegation at the summit approached Blair to discuss Britain’s obligations as outlined in the Lancaster House Agreement, but he refused to even have a meeting with them. Clare Short, the British International Development Minister, later responded to the Zimbabwean Government by repudiating British responsibility for colonial wrongs in Zimbabwe.
In a complete about turn, Short informed the Zimbabwean Government that the election of a Labour government ‘without links to former colonial interests’ meant Britain no longer had any ‘special responsibility to meet the cost of land purchases’. By the stroke of a pen, the Minister reneged on the British Government’s commitment to address land imbalances they created a century ago.
Mugabe’s government subsequently listed 1 500 farms for compulsory acquisition in 1999.
He insisted the British would have to foot the bill as they had promised because compensation was going to pay their kith and kin.
The British refused, and the war veterans aligned to Mugabe’s party retaliated by leading mass occupation of white-owned farms.
To date, almost all the 4 500 farms have been taken over by more than 400 000 black Zimbabwean families.
The shock caused by structural changes in land ownership, coupled with sanctions, resulted in a free fall of the Zimbabwe economy.
Indeed the land issue would have been addressed in a less disruptive way were it not for Britain’s Labour Party’s diplomatic guile.”
This part of our history is central to a correct analysis of the gruelling poverty that the novel narrates and the fact that the novel gives no hint of it invites suspicion.
But the answer is hardly far.
One wants to understand if it is a creative omission of the author or the author’s adherence to the rigid imperialist editorial policy of the publisher.
I am persuaded to believe the latter.
Weaver Press is on record as a fueller of alternative imperialist deconstructionist post-colonial discourse.
I just thought that this fact is lodged into the minds of our promising readers before we begin the full-fledged analysis so that they know the socio-economic and political background of this novel by a daughter of the soil is not authored by our leadership but by imperialist detractors.