Hero of African literature: Part Two…Cde Gora was born to serve

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IN his recollection of Nyadzonia, a refugee camp and military base, which was ‘sold out’ by a ZANLA commander from within the camp and bombed by Rhodesian Selous Scouts on the morning of August 9 1976, Cde Alexander ‘Gora’ Kanengoni writes: “A small girl of not more than eight, whose chest had been ripped open by a machine gun with part of her lung now exposed asked me as she calmly sat in a donga: ‘Do you think I will survive comrade?’ Strangely, all through that nightmare, I had not cried, not a single tear.
I stood up, looked away and wept for something that was much, much more than the tragedy of the little girl…”
Cde Kanengoni was at Chimoio Camp when Rhodesian forces attacked Nyadzonia.
He was among the platoon of 30 men dispatched to the camp to handle the bodies and body parts which lay scattered all over, in preparation for their burial, soon after the news of the attack was received and wrote of the madness which was to haunt him: “I will tell the story of the massacre not as a survivor but as one of the first people who got to the scene immediately after the massacre.
There was nothing to understand.”
His use of literary devices and real-life imagery coerces the readers to stream the words and images together in their minds.
In this way, the readers cannot remain detached, but are drawn into the events of our history of liberation and the seemingly unending conversation and question of indigenous African land rights.
According to those who knew him well, Cde Kanengoni was a sensitive man with an enthusiasm for life and the ability to listen intently and assiduously, silently building mental notes and summaries of a given situation.
A written assignment would follow, based on one’s angst, with the simple instruction: “Write it down …tell us your story.”
He knew too well the power of literary catharsis.
This is his story.
Cde Kanengoni, the author and journalist, counted among his literary peers Dambudzo Marechera and Charles Mungoshi.
He later became the good-humored and motivating Deputy Editor for the Zimbabwean weekly publication The Patriot; prior to which, he was head of research services at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
An unassuming academic, journalist and writer, whom many describe as a methodical, charming and easy-going man, he had an incisive wit, stubborn determination and infectious roaring laughter.
Cde Kanengoni was born on September 17 1951, in Enkeldoorn (now Chivhu), in the then Southern Rhodesia.
He passed way on April 12 2016 in Harare, the capital city, where he lived modestly with his wife, among the people he loved so well.
He was declared a liberation war hero.
Chivhu is 142km south of Harare.
Here, the first white settlers, mostly Afrikaaner Boer pioneers, arrived in the area in 1895.
In 1896, on orders from Cecil John Rhodes, it was laid out as a township.
It was the commercial centre of a rich cattle ranching area.
The name Enkeldoorn means ‘single thorn’, or ‘lone thorn tree’. As one of the most racist settler-enclaves in Rhodesia, the district has remained predominantly the domain of Afrikaaner farmers.
Cde Kanengoni attended Marymount College and was a graduate of Kutama Mission College.
He trained as a teacher at St Paul’s Teacher Training College.
He attended the University of Zimbabwe, where he earned a BA degree in English.
He was a former ZANLA freedom fighter, where he acquired the nom de guerre ‘Gora’ (Vulture).
A man of high political consciousness and compassion, he was committed to the ideology of the armed struggle.
Cde Kanengoni was among the first group of 100 recruits to attend Wampoa Political Academy, later renamed Chitepo College.
He was an educationalist and ardent supporter of education for ex-combatants.
He was a man of letters; a soldier par excellence and, most of all, a father figure to many.
His literature on Zimbabwe’s War of Liberation (circa.1965-1979), helped many Zimbabwean citizens come to terms with the later groundswell of indigenous land reclamations (1999-2002).
It was Cde Kanengoni’s style in person, and prose, to mentor many with his mantra, like that of Ernest Hemmingway’s style: ‘Keep it simple, talk to the people’.
His wise words still resonate in the ears of those who would listen.
In his amenable, open manner, he made time for everyone; regardless of race or social standing, amity came naturally for Cde Kanengoni.
Not surprising, people of all colours and all walks of life thronged his funeral as they had done his office – eyes blood-shot with tears; desolate with grief but with hearts full of good memories of this great, gentle mentor.
His persona exuded in the crowd of family, friends, mourners, peers, work colleagues, the military, the political, the literary and academia who were present in the chapel, at his home and at his graveside; the many common men and women who acknowledged his many kind deeds and words of motivation.
Even those who had never met him had come to pay their respects; each spoke to the other with the same easiness and affection that defined the man.
A man of the people, he revived lost souls, accommodated social misfits and gave hope to the downtrodden. No matter how trifling, your concern and opinion mattered to him.
His passion was to see justice done, that credit was given to those who worked for it and deserved to excel.
Cde Kanengoni always made one feel needed and appreciated. He gave credence and confidence to one’s cause.
Born to serve, he simply loved life, people, Zimbabwe and literature.
That being said, Cde Kanengoni’s contribution to Zimbabwe’s post-war literature merits its due attention, albeit late.
It is not only a body of astute literature, but a study of a society under colonial subjugation experiencing an enforced transition and tests of valour, for those like him, who were caught up in the maelstrom of the battlefield.
Cde Kanengoni published four novels in his lifetime: Vicious Circle (1983), When the Rainbird Sings (1988), Effortless Tears (1993), which won him the Zimbabwe’s Book Publishers Literary Award in 1994.
His most famous novel Echoing Silences (1997) has earned a place in the syllabi of several colleges and universities in Zimbabwe.
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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