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Literature by writer-fighters



There are some Africans who participated directly in the fight against apartheid and colonialism in Africa but have remained quiet and have gone to the grave with their special experiences.

But there are a few nationalists and combatants who went on to remember to write works of fiction about that crucial struggle, albeit using the cover of fictional characters.

There are many such writer-fighters in Africa, in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique, where the struggle was bitter, complex and long drawn. Names such as Alex La Guma and Thomas Sukutai Bvuma (otherwise called Carlos Chombo) are very outstanding.

Alex Laguma’s novel, In the Fog of the Season’s End, is one of those novels that clearly explore the development and gradual evolution of the modes of fighting against the apartheid regime of South Africa, a struggle which culminated into the onset of democracy in 1994.

The novel indicates that the struggle against apartheid evolved over many years. It moved from being an underground mobilisation activity that used pamphlets and leaflets then mutating to one of open mass demonstrations and finally developing into being an armed struggle.

In this foundational anti-apartheid novel, Beukes and Isaac Tekwani start as pamphleteer nationalists. They move around incognito, spreading messages that teach people on the ills of apartheid.

They are silent preachers and teachers. Later on, these two characters and others spread messages that instigate people into open demonstrations. They become instructors and front runners.
Beukes has grown in this underground work. He is the link between the leaders who form the vanguard behind the scenes and the ordinary cadres of the revolution.

His underground movements are reminiscent of those of the early day Nelson Mandela who went round the communities organising disobedience campaigns and could go as far as Tanzania.

Beukes is described poetically:“Carrying the case, now lightened of most of its contents, Beukes stepped off the pavement and crossed the dark street.

In spite of fatigue he moved with the caution of someone grown used to hiding, to evading open spaces; the caution of someone who knew that a man alone in a street was as conspicuous as a pyramid, but that in a crowd one could become anonymous, a voice in a massed choir….”

He is a selfless fellow who has decided to set aside his private life in order to fight the system of apartheid just like what Alex La Guma and others did in real life until it was not possible to stay in South Africa.

The other very clear thing in this novel is the existence of white people as a class in apartheid South Africa thereby making it easy to target them.

This is possible because South Africa had and still has a huge white population as compared to the rest of Africa. Apartheid is designed in such a way that the whites own the capital muscle and all the other races provide merely the labour.

The non-whites such as the Africans and the coloured start to see themselves as a force that should fight against white people.

As a result, the derogatory terms and attitudes against white people are abundant in this novel.

That is the reason why the Muslim lady who is making the clothes on her machine openly declares to Beukes that she has a separate high price for whites.

In this novel, as in Gorky’s Mother, the oppressed class wakes up to the realisation that South Africa is industrial and that they relate with the system through their own labour. They can also fight the system both as non-whites and as workers.

This is possible because South Africa of this novel is highly industrialised and in such spaces, working class consciousness is possible. Elias Tekwani and the other black people leave their villages to go tothe cities to sell their labour.

Only at that stage do they become part of the politicised working class of South Africa who fight the whites who own the means of production.

As soon as Tekwani’s mother dies, it is said that Tekwani’s links with the countryside were broken and that through coming to the city, the individual, “more than ever, he had to be truly a man.”
Man is defined by labour in this novel and the fight against apartheid becomes a labour issue too.

Elias and Beukes contrast sharply with the baby minder in the early part of the novel. The good looking non-white baby minder who has been working for the white system for a long time without being conscious that while black is a class, white necessarily becomes the opposing class. She is covered by what Marxist thinkers call rural idiocy.

This novel is clearly informed by Marxism which appears to insist that revolutions may not really develop if people remain in the peasantry class.

The baby minder continues to be a peasant even when she is now in the city.

She is not fully aware that she is oppressed and unhappy. Therefore she is unable to identify the enemy and fight it.

Soon, people organise a strike by moving towards a police station and burning their pass books in front of the police.

Soon the police open fire and many demonstrators scatter and hordes of people are killed, almost alluding to the Sharpeville Massacre.

In Marxist terms, the strike represents the people’s refusal to be oppressed and exploited. Soon after you see people going further to organise a guerilla movement across the borders in the north of South Africa.

The people are moving upwards in history as the theorist and revolutionary Amilcar Cabral suggests.

In the Fog of the season’s End which was first published in 1972, is a much laid back novel whose plot does not hurry at all.

It describes people and places visually as in film. The intentions of the characters are not known until at the opportune moment. But what is clear here is that apartheid was fought by ordinary people who risked their lives in doing so.

The war is fought within their homes and public places through defying and sabotaging the system until a time when it is possible to go abroad and take up arms.

Alex La Guma was a South African novelist, leader of the South African Coloured People’s Organisation and a defendant in the Treason Trial, whose works helped characterise the movement against the apartheid era in South Africa.

The South African government banned his writings and in 1966, he and his family moved to London, where he lived in exile until 1979. He eventually died in Cuba in 1985.

He was a long time member of the African National Congress (ANC). His first novel, A Walk in the Night, was first published in 1962 and immediately banned in South Africa.

In Zimbabwe, Thomas Sukutai Bvuma’s historical novel published in 2021 is a participant’s expose of the intricacies of the fight against white settler minority rule in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

In that novel, young Masara Musamba of Sakubva, Umtali, Rhodesia, is involved in the war of liberation that gave birth to Zimbabwe as a ZANLA fighter. This is his story told under his war name – Nyika Yababa, or simply Yababa.

He quickly joins the war after beating up his white boss who had beaten him for a flimsy reason at a fruit canning factory where the boy is working temporarily while waiting to go and enroll at the prestigious University of Rhodesia.

It is a serious crime in Rhodesia for a black man to beat up a white man, for whatever reason. You would rather run before the police catch you.

So Masara abandons his job, his pay and his very beautiful girl friend, Wadiwa, and rashly clambers up the mountains on the eastern side of Umtali, crossing the border to join the guerrillas across in Mozambique by first getting to Chibawawa refugee camp in September 1976.

Masara had met some ZANLA guerillas before in his own Mutambara communal lands and had always had a romantic view of the war of liberation and the guerrillas.

He had always hoped to join the liberators one day. This historical novel is renowned Zimbabwean poet, Thomas Bvuma’s first long prose offering.

But who is Thomas Sukutai Bvuma in Zimbabwean literature? Initially, using the pen-name Carlos Chombo, Thomas Bvuma wrote the well known poem, “Real Poetry” at the height of the war in the late 1970’s.

“Real Poetry” eventually got more “visible” publication in the Zimunya-Kadhani edited post-war collection called And NOW the Poets Speak (1981). Musaemura Zimunya and Mudereri Kadhani set out to bring together poems which reflected on the Zimbabwe revolution then.

Bvuma’s “Real Poetry” defines struggle as people’s real poetry. Very reminiscent in content and form to Jorge Rebelo’s poem called “Poem,” “Real Poetry” quickly became a classic of sorts.

Zimunya and Kadhani could not “resist using (the poem) as a choric prelude to this selection.” They wrote somewhere that they also “found (in this poem) the power of the intellect, control of rhythm and style well combined and married to idea, action and reaction” and that through it, one recalls the more prominent Angolan war poet, Agostinho Neto himself.”

Zimunya and Kadhani also used a section of the poem on the blurb of the cream coloured And Now The poets Speak as the theme poem and the poem went viral.

Thomas Bvuma, like Alexander Kanengoni and Freedom Nyamubaya, wrote poems at the war front in between battles either as a pastime or a means to reflect on the war he was participating in.

He is still writing and publishing poetry long after the war of liberation and some of his key pieces constantly jog one’s mind. More of Thomas Bvuma’s poems were later published in Every Stone

That Turns (1999) almost two decades later! They are arranged in a way that sets out to capture the changing times from war to independence.

But his latest work, the historical novel called The Chosen Generation, appears to give the more elaborate materials that inform the turmoil and thought that one finds in the poem “Real Poem” and the collection of poems called “Every Stone that Turns.”

This novel fits in and tucks in real critical geographical and historical factors that have been glossed over by many writers of Zimbabwean war fiction and even those in war history.

Through this novel, places critical for training and refugees like Chimoio, including its attack by Rhodesians on 23 November 1977, Chibawawa, Tembwe and others are brought to life from the point of view of a recruit and soon to be a trained cadre. There are no sacred cows in this narrative.

The story is written from a rather laid back point of view of an ex-combatant now sitting in his house in poverty stricken post-war Chitungwiza township of the economically tumultuous 2008.

He is searching his place in all the tricky things that have happened and sometimes he thinks that his generation is not chosen but cursed. But he insists that he wants to judge them fairly.

The narratives move gradually, with ease, finding facts and fallacies, even fitting the 1970’s within the context of the world’s rebellious youths of the hippies, rock music and many other things.

The story takes you to places and decisions made outside Rhodesia and the war front. The war in Rhodesia is part of the world events and that is the strongest theory propounded by this book.

In chapters 10 to 13, which are very critical, the writer recreates Chimoio as it was in the context of the war against Ian Smith.

He goes for geographic space within historic and social context. You begin to read into the détente period, Zanla conscription methods as from 1976, the rise and fall of the Vashandi ideology, love affairs, betrayals, Zipa, Zanla-Zipra relations, the battle of Mavhonde, Tongogara, Herbert Chitepo, Robert Mugabe, Rex Nhongo and the attacks and counter attacks between and amongst people and systems.

This book is a must read for all people with a genuine interest in the emerging perspectives on Zimbabwe’s difficult war of Independence and how much it is a prelude to what took place within Zimbabwe soon after.

These two books by combatants and participants, demonstrate that writing or story telling becomes an extra front through which a war against apartheid and settler rule could be fought.

Memory Chirere

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