Kanengoni’s departure an echoing silence

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LIBERATION war veteran and writer Cde Alexander Kanengoni’s passing away has hit us like a lightning bolt from a cloudless sky.
On Thursday evening we spoke on the phone and planned to meet and review the war veterans meeting on Friday.
On Friday I was hit by a hay fever bout and postponed the meeting to Monday, but did not call him to say so.
On Monday I was delayed at home and at the Zimbabwe Heritage Trust Headquarters and made up my mind to meet him on Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday 1pm I was told he was gone!
And, today, I am alternately feeling both surprised and not surprised that my sense of loss, though heavy, was, and is, absolutely without bitterness.
And, I feel the same strange sense in how my tears for him are also without bitterness.
I also doubt if there will ever be any bitterness in me regarding his passing on and I do not wonder why it was him who had to die and not another.
It is no use.
I am glad to be sure he would have said: “Of course! Death is a fact of life.”
He liked to exclaim: “Of course!”
But I know the sense of loss will linger and nag me for a long time to come.
And then it will subside and give in to fond memories.
And we will come to accept and get used to his not being there.
Cde Kanengoni’s last assignment to me was to write something commemorative of the legend, Herbert Pfumaindini Chitepo, who was assassinated on March 14 1975.
He said: “I know you are very passionate about Chitepo.
“Please, come up with something good.
“The revolution needs Chitepo now more than ever.”
And, when I went to his office I brought with me a copy of the legend’s 1974 speech which I transcribed.
And when I showed it to him, he said: “Iwe chiregera kunyora.Watopedza so.
“This is the greatest thing that you have ever done for me.”
And now, he is silent and in another sense, not exactly silent either.
It is a strange silence; a strange kind of silence that seems to give a new cast to his greatest work, Echoing Silences.
I read Echoing Silences before I met him and when I finally came to know him, I discovered he talked just like his pen.
And, today, I find I cannot, in my mind, separate the writer Kanengoni from the protagonist ‘Munashe’ in Echoing Silences.
And I genuinely think that it is not sacrilege to fondly believe that even as I write now, he is, wherever he is, like Munashe (pages 86-88), meeting the familiar faces of the fallen war veterans with whom he contested incorrigible Rhodesian racists like David Coltart, during the liberation struggle.
I am sure, wherever he is, there is really a ‘Base 10’ where Chairman Chitepo and Jason Moyo are addressing a rally with Chairman Chitepo’s voice actually reverberating above the singing voices of the fallen war veterans:
“Forward with the struggle!
“Forward with the masses of Zimbabwe!
Pasi neudzvanyiriri!
“Down with nepotism!
“Down with tribalism!
“Down with regionalism!
“Down with corruption!
“A luta continua!
“The struggle continues!”
This is what the war veteran Kanengoni wrote in Echoing Silences, and I am sure wherever he is, he would want us to quote him correctly and proudly.
No genuine patriot would want his words distorted.
Every genuine patriot should want them echoed to a Zimbabwean posterity that stretches to eternity.
“And then there was silence and Munashe looked through the milling crowd and he saw him at last, the Chairman, on the raised platform: grey hair and fiery eyes, in a pin-striped blue suit, lifting a clenched fist and Jason Moyo standing next to him: suave, wearing a polo-neck and jacket, arms clasped in front of him and a far-away look in his eyes.
And then the Chairman talked angrily of a series of monumental betrayals and Jason Moyo wondered how the politics, the wealth and the economy of the entire country was slowly becoming synonymous with the names of less than a dozen people and he asked how in such circumstances the struggle could not be said to have lost its way and the man went down on his knees and wept: Cry Zimbabwe! Cry the beloved country! The atmosphere became electric and Chitepo continued:
“It is shocking to see the reluctance that we have to tell even the smallest truth. Ours shall soon become a nation of liars.
“We lie to our wives.
“We lie to our husbands.
“We lie at work.
“We lie in Parliament.
“We lie in Cabinet.
“We lie to each other.
“And what is worst is that we have begun to believe our lies.
“What I fear most is that we will not leave anything to our children except lies and silence.”
Someone in the gathering began to weep and Munashe craned his neck to see who it was and he saw that it was Doctor Samuel Parirenyatwa and Leopold Takawira, standing close by, put his arm around the weeping man and the Chairman continued:
“It all began with silence.
“We deliberately kept silent about some truths, no matter how small, because some of us felt that we would compromise our power.
“This was how the lies began because when we came to tell the history of the country and the history of the struggle, our silences distorted the story and made it defective.
“Then the silence spilled into the everyday lives of our people and translated itself into fear which they believe is the only protection that they have against imaginary enemies whom we have taught them to see standing behind their shoulders.
“They are no longer able to say what they want.
“Neither are they able to say what they think because they have become a nation of performers, miming their monotonous roles before an empty theatre.
“And behind the stage, we, their leaders, expend our energy, coining high-sounding words – indigenisation, empowerment, smart-partnerships, affirmative action-with which we will silence them forever.
“We owe the people an explanation.
“The struggle continues.”

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