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Harare Streets by Tau Tawengwa

‘Even the sewer system is overwhelmed, and that’s the reason why the Harare streets are full of shit…literally overflowing with it.’

PAGE 119


In this gripping and heavy tale the reader is introduced to James Moyo an adult man battling substance abuse and detrimental behavior. One is introduced to James Moyo as a young boy whose childhood is tumultuous because of the nature of his parents’ relationship. It is at the Eternal Life Centre, a rehabilitation centre in the middle of Mpumalanga, South Africa, that the nature of life on the streets of Harare is revealed. Through flashbacks and recollections to his therapist, James’s story turns out to be more than just his story. The reader is invited into the lives of other characters who make the fabric of the city. Tau Tawengwa tackles important themes in this work such as family dysfunction, substance abuse (alcohol, psychoactive drugs, pain medications and other illegal drugs), corruption, greed, violence, power and restoration. In all the bad and ugly of the life in Harare, Tawengwa also highlights the good and perhaps all hope is not lost.

I enjoyed the fact that although the story is fictionalized it is based on actual research of the underground life on the streets of Harare. Tawengwa in the synopsis is clear that ‘the work seeks to illuminate the contemporary social ills in the Zimbabwean society’ and he manages to paint that picture for the reader. The storyline is vivid and the characters are as real as they can be. Writing about life on the streets of Harare is a huge task, which means the story ends up with a lot of characters. Some characters were left hanging, yet given an opportunity they could have developed the story into a brilliant body of work. I wanted to know more about Nokuthula Zulu, Rasta and Sergeant Gora who seem to be minor characters but hold the foundation of the web of substance abuse in the city. Noting that this is just Volume 1, perhaps volume 2 will develop those characters.

One of the important works that this book highlights to a society deep within substance abuse is a treatment approach in the form of rehabilitation. James Moyo undergoes psychotherapeutic treatment at the centre where he realizes the extent of his problem, the roots of the problem, the damage caused and the possibility of a different life. James Moyo realizes that he was raised by a traditionalist, nationalist and chauvinist father who referred to him as his mother’s son and never handled him like a shared responsibility. Rejection then becomes a very important driving force. I like that there is some form of accountability by the protagonist as he reflects on his life and as his rehabilitation journey becomes clearer. I am not sure if it was intentional but this story attempts to counter the stigma associated with seeking professional help generally and particularly for men. It is not lost to Tawengwa that not everyone is able to afford rehabilitation and thus, he shows the effects of that inaccessibility. In the face of an unnamed character lies the story of many Zimbabweans who cross borders and seas to look for greener pastures but unfortunately find themselves in foreign lands, depressed and undertaking illegal jobs. This woman is imprisoned for theft and extortion. In a heartbreaking moment, Tawengwa peels the various layers of the substance abuse problem which is certainly not a Zimbabwean problem only, but a global issue.

There are some moments that provided comic relief and I appreciated that because things got really dark in some parts of this story. I struggled with the surprise turns in the point of view and tones in some instances which was a different style of narration to what I usually read. In general, this is a triggering read, one that is necessary and contributes to the exploration of issues underlying substance abuse. The truth can be such a strange thing, for there are so many versions of it depending on who is telling. I highly recommend this read to anyone looking for a book about substance abuse, rehabilitation, life on the streets of Harare and hope in a dire situation.


Book Details

Title: Harare Streets, Volume 1

Author: Tau Tawengwa

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 160

Publisher: Self published (2020)

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