Zenzele: A letter for my daughter (1996)
By J Nozipo Maraire
Crown Publication: New York
By Thando Sithole
ZENZELE is a beautiful letter, written by a mother to her daughter as she departs to the USA for university.
The mother sternly, but gently reminds her daughter that there is no place like home.
Each chapter is a single lesson intended to warn Zenzele of the hardships she may face as a black woman studying abroad at Harvard University
The book, written in 1996 by Zimbabwean-born American-based neurosurgeon Dr J Nozipo Maraire, is almost biographical.
The writer herself left the country to pursue a medical career.
In an interview the author confirmed it was her story put together from a collection of childhood stories she heard from her grandmother, mother and aunt about their fight for independence.
“I had inhabited Rhodesia, but in Zimbabwe, I lived,” Amai Zenzele writes.
Maraire was born during Rhodesia and left for university after the country won its independence hence her mother reminding her of the struggle they faced to be recognised in their own homeland.
The struggle for independence was also a struggle for identity and the book becomes relevant to the present times.
The economic hardships and sanctions brought upon Zimbabwe saw a massive exodus of skilled and unskilled citizens flocking to foreign lands.
As the years go by, those that have settled in the Diaspora begin to despise their homeland and indentify with the foreign land than their home.
In the book, Amai Zenzele’s cousin, with the assistance of the whole village, sends his boy to Oxford University to practise medicine.
After promises to write home, Byron sets foot in London, he is soon to forget his promise and according to Amai Zenzele he begins to write confusing letters full of questions which she could not answer.
Byron soon afterwards marries a white woman and drops out of school where he stops writing letters.
Suddenly, Byron stops communicating only to come back home 20 years later, an Englishman in a tweed suit.
He refuses to visit his sick mother because it would be too much for his wife.
When he is queried, he responds, “Proud of what? Of the mud huts? Of the children running around in rags, playing with rusted tins? Of coup after coup? Proud of potholes in the streets, queues for sugar, buses that do not work? Is that what I am to hold my head high about?… Poor beggars, we should be ashamed, not proud!… the world’s most miserable excuse for a continent … a cultural desert and a political swamp … and so on and so forth.”
The media has slandered Zimbabwe internationally so much that few in the Diaspora or even in South Africa are ashamed to defend the homeland.
They even help take down everything that defines the homeland through non-governmental organisations.
Such individuals refuse to have their children speak the mother tongue in the Diaspora.
South African-based film maker Tapiwa Chipfupa recently produced a film aired by Al Jazeera where she takes a good time mourning a rusted 1977 Ford Corsair, as the epitome of wealth in Zimbabwe.
Zenzele reminds the Zimbabwean child in foreign lands to always defend the home as other countries will die defending theirs.
The book calls for the return of Ubuntu.
Amai Zenzele does not want her daughter to become like her friend Petronella who has loose morals whose identity has been erased that she remains a coconut that is merely brown on the outside but white in the inside.
Petronella talks back to her mother, smokes, stays out late and drinks alcohol.
She is impregnated and her mother is at a loss as to how to converse with her own child.
With such illustration the mother continues her letter divided in chapters where each contains a moral lesson.
Amai Zenzele makes sure her daughter does not forget her culture and tradition lest she loses her identity.
Amai Zenzele always makes sure that her whole family visits the rural home every holiday. This is a practice carried out in most Shona families.
Now and then people go to their rural homes because that is where they belong and their identity began.
Zenzele does not like the whole idea of going to Chakohwa, but her mother knows better.
The book also reminds one not to forget his or her morals no matter where they are.
Amai Zenzele fills the letter with anecdotes and stories about Chakohwa, her heyday while she was growing up there.
Her first love and how their relationship was not pleasing her parents.
How his death affected her.
How she and her sister used to play under the bridge before the war.
Her tales are rich in Shona culture and will always serve as a reminder to her daughter even when she is far away from home.
The Anglicised Byron’s mother dies a bitter woman as her son refuses to come by her bedside.
She dies bitter regretting sending her son to foreign lands where he soon rejects his tradition and culture.
The book does not ignore the role of the liberation struggle which saw the dawn of a new Zimbabwe.
Amai Zenzele reminds her daughter not to belittle the struggle now that she has gone into the land of the whiteman.
While Zenzele and her family had the privilege of staying in leafy suburbs and go to good schools, the mother is constantly reminding her of the sacrifice that got them there.