Dambudzo Marechera and the Zimbabwe Elections

Sometime in 1986 Dambudzo Marechera wrote a series of poems entitled “There’s a Dissident in the Election Soup”. These poems make up Chapter 11 of the post-humously published Cemetry of Mind, compiled and edited by Flora Veit-Wild. Since Zimbabweans are voting on Saturday, March 29, it is important to ponder upon what Marechera had to say about the voting process, that is, if the poems are even about elections.

In “A Strong Case for Crap Artists by One Againsts Them”, Marechera writes:

The soil we cherish as country or continent
Is but humanity turned to dust, to grass, to tree
And many a tear shed for fallen friend returns next
As admired landscape wrenching a dewy drop in the cause
of Art.

Was he talking about the underdevelopment of Africa that makes the continent appear like it’s regressing while others are progressing? That we cherish being African is indeed true and sound, a valid assertion. “Humanity turned to dust” alludes to death, perhaps the deaths occuring in the continent, be they the result of starvation, genocide, and HIV-AIDS, or just the death other continents imagine Africa experiences. Focus your camera on Zimbabwe: rapid migration to neighboring countries and beyond– some of these exiles have been passed dead by their relatives back home, or they feel dead, faced with challenges of starting life anew, or choosing to kill the Zimbabwean identity to become American, British, Canadian, to become these new identities in a deliberate and intentional way (“Where are you from. You’ve a nice accent”. “Me? Oh, Atlanta, sometimes Kentucky!”). Now elections are happening back home and we are not there to vote, enabling or increasing the chances of the current regime to continue clinging to power.

The other part of the poem I like is the mention of humanity turning to tree or grass, both of which are forms of transformation or transition into another life form. Yet the transformation is still some kind of death;it is possible that Marechera knew about reincarnation and embraced it. In fact, were I in Harare’s Africa Unity Square now, I might have been tempted to ask: “Which one of you trees is Marechera?” Next,I would look at the grass around me and see which one would inspire a poem, especially one about elections.

The poem then ends with what could even qualify as a prophetic statement about how things turned out for Marechera, a fallen friend of ours whom we remember conveniently, starting by publishing and praising his works post-humously, writing theses and dessertations that claim to raise his influence to grand proportions, and once every year meeting somewhere in the Avenues or Harare Gardens (if we still do)to read from his works and watch Olly Maruma’s film adaptation of House of Hunger. In most cases though, based on what I know as tributes paid to our fallen artists, there is that which is painfully selfish on the part of those memorializing Art; that is to say, our memories (the tears we shed) return as
an “admired landscape wrenching a dewy drop in the cause/of Art.”

Marechera is clear about his election thoughts in the poem “Only the Mountainclimber Can Tell Us”, in which he paints a picture of a persona who is bitter about what someone in power has or has not done for him/her. The person, this force, has done so much damage through greed and corruption that the persona’s propects for success are doomed, but, guess what, the perona “will not have you as excuse/To [his/her] failure (Too Easy!)” I can hear the person of power asking, “So what are you going to do? You, insignificant as you are, what can you do?” The persona, who has learned the “neocolonialist”‘s “wrestling tactics”, will invite him into the ring and teach him a lesson “blow for blow”. At last the persona will “come out of the ring facing Mount Kenya!” And there you have it, the meaning of the electoral process to Dambudzo Marechera’s persona.

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