Unpacking Dambudzo Marechera: Part One

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Dambudzo Marechera 1952 — 1987
By Dambudzo Marechera
Published by Baobab Books, 1988
ISBN 0-7974-0838-X

“THERE is a lurid hinterland to the human mind, sometimes beyond order, reason and conscious restraint, where it is sometimes possible for the unusually gifted and the merely admiring to meet for a few hours and converse.
Most of us visit it but rarely.
We come away refreshed, though chastened by the recognition that outside the circle of our sober certainties looms a terrain inhibited by the likes of Dambudzo Marechera whose policy of subliminal risk forever flickers, a constant reproach to the rest of us who conduct our lives more timidly,” writes Robert Fraser in an article titled ‘Tribute to Dambudzo Marechera’.
The above article was published in the book under review this week, Dambudzo Marechera 1952 — 1987, and it gives an apt description of how Marechera’s works impacted on those who came into contact with it, including even those not in the literary field.
Dambudzo Marechera 1952 — 1987, a memorial collection of Marechera’s published and unpublished works, mostly poems and prose texts, as well as tributes from fans and co-writers, was compiled and edited by Flora Veit-Wild and Ernst Schade.
The book is testimony that Marechera was nothing short of a genius.
He is undoubtedly one of Zimbabwe’s most prolific writers.
He certainly was not a read-today-forget-tomorrow type of writer, the one thing that sets him worlds apart, especially from the crop of writers who struggle to carve their own identities.
Though departed from the physical mortal realm, Marechera’s works still reverberate intelligent exuberance laced with uncouth overtones as he is rabidly expressive of his thoughts, never the one to mince his words.
From the book, one can gather that Marechera had a troubled past.
However, unlike most of us, Marechera could graphically paint a picture of the ghosts that haunted him, including skeletons in the closet, enabling one to read him like a book, though the text would not be so simple to comprehend.
In the poem ‘Identify the Identity Parade’, Marechera writes:
“I am the luggage no one will claim;
The out-of-place turd all deny
Responsibility;
The incredulous sneer all tuck away
beneath bland smiles;
The loud fart all silently agree never
happened;
The sheer bad breath you politely confront
with mouthwashed platitudes: ‘After all, it’s
POETRY.’
I am the rat every cat secretly admires;
The cat every dog secretly fears;
The pervert every honest citizen surprises
in his own mirror: POET.”
In his works, there is evidence of all that he was exposed to during his brief but eventful lifetime.
Marechera’s life story reads like it was plucked from a best-selling novel.
One of the things that irked Marechera was his subjugation by the brutal Ian Smith regime who trampled on anyone whose skin was black.
Musaemura Zimunya’s ‘Dambudzo Marechera: Portrait of an Extraordinary Artist’ gives us a glimpse of Marechera’s encounters with Smith’s authoritarian regime.
“…word was going around that he (Marechera) had such a fiery temper that many a time he had been rescued from many off-duty white roughnecks from the army who always turned up at the Student’s Union in search of cheap beer and cheap prey.
In the racially polarised atmosphere of the University of Rhodesia, they vented their wrath on blacks they considered ‘cheeky’, and Marechera was one such. But despite the beef that these white bullies paraded with ostentation, even if he would not have fancied himself as a little David, would stride up to them with something of Tarquinus’ pride and dare to challenge them.”
One can tell Marechera, who attended the University of Rhodesia when fellow students skipped college to join the liberation struggle decided to fight oppression through the barrel of the pen, rather than the gun.
Marechera writes: “I scratched around in the rubbish dump with other kids, looking for comics, magazines, books, broken toys, anything that could help us kids pass the time in the ghetto… You could say my very first books were the books which the rabidly racist Rusape whites were reading at the time.
I look to the English language like a duck takes to water.
I was therefore a keen accomplice and student in my own mental colonisation… For a black writer the language is very racist: you have to have harrowing fights and hair-raising panga duels with it before you can make it do all you want to do.”
To Marechera, after mastering the Queen’s language, there was really no need to reinvent the wheel, so he decides to write in English denigrating the same system which schooled him.
At one time, he even staged a one-man demonstration from University of Rhodesia, marching down Salisbury’s Second Street (now Harare’s Sam Nujoma Street) with a placard condemning the Smith regime.
To some extent, Marechera was going to be the next Einstein, who at one time was denied a chance to pursue a PhD as his ideas were regarded too artistic rather than practical, despite being the man now credited with laying the foundation for modern inventions, including the nuclear bomb and nuclear energy.
Unfortunately for Marechera, since he was born ‘on the wrong side of the Equator’, he has been stripped of the credit due to his writings as most negatives from his personality seem to drown his narrative, yet his writings ought to have catapulted him into perpetuity as one of the world’s finest writers who only observed a thin line between his works and his life.

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