Ndafa Here? By Ignatius T. Mabasa, 2008, Harare, College Press, pp154, isbn: 978-07974-3522-3
(Reviewed by Memory Chirere)
Popular writer, Ignatius Mabasa’s second literary offering, Ndafa Here? is a mature novel. This is a shocking novel in which people lose their values and turn the tables upside down.
In 1999 Mabasa published a novel, Mapenzi that was quickly accepted as one of the most innovative novels in Shona. It went on to win a Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association award of the year in the Shona novel category. Finally it was voted amongst the twenty-five best books of Shona literature since 1950 at the Zimbabwe International Book fair of 2004.
But Ndafa Here? is a deliberately calmer novel than Mapenzi. The author chooses to employ intrigue ahead of experimentation with form.
Betty is the unwanted wife. Her mother-in-law thinks Betty is too ugly, and senseless to marry her son. Why does Betty have to elope to her son already full with child, she queries. I want to find my son a real woman, she rants.
Betty’s sister-in-law is more awkward. She has had two children with two different men out of wedlock but she still thinks she is more decent than Betty! She is daring in a negative way, ganging up with her mother to assault her father each time he protests about her ways. She orders Betty to nurse her children as she goes about her business around the location.
Betty’s brother-in-law asks the most cruel question in the book when Betty gives birth to a child with albinisms: Maiguru, mwana makamuita sei uyu? (How dare you give birth to this albino?) That heinous question arguably makes the climax of this novel because nobody in this world ever makes an effort to bring forth a child with disability.
Betty’s husband, Wati is a henpecked man who is always in his mother’s clutches. Wati wakes up one day and suddenly realizes that the woman he marries is not the correct one. He flees to London. When he is generous enough to phone back, his wife is not allowed to talk to him. His mother grabs the phone and talks on and on asking for a house in Borrowdale, clothes, money and other things.
The irony is that Wati’s father has very different ideas. He thinks that his desolate daughter-in-law is the most beautiful woman he has ever met. He hounds Betty. He peeps through the gap in the curtain or the key hole to watch and drool at Betty’s naked body. As he playfully lifts Betty’s albino baby, he deliberately fondles Betty’s breasts.
Meanwhile Wati sends his mother and sister air tickets to London and never bothers about Betty and the baby.
Wati’s father strikes. Now that everyone has abandoned Betty, he verbally proposes to his daughter-in-law! At least he is the only person in this story who sets out to appreciate Betty.
This story challenges the ordinary feminist critic. Here is a woman who is heavily abused by fellow women because of their sharp appetites for petty things. Betty takes very long to realize that she has to assert herself and move on. She represents all women out there who are abused until they become invisible.
However the publisher needs to consider doing a more imaginative cover design in the next edition. One also notes, with deep regret, that even the date of publication is missing!
Ignatius Mabasa has also just released a music album called Yadhakwa. It is a gospoetry offering that is currently dominating the musical charts, lampooning hypocrisy amongst Christians.