By Takura Zhangazha
In 1998, I had to undertake a research project for a course called Theory and Practice of Public Policy for my undergraduate studies.
I had decided that I would do it on the Bikita Rural District Council budgeting processes because since it’s my rural district, I knew I would have the relevant support from both my parents’ families for my basic necessities. I had also saved some money from what we sort of still had in the form of government student payouts/grants to cover any other ancillary costs.
In my over enthusiasm at a semblance of material independence, I had boarded the wrong bus to Bikita. It was a Mhunga bus. On the front, the label displayed, with equal prominence, that it was travelling to Gutu/Mupandawana and Nyika growth points.
What I had not seen between the lines was the fact that it was going to pass through Bhasera, then Mupamaonde on the Masvingo-Mutare highway, and finally to Nyika growth point.
So, the bus arrived in Gutu and took a turn that I was not familiar with on the Bhasera road. In slight panic, I asked the bus conductor how we were going to get to Nyika. He laughed at me, but also assured me that I need not worry and that I would arrive at Nyika growth point by late afternoon.
By the time we got to Mupamaonde, the surroundings were much more familiar and I disembarked from the bus before it made its U-turn to Nyika. I then boarded a kombi run by a former Member of Parliament called Matimba that plied the Masvingo-Birchenough bridge route and safely arrived at home, many hours later than anticipated.
In my satchel, I carried two novels in addition to my hardcover note-writing books. These were Bessie Head’s, ‘A Question of Power’ and Steve Biko’s collection of essays titled ‘I Write What I Like’. I had carried these two books with me because I knew that with at least two weeks of seeking out research and no electricity at home in Tamirepi village, I would need to occupy time. And I thought it best to do so by reading.
I had purchased the two books from Kingston’s bookstore with University of Zimbabwe book prize vouchers. While in Bikita, it rained the proverbial cats and dogs. I was stuck, and my only solace was the fact that I could read Head’s ‘Sello’ character with curiosity, and also dabble in a new consciousness via Biko’s forthright black consciousness.
After at least two days of rain and reading, I again boarded a Mhunga bus to Nyika growth-point and, lo and behold, my paternal uncle was on the same bus to collect his teacher’s salary from the bank or building society. I explained to him why I was home, and he actively encouraged that I, at least, read and pass my university courses and help others in the family once I had done so.
At Nyika, we parted ways for some hours. He went to the bank and I was off to the satellite office of the Bikita Rural District Council. We met later for the last – you guessed it – Mhunga bus service from Bulawayo on its way to Mutare.
Biko’s book in my hand, he asked me what I was reading. I explained that I was reading, for the fun of it, on South African liberation politics.
He said it’s a good thing that I was seeking knowledge via reading books. But he didn’t quite understand how it would help with the research I was claiming to be undertaking.
I dropped off at Mushuku bus top while he went on to the Chibvumani drop-off point. And again, I spent the next week compiling my research notes, but also reading Head and Biko.
I have been elaborate about this because the two books I read in that period helped me combine idealism and reality. This is both in a rural and black consciousness sense. My bus ride conversations with my uncle made more nuanced the perspectives from which to think about not only my then geographical locality, but also recognise the key historical challenges of Zimbabwe, global humanity, and future African generations (which I considered myself to be part of at that time).
But all of this would never have crossed my mind if I did not have those two books in my satchel.
With hindsight, it is clear to me that reading them, even under candlelight, clarified my understanding of not only where I was, but also what I valued the most about Zimbabwean society. Admittedly, Bessie Head was much more difficult to read and understand than Biko. But both gave searing insights into the African condition.
In contemporary Zimbabwe, books are now regrettably frowned upon. This is particularly so for books written by African writers that are not always focused on ‘poverty porn’.
Young people are encouraged to read those books that make them pass exams, or those biographies of individuals that they will never mimic in real life; those people that became multi-billionaires, even after dropping out of tertiary colleges.
Be that as it may, libraries and bookstores remain objective key nodes of organic knowledge acquisition and dissemination. We should actively encourage young Zimbabweans to be comfortable with reading a book.
After all, when they watch movies on streaming platforms or dabble in social media, a majority of what they consume always comes from the written word, in the form of an essay, novel, or script.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)