Tag Archive: Africa


I found this book in at airport Exclusive Books – my favourite place to buy books. I bought it because I liked the idea of reading some African chick-lit. I am not a fan of chick-lit but was interested to see how traditional African chick-lit might differ from Western chick-lit.

The starting point of the story was pretty uniquely African – it is the story of the four wives of a Zimbabwean man, Jonasi, told by each of the women. I know Africans are not the only polygamist people, but I’m mostly sure it is the only place where it is legal.

Set in Zimbabwe this is a story of wealth and indulgence I would not have associated with that country. And that in itself made it interesting. We have all forgotten that Zimbabwe was once a rich, flourishing country. By the end of the story both Zimbabwe and Jonasi have become destroyed by bad decisions, over indulgence and HIV.

I am not sure if this book really is just a silly bit of chick-lit or if a parallel could be drawn between the life of Jonasi and that of Zimbabwe itself. The uncertainty is largely because the book is not very well written. It is very chatty in style and that works for the surface story, but it does mean that if there is any deeper stuff going on, it is hard to see.

The book was also an opportunity to look at the viability of this kind of sexually open relationship in a time of HIV and Aids, but does not manage to engage in any serious comment, again because of the poor writing.

Nyathi has some terrible writing tics which should have been edited out. No one wants to read a paragraph with ‘literally’ or ‘I tell you’ three or four times. It is lazy writing and lazy editing. The same sense of chatting to your friends over a coffee could have been achieved using better writing.

I have seen reviews in which Nyathi’s writing style has been described as sassy and sexy. I must disagree. Sexy and sassy do not mean badly constructed and repetitive. The book is also unnecessarily, and sometimes erroneously, wordy. This is true of many new African writers I have found and I do understand why it happens, but editors should be pruning things a little. The editor of this book did Nyathi a disservice.

That being said it is still very readable and not particularly challenging, an easy dip into the lives of these five people that is immediately forgettable.

I will read another Zimbabwean book because I don’t think it fair that this book be a whole country’s contribution to this collection.

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Romantising poverty

Green fields and vast open spaces; beautiful vistas and gurgling river streams. Children play on the rocks as their mothers wash the family clothing in the rivers, voices of talking, singing and laughing floating in the clean air.

A small girl breaches the top of the slope and put her strong, bare foot on the tarmac. She walks erect and appears proud, the bucket of water on her head ensuring a straight back and powerful thighs.

Older children sit in the sun under trees, talking and playing. They seem stretched out and luxurious in the mountain sun; slim shiny legs and slick bald heads in the sun. In the background, the quaint rural school sports a shady tree under which a lesson is being conducted.

Old women sit, legs straight out in front of them, their fresh vegetables and fruit on pieces of material in front of them; for sale at a pittance to the passing tourists. The young boys play around her, pushing wire cars along the rutted roads.

An eight year old carries her younger brother on her back, seemingly unaware of him and she walks to and from the small, run down shop at the end of the village. The boy’s tummy is like a drum; taut and hard.

OR

Largely unfarmable land protected by the national parks board from anything other than subsistence farming on a very limited scale.

Open spaces filled with a lack of opportunities. Beautiful views of hills and mountains which separate the community from even the next community along the road.

The children, unable to attend school because there are no teachers, play on the rocks while their mothers conduct the back breaking task of washing clothing in a river with no soap. The voices are filled with talking, laughter and song because there is little point to complaining or wailing.

The small girl has climbed up a hill five times her own height with the family water on her head in a bucket. Her feet are gnarled and hard; skin like leather protecting them from the heat of the tarmac on the long walk home. She fetches water like this twice a day. The weight of the water on her head will eventually cause long term damage and pain in her neck and shoulders.

The older children have no where else to go but under a tree. They have little to do to entertain themselves. Sex is a readily available and free form of something to do. And carries with it the very high chance of contracting HIV.

No windows, no toilets and few teachers are the characteristics for rural schools in this country. Having a lesson under a tree with no text books or resource material is only fun when you have an option. For these children the lessons will make little or no difference; they are unlikely to ever escape the lack of education they will suffer.

Old women look after their grandchildren and orphaned children from their extended family on the pittance that is the state grant. Selling fruit and vegetable at low prices to over-blown tourists in their airconned cars is one of very few ways they have to supplement their income. Artisans and skills artists in rural areas are almost always ripped off, either by the passing trade or by businesses who buy the good made for almost nothing and then sell them on as African Art to rich foreigners in Sandton and the Waterfront.

Children should not be responsible for other children. Babies should not be strapped to the backs of their siblings, to be ignored for days on end. Both children are missing out on normal development; their cognitive processing will be delayed or retarded in development, punishing them to be thought of as stupid for the rest of their lives.

Taunt, rotund bellies are a sign of malnutrition, not of cuteness and adorability.

Rural Africans may have awesome views and no rat race. But they have not had the right or the chance to make that choice for themselves. It is so easy to romanticize the poverty of others.

nature

Living in the developed world, the structures of the landscape causes humankind to feel as though it exists around us, as a backdrop to the dramas of our life. For so long have those structures been inhabited, they appear to exist for humankind. The hills, fields, moors and seas have been domesticated. Trained and pruned. Populated.

 

In Africa, they have not. In Africa the natural structures stand separate and beyond humankind. They do not bend to our desires but rather often resist and refuse us. The land seems harsh, as though it minds us here. The distances are vast; the skies high. There is little sense of co-operation, but rather a sense of tolerance. It feels always as though a good season, a cool summer, rain but not floods, heat but not drought are something akin to a gift; certainly not a right. Nature keeps us on our toes in Africa.

 

In Africa we know we are not the centre of the Universe, we see our fragility in the disregard nature has for us.