Valerie Tagwira

Book Review: The Standard

In Books, Literature, Reviews, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on September 9, 2007 at 2:59 pm

Novel revisits Murambatsvina
Bertha Shoko, The Standard, March 25, 2007.

[The] Uncertainty of Hope is a tragic story that captures the lives of two women from Mbare — Harare’s oldest high-density suburb — who take us through some of the most difficult patches of Zimbabwe’s political and economic
problems in 2005.

The main character in the book is Onai Moyo, a vegetable vendor and mother of three.

Her best friend is Katy Nguni, an illegal foreign currency dealer who disguises herself as a market vendor. We are introduced to the harsh realities of Zimbabwe’s troubled economy and subsequent social problems as a result.

Onai is married to Gari: abusive, irresponsible and an alcoholic, employed as a section manager by a beverage company but fails to provide for his family, forcing his wife to irk out a living as a vegetable vendor. Yet, he is prepared to take good care of his numerous mistresses, better known as “small houses”, while ignoring the needs of his own family.

Through his extramarital affairs, two of them with self-confessed prostitutes, he exposes his wife to HIV and Aids.

In contrast, Onai’s friend Katy is married to John, a loving and caring husband who earns a living as a cross-border truck driver. So great is his need to provide for his wife and daughter and escape the poverty of Mbare that he is caught up in the illegal trafficking of young girls and women into South Africa and doesn’t tell his wife about this.

His daughter, Faith, a final year law student at the University of Zimbabwe is looking up to him for tuition fees and will miss the examinations if he does not get the money somehow. His crude forex deals with a senior police officer and his illegal trafficking land him in trouble one day and he is forced to flee the country to escape arrest.

Katy and John are concerned about Onai’s abusive relationship and fear that the worst can happen if she stays put but their friend is adamant. Even after almost a week’s stay in hospital after being seriously beaten by Gari, and attempted counselling by a female doctor who attended to her, Onai cannot gather the courage to leave Gari and uses her children as an excuse.

Like a battered wife, Onai defends her position and attacks her friend Katy during one such conversation: “And where do you think I will take my children? Huh? Have you gone that far with your plans to re-arrange my life?”

She even makes excuses for her husband’s abusive nature: “Please, let me be, Katy. Gari will change. He is going through a difficult time at work. I know he’ll change as soon as things get better for him.”

But she gets a rude awakening when Gari brings into their family home Gloria, his mistress, and introduces her as his second wife; she would be moving into the family home at the end of the week, he says.

This was the last straw for Onai. In a fit of rage she fights Gloria but her husband runs to his mistress’ defence and beats up his wife, before chucking her out of the family home for “being disobedient”. Feeling dejected and betrayed, Onai leaves home and hearth and is taken in by her friend Katy.

But these social problems are only part of the rot in the country. Through the lives of the two heroines, Valerie Tagwira boldly shows how Operation Murambatsvina affected Mbare, the home of the informal sector, and left hundreds homeless and without any sources of income.

Katy and Onai are some of the people who lose their vending spaces and find they have no source of income any more. Their backyard shacks and cottages are also destroyed during the operation and they watch helplessly, as they sleep in the open.

The state of the country’s hospitals, with no medicines and drugs and demotivated and burnt-out health workers are depicted graphically in the novel.

After admission in hospital with a deep cut on her forehead, Onai is stitched up by a grumpy doctor, with no local anaesthetic. The food shortages, the fuel queues and the runaway inflation, shortages of anti-retroviral drugs — Tagwira touches on them all.

This is a “must read” for anyone with a passion for good literature. Tagwira manages to make me angry, happy, hopeful, and hopeless, as she narrates this touching story about Zimbabwe through these two powerful female characters.

© The author/publisher.

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