By Beaven Tapureta
Some artists’ legacies live long even after they die, and this is true of one of Zimbabwe’s great writers, the late Dambudzo Marechera, who will be remembered at a function organized by the Zimbabwe-Germany Society (ZGS) under the theme “Revisiting Marechera: Old texts brought to Life”.
And to bring back the Marechera memories in person, Prof. Flora Veit-Wild, who will be in Zimbabwe this March, has published poignant articles about her love relationship with the “enfant terrible of African literature” in Wasafiri, the London-based journal for International Contemporary Writing, Vol. 27, 1, 2012.
Prof. Flora Veit-Wild will also grace the commemorative function that is scheduled to take place on March13, 2012 at the ZGS at 5:30pm.
Franziska Kramer, ZGS Project Manager, said contributors are being invited to participate in this function by reading or performing a poem or short prose or dramatic text by Marechera and subsequently engaging with it. Alternatively, she said, contributors would read or perform their own literary texts inspired by Marechera.
Kramer also said that Flora will introduce contributors and moderate the discussion after presentations.
The exclusive anecdotal articles by Flora published in Wasafiri reveal a fresh view on Marechera’s love life. The articles, titled “Me and Dambudzo”, a personal essay and “Lake Mcllwaine”, a short story, vividly tell a romantic story in which two lovers mirror each other’s life and decide to drift together “beyond whatever ends” (Denise Levertov, American poet).
The gripping yet elevating essay “Me and Dambudzo” point at how Flora and Marechera connected in mind and life and lived through the difficulties of their differences to give way to freedom (and love) of the mind.
Written in present tense, the articles capture moments Flora shared with the “doppelganger” until his death in 1987 in Harare.
Marechera had come back from London in 1982, riding on the success of his book House of Hunger, when Flora first met him in Charles Mungoshi’s office at the Zimbabwe Publishing House. Mungoshi, then editor at ZPH, was a close writing friend of Marechera.
After their first contact, Flora writes, “I was curious to know him better” and what followed were rendezvous that would lead her “through many closed doors” and expose her to the “infatuation with the mad side of life”.
And yet even in love, Marechera refused “all types of attitudinizing”.
The essay “Me and Dambudzo” takes the reader to places down memory lane such as Oasis Hotel and the University of Zimbabwe swimming pool where love bloomed between Flora and Marechera, the Seven Miles Hotel where Flora had her first night out with Marechera, her house in Highlands where Marechera stayed, Sloane Court where she secured a bedsit for him, and Lake Mcllwaine where they had a three-day outing arranged after Marechera complained that she never spent enough time with him. She describes the outing as a “horrendous disaster”.
His feelings of alienation after his return to Zimbabwe from London, his fear of the unseen, his genius when he conducted a lecture titled “The African Writer’s Experience of European Literature” which Flora says became one of the most quoted documents in the growing Marechera scholarship, his love for ‘drink’, his composition of the Amelia poems which made Flora understand the “terrifying beauty of art”, all is captured in the essay.
Marechera, inspired by these episodes, wrote poetry which would later be published posthumously in anthologies such as Cemetery of Mind.
Many people have wondered who exactly Marechera was when it comes to love, and it is in this essay that Flora reveals the secretive yet effervescent side that reflect his longing for someone who could understand him and that someone was in the person of Flora whom Marechera would make “his mouthpiece once his voice is gone”.
In the essay she leads us to afore-said places and picks out the outstanding features that reflect the great writer’s extraordinariness and complexity of character, a complexity that has come to be the intrigue for the new Zimbabwean writers. In Marechera, incomprehensibility, both of his character and texts, is an irresistible attraction.
The unusual intellect that characterized Marechera is captured through the use of real-life dialogue and imagery and it seemed there was a power behind Marechera that drew Flora to the unpredictable writer as she writes that, despite all the tantrums that he threw, she would “crawl under his sheets again. How often? One. Two. Three times?”
A sad part of the essay “Me and Dambudzo” is the period covered between 1985 and 1987 when the ‘slow sad music’ started tolling.
It was in April 1985, Flora writes, that she fell ill with some viral infection about which she would know the truth in two years that followed. In 1986, Marechera, whose health had begun declining, goes for testicular surgery at Montague Clinic, Harare. In 1987, his doctor reveals to Flora that Marechera has AIDS. She goes for her tests and finds out she is HIV-positive but does not disclose this to Marechera as she fears it would make him ‘feel guilty’.
In 1987, Marechera’s mother loses two her nine children (Marechera would be the third loss in the family in 1987 alone) and Marechera refuses to be at the funerals although he appears at them for a short period. And next he is in hospital.
With captivating language, Flora writes about the moment she spent beside Marechera’s deathbed, feeling like an intruder, “white in a black hospital, encroaching on a foreign culture at one of its most secretive moments”. Marechera dies in the early hours of August 18, 1987.
Flora, although grieved, would later learn that Marechera’s life unlocked many doors for her as it did for the new generation of writers and let her “peek into the marvelous world beyond.”
Irene Staunton and Hugh Lewin who had founded Baobab Books persuaded Flora to write the Marechera biography and edit his unpublished works. Although at first she did not like to do it, she “took on what was to become a deeply gratifying labor of love”. And Marechera paid her back as her research into his works launched her to a recognizable level of academic excellence.
Flora wasn’t a professor at the time she knew Marechera.
The short story “Lake Mcllwaine” is a fictionalized version of the three-day outing that Prof. Veit-Wild went on with Marechera to Lake Mcllwaine, now Lake Chivero, and it explodes with the hilarious, the sad, the serious, and the usual “anger’ that Marechera blurted at anyone whom he suddenly did not trust.
Prof. Veit-Wild is Professor of African Literatures and Cultures at Humboldt University in Berlin and after Marechera’s death she was part of the Dambudzo Marechera Trust which was set up in Zimbabwe to promote the publication of Marechera’s unpublished works and to encourage young writers.
The commemorative function on March 13 at the Zimbabwe-Germany Society and Flora’s two articles in Wasafiri are proof to the continuing inspiration of a legendary writer who “refused all shackles”.