Chenjerai Hove …the nightmare of staring our lies in the eyes


CHENJERAI Hove was a phenomenal writer, but he died a miserable man in deplorable and shameful circumstances.
His story is a tragic example of the agony when our lies finally catch up with us.
Many people believe his award-winning novel, Bones, was his best work of creative art, but I disagree.
I think Shadows was better.
Perhaps because Bones is a story about the war that I know so well it gets boring, but that is another story.
The development of Zimbabwean literature was grossly interfered with when the Zimbabwean story was hijacked by forces that wanted to protect the interests of our former colonisers particularly after the Land Reform Programme.
It was in that confusion that we lost many of our celebrated writers, including Chenjerai Hove.
If he had a dream, it is easy to imagine what it was.
By going into self-imposed exile in 2001, we can imagine he envisaged a massive hero’s return in a few years with cameras flashing at Harare International Airport while he read a triumphant statement about the monumental effort it required to get ZANU PF out of power.
There was an element of opportunism going into self-imposed exile.
But he seemed to want it so badly he was prepared to tell lies to facilitate that imagined triumphant return because in the eyes of the West, his acerbic criticism of ZANU PF had already made him a hero.
He claimed that he was running away from Zimbabwe because of a perceived threat to his life from the Government.
Everyone knew that maligning the name of Robert Mugabe and bad-mouthing Zimbabwe had become a fully-fledged money-making and fame-seeking business venture.
Thousands of people benefitted from it one way or the other.
That was how the element of dishonesty crept into the narrative of the Zimbabwean story and it lost its credibility, but the West was always standing close-by, providing moral courage, ready to reward those who had the courage to tell the lies.
I am surprised Bulawayo writer, Christopher Mlalazi has difficulty to see this point; where is the complication Chris?
Hove died a miserable man.
He had lost the argument against his conscience a long time ago.
Gleaning through accounts of people who met him in exile the past few years, you detect a crushing sense of loneliness, desperate helplessness, and complete despair.
And yet he resisted all calls from colleagues to come back home.
He was frightened to come back to face the demons of his lies.
He was frightened what the world would think when he returned and nothing happened to him.
Hundreds of false asylum seekers in the UK and Australia cannot come to bury their mothers or fathers because they are afraid nothing will happen to them and lose their political refugee status!
But what made Hove’s case more miserable was his hopeless belief that he still had any credibility and name to protect in the eyes of the Norwegians.
As Ignatius Mabasa intimated in his moving obituary in The Herald on Monday, in the street in Oslo, Hove was just another black refugee.
We have said it before; the West cannot define for us who our heroes are.
Anyone who thinks the British can make them a hero is lying to themselves.
What one might eventually get, if they are lucky, is the money, not the acknowledgement and the status.
It’s us Zimbabweans who have the power, capacity and prerogative to choose our own heroes, not outsiders.
There is a disarming aspect about the Shona culture that everyone talks about all the time: that our culture does not allow a person to speak badly about someone who has died.
But even in the midst of that controlled silence, there is always the jester or sahwira to expose the outrageous side of the deceased.
At the funeral of some young woman recently, the sahwira aped the careless swagger of the deceased, wore a mini-skirt and a matching handbag, high heeled shoes and dark sunglasses.
Then she stood by the side of an imaginary road and waved down imaginary passing cars.
If only the sahwira in this particular case was younger, she would have used her age to a devastating effect.
But even though she was older with spindly wrinkled legs and her mimicry a bit exaggerated, we laughed until our sides ached.
The husband of the deceased woman looked down on the ground and drew patterns on the sand with his fore-finger, ashamed to look anyone in the eyes.
He had been stripped of all clothes, his marriage thoroughly exposed he wished the earth would open in front of him and swallow him.
Therefore, it is not true that the Shona culture discourages people from speaking badly about someone who has died.
Could it have been said louder than this?
And when they finally bring home Hove’s body for burial, what banter will the sahwira play to amuse the gallery?
Acharova bembera ripi pamberi pechaunga chevanhu?
It’s not far-fetched to imagine someone mischievously suggesting she will play some shadowy white woman enticing Hove to Europe, leaving behind his devastated wife and children.
Of course it doesn’t have to be true because it is all done in jest!
The similarities between Freedom Nyamubaya and Chenjerai Hove lie in the battle to appropriate them.
There was a serious scuffle with the West over ownership of Nyamubaya that raged until we buried her.
With Chenjerai, the West doesn’t seem enthusiastic to fight over him at all.
This is how heartless it can be.
We have warned our fellow brothers and sisters to be on guard against this callous behaviour; when the West is done with you, it dumps you like some useless rug.
Hove will remain Zimbabwe’s internationally acclaimed and award-winning writer; he didn’t have to die so far away and in such lonely and miserable circumstances.
We should be proudly holding night wakes at his home in Chadcombe, reciting his poems and reading his novels until we bury him.
If Chimurenga music maestro, Thomas Mapfumo, does not swallow his pride and come back home, he will one day die equally miserably, with relatives and friends scrounging for money to bring the body home.
That is the misfortune of opportunistic self-imposed exile.
For views and comments, email


  1. I canr agree more, its sad really sad that there are people who accepted his narratives of being haunted by CIO to leave the country. Its all hogwash and I am sure Hove had serious pyschological problems for him to live by such lies. Its really sad.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here