24 October 2010

A Fine Madness by Mashingaidze Gomo (book excerpt with a preface from Ngugi wa Thiong’o)

Preface by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

A Fine Madness is really a collage of verse and prose narratives, memories, images, thoughts and characters against the background of the 1998 Congo war following the death of the Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the Senior Kabila coming to power. Kabila, a Lumumbaist was a long time foe of the Mobutu dictatorship. Challenged by dissident guerrillas seemingly backed by the West suspicious of Kabila’s links to the earlier Lumumba and his avowed leanings towards Marxism and Moism, Kabila is helped by African forces from more than six African countries, the most sizeable and committed to Kabila’s restoration being the Zimbabwean contingent. The poet-narrator would seem to be part of the Zimbabwean forces operating from and around Boende, in the Congo. From the air and on the ground he is able to observe and contemplate the chaos in the Congo, which in his eyes also becomes the story of an Africa that has seen so much blood and tragedy. His observations interact with his thoughts and remembrance of Zimbabwean history of anti-colonial resistance and fight for land, from the First Chimurenga war inspired by Mbuya Nehanda to the current land politics in Zimbabwe. Mbuya Nehanda becomes the image of centuries of African resistance to the colonial horror of chambers wrought by the likes of Leopold II of Belgium and Cecil Rhodes of South Africa and Rhodesia.

But this is not a narrative of history. The actual historical figures are not mentioned. These events are tangential to the torrents of images that are conjured by the author’s imagination. It opens with the figure of Tinyarei, but soon one senses that this very real almost palpable beauty is really Zimbabwe, Africa and the Black world. Constant are the themes of the horror and loneliness of war; but also the beauty of resistance. Gomo brings little chance encounters to life and then gives them symbolic significance; his vivid description of the landscape; his sheer immersion into the African landscape makes this collage captivating. He can yoke the most contradictory into a searing insight. The camera lenses of a tourist are transformed in his imagination into the telescopic lenses of a machine gun, the clicking becoming the Guevarian staccato cries of machine gunfire; the tourist and the terrorist become each other. Queen Victoria and Mbuya Nehanda are coupled together; one, the builder of the empire of blood and the other the prophetic voice of a blood of passions and hope. Gomo’s Africa may bear the mark of tragedy, the heart of darkness of European making, but, out of it, are possibilities if Africa learns to unite and protect its own.

Mashingaidze Gomo’s vision might come across as pedantry with the tendency to see history in terms of a monolithic whiteness against an equally monolithic blackness. But this is belied by the fact that, whatever the interests behind the warring forces in the Congo, it is African armies that are pitted against one another; and those who run postcolonial governments are all Africans. He leaves little room for social fissures on either side of the black and white encounter. By subsuming class divisions in Africa under the struggle between two colour monoliths, he denies himself a perspective that might better explain the emergence of postcolonial dictatorships and their actual relationship to the Western corporate bourgeoisie.

But when he lets his images and characters speak for themselves; his eye for detail draws the scene; his sense of irony tells the tale; indeed when he lets us experience the transformation of the physical landscape into that of the richness of life, his fine madness comes tantalizingly close to that Divine Madness that possesses poets and prophets.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o
14 April 2010

(Give us a break)

The woman I am missing now is a beautiful woman
An older woman aged in beauty
A beauty that hangs on even as age takes its toll
Lingering on like a summer sunset . . . reluctant to go
A beauty digging in . . . making a last stand around the
eyes where her smile is still disarming

Those who have looked askance at the wisdom of falling
in love with an older woman, I have always told them
that it is a fine madness
And for those who have only heard and yet not seen, it
remains madness until they see Tinyarei

She is the perfect thing

And then, there are many who have reasoned again and
again that beauty so superlative should be scattered
around or shared . . . globalized if you like, so that there
cannot be too much power over the hearts of men in any
one woman’s hands

And there are also some, surprisingly black too, who
have argued that beauty so superlative is too good for an

They have accused Tinyarei of sitting on money and
insisted that she should invest herself in European fashion
They have insisted to me that Tinyarei should be walking
the streets of London and Paris, signing contracts that
shackle her to European commerce . . .
And they have campaigned to be the sales people of her

And some have asked kuti, ‘Unomupei? . . . 1
Can you afford the things that sustain her beauty and

As if all African women are invalids . . .
Beautiful invalids who marry fortunes
As if all African beauty and womanhood should be
relegated to mere aesthetics

Naturally, I have stood at variance with such ideas

An African woman should be as beautiful as she wants to
be and yet not be shared or sustained by men . . .
And the madness of falling in love with her should owe
no explanation to anyone . . .
Not even a group of white journalists from a European
fashion magazine

You see . . . I feel deeply for Tinyarei . . .
The feeling I have for her is a deep and powerful thing
As deep and powerful as a bottomless sea
A raging, turning and twisting passion, as inexorable as it
is real

A fire that keeps burning, burning and burning like the
Flame of Independence 2 at the kopje

I know that there is beauty that lies in the beholder’s eye
A secret beauty that demands that one should look
again. . .
And then it suddenly becomes so intense that one
wonders how they could have missed it at all the first

And then with all that in mind, I know that the beauty
that is Tinyarei’s is undeniable to any eye
She is exceptionally beautiful against any imaginable
On the streets of Harare
Pachibhorani kwaMuda
Kubanya kwaNyandoro
Or even by the Anglican Cathedral close to parliament
I first saw Tinyarei at the inauguration of Chief
Nyandoro, possessed by an ancient spirit of the land
Dancing to life
Whirling in a whirlpool of music and lore

And she could have snapped any eye anywhere
And she sang: Kufa kunesu machewe
Tarisai ndaitwa mukomberanwa garira
Noko 4

And at Boende, I missed her with a nostalgia that was
like madness
In the solitude of war, in which men marched in
battalions and flew in helicopters, gigantic aircraft and
other quick birds of war . . . sometimes in combat
formations and sometimes solo, I wandered in the
loneliness of memory . . . missing her

And it was a lonely Boende, with the MI35 gunships
taking off for Bokungu on our arrival from Mbandaka
during the fight for Ikela and rebels were on the run

And, I was remembering the first time I had seen the
helicopter gunships at Kamina . . .

Two gigantic birds of war that had ridden the distant
horizon to land in a swirl of blades and dust
And men had gathered from all over the transit camp to
inspect the hi-tech aces everybody expected would
transform the face of the war
And one man . . . a dark-skinned warrant officer,
had taken pride in explaining their capabilities to awed fighters

And now, they shook the earth, rolling down the dirt
runway, one by one, four giants, laden by armloads of
One by one, they laboured into the air, dipped behind the
palm trees and were gone . . . as if they never were

And Boende became a lonely place . . .
Alone . . . watched by the bloodstained glare of the jungle
Unguarded by the bloodied presence of the gigantic

And on the helipad, two Alouette III helicopter gunships
crouched low and small
And a windsock swayed in the wind
A half-hearted bid to repulse the crowding solitude
And I missed her then . . .

I missed Tinyarei with a wretchedness that was like

A very fine and enjoyable madness

And it always feels pleasant to miss a woman
Sometimes it is even better to miss than to be with her
And at Boende, it felt nice to miss Tinyarei
It felt nice to defy the conventions of a world that has
institutionalized nature into the racist channels of
Western intellect
It felt nice to defy the judgement of a world that has
styled all life to the whims of barbarians
At Boende, DRC, it felt astonishingly nice to be mad at
the whole world

And, in the messing bunker, I introduced myself as
Warrant Officer Class Two Takawira Muchineripi, alias
Comrade, alias Changamire 5
And it felt spitefully nice to be all the names the British
priest had refused in Sunday school
He had said Muchineripi was too pagan and suggested
some such names as Amos, Joel or Peter, all of which I
had refused for fear of offending old grandfather who
had given me the name
And, when I chose to leave his flock instead, the priest
had thought I was mad

And, looking back at it all paBoende, it felt so awfully
nice I could have enjoyed refusing his suggestion again
and again and again

And if I had had to refuse it again at Boende, I would
have iced it with spleen because his own name was Father Dion
And Dion was from ‘Dionysus’
And Dionysus was the pagan Greek god of wine and
And they said that whenever Dionysus visited Mount
Olympus, the gods got pissed, sang, grooved and
romanced all night long because Dionysus always moved
with a good supply of beers

And yet the priest had said my name was pagan, as if
Greek mythology from which they had taken his own
name was Christian
And in my heart, I had said, ‘Are you God?’
Because, even if I had changed my name, I would not
have felt like Joel, knowing that I was Muchineripi
Because, Muchineripi, like most African and for that
matter Jewish names was a social statement. I knew that
Jacob, whose name meant ‘supplanter’ was renamed
‘Israel’, which meant ‘I have fought with God,’ after he
had wrestled an angel of God

And, by the same token, my own name was a social
statement . . .
A slap . . .
A slap into the face of someone my grandfather had
wanted to spite and like his own name ‘Takawira’, it told
the story of social strife
Thus, becoming Peter would not have erased the
circumstances I had been born into
Circumstances that were part of me
Circumstances that were family, tribal as well as national
scars, irremovable by name-changing
Because, no black person born into the colonial era was
Born into peaceful settings

All were born into brutal segregation against which
Resistance took all forms...including naming of children
to record sorrow and strife...lest the people forgot

1. And some have asked, ‘What can you offer her . . . ?’
2. The flame of independence is a torch that burns on the summit of
Harare kopje. The flame symbolizes Zimbabwean sovereignty
3. At the borehole at Muda /At the rain shrine at Nyandoro
4. Death is with us for real/Look I am besieged
5. The name Takawira Muchineripi is an allegory. Takawira defines colonial bondage. Muchineripi is a verbal challenge to a beaten enemy if he still has anything else to say. Changamire is a traditional ruler and also a title of reverence when addressing elders.

The wasp is corrupt

And, one day we observed a big wasp going about her
And the business was building a nursery in one corner of
the waiting lounge at the terminal at Boende

And then she must have missed a step, because a piece of
mud fell onto the floor and she flew out to fetch a
replacement from the puddle where two pigs had been
taking a mud bath
And it was a wonder how pigs could not resist puddles,
no matter how small
And puddles were a nuisance to us . . . providing a
breeding ground for mosquitoes that caused malaria that
killed soldiers
And to pigs, puddles were skin lotion . . . providing
protection from insects and the sun and it was also the
breeding ground for the worms they fed on
And to wasps, it was a quarry, providing building
material for nurseries

And then, while the wasp was putting the final touches
on the nursery, a big green caterpillar started crossing the
floor strutting like an ox

And right in the middle of the floor, it stopped as if to
consider something and then suddenly turned and came
towards my stretcher bed

And I became apprehensive and got up to kick it out of
the room
I have known some of these caterpillars to shed
poisonous hair as they crawl over one’s back . . . taking
advantage with insolence

And then, even as I got up, the big wasp landed on the
caterpillar, which wriggled vigorously as she pumped
venom into it . . . A subversive venom that paralyzed the
caterpillar’s fighting systems . . . undermining its will to
struggle and it went limp

And then, I called others and we all marvelled at the
principles of flight and load-carrying being put into
practice by an insect that had never been to flight school

Thrice, the she attempted vertical take-off
And thrice she faltered under the weight of a load that
was almost twice her size
And then, to our surprise, she aligned herself with the
door and made a rolling take-off, straight outside where
she gradually gained altitude and then came back into the
room and went straight for the nursery . . . a mammoth
task executed for posterity!

And a Congolese who had also come to observe the
drama said something I could not understand and when I
asked for interpretation, Monalisa said, ‘He is saying that
the wasp is corrupt!’

And I thought it was surprisingly well thought out and
everybody laughed at the application of human values to
the wasp . . .

The wasp that had taken the caterpillar hostage, to
nourish her own descendants
The wasp seemed to have had very definite plans
In the air where she spent much of her life, she had had a
satellite view of everything
She knew a safe spot for her nursery
She knew about the puddle and about the caterpillar
And, all the pieces fitted into her Machiavellian plan

And she had started building the nursery fully aware that
if the caterpillar knew her plans, she would not agree to
them because no living thing on the planet would agree
to be used to nourish the progeny of another living thing
by giving up its own life
So, in the wasp’s plans, violence would have to be used
on the caterpillar’s life . . .
As violence was used to enslave the African to nourish
the children of white people
As Rhodesian colonialists legislated forced labour against
Zimbabweans to nourish their progeny

And, reflecting upon it later on, I thought that if
civilization, democracy and Christianity were a
realization of man’s rejection of the law of the jungle,
then there must surely be a part of that jungle which the
European community had grudgingly retained . . . a
savagery with which to deal with African people

And talking about corruption . . .
What corruption could be worse than slavery?

Forced labour?
Minority rule?

What corruption could be worse than imperialist
oppressors training and sponsoring terrorists to
destabilize Africa for rejecting their dominant rule?
What corruption could be worse than imperialist
oppressors subverting and arming African children to
commit fratricide and trash their own sovereignty and

What corruption could be worse than a blatant refusal to
acknowledge the immorality of having a few Rhodesian
barbarians owning the majority of prime land in a
sovereign state of thirteen million landless black people?

And talking about definite plans . . .
Were we here not fighting the definite plans of Western
wasps who were building nuclear reactors and aerospace
industries knowing about the DRC’s mineral potential in
the sustenance of such ventures…?
Yet not intending to engage in fair trade for them
Plotting instead . . .
Plotting to kill in order to gain access

So, was Africa not the fat caterpillar?

A Fine Madness was written by Mashingaidze Gomo and is an excerpt from his début book A Fine Madness published by Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited (April 30, 2010).

Copyright © Mashingaidze Gomo 2010.

Mashingaidze Gomo was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), third in a family of eight, where he was raised during the struggle for Zimbabwean independence. He joined the Airforce of Zimbabwe in 1984 as an aircraft engines apprentice and later joined 7 Squadron as an Alouette 111 helicopter technician and gunner in Mozambique where Zimbabwean Defence Forces protected the fuel pipelines from Beira during the civil war in Mozambique.

He returned to the Zimbabwean Airforce School of Technical Training as an instructor in aircraft engines and later served in the war in the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). After the DRC, he completed a BA degree in English and Communications.

In 2007, he retired from the Airforce to study for a BA (Hons) degree in Fine Arts (Chinhoyi University of Technology) and to pursue a life in the arts.

Gomo is married with three children and lives in Zimbabwe. A Fine Madness is his debut book.


StoryTime said...

In Harare? 'A Fine Madness' is being launched on the 26th October, 1700hrs, at the Mannenberg, Fife Avenue Shopping Centre, (Corner Fife Avenue and 6th Street, Harare, Zimbabwe).

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Interesting preface. A book I would love to read.

Fredrick Chiagozie Nwonwu said...

Loved this, hope the book will find its way down to naija. Would really love to delve deeper into the mysteries inherent.

Anonymous said...

Lastman, you are a real hero. I remember the wasp, the stretcher beds and the loneliness. We survived. Well done. Proud to have read your book before it saw print.

Sydney Ncube said...

it is a quite interesting book especially 4 patriots

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