‘It was the best of times and the worst of times.’ This is the opening line of a Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. For the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe the Gukurahundi massacres were the worst of times. The sheer violence, brutal rape and dehumanizing murders perpetrated by a black government against defenseless black civilians were unparalleled in the country’s history or indeed that of the continent at the time. It could be said that the perpetrators of ethnic violence in Rwanda and Burundi took a leaf out of Robert Mugabe & the ruling party’s playbook.
The book’s title is a direct translation of the name of the nation of Zimbabwe, derived from the mysterious monumental ruins of the capital of the pre-colonial Mutapa Empire, known as dzimba dza mabwe in the Shona language or houses of stone in English. Ironically today, the country has been deserted by the best and brightest of its citizens and the economy is literally in ruins. There are different strategies adopted by the people to survive the economic holocaust evident in the novel. One could say the country’s name is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The novel follows the story of Zamani, the main character, a lodger in the back-room at a house in the township of Luveve, in Bulawayo, a house formerly owned by his late Uncle Fani. Zamani is an orphan, whose mother Zodwa died in the death camp of Bhalagwe during the massacres. His conception from gang rape in the camp means his father is unknown and he is searching for a father and a family. His investigations lead him to the enigmatic character known as Black Jesus, a high-ranking leader of the government forces that laid waste to the land and people of Matebeleland. He remains a key figure in the ruling party ZANU PF today, those architects of poverty and violence.
Given the denial of the atrocities by the government and having no hope of resolving the issue of his paternity, Zamani insinuates himself into the lives of the Mlambo family in an effort to create a family of his own. However just as in the book of Genesis, the blood speaks and Zamani realises that he is very much his father’s son as he plots to establish himself within the family and like any usurper, schemes to ensure that his position is unassailable.
I had the privilege of meeting the author at the Abantu Book Festival in Soweto last year. She is an erudite, bold, passionate and outspoken young woman, who despite years of living in the diaspora has not forgotten her roots.
This courageous work successfully lifts the veil of darkness on a bloody period in the nation’s history. It was not an easy read, due to the familiar hi-story thanks to hearing accounts by family and friends with first-hand experience of the massacres. However, Novuyo manages to convey the violence and tragedy of the massacres and their consequences for generations, with humour and unnerring accuracy. All the accolades she receives for this work are well-deserved. I definitely recommend this book for anyone seeking to understand the basket case that is the land of my birth, the house of stone to the north of the Limpopo River.