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On The Road Again by Freedom T. V. Nyamubaya

“Once again dawn turns to dusk, where life is at peace and minds at rest. The orange sky spreads the last rays, with the island-like clouds splitting into different shapes, clearing a passage for the half-sunk sun.” (page 47)

I found this anthology by luck and I am glad that I did. In this gripping anthology of over forty poems, Freedom T.V. Nyamubaya walks that road again of struggle in search of that elusive state of freedom. Nyamubaya tackles the war, independence, love, communion, dreams and harsh realities. In a gripping introduction the purpose of the verses is made clear; with the war over and guns down, the barrel without a definite target, the pencil writes about the same things the bullets aimed at. Published in 1986, this anthology is book 29 in the ZPH Writers Series. On The Road Again, reads like a deep sigh of exasperation and despair. With the war over, many did not expect to walk in the streets of struggle still searching and yearning for that which they thought they had won. Most would not have dreamed/imagined it or even uttered their fears of freedom not being real, lest they would have been deemed prophets of doom or labeled as traitors. Known as one of Zimbabwe’s “guerrilla poets” Nyamubaya does not shy away from the brutal truths of war. This collection is so much more than just poems written during and after the national liberation of Zimbabwe.

Freedom is a primary theme in the anthology. ‘A Mysterious Marriage’ bemoans the fantasy of independence and freedom. How the two have been expected to walk hand in hand, like young lovers with time on their hands and the fantasy of eternal bliss in their hearts. It rings true for many Africans who have learned that independence did not come with freedom, ‘independence came but freedom was not there.’ Nyamubaya fought and battled in the frontline, the poem ‘Her Right,’ is sung for the woman who still experiences the injustices and oppression that the bullet once aimed at in the hope that independence for the nation would also come with freedom for women. Here liberation and identity are linked. ‘Osibisa’ is a heartbreaking poem that places women, mothers and children in the context of war and its effect on mental well-being. ‘It’s sexual, mental and physical harassment for women, mothers, in liberation wars,’ page 67. It’s important that Nyamubaya addresses the sharing of the ‘cake’ by the fighters, how women were participants in the struggle yet their role is downplayed. The cover tells a thousand words, women on that road again, armed with rifles for battle, firewood, grass and cans of water on their heads. Well balanced and sure in their steps the women keep moving. Should it be that way?

This ultimately reminds me of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions when MaShingayi laments the poverty of blackness on one hand and the weight of womanhood on the other. Still, on the cover beside the road one can see the dry trees with no life in them. Whatever one can make out of the picture, it’s clear that the burden is not light and the journey not easy. Though their bodies walk separately their shadows join each other into one body moving and following behind them. Facing forward in unison, what they do leave behind are footprints to serve as guidance to those who will follow them to their destination, those who will search for the freedom fighters and the roads they once travelled. From this anthology, one can tell that independence did not come with assured freedoms for many. Nyamubaya casts a spotlight on women and their gains from the war. It leaves a lot to be desired. So, again they have to battle against their fellow comrades, those that they once stood side by side in the national liberation struggle fighting against colonial rule. While over the years there have been some gains, the struggle is still alive. Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins explores a different war, the meaning of identity and the role of women in that war. Though the settings are different, the nature of the violence is the same; sexual, mental and physical. The struggle continues. We are in an active war zone, so when contemporary poets like Batsirai Chigama come to tell women who are trying to breathe and failing that it’s not their fault, please give them space to preach this much needed word.

In simple language and powerful verse, Nyamubaya grabs the reader’s attention; ‘Nine months in the womb, innocent and comfortable, never again will I rest always on the go to nowhere, since I left my mother’s womb,’ page 34. The words ring true for many as they echo into the days of our lives. Rest is for the dead, struggle is an endless journey. There is a reflection of the gunshots of struggle coming back into the present as the ‘free’ people battle inequality, corruption, poverty, unemployment, power relations and survival. Struggle is the overflowing river that will continue to run forever. Nyamubaya also draws in the reader by appealing to the senses in her poems. Finding poetry that is engaging is not easy, On The Road Again manages to engage the reader into the ever changing moods of the text. It’s the simplicity, clarity and powerful message that leave a mark. The message is relevant now as it was then in 1986. For anyone looking for a book to introduce them to Nyamubaya’s work, I highly recommend this anthology.


Book Details

Title: On The Road Again

Author: Freedom T. V. Nyamubaya

Genre: Poetry

Publisher: Zimbabwe Publishing House (1986)

Pages: 69

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