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What is in the cultural water?

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I FOUND myself reaching for my inner Dylan because of the events within our nation this past week. What is in the cultural water? So many questions. Stay close with me because the thread through my own stanzas is almost invisible.
Strange dream

For some reason, I dreamt of William Butler Yeats, who is considered one of the greatest British poets of the 20th century.

Of all the people, of all the writers I may have dreamt about, yes, I dreamt of Yeats. Specifically, I dreamt of his poem The Second Coming which was written in 1919 and portended the Second World War.

Using Biblical allusion and apocalyptic symbolism, the very title was ironic because it was not intended to mean the second coming of Christ and his redemption of the human race.

His poem implies that geopolitical affairs are in a state of constant flux and that although things fall apart, redemption can only come through a second coming. Except that it is not quite that of the Christian rendering.

It may come in the form of a “rough beast”. This beast can be something antithetical as in a cataclysmic social change or even war.

In Yeats’ case and for his epoch, the desolation of the First World War produced a second coming in the form of the Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler.

The First World War did not produce the necessary aversion to needless conflict in Europe. Though oftentimes to warmongers the purpose of war seems to be victory, they soon must find that is what the human race really yearns for.

Moreover, although the dalliance with revolution is driven by lofty ideals, disappointment attends the waking reality of man’s base nature.

When liberators turn jailers and monsters. When they reign not with gratitude, but with impudence, entitlement and terror. Whatever dreams Kwame Nkrumah had for Africa have been blown to smithereens.

Today, the BBC carried a story about African migrants in the central American jungles on a perilous journey, on foot, to the promised land of the United States.

Some from war-dazed Congo and Cameroon, which is also in civil conflict, over perceived marginalisation of its Anglophone parts. Alongside the Africans were Pakistanis and other Asian nationals.

First contact

I first came into contact with the poet’s famous words courtesy of another writer. It was the seminal novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe which carried the following words:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

Personally, the words Achebe left out of that stanza are the ones that carry much more resonance for me. In particular the following:

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Full of passionate intensity

Given what is happening in our country and even in the rest of the continent of Africa, the “ceremony of innocence is drowned” as Yeats put it. It does seem that “ceremony” is more important than the substantive discourse dealing with the how, why, when, what and who questions of our socio-economic reality.

What I have been hearing and seeing does not make sense. It is surreal to see the players upon our stage. I had almost convinced myself that it is really only Daves Guzha and Josh Nyapimbi who are enamoured with the theatre. I was clearly wrong.

Masks and ladders

It is contradictory and self-indicting for a nation which ululated the forced removal of a man to turn around and now praise him with nearly the same vehemence. Indeed “the best lack all conviction” as the “worst are full of passionate intensity”.

The conviction that we need now is the conviction to tell the truth and shame the devil. But even now,

subsumed in my statement is the presumption that we have a common memory and even a collective understanding of the very word “truth”. As things stand, the national memory is frazzled. It is that duality that can in part be understood if one appropriates the analogy of an abusive parent.

The ambivalence is however a luxury we can ill afford as a continent given the complexion of the roster of our political leadership. I do not refer to skin pigment, of course.

A seductive thought

“Wafa wanaka” is a Karanga idiomatic expression which holds that death sanctifies or that when you die, you have

left all the earth’s troubles. Tribes within the enclave generally referred to as Shona have the same expression. Literally it means that he that dies is now better or good. Better, of course, than the living. Culturally, I cannot fathom

why the ancients needed to believe as much. It is baffling to me. Just how, for example, does a vicious robber

become good upon death?

Without equivocation, when the reckoning is done, he is no hero. I need not even mention the name. Only revisionist

historians will overlook the monumental evidence to the contrary. But all these things are only possible in a country

such as Zimbabwe. What does it even matter at this moment in history to reflect upon these things?

National schizophrenia

Today the same ones that waved him away saluted his body

Yes, on a red carpet and they eulogised him

But what sort of theatre is this?

If they now embrace that which they bayed for,

Is the thing not in them to embrace after all?

Does it not mean therefore that the thing they rebelled against?

Is but the thing staring them in the mirror?

Do the natives not admire deep down that which repulsed them?

The answers have long been blown by the wind.

Parting shot

Let me share a little story. In 1985, Lumbidzani Dube’s father was buried alive. A woman neighbour saw the heinous

act. When the rough beasts had left, satisfied with their handiwork, the brave woman dug him out. Lumbidzani was

still in his mother’s womb. He has lived to tell the gory tale. The father survived the ordeal and died in 2008.

Thousands others were not so lucky. Praise alone.

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