Home Page African Writing Online [many literatures, one voice]  
HomeAbout UsNewsinterviewsMemoirsFictionPoetryThe Call to ActionArtReviews

  Abdifatah Shafat
  Abd Al-Hai
  Adaobi Nwaubani
  A. A. Ibrahim
  Amatoritsero Ede
  Ando Yeva
  Arja Salafranca
  D. Mkandawire
  Emman. Sigauke
  F. Madzimbamuto
  Carolyn Ride
  Cecilia Ferreira
  Chuma Nwokolo
  Grace Kim
  Hajira Amla
  Helen Oyeyemi
  Isabella Morris

  Jennifer Makumbi
  Joy Isi Bewaji
  Kangsen Wakai
  Lola Shoneyin
  Marion Grammer
  Mdika Nick Tembo
  Memory Chirere
  Mthulisi Mathuthu
  Mustafa Adam
  Nii Ayikwei Parkes
  Novuyo Tshuma
  Petina Gappah
  Remi Raji
  Rudolf Okonkwo
  Richard U. Ali
  Sola Osofisan
  Tade Ipadeola
  Tayari Jones
  Timothy Spence
  Tola Ositelu
  Tolu Ogunlesi
  Yousif Almahri


Submission Guidelines

African Writing Archives





Farai Madzimbamuto



Farai Madzimbamuto

Madzimbamuto was born in Harare in 1956. A medical doctor and activist, he was educated in Zimbabwe and the UK and is currently part of the African / Zimbabwean Diaspora in the United Kingdom.


 The Burden

He walked in a measured march that brought him to the doorway where he hesitated, as though seeking permission to enter. Two strides and he was standing erect inside, waiting for that moment of recognition. It seemed no one had paid attention to his arrival. The women sat on the floor in the gloomy front room of the house that was the sitting room. Although they had pained expressions on their faces they seemed to have been talking in whispers till he walked in. Eventually, two women shot up from somewhere in the recesses of the room and let out a loud and penetrating wail that got all the women wailing again. They had recognised him.

That was how he remembered his return from boarding school when his uncle died, or more accurately, was killed. Most of the people present when Tumi arrived belonged to The Movement. He would not see most of the family and relatives till they got to the village. He had never been surrounded by so many grown ups before, except of course at the football stadium. They all seemed concerned about his family, but they all seemed to look and talk above his head. They greeted him, called his name, Tumirai, in full and seemed to feel pity for him, expressing some sad verbal flow ending in ‘very sorry’ and a hissing click of the tongue. He was young then, still at primary school. It seemed a long time ago, maybe it was a long time ago. The time since was populated by many significant events.

Going back now was like reliving those old days. The sixties’ smell was of dust: township dust, village dust… and it was always in the same memory box. Although his uncle was killed in the sixties, it was not the colonial government that had done the deed. He had taken a different view from his political friends and they had not liked it. It was difficult back then to explain how it could have ended that way. Although now (with the benefit of hindsight, and growing up) it was possible to rationalise it all, it still seemed a crass, immature way of ending a friendship and partnership. Yet, it was happening all over again. This time, it seemed more like an excuse for behaving badly than an explanation. This time he was travelling from abroad and once again, the people at the house were going to be Movement people.

This time, he was going to bury his brother.

Tumi had left, family and all, many years before. They decided that their lives were not going anywhere if they remained at home. Things had just got more and more difficult each year and there did not seem to be any energy or desire by the authorities to turn things around. At the end of the day he looked at the children and asked himself, ‘Am I doing the best for them?’ That was the killer question. So they left, joined the international flotsam.

Coming back now – for this reason – caused anger to well up in his chest. His head was intensely hot, as though it was going to hiss and splatter, smoke and burst. He was angry his brother had not left when he could. From abroad he had followed the goings-on through the media. He knew there had been an election recently, which the ruling party appeared to have lost. Yet, they were not going to announce the results until the opposition party had first admitted defeat, therefore they were beating and killing them, generally pressuring them into submission. So that was what he was going back to. Was he going to be safe? That was the question at the back of his mind, but he was not going to let the possible answers stand in the way of going to bury his brother.

The children were now teenagers and they were all going. It would be a seminal visit for them. They were not sure where to call home, where you came from originally, or where you lived now. Not a settled question, but just looking at the map of the world showed how others had answered that question. His family had asked, but not answered the question. When people left the village to go to town, home was the village and the house was in town. Clearly now, people had town histories that did not include the village. His children – and his children’s children – would now grow up abroad with an overseas identity that would exclude his own origins. When he told them this, they would respond, ‘Sha a! Daddy ! Home is home, Daddy!’

They had cried when they heard the news. They had known their uncle when they were small – just like he had known his own uncle. His brother had played with his children the way uncles did, spoiling and caring for them. At family events they would always look out for him and pester him. With that youthful zeal he had remonstrated against leaving, arguing that if people left who would put things right. Tumi’s retort was however that in war, as in peace, some must leave so that others could stay. That was how the equilibrium was maintained.

Tumi’s own uncle had been more alive to him in the photos and the stories about him. There was a picture of him in a photo studio in the township sitting on a high stool with a vase of flowers on a stand next to him. His face looks whitened from the powder they used to put on dark faces in those days. His former friends had come upon him in broad daylight on the street and clubbed him with sticks and stones and crushed his head.

It was said that his brains spilled out, but he continued to breath and fight for life. There was no hope, even when he got to the hospital. They wanted to take him home, where he could be with the spirits of his fathers before he passed into their world. That was denied. He died in the cold hospital bed surrounded by well -meaning strangers and inquisitive officials.

Was that his brother’s fate?

He had spoken to his father after he heard the news of his brother’s disappearance. He had thought of going immediately, but decided he could not leave without knowing when he would return. His father had said to prepare for the worst, because things had become like that. Think anything… but the worst was the more likely possibility. Tumi had worried, but had realised there was nothing he could do, unless he decided to get involved. If he did get involved, he would learn politics; which was never something he was strong on although he had his opinions. He always got a sense of drowning at the thought of getting deeper into politics. If he was going to get deeper into this he would have to make it a cause. He would have to fight for all the ‘disappeared’. He was struggling with these thoughts, fielding questions at work from colleagues whose questionings seemed to leave some things unsaid, when he heard that his brother’s body had been found. Something jumped in his own body: ‘now I can go!’

He did not notice the new Harare airport, when they landed. He was now thinking how the coming days would close up these events like a flowing river. ‘In days to come we will still feel the pain,’ he thought, ‘and the loss. But other things will insist on our attention, and the pain will no longer be visible. This hole of ours, every family like us has one. Time does not heal, it buries.’

They joined the tail end of a queue that kept forming and breaking as people moved confusedly between several shorter ones. The signs were ambiguous. Are you a ‘returning resident’ when you live abroad and are coming ‘home’ for a few days, or are you a ‘visitor’ even when on a national passport? These thoughts were distracting him because they now held foreign passports and were coming ‘home’ as foreigners. Sembene Ousman had asked the same question of a son returning from France to bury his father in Senegal.

An official was coming down the queue checking documents and moving some people onto other queues. Under his suit he wore a very official and practiced manner. You could imagine him hiding something on him. When he got to Tumirai, he looked from his passport straight into his face. ‘Welcome to your ‘home’’, he said.

He waited for a response but all he got was a flat, ‘Thank you’.

‘Can you follow me?’ he said. It was more order than request, and he turned confidently towards a hole in the wall made manifest by the touching of an electronic key. You would not have known its presence if you did not have foreknowledge.

‘Look at my face, mister, do you know me?’

‘No, should I?’

‘You have reason to, but I know you don’t. On the other hand, I know you.’ He pointed to a folder on the desk. I want you to know that what I did was out of duty. It was my job and I was following orders. When all this is over, as we all expect it will some day soon, I want you to know that all this will be in the past.’

‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’ Tumi said, hoping that the other man would reveal himself.

‘You might say so now, but that might change tomorrow.’

Tumi could feel a parable rising, then it was on the surface, and he launched into it: ‘Many years ago I was in a restaurant with friends and someone who knew me walked in, recognised me and called my name from across the room, as we do. I waved, and I thought that was that. I got back to talking with my friends and an elderly white man came up to me and said, “Are you Mister so-and-so?” ’ There was nothing about him that connected him to me in anyway, or so I thought.

‘‘Yeeeees’’ I said.

‘‘I was in the police.’’ The old man began, ‘’and I want you to know that what I did was just following orders. That is all. I had nothing against you people. That was my job.’’

‘’What do you think he meant? He was an old man. Probably felt that way for a long time. Imagine how long he must have living with the thought that one day he would say it to me and countless others. You are a young man, Mr Fileman. You have many years ahead of you to carry your burden. You cannot pass it on to me. You want to lighten it… tell the world!’

With that Tumi walked back to the queue, which was now almost cleared.

Copyright © African Writing Ltd & respective copyright owners. Enquiries to permissions@african-writing.com.