Hero of African literature: Part One

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AMONG Zimbabwean contemporary authors, an unsung literary hero was Cde Alexander Kanengoni (1951-2016).
It is time his story is told; not from grief, but from the point of view of his literary acumen, his life and war experiences, his books, editorship and leadership.
Re-living African literature of war, words and wisdom, it has become our obligation to tell his story.
Perhaps I say this with tears in my eyes and a little remorse at our own negligence.
It was 11:25pm, and I had finished reading the last sentence of his novel.
I was short of words to describe his genius.
Most remarkable about his books is their accessibility to audiences of different literary levels.
He lived among us, laughed and cried with us; but did we respond?
No!
Did we even care about his story?
The beauty of his literature is that his story is the story of our land; the story of every Zimbabwean peasant and the story of our future, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Since his first publication When the Rainbird Cries in 1988, almost nine years following Zimbabwe’s war of liberation, the former ZANLA combatant, writer and mentor Cde Kanengoni, began to articulate the most complex issues concerning Zimbabwe’s war of liberation, land rights and indigenisation in the simplest of terms in his written body of works.
His short stories and novellas are deceptively congenial, simple and yet often sinewy; bullet-holed with just enough fibrous gore to make one experience the pain and madness of war.
Writing from within the core of war trauma is a constant struggle between the power of words and the attempt at giving a shape to what is being rejected and silenced psychologically in one’s mind, Cde Kanengoni achieved this feat admirably.
The solid, sparse, sparkling sentences in his novels, bring light and hope to those who experienced the dark depths, despair and insanity of the war and equally, to those readers who had not known the war.
As a writer, Cde Kanengoni knew how to subtly manipulate the reader.
From the core of the readers’ own dark consciousness, he supplied enough details for them to build their own descriptions of Rhodesian brutality; blitzes, offensives, cannonades and bombardments on innocent civilian camps and military bases.
His literary imagery is indelible.
In short, sharp sentences and paragraphs, using active verbs, Cde Kanengoni knits a tale of war exploits, suspense and home-truths with clarity, compression and immediacy.
These techniques and devices make his books readable and memorable.
His lean and sinewy prose, with laconic understated dialogue, is undemanding of the reader, yet fibrous, fresh and clearly revealing of the horrors of war, and the minds of the people who were unwittingly involved in a struggle many did not understand.
Stepping into Cde Kanengoni’s combat boots and the creative eloquence of his mind, one begins to understand the war and human frailty in the face of the constant threat of death wrought by Rhodesian bullets.
A surrealist introduction sets the tone and mood of the novel Echoing Silences (1997) reprinted 2001, 2012, by Baobab, Academic Books Harare and also published by Heinemann (African Writers’) in 1999.
It is a bare exorcism of the horrors of war.
Cde Kanengoni writes of those torrid times: “The war was a violent time, when people thought about nothing else, except killing or being killed.
There were no real people in the war.
We were automatons.”
The initial imagery in the first chapter of Echoing Silences is one of a former combatant madly hallucinating, suffering from shell-shock and post-war trauma (PWT), on medically prescribed sedatives, trying to understand the madness of the war and reconnect in Zimbabwe’s post-war society.
Many indigenous African soldiers who took part in Zimbabwe’s war of liberation and other wars in the region did not receive the necessary post-war psychiatric therapy and found themselves still haunted by the spectre of the war, decades later.
For Munashe Mungate, the central character in Cde Kanengoni’s book Echoing Silences, the walls of his mind had already fallen in.
The protagonist is a walking nightmare.
His mind is taken back to the war front, hovering between internalised visions and unspoken soliloquies and the reality of post-war Zimbabwe etched in his mind.
Chillingly surreal and written in eloquent prose, Cde Kanengoni left us a fine novel based on the horrors of war; which is historical, accessible and stirring.
Early in the book, to dispel the rumours and possibilities of him being a sell-out, Munashe is commanded to kill an innocent villager with a baby on her back to prove his loyalty to the cause and war.
Although he was fully committed to the cause, Munashe, in the book, is compelled to prove his loyalty and dispel rumours and possibilities of him being a sell-out.
He is asked by the chief security officer to kill an innocent villager with a baby on her back. He refuses to do so out of pity and the conscience of basic human nature and as a result, he is continually suspected of being a sell-out.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher.For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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