I suspect he was a bigamist, if not a trigamist. He said he was married to a girl in Germany and I am sure there was one in London. But I think with him, marriage was an elastic term. It might have been sort of marriage of convenience or they were just living together—you never knew. He had a funny way with women which I could never quite understand. He was not a good-looking man and he kept on losing his teeth.

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He was always getting his things and leaving; not that he had many things to get—in his last years, homeless and reduced to sleeping on park benches in Harare, Zimbabwe, all he had were his typewriter and a few books. He died at thirty-five, an age when most writers are just publishing their first novels. One of the most interesting instances of Marechera getting his things and leaving was in , when he received a telegram from his publisher in London, James Currey of Heinemann Books, telling him that he had been invited to a cultural festival in West Germany, lasting from June 23 to July 1.

The trip to Berlin, from beginning to end, could have been scripted by Marechera. His shoe had a big hole in the sole because, he said, he had been hitchhiking. The second sentence in The House of Hunger is: The sun was coming up. It must have seemed pretty sunny and promising on the plane after the initial difficulties. With Dambudzo things always had a way of falling apart just at the moment when they seemed most promising.

In Berlin he was promptly arrested by the frontier police and threatened with deportation to London. By the time he was rescued by the conference organizers, the news had spread through the conference halls that a writer was being detained.

When he finally arrived at the festival hall, Marechera—perhaps the youngest writer there at twenty-seven—was already a star. Though his name was not on the leading list that night, he was given the opportunity to read.

He gave an impassioned reading from The House of Hunger, which was greeted by a standing ovation, and from that moment on, the German media had discovered a hero.

The truth is that the audience had never met an African writer quite like Marechera before—a man with such a sense for the dramatic, a man to whom the boundary between the fictitious and the real is so thin as to be almost nonexistent. He gave them exactly what they wanted.

I support Robert Mugabe. I know that any time I am back in Zimbabwe. Dambudzo Marechera stayed on in Germany for two more weeks after the conference.

He got involved with a German woman whom he may or may not have married. His father, Isaac Marechera, was a mortuary attendant and his mother, Masvotwa Venezia Marechera, was a maid for the white families that lived in the whiter area not far from the township. He had nine siblings, himself being the third. Marechera was, even as a child, exceptionally gifted, and his favorite pastime was reading. In school he was always top of his class.

He was also very attached to his parents, and so his world was unhinged when his father Isaac Marechera was killed in by a hit-and-run driver. There was nothing left but stains, bloodstains and fragments of flesh. And the same thing is happening to my generation. She eventually took to drinking and prostitution. It was at this time, at thirteen years of age, that Marechera began the habit of getting his things and leaving.

He was accepted at the prestigious St. Augustine Secondary School in It was a Catholic school, the first secondary school in the country to accept black students, and the teachers, mostly white, tried as much as possible to shield their black pupils from the harsh racial climate outside.

But the real world awaited him as soon as he got to university, the University of Rhodesia as it was then known. This was —3 and Zimbabwe, apart from South Africa, was the only African country not yet independent.

The white minority government, under Ian Smith, had unilaterally declared Rhodesia a republic and independent of British rule. Unjust laws, segregation, arbitrary arrests, and other repressive measures were used to keep the black population under control. Eventually, in , international pressure and the nationalist guerrillas would force Ian Smith to give up power to a black majority government.

After independence he would distrust and criticize the new black leaders as much as he had distrusted the white minority rulers. This time he was leaving the country. On the recommendation of some of his lecturers he had been granted a Common Room scholarship to study at New College, Oxford.

I was coming to England literally blind. I was on my own, sipping a whisky, and my head was roaring with a strange emptiness. What was it really that I had left behind me. I think I knew then that before me were years of desperate loneliness, and the whisky would be followed by other whiskies, other self-destructive poisons: I had nothing but books inside my head, and they were burning me, burring with the engines of hope and illusion into the endless expanse of air.

Many whiskies did follow. Nothing in his background quite prepared him for it. He was astonished by the lazzez-faire approach to education displayed by the mostly upper-class students. Oxford has got one of the highest unemployment figures in England. And Oxford is also segregated, though I thought I had left segregation behind.

On the one side there are the students, the aristocracy of Oxford. On the other side, there is a whole army of thousands and thousands of ordinary workers who live and work there. Even better than most of the natives in my own hedge. You know. He carried too much baggage, was too sensitive, too uncompromising to really fit into British society—or to lie low like other African students did, focusing on their studies, counting the days until they returned to their countries.

And so alcohol became a way of suppressing the alienation and the loneliness. He began to cut classes, sleeping all day, and going out to the pubs at night to get roaring drunk, and more often than not ending up in arguments and fights. After just two years at Oxford, when his drinking had become too riotous to ignore there are unsubstantiated allegations that at one time he attempted to set his residence hall on fire , the college gave him a choice: either submit to psychiatric care or be expelled.

It is doubtful that the sun was shining at that time. After being expelled, he had technically become an illegal immigrant. After leaving Oxford he went into a kind of hibernation; in some accounts he claimed to have been living in a tent by the river in Oxford, while in other accounts he claimed to have stayed with two rather shadowy friends, Shelagh and Peter, who converted their kitchen into a room for him. What is certain though is that it was at this period, after the sobering effect of his expulsion, that he sat down to write The House of Hunger.

The book, The House of Hunger, the title story in particular—from the first sentence to the last—simply dazzles. The collection consists of eight linked stories, the titular novella, and two poems. The House of Hunger was published in December , and at first the reviews were a bit slow in coming, but when they eventually came they came in superlatives. He is nothing like any African writer before him. These were also the years of the war of independence. The photographs show him dressed in a red cowboy poncho and a hat in the midst of the stiffly suited members of the British publishing establishment.

He seemed to be sending a clear message that he was not going to be patronized by or co-opted into the literary establishment. Then, as if to make his message even clearer, he began to throw plates and wine bottles at the walls and chandeliers. He wanted a big Zimbabwean novel—Zimbabwe being then in the forefront of the British media because it had just become independent.

The digressions become longer, until the story line totally disappears to be replaced by long political and philosophical discourses on history and power and anarchism and race. The expletives become more profuse, more colorful. He claimed the book had been influenced by the Baader-Meinhoff story, which he encountered during his trip to Germany, and his subsequent readings into anarchist philosophy.

The first part was realized successfully, but trouble began as soon as Marechera and the film crew arrived in Zimbabwe. Press coverage recounted the highlights of his legendary career: the attempt to set fire to an Oxford College; throwing crockery at the Guardian Fiction Prize Ceremony; detention and triumph in West Berlin. Then out of the blue he decided that the producer, Chris Austin, a white South African, was being neo-colonial and exploitative in his dealings with the black crewmembers.

Marechera and Austin finally fell out, and their contract was cancelled. He had left Zimbabwe eight years earlier, when it was under a white minority government; now it was ruled by a black majority government, but as far as he could see, nothing much had changed.

He could see clearly through the fog of independence euphoria that it was not about the person in office, it was about power. When Mindblasts came out in , most Zimbabweans were shocked by the stridency of his attack on the new government. His critical stance quickly won him many powerful enemies. Once, he was thoroughly beaten up by a colonel in a hotel toilet. Mindblasts was written at a time when Marechera was living rough on the streets, spending the nights on park benches, and writing obsessively.

The book is a mishmash of poems, stories, plays, and a journal, all united by the theme of disillusionment. It was his last published book. Before leaving London his increasingly erratic behavior had caused Heinemann to sever all relationships with him, and getting published had now become a problem. After that no local publisher seemed interested in publishing him even though he kept writing and sending out manuscripts.

I seem to have come to a stage where I think I am ready to sell out my profession. He held on to his integrity to the end. In his crazy, iconoclastic way he had redefined the way we look at African literature; he had expanded the boundaries of what an African writer can write about.

Your right to put the spanner in the works. Your right to refuse to be labelled and to insist on your right to behave like anything other than what anyone expects. Your right to simply say no for the pleasure of it. To insist on your right to confound all who insist on regimenting human impulses according to theories psychological, religious, historical, philosophical, political, etc.

Insist upon your right to insist upon your right to insist on the importance, the great importance of whim. He is also the author of the biography Mai Kaltungo


Dambudzo Marechera

Incredible that such a powerful indictment should also be so funny. More than twenty years after his death, his work continues to inspire academic studies, biographies, films, and plays. Famous for his unconventional life as much as for his work, Marechera has become something "A black man who has suffered all the stupid brutalities of the white oppression in Rhodesia, his rage explodes, not in political rhetoric, but in a fusion of lyricism, wit, obscenity. Famous for his unconventional life as much as for his work, Marechera has become something of a cult figure in certain circles in Zimbabwe, a country whose political developments have fulfilled his prescient political vision. Marechera belongs to the so-called second generation of Zimbabwean writers who published their major works in the s and s. They constitute a "lost generation" that grew up in a country ruled by a white minority government and shattered by a guerrilla war.



Share I had no idea what I was in for when I picked up this novel. Would it be frustrating? I can definitively say that it was all of these qualities, many more, and certainly far fewer. As a reader, I find stream-of-consciousness writing fascinating; it can either be incredibly difficult to comprehend or it can be magnificently engrossing and captivating.


On Dambudzo Marechera: The Life and Times of an African Writer

Who is to blame for the crisis in Zimbabwe today? Dambudzo Marechera: We in Zimbabwe know who the enemy is. The enemy is just not white, he is also black. The police force, the army in Zimbabwe are three-quarters black.

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