- Introduction:Yvonne Vera’s Fictions and the Voice of the Possible
This collection of papers on the work of the Zimbabwean novelist Yvonne Vera, who died in Canada in April 2005, comes, with the exception of one paper, from the colloquium on her writing held at the Centre for African Literary Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in September of the same year.1 We wished to hold an event that in some way honored and commemorated her as a powerful artist who belonged firstly to the African continent and to Zimbabwe, but also to the world and perhaps particularly to Canada. At a commemorative gathering for Vera held at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, on 30 June 2005, Terence Ranger told of how, after her funeral in Toronto, Yvonne Vera's ashes were left partly with her Canadian husband and the rest were taken back to Zimbabwe with her mother (BZS).
The South African novelist Lauretta Ngcobo opened the Colloquium with a provocative address titled "Portraits of the African Present." Several of her remarks chimed with themes in the papers that followed. Ngcobo, who is a member of the KwaZulu Provincial Legislature, pointed to a contradiction: a growing mood of assertion among African women in claiming "their new roles in society"; yet a profound inequality that still marked affairs of gender in African societies. "No matter what African women have done to fight side by side with African men in the liberation struggle, the tension between men and women remains the same, if not worse" she said (1). Ngcobo noted "a revolt in the voice' in Yvonne Vera's early collection of short stories, Why Don't You Carve Other Animals, where "she probes this stubborn refusal to change in matters of gender and sexuality" (2). Turning to power, the oral imagination, and an alternative stream of narrative in Zulu oral tales, Lauretta Ngcobo noted powerful women such as Mabhejana "who has a horn on her head in front of which no man can stand," and Nananabosele who faces and overcomes a child-eating elephant "despite his bulk and brute force" (2–3). As part of this "revolt in the voice," Robert Muponde's reading of Vera's Under the Tongue in this collection notes how in a time of trauma an alternative knowledge and subjectivity exists through Grandmother's songs and storytelling to the young girl Zhizha. Paul Zeleza's paper points to her fiction as continually [End Page 1] dissolving the continued binary between orality and literacy as Vera gives voice to the pain inflicted on the African woman's mind and body by colonial and postcolonial patriarchies.
The emphasis on reinterpreting, and on alternative narratives, by Lauretta Ngcobo is also a key feature of the work of the new cadre of critics and creative writers who continue to publish challenging and innovative texts even as the country's political leaders carve out a narrow, exclusive, and selective version of its culture and history. Readers of Research in African Literatures will have seen the review article by Flora Veit-Wild on a number of these works in volume 37, number 3. The new "patriotic history" that emanates from government sources and that educational institutions, secondary and tertiary, are now being asked to teach leaves no room for counternarratives or open discursive spaces where new questions can be asked, new routes pursued. Control of the print media as well as radio and television ensures that no systematic development of a counternarrative can be undertaken by any group in the country, a point that Terence Ranger makes forcefully in his essay, "Rule by Historiography: The Struggle over the Past in Contemporary Zimbabwe," in the recent collection of essays edited by Robert Muponde and Ranka Primorac, Versions of Zimbabwe: New Approaches to Literature and Culture (241). The strand of cultural—and ethnic—nationalism now being deployed by "patriotic history" makes use of what Lene Bull-Christiansen has usefully termed a "spiritual temporality." This allows for "a spiritual connection between the initial anti-colonial struggle and the liberation war" known widely as the Second Chimurenga (60). The term the Third Chimurenga...