Valerie Tagwira is both a doctor and an author. Her novel, which won Outstanding Fiction Book’ at the National Arts Merit Award for Literature (NAMA) in 2008, explores challenges faced by Zimbabweans citizens in their day to day lives. It also takes a look at Operation Murambatsvina, a controversial slum clearance programme which displaced millions of people from their homes.
This book is heavy to read. As I write this review, I am not sure how to phrase how I am feeling about what I have read. Why? It is because everything that Valerie Tagwira wrote has more truth in it than fiction, and that is tragic. Issues of domestic and social abuse. The reality of privilege versus poverty. The effect of traditional customs over individual rights. Tagwira mentions all of the above, and it is about time we start to join in on the conversation.
Set in 2005, there are many facets of Zimbabwean life that Tagwira touches on. From the cultural pressure that keeps Onai in her marriage to the economic hardships that force them all to tread the line of the law to survive. It was not an easy read because it forces you to acknowledge realities that have become the norm despite having no justifications. I had many questions with no answers,
which left me feeling frustrated at the injustice that is real today.
Domestic abuse is often overlooked in society due to its sensitivity as a subject. I kept thinking that if
I was Onai, I would leave and go back home. In her case, secrecy was no longer a concept; everyone in Mbare knew about Gary’s abusive and adulterous tendencies. At the rate they were going, she risked being killed suffering at the hands of the man whom we are not sure ever loved her. So why face the risk of HIV due to her husband’s promiscuity? Why does she stay?
She stays because her kids are young and still in school. She stays because she does not want to be the first divorcee in her family. She stays because despite being the breadwinner, she has nowhere else to go and does not want to make her children homeless alongside her. Ironically, through the veil of hatred and fear, I suspect that she stayed because part of her wanted to make it work. She was waiting for him to change but he did not.
On top of all of these personal issues, the society as a whole is dealing with the effects of corruption especially as many of them are displaced in an aim to clear the streets of illegal vendors. It is not so bad since those whose homes were destroyed were promised free and legal housing, but one month turned into two months of waiting. The next thing they knew, they were being asked to pay
processing fees to quicken the construction of their homes. In a time of hyperinflation, no one can afford to do this and so they remain homeless and dying.
This is one of those books you just have to read for yourself. It is eye-opening, thought-provoking, and questions a lot about what we as citizens, and women, have come to accept as day to day life. Even if you are not Zimbabwean, you should read it because I suspect you will find something that impacts you a great deal. Rich or poor, male or female, this is a book about people and their lives. I
think we should at least acknowledge that this is someone’s truth.
Get your copy at www.weaverpresszimbabawe.com.