Manning the Nation: Father figures in Zimbabwean literature and society. Edited by Kizito Muchemwa and Robert Muponde. Harare: Weaver Press. 2007.
Manning the Nation is an exciting if dark addition to the literature on Zimbabwe. Consisting of thirteen wide ranging and variously powerful chapters, it paints a somber picture of the nature of patriarchy and power in one African nation in a period of ever deepening crisis towards a failed state. It reverberates with media images of Mugabe as the Father of the Nation declaring to the world with triumphant fist in the air after the cholera epidemic broke out and men such as Bishop Desmond Tutu no less argued for military intervention: “Zimbabwe is mine!” There is a deep implicit often explicit criticism of Mugabe and ZANU scattered through this text and in this is a brave work indeed.
The chapters almost uniformly argue, if arguably somewhat idealistically, that the violence and domination implicit in conception and practices of fatherhood is a result of the disempowering colonial experience and the violence during the liberation war and thereafter. In sum, it is a stand alone collection of fascinating chapters on patriarchy and even women’s participation in patriarchal domination through the eyes of Zimbabwean literature significantly reinforced through two important anthropological and historical chapters and one on drama.
It is tragic to learn through this work the extent of the negativity of models of fatherhood available to youth in Zimbabwe both in daily life and in literature and to be sure, it might stimulate critical reflection on the part of Zimbabweans at home and in the Diaspora towards a counter-discourse and practice, a celebration of the apposite condition of good fathers and uncles which no doubt exist. From the self-delusion of men with AIDS to the problematics of men’s relationships with their daughters and sons, from totalitarian tendencies to killing fathers, the chapters provide fine grained engagements with iconic figures in Zimbabwean literature such as Yvonne Vera, Tsitsi Dangarembwa, and Haba Musengezi, with earlier figures such as Charles Mungoshi and Solomon Mutswairo, and the ubiquitous reference to Dambudzo Marechera as an insistent radical presence in the Zimbabwean avant-garde literary imagination. The essays are uniformly highly critical whether they be on the co-optation of Joshua Nkomo as a father of the nation to Mai (Mother) Mujuru’s role as a father rather than mother. Simply put, it is an exciting and provocative work. For instance, take Sabelo Ndlovu-Gathseni’s hauntingly symbolic sentence on the distortion of Zimbabwean history and selection of heroes: “Mugabe is comfortable with the dead and he uses them in a necrophylic way to imagine the nation” (2007:86), a timely image with Morgan Tsvingarai’s wife now having joined the lineage.
Besides those chapters pointed to above, it is Jane Parpart’s chapter which is the strongest and the most disturbing in its ethnographic and historic grounding in which she documents and analyses masculinities, race and the use of violence in the forging of the the Zimbabwean experience through rape and a litany of ongoing human rights violations. Anne Orbo Kikegaard’s chapter adds the interesting analysis in which she argues that manhood is framed in fundamentally the same way by all racial groups in Zimbabwe which is advanced by Zenenga’s critique of Zimbabwean manhood and of masculinity as a “phalocentric, supremacist ideology” Mickey Musiyiwa and Memory Chirere provide a sophisticated insight into the representation of ideal pre-colonial fatherhood in the literature comparing these to literary representation of fatherhood in the colonial era so as to show how the colonial experience feminized African fathers turning them into tragic nomadic subjects. Unfortunately the organization of the chapters, or the lack of an epilogue creates a feeling of a lack of closure in the volume, though Anna Chitando and Angeline Madongonda’s closing chapter on father daughter relations does end with the very sad comment on Zimbabwean society, as seen through literature, that a “good father . . . is considered weak or muKristu [gentle Christian man]” and that a man is expected to be feared in order to be respected. Sadly the book ends therein with the weakest and undeveloped closing reference to fathers who relent to assertive daughters and the emergence of a more tolerant and liberated model of fatherhood contrary to all the evidence in the other chapters.