Farewell Doris… stay close


HARARE – Let me start the belated obituary of Doris Lessing, who died last week, by quoting from a letter written to me in 1982, when I wrote Comrade Muromo in The Herald: “This is to put on record how much I enjoy your Saturday column — the reasons for this enjoyment are too complicated and diverse to enumerate here but I am not exaggerating when I say it is the ONLY regular item…”

“You have no idea how this boosted my self-confidence. Writers of Doris Lessing’s calibre are grateful for such adulation.

I knew Doris Lessing for 40 years and am grateful to her for helping my literary career, encouraging me and seeking publishers for my work, as she did with A Garden of Evil, in 1976 in a magazine edited by Chinua Achebe.

I sought her out during my stay in Zambia (1963-80), where the film of her first novel The Grass Is Singing, was shot.

On my next visit to the UK I asked to meet her.

We had lunch at a restaurant near her north London home and talked about The Grass Is Singing and about literature and the future of a country which she loved as much as I did — Southern Rhodesia.

She had been brought there at five by her father, who had worked in what was then Persia and had been transferred to Southern Rhodesia, in which about 40 000 people died before it became Zimbabwe.

Doris sympathised with the struggle. But, like many other people, including the indigenous, there was no undiluted happiness at independence. Many mistakes were made and the worst was Gukurahundi, in which 20 000 people died.

After independence in 1980 we met in Harare, to lunch at what turned out to be our favourite rendezvous, The Jameson Hotel in what is now Samora Machel Avenue.

Doris was 18 years older than I was, yet the openness between us was remarkable between people of two races.

As a tribute to her love for the country and how much she wished it well, Doris was invited to address a meeting of the Zimbabwe Writers Union in Harare, of which I was an official.

Writers of any consequence turned up for this exciting meeting, with one who would soon win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Many of us thought it had come late for her, but were still excited about it.

Doris loved the country from which she had been deported in 1949 for her politics.

She belonged to the local communist party and had apparently tried to influence Charles Mzingeli and one other African politician to join the party. They were not too keen.

My suspicion has always been that had Mzingeli become a communist, his role in the struggle might have been entirely different and heroic — look what it did to Robert Mugabe.

As a writer, Doris Lessing enjoyed worldwide acclaim. Only when she switched to themes of outer-space did she alarm her readers. Canopus In Argos Archives, included Shikasta, “Emissary (Grade 9 (87th of the period of the last Days).

She sent me copies of all her books.

I read most, but Canopus was too heavy for me. Still, I am sure Doris Lessing will live forever … in all our memories.

She will continue to call for fair wealth distribution — non-Zanu PF members ought to benefit as well.

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