Saturday, August 6, 2011

Together, reviewed on

Together By Julius Chingono & John Eppel


Published by ‘amabooks in Zimbabwe and Europe, and in South Africa by University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, Published in North America by UNO Press and distributed by National Book Network.

Together is a collection of short stories and poems that were written by Julius Chingono and John Eppel. They tackle serious social issues with wry humour and flowery language. They explore aspects such as politics, Gukurahundi, religious hypocrisy. One laughs through and through. This is a must-read for people who have a good sense of humour and a no-go-area for those whose humour wires take long to heat up.

The book has a balanced narration as it is told from the mind of both a black and a white Zimbabwean, who live in different set ups. Chingono is from the eastern part of Zimbabwe and Eppel is from southern Zimbabwe but both believe that their main agenda is fighting poverty and social injustices. They castigate greed by those in power especially political leaders and blame them for the squalid conditions most citizens live under. This theme is felt in the work of the two writers.

Chingono’s Leave My Bible Alone criticises religious hypocrisy. Gore goes to the Anglican services every Sunday but proceeds to the pub as soon as the Sunday service is over; taking his Bible with him and the scene is just hilarious. Adults and children alike make fun out of this weird scene and he makes a fool of himself.

His work focuses on the hardships and challenges of everyday situations in the lives of mere citizens of Zimbabwe where the poor get poorer in a socialist revolution and the rich get fatter and richer from exploiting the poor. This mentality is also challenged - that of the capitalistic value system in the poem I lost a Verse.

A business person thinks his business is more important than what the poet is writing and in the process the poet forgets what he wanted to write. All that matters to the business person is the deal he is working on with a caller on his phone while the poet’s work is deemed less important.

However, there are times when the less privileged also exploit each other as in the case of the toilet cleaner in Shonongoro. She tries to supplement her meagre salary from the council by swindling the public of the money they have when nature calls - something they do not have control over.

His political commentary is felt in We Waited. Voters in Norton try to regain control of their party but the candidates they choose are disqualified by their party’s elite.

They are forced to vote for someone who is imposed on them and when they expect to be helped by the local party leader they are taken aback as she gets them arrested.A number of them are run over by a truck but the newspapers report that only seven Zanu PF supporters were killed in an accident that they are yet to look into.

Eppel on the other hand dwells much on Gukurahundi events and the class struggle. Most of his work is satire and criticises the failures by political leaders especially in the Government of National Unity, their greed, abuse of power and self-centredness. Bloody Diamonds for instance emphasises the greed of the leaders who want to get all the diamonds for themselves instead of developing the nation. The main character is killed by helicopter fire as he fills his bag with the diamonds.

He even criticises his race in the story The CWM where the newcomer, a white woman terrorises older occupants of the suburb as she feels they are not civilised and make a lot of noise with their chicken, stray pets and children. The fight between the Blacks and Whites is captured in the Pact where the land issue takes centre stage.

The Debate tells of Mr Wynken, Prof Blynken and Cde Nod and these characters have an uncanny resemblance to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Deputy Prime Minister Professor Arthur Mutambara and President Robert Mugabe. They all get the same applause after presenting their different viewpoints on how the economy should be revived. The winner is determined by the magnitude of applause so no one wins this particular contest as all of them get the same volume of applause.

Democracy at Work and at Play tells of the futility of the whole COPAC process where citizens are told of things they do not understand. In this story, the COPAC delegation is sent to Matabeleland but amongst them there is no one who can speak IsiNdebele beyond salutations. The people do not understand all that is being said because it is in English and they end up bringing their own grievances which have nothing to do with the making of a new constitution.

The ex- combatants as always present their case that the want a life-president and everyone is forced to buy into the idea after threats that anyone who thinks otherwise will have their homes burnt down. The delegation is later kicked out because they are thought to be people from the MDC.

Gukurahundi stories include Two Metres of Drainage Pipe where the narrator tells of the story of how he and his brother and friend were captured and taken to Bhalagwe base where they were tortured day and night. His brother was tortured in a drainage pipe and beaten until he died. Then the victim was buried in a grave he was forced to dig. In a way it addresses the psychological trauma people bear from the Gukurahundi experience.

The narrator remembers the event because he sees his neighbours’ children playing in an asbestos drainage pipe. There is also a poem carrying the experiences at the Bhalagwe camp; Bhalagwe Blues, where he talks of other ways of torture like castration and suffocation especially of ex-ZIPRAs that they suffered at the hands of the 5 Brigade after the then Prime Minister Mugabe urged them to destroy the Matabeleland part of the country.

The two writers present their work from the side of the general populace commonly known as the povo and expose the injustices they are made to suffer at the hands of those in power and those that have money amassed more possessions than the rest. – Reviewed By Sibusiso Tshuma.