Exploring contemporary Zim

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Chasing the Wind
By Phillip Chidavaenzi,
Harare, Royalty Books, 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-7974-7594—6 (Paperback)
231 pages

EDMORE ZVINONZWA – PHILLIP Chidavaenzi’s rendition, Chasing the Wind — whichever angle you view it from — marks a phenomenal graduation from his past texts in a number of ways. The currency that characterises the narrative makes it all the more refreshing.

The reader encounters an array of themes in the book from debauchery, violence, prostitution, prayer, life and death, crime, sexual abuse/rape, determination, forgiveness, love/lust/affection, prayer, drink, worship and prayer among many others, all portrayed with exceptional poignancy.

Chidavaenzi says of the narrative: “Chasing the Wind is a very long story. It should have become my first novel but when you look at it, it is the fourth. When I was at college, I used to stay at Support Unit (Chikurubi).

“Kombis to that place would pass through the Avenues area around 7th and I would see these ladies of the night lining up the streets looking for clients. I often asked myself questions as to why these people were there and would also hear sentiments from other people.

“I later decided that I would break this shell and tell the story. The story of the commercial sex workers was the main thrust when I started writing the book and tried to fuse other characters like Bianca, Terrence among others. Initially, Nancy was just a sub plot.”

A victim of abuse at the hands of her father, Bianca’s later life is scarred by the experiences suffered earlier in her life. She, however, keeps it a secret and only discloses the ordeal to Terrence when he is at his weakest. Terrence wants forgiveness for his own shenanigans with Darlene and Sharon.

When the story unfolds, readers are kept guessing — save to speculate — at the real source of Bianca’s hatred for her father. The abhorrent, yet common, issue of the abuse of the girl child by those they trust, is not unusual in the country and has sent several parents and other trusted male relatives to jail.

That is the same predicament that befalls Bianca’s father and he lives with the shame until his death after release from prison. He never really manages to shake the transgression off his being.

Although his sister Mandisa had forgiven him, Bianca held on. “Bianca’s life was nearly shattered because she caught the eye of a sick man – her own father. Tete Mandisa had forgiven her brother, Rodgers, for his sins, but Bianca was still vengeful.” (p52)

Self-belief, self-conviction drive Bianca to success as a law student at the University of Zimbabwe, at one point the citadel of tertiary education in the country before the establishment of other universities — both State and church-run — years into Zimbabwe’s independence.

The poignancy in Chidavaenzi’s narrative is refreshing. The plot itself is knit from contemporary Zimbabwean issues. However, there is a way in which Terrence’s forthrightness, rigidity as well as business agility tend to be too perfect until we begin to see stains much later after he falls prey to the women around him.

His involvement with Sharon for instance is something that is commonplace — bosses taking advantage of their positions to abuse their female subordinates while the affair with Darlene is a result of sheer lust.
Characters like Benson — too good to be true — are nonetheless important as drivers of specific life lessons the author wants to share with the reader.

Life in Harare’s red-light district could not have been portrayed any better and in this case picking on Nancy — a female university student — to survive on the benevolence of the different male clients in the capital city’s Avenues area is a glowing light into the results of hardships that students — without the State’s support towards their education.

Thousands of female varsity students have walked the path. Most have been forced into relationships with men four times their age because of the lure of the dollar while quite a sizeable number has gone into prostitution for survival at the country’s tertiary institutions.

Nancy has to wait for clients the other day at the New Continental Hotel’s Oasis Bar. “She hoped the night would be fruitful. Some nights were cold and unyielding, with nothing to show for all the hours of soliciting. It was like a fisherman who sat by the river banks for hours on end, dangling their hook in the water, but failing to attract any fish. But fishermen are known for their patience, Nancy thought.

Tonight, she was like one of them. She had to wait. Waiting always paid, at least according to ancient wisdom. … The nights were often long. And anything could happen — she could even die.” (p50)

We may want to quickly be critical of the girl child who finds herself in these circumstances but — in a very big way — it is an indictment on the government for its failure to fund the education of its citizens at this level in their careers.

The contemporary issues that Chidavaenzi brings up render intimacy with the story and its characters to the reader. There is nothing new or unusual and yet bringing some of these up gives society an opportunity to scrutinise and evaluate deficiencies inherent in individual modus operandi as well as government policy.

The Indigenisation Act remains a typical example of deficient government policy that led to investor flight. On the other hand, it is one example of a policy that was so open to abuse, leading people to grab whole corporates leveraging on its weaknesses without paying a dime and later take them to ruin. Terrence himself acknowledges: “I won’t. But I’m just happy that we now have the indigenisation law that’s going to work to my advantage.” (p43)

Chidavaenzi is a journalist, anointed teacher of the Word and author with a passion for teaching and ministering healing to the sick.

He was born on January 16, 1980 in Chitungwiza and is a born-again Christian.
His debut novel, The Haunted Trail, won the Nama award in 2007. Chasing the wind is a must-read exploration of contemporary Zimbabwean life.

Chidavaenzi, who is married to Simba Lyn, has another title — Sword in the Wilderness, which should soon become subject of this column.

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