Sunday, June 19, 2016

Satire Revisits African Nationalism
June 20, 2016
Lovemore Ranga Mataire
The Reader
Zimbabwe Herald

In many African countries, disconnection with post-colonial politics finds literary expression in satire. In the case of Zimbabwe, one area where satire has found expression is in drama. Among the few published satiric pieces is Mindblast’s (1984) “The Toilet” by Dambudzo Marechera, “The Honourable MP” by Gonzo Musengezi (1984) and “Workshop Negative” (1992) by Cont Mhlanga – all epitomising the apparent and immediate disillusionment with nationalism, which was the rallying ideological tool against colonialism.

The three plays typify Zimbabwe’s post-independence protest literature that highlight the shortcomings of nationalism through the examination of the new black leaders and emerging black elites in an independent nation. In a satirical configuration, the three plays bring to the fore the new breed of African leaders and the dilemma confronting the system of governance in independent Africa in general and in Zimbabwe in particular.

The issues raised in the three plays largely conform to the ideas of Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Amilcar Cabral and Ngugi wa Thiongo in their depiction of the post-liberation outcome and the betrayal of the liberation promises or ideals. In raveling the three texts and their depiction of the post-liberation outcome, it is essential also to analyse the different definitions attached to nationalism.

Nationalism as a term erroneously attributed to African struggles for independence yet the term was borrowed from European history where it referred to the 19th century political movements in which people with a common culture, language and historical tradition claimed the right of self-determination.

In a 1995 publication “Africa and Africans”, Paul Bohannan and Phillip D Curtin advance the view that: “Europeans began with the nation which they wanted to become independent state. The Africans had states- the existing colonial units that they wanted to become nations.”

The struggles that would be touted as African nationalism were thus essentially anti-colonial struggles emanating from anti-colonial feelings, criticism or, and actions against imperial rule from the very beginning of colonialism. It must be noted that prior to the Great Depression and World War II, anti-colonial sentiments focused on the need to reform the system, to open it to participation by Africans.

African nationalism later gathered momentum and took a revolutionary stance through the efforts of Africans in the Diaspora and the continent including Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore and even African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois through the Pan-African Congresses and other summits held from 1900-1960. It is the new found verve of nationalism fueled by pan-African sentiments that inspired most anti-colonial movements particularly those in Southern Africa.

In essence, the three plays cast serious aspersions on the nationalist rhetoric espoused by the nationalists during the struggle and which in the aftermaths of the liberation struggle is becoming hollow given the obduracy that characterise the new leadership which seems to be in hurry to take over the petals of power from the former colonisers without deconstructing the superstructure that sustained and propelled the exploitation of black people before independence.

In “The Honourable MP”, Musengezi exposes the moral, social and political decadence of government officials epitomised by Honourable Cde Shakespeare Pfende, who uses public funds to finance a flamboyant lifestyle exemplified by a number of mansions, cars and other property at a time when his constituency is experiencing severe drought. One character in the play questions the essence of electing the MP saying:

Our problem number one is that we have no MP. We sent him to the city, what did he bring us? Nothing. He went to build himself a big European house like that in Bharama’s (whiteman) farm . . . And bought himself many cars. Now we realise we sent a fly into a pot of milk. It got drowned in the feast.

The moral and social decay is epitomised by the MP’s insatiable desire for amassing wealth and property as he now owns cars, mansions and other several properties. Even at personal level, the rot that broadly afflicts the nation has also gotten into the MP as he constantly abuses his wife and has a mistress.

The same exasperation outplaying in The Honourable MP is also expressed in Mindblast’s “The Toilet” in which Marechera satirises Minister Cde Honourable Nzuzu. In analysing “The Toilet” Chirere (2013) says the play satirises “the new African elite and their local and international white racist and corrupt associates for not showing responsibility in their exercise of power and business. Those Marechera plays connect the social rot in Zimbabwe with international capital and the white Rhodesian culture of plunder and segregation”.

Indeed, the toilet is an attack on the corruption that has taken root in Zimbabwe, prominent of which was the Willowgate scandal which took the scalp of very prominent politicians involved in some underhand business deals.

The heartlessness, detachment from the daily struggles of the masses and corruption are central themes also explored in Mhlanga’s “Workshop Negative”, which is a play about a toolmaking workshop in post-independent Zimbabwe, where a revolutionary war has changed things dramatically. The workshop is owned by a former liberation fighter who has turned into an exploiter even worse that those that were before him. In a recent radio interview, Mhlanga accuses revolutionary leaders of getting corrupt and he decided that theatre offered the best medium that could express these societal ills.

The drama is thus an analysis of post-independent Zimbabwe where black people are fighting each other while socialism is being replaced by capitalism. Although the three plays vividly articulate the foreboding post-colonial set-up they nevertheless fail to proffer any solutions on how the lost comrades can be rescued.

Walter Rodney, the prominent Guyanese historian, political activist and scholar, who was assassinated in 1980, gives a glimmer of the way forward when he concludes in his seminal text “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” published in 1972 that working people have capacity to persistently secure their own emancipation by not pinning their hopes on the post-colonial leadership which betrayed the masses. It was a conclusion that was to prove instructive in his Guyanese intervention.

Fanon shares the same sentiments when he argues that nationalism often fails to achieve liberation across class boundaries because its aspirations are primarily those of the colonised bourgeoisie, a privileged group that seeks to defeat the prevailing colonial rule only to usurp its place of dominance and surveillance over the working class.

In “Wretched of the Earth”, Fanon blames the failings of nationalism on the “intellectual laziness of the middle class”. The native bourgeoisie rises to power only insofar as it seeks to replicate the bourgeoisie of the “mother country” that sustains colonial rule.

It cannot be in doubt that the plays, particularly “The Honourable MP”, borrows a lot from Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s “I Will Mary When I Want” in that it is didactic and appeals to the masses to rely their strength and build a better future. On the other hand, in Mindlablast’s “The Toilet” there is the intermingling of black and white business people and politicians sarcastically dominated by the “the toilet drawing from the Armah motif of the ‘stench’ as a symbol of social erosion”.

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