Hero of African literature: Part Three…Cde Kanengoni lives on!

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IN his novels, Cde Alexander ‘Gora’ Kanengoni vividly addresses the historical injustices concerning indigenous land expropriation and inequality of the races.
The land, for the writer, was the capital and cultural base of the indigenous Africans’ universal right to own their land. Its dispossession is now recognised internationally as a crime against humanity.
But it was not so when Cde Kanengoni took up arms in the mid-1970s.
Carrying the load of grievances of the people in pre-independent Zimbabwe in his heart, gun and pen, Cde Kanengoni left a teaching job to join other ZANLA comrades (some were ambushed and killed before they could engage in combat) in the war of liberation as the Rhodesian forces massed for their final offensive.
In his literary works, the writer emerges as a man whose very existence was a reproach to the violent absurdity and human depravity in the time of the Rhodesian regime.
Although based mainly on the Zimbabwe war of liberation, (1965-1980), his books are not filled with gore and guts, but with sensitively written prose reflecting the innocent indigenous African protagonists’ state of mind.
While his short stories and novels may be an expiation or catharsis of sorts for him, our nation Zimbabwe, even after the recent elections, still needs to expunge the memories of colonial brutality and its resultant war and resolve past animosities and conflicts.
The novels are written by a survivor of the war of liberation; sometimes demeaning and erroneously referred to as the ‘Rhodesian Bush War’ by the unrepentant.
It was more than just a bush war for the indigenous African people.
It was a desperate and fraught quest for freedom, self actualisation and majority rule and for the repossession of our ancestral soil. Zimbabwe, a landlocked country of 390 624km2, made history as the first southern African country to introduce land reform, although under duress in 2000, under the auspices and direction of its former President Robert Mugabe from 1980-2017.
Almost a decade-and-a-half later, other southern African countries are still bound by unjust and archaic colonial laws that hinder their fair reclamation of their indigenous ancestral land.
With exceptional literary standards, many of Cde Kanengoni’s stories are tense yet consistently compelling.
Common in all his novels is Cde Kanengoni’s simplicity, pacing, dialogue and an eye for local colour.
His books address the historical injustices of the indigenous land expropriation that was so close to him and the settler’s unremitting destabilisation and displacement that affected the indigenous people.
In Cde Kanengoni’s four novels, everyday characters convey feelings of frustration and despondency upon returning home from war and are at pains to come to terms with their disadvantaged existence and the family break-ups they experienced as a result of the war of liberation.
In most of his novels, Cde Kanengoni subtly articulates the major burning grievances still pertinent in post-colonial Africa; the seizure of the land by foreign colonialists.
Land, land, land is still an issue for southern Africa today!
In our unfinished history of reconciling and recording Zimbabwe’s war of liberation from an indigenous Afrocentric perspective, there are many stories still to be told; many battles and ghosts of mental imperialism still to be exorcised.
Given, of the many who went to war, few returned mentally and emotionally unscathed.
In Cde Kanengoni’s oeuvre, we are presented with a first-hand view and understanding of the war from the perspective of the soldier and the ordinary rural peasant.
Cde Kanengoni’s novels, set against the backdrop of Zimbabwe’s war of liberation, are packed with action, atmosphere and ingenuity currently still very relevant and topical, especially given the new political dispensation in Zimbabwe today.
A review of Cde Kanengoni’s literary works as regards the war of liberation and the land cannot be more propitious.
In his intricately woven tapestry of novellas and short stories, under the Pacesetter series, we witness the author fighting a literary war to liberate the land and its people, by dint of his potent and compelling literature.
To read his novels is to understand the times in which we live and the necessity of comprehensive land reform in Africa.
The books are the works of a superb storyteller, whose sinewy prose wrenches at Zimbabwe’s protracted nerve-stretching battle for survival and liberation from its oppressors.
The weight and gravity of the war of liberation was made tangible in the confident hands of this excellent scribe.
The content and context of hunhu/ubuntu, which resonates through every aspect of African life, including war, is ever-present in Cde Kanengoni’s novels.
Hunhu/ubuntu is the very fibre that binds the spine of his novels.
Cde Kanengoni has bequeathed us with four novels that edify our national values, land and hard-won liberty.
His narratives are necessary for the understanding and appreciation of the land we inhabit and the life and freedoms we take for granted.
His novels have a reportorial aloofness which is countered by his own sentiment and the internal monologues of one who participated in the war.
He turned to full-time farming in Centenary after Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Programme.
Much of Cde Kanengoni’s narrative is interspersed with ruminations about life and freedom as well as about land and the right to own it and live on it.
The novels are an embodiment of his unparalleled creative instinct and unwavering patriotic love for his country.
The underlying theme throughout most of his books was the post-war psychological condition known in clinical terms as Post-War Trauma (PWT) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The war of liberation was a series of heart-wrenching events in the history of Africa, being one the longest wars to be fought on the African continent, which many people are still coming to terms with.
The story of Echoing Silences (1997) is centred on the life of Munashe Mungate who runs away from the University of Rhodesia to join the liberation struggle in Mozambique to help liberate his country and people from Rhodesian colonialism and oppression that brought untold poverty and suffering to the indigenous African people in Zimbabwe.
He was a victim of PWT which has inconclusive effects on him. How many other ‘Munashes’ are out there in Zimbabwe today?
It is his story – Cde Kanengoni’s auto-biographical account told with telling effect.
Cde Kanengoni’s post-war literature should not be ignored, but be declared as part of our national heritage and the social-cultural history of Zimbabwe.
For me, Kanengoni still lives on!
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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