THE theme of alienation, lack of rootedness and fragmented identities is discussed by several contributors to the anthology No More Plastic Balls and Other Stories. Last week we looked at two stories by Chirere.
We noticed how the psyches of children were fractured by wars and forces of the whitemen’s urbanisation politics in Africa.
This week we explore one more story by Chirere and one by Chihota.
Special detailed attention is given to Chirere’s ‘The Old Man’ and Chihota’s titular story, “No More Plastic Balls”.
Chirere’s story ‘An Old Man’ can be considered to be an extension of ‘Beautiful Children’ which we examined last week.
The children in the story are orphans running away from their countries where there are wars.
Children are turned into killing machines as some young boys own guns.
Children seek refuge in the streets of Harare where they find it difficult to find food and shelter.
“The police hate the street children”, (pg 34), so the children are always on the lookout for them.
The police intensify the suffering of children on the streets.
There are always running battles whenever they meet.
In fact these streets underline the rootedness of these abandoned children.
Ironically, the police fail street children, as they do not perform their duty of protecting the vulnerable people in society.
Instead of the street children going to the police to seek help, they are afraid of being beaten up.
Sam has a case to report to the police, but because of the fear he just shouts to them what Raji has done and intends to do without giving them all the evidence.
The irony is that the vulnerable children are failing to get protection from the responsible authorities who see them as a nuisance.
What a pity!
The institutions and the people who are supposed to rehabilitate these fractured identities are the ones who accelerate their fragmentation.
The point that should not be missed is that the situation is far from accidental; it is manufactured by a whole repertoire of forces enshrined in the entire colonial architecture.
Hardships that children face in war situation do not permit them to develop full humanity.
According to Moyana, cited in Ngara (ed.), (1996), the African resistance to colonialism and its divisions brought to the African family affected children who also got involved in the vicious struggle.
Fanon cited in Ngara (ed.), (1996) observes that in such a situation a violent revolution is inevitable.
Violence breeds violence, children who grow in a war environment are subjected to violence and in turn they internalise and export the violence to fellow creatures.
Karl Marx refers to such a condition as pathetic false consciousness.
Victims miss the real author of their miseries and they blame either themselves or fellow victims or they blame fate.
This instinct of the war zone is replayed in the children’s day-to-day interaction with each other.
There are running battles between gangs.
Raji turns out to be a bully because of his background of poverty and homelessness.
Life on the streets is survival of the fittest where Raji torments other children and controls half the city and their parking lanes in the city (34).
The behaviour of Raji reflects a schizophrenic attitude which echoes the fragmentation of his identity.
He comes across more as an animal than a human being, thus turning the whole city into a moral jungle.
He is the epitome of colonial capitalist tendencies.
Through him it is clear that children’s personalities are moulded by their jaundiced childhood experiences where pillars of cultural and moral orientation are visible by their absence.
The impact of war, homelessness and poverty on children has created street monsters such as Raji.
For the children there is a sense of going nowhere in particular in the vicious cycle of violence.
Raji is ruthless to other street children such that he is well known for what he is and no one crosses his path.
Raji is responsible for the death of Zhuwawo and like a typical monster, he has no regrets.
Raji’s behaviour portrays the nature of his society.
Raji grows up in an uncaring and violent society which affects his behaviour negatively.
Raji goes on to kidnap his former employer’s baby, whom he wants to be crushed to death by a train.
Prout and James (1990:28) note that; Childhood is a social structure, constituted in symbols that reveal the nature of the nature of the community that makes use of the childhood.
The impact of a child’s background on the psyche of the child and the child’s future personality is also demonstrated in Chihota’s ‘No more Plastic Balls’.
This is a painful story involving the rich people of the city who transform a house into a real detention centre.
They have barricaded themselves from the society as they are suspicious of everyone in the neighbourhood.
Their child Franklin grows up quarantined from the world of other children, thereby denying him his right for natural growth and in the process crippling his identity.
Franklin didn’t leave the yard unless he was with a member of his family, and that was usually during the weekends when his parents were not at work.
On special occasions Tsitsi took him along to the shops on the street corner. Perhaps that was the time Franklin first realised and wished for the company of other children playing in the street.
Boys and girls, some who were not yet at school-going age, played their games on the dusty roads.
Franklin started leaning over the fence sadly watching the others at their games.
He no longer enjoyed talking to me as much as he did in the past and I suspect he was not quite sure whether I conspired with his parents to keep him locked away from the fun in the streets (p. 168).
To be continued