Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Drama of Wiseman Magwa: Njuzu/Water Spirits (1991)

Samuel Ravengai (2011)
The play follows a linear narrative structure, by following the life of the main character Nyika and his antagonist Matope. Like Mujajati’s The Rain of my Blood (1991), the play starts from the time of the liberation war in Zimbabwe and ends in the post-independence era. The play is satirical. Matope, the antagonist is a soldier who is fighting on the side of njuzu (water spirits) whilst Nyika fights on the side of people of the land. In Zimbabwean mythology water spirits are visually depicted as white and it is not difficult to link Matope with white Rhodesians. It is likewise easy to link Nyika with the land hungry African people; and interestingly nyika means land in Shona. The issue of land was to decide the politics and dramatic oeuvre of Zimbabwe from 1997 onwards.
As the play opens, a heavily pregnant woman, Mai Nyasha and her ten year old son are ambushed by Matope, the mermen fighter, who it seems has refused to listen to the Rhodesian Front’s order to stop fighting. Matope subjects them to all manner of savagery by looting the food they were carrying and seriously injuring the young lad Nyasha who refused to co-operate with Matope. When Matope is about to kill Nyasha, he is restrained by his girlfriend Dudzai.
On the other hand, Nyika who fights for the land inhabiting people also seems to have refused to lay down arms and go to the nearest Assembly Point as required by the conditions of the 1979 ceasefire agreement. Indeed, in lived experience there were violations of the ceasefire agreement from both sides. Nyika features addressing the masses at a pungwe (night vigil) amidst dancing, singing, ululating and whistling. Like a political commissar, he explains to the masses the theory and practice of socialism as it would obtain in the new Zimbabwe he envisioned.
As if Matope is on the very brink of getting mad, he sings and dances to himself and even singing liberation songs such as ‘povho yaramba zvamadhisinyongoro’ [povo does not like disorganisation]. This seems less likely from an RF soldier, although this might be acceptable given the near snapping of his mind. Matope is at war with himself whether he made the right decision to stay on in the bush or respond to the ceasefire announcement to come back to camp. He is persuaded by his girlfriend Dudzai to go back to camp and he is finally convinced that unity is better than dissidence. He goes back to camp and is enlisted in the new army- Zimbabwe Defence Forces- which we know, at independence was led by Ian Smith’s army general Peter Walls.
Meanwhile, after finally laying down arms, Nyika returns to his rural home where his father throws him a big welcoming party attended by the chief, the village head and villagers. There is a lot of dancing, singing, speeches, chants, whistling and ululation to welcome Nyika back to village life. After this symbolic return to the source, Nyika finally decides that he wants to stay in the new army, but in the new Zimbabwe, he is confronted by so many problems that he thinks he is getting a rough deal.
·         Most of the senior military positions have been given to the former water spirit fighters
·         Most of the female land fighters were either impregnated or married by former water spirit fighters, perhaps because the mermen were paid better owing to their higher positions in the new army
·         Education in the new Zimbabwe is not free contrary to what he was telling the masses during night vigils
·         Even though he lost two fingers during the war, he was not given any money by the War Victims Compensation Fund because he was considered to be still able bodied.
·         Some ex-land fighters had accumulated too much wealth which was contrary to the spirit of socialism which they were coached to preach during the war. This was to lead to the Sandura Commission which saw several government ministers charged of corruption and relinquishing their portfolios (see Nyarota 2006).
The water spirits continued to own the land while people of the land did not have enough to conduct meaningful agriculture. This was contrary to the reasons for going to war (1991: 31). All this is revealed during a heated debate between Nyika and his fellow ex-fighter Mhungu (pp.28-35).
One incident, however, drives Nyika insane and ends with him living a miserable life. He argues with Matope, his former nemesis, who is now his senior in the army about who was the better side during the war of liberation. They end up fighting and Nyika is arrested by military police, who it appears are mainly composed of the ex-mermen fighters. Nyika is punished but decides to leave the army when an option for demobilisation is offered to him. Without work, he becomes a porter at Mbare bus terminus and like Jemusi in Tsodzo’s Shanduko (1983) or Spencer in Musengezi’s The Honourable MP (1984) becomes a domestic servant washing dishes, napkins, underwear and cooking for the new black land owner Muchengeti. He earns $40 (US$24 at the time) instead of the government gazetted $100 (US$59) in 1991 for domestic servants. Thus like Ndhlovu’s The Return (1990) and Mujajati’s The Rain of my Blood (1991) Magwa’s Njuzu/Water spirits (1991) deals with the theme of the plight of ex-combatants especially at the hands of the new black petit bourgeoisie class.
Samuel Ravengai 2011.

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