Dancing with life: Rules from the township (2008) By Christopher Mlalazi Published by ‘amabooks ISBN 978-0-7974-3590-2 WITH the reading culture slowly going down and the economy struggling to rise from Western imposed sanctions, the Zimbabwean writer is in trouble. Dependent on the ‘trade of words’ for his livelihood, the writer easily finds solace in the arms of the ‘independent’ publisher, those few that remain. Unfortunately for the writer, each publisher has their own house policy that determines what and who will be published. In Zimbabwe, two publishing houses, Weaver Press and ‘amabooks have topped as the most active who are able to not only fatten the purse of the writer, but also give international recognition for published works. The two publishing houses not only share donors, but also pursue the same ideological agenda. They are anti-Mugabe and the Land Reform Programme that saw over 400 000 black households getting land that was previously owned by a mere 4 000 white farmers. That is President Mugabe’s crime. Under Weaver Press and ‘amabooks, the writer is urged to chronicle the ‘sins’ of the Mugabe regime. Czech writer Milan Kundera in his book The Book of Laughter and Forgetting said, “You begin to liquidate a people by taking away its memory. “You destroy its books, its culture, its history. “And then others write other books for it, give another culture to it, invent another history for it. “Then the people slowly begin to forget what it is and what it was. “The world at large forgets it still faster.” Today Zimbabwean history is in the process of being re-written by champions of the regime change agenda. It is a well documented fact that Weaver Press in October 2011 received funds from a British non-governmental organisation (NGO), Casals and Associates to encourage and lure writers into writing works that propagate the British agenda. This is where writers like the British-mentored Christopher Mlalazi come in whose hatred for Mugabe has seen them make some money. Mlalazi has received the Oxfam-Novib pen international freedom of expression award among other local awards. Mlalazi’s book, Dancing with Life: Rules from the township is a collection of 10 short stories that sum up the lives of individuals growing up in Matabeleland. Writers from Matabeleland are targeted for the Western agenda of ‘divide and rule’ where they are constantly bombarded with tales of tribal hate and Gukurahundi through the hundreds of NGOs operating in the area. Like all of Mlalazi’s works, everything in the short stories is laced with venom against the government blaming every scenario encountered on ZANU PF. The opening story ‘Broken Wings’ is a heart-rending tale of Nozitha, a teenager whose mother and grandmother are victims of AIDS leaving her as the caregiver. She collects food rations given on condition of political party loyalty which on that particular day in the story is denied because her sick grandfather could not find his membership card. On her way home she is lured by the food aid worker Abisha who sleeps with her for a small bottle of cooking oil and a small packet of beans. In another story ‘The Border Jumper’, Zenzo and Vusa are disillusioned youths who cross the crocodile-infested Limpopo River into South Africa because they cannot stay in ‘poverty-infested’ Zimbabwe anymore. ‘Dancing with life’ is the story of a university graduate, Mxolisi who cannot find work and resorts to selling drugs. Mxolisi sees a man being arrested by the police and taunts them saying, “Wena leave that man alone! “Can’t you see he is not a white farmer.” Throughout the story, Mxolisi blames the economic meltdown on the regime that has ‘invaded’ the white-owned farms. In the allegorical tale of ‘The Matchstick Man’ the writer brings in the idea of fighting for ‘freedom’ against a tyrant and the rise of a fierce opposition. “One unsuspecting afternoon, the matchstick man re-appeared on the streets, wearing a red t-shirt emblazoned with ‘will anything ever change?’ in white on the front. Although the writer does not specify which opposition he has pinned his hopes on, it is obvious from the red colour and the word ‘change’ that it is the MDC. The writer clearly yearns for ‘democracy’, to the writer democracy means wealth and prosperity which is often the misleading notion many Africans including the author have. The term ‘democracy’ is a recent creation that was not even practised until the West had fashioned their economies from slavery and colonialism that they began to take a moral ground. Democracy as a governing system does not exist and if it does it is seriously flawed. Take the land reform, for example. It was deemed democratic to have 4 000 filthy rich white farmers own the land they stole while millions of blacks were landless. On the other hand, it is undemocratic for a majority to decide to take the land for themselves from a minority. If the definition of democracy is ‘rule by the majority’ then the land reform was one of the most democratic moves in Zimbabwe. Controversial writer and critic, Petina Gappah says Mlalazi’s collection, “sparkles with wit, sizzles with style and dances with life.” This is the same Gappah who in her book, An Elegy for Easterly in the story Mupandawana Dancing Champion talks about how the black Government has failed the rural folk by failing to uplift their lives. “I have become convinced that the government calls Mupandawana Growth Point merely to divert us from the reality of our present squalour with optimistic predictions about our booming future,” writes Gappah. Gappah and Mlalazi sing the same tune, but until our own people, especially the authors tell the real Zimbabwean story, instead of seeking cheap glory bestowed by the whiteman and singing for their supper; our story will be flawed as the likes of Mlalazi and Gappah write for the whiteman and champion his interests.