Subverting the culture of silence: The Depiction of gender violence in Zimbabwean fiction

My PhD research examines the representation of violence against women and girls in Zimbabwean Literature in English. I’m often asked what inspired me to work on this topic, and usually, my answer is something about my passion for social justice and making the voices of African women more prominent. What I don’t say is that it started with my grandmother. My grandmother was a great storyteller. She only knew a handful of English words but once, according to her, managed to speak herself, in English, out of going to jail. She had been caught selling homebrewed traditional beer by the British South African Police, a very serious crime in colonial Rhodesia.

Growing up, my grandmother and her tales of outwitting the colonial administrators was a daily reminder of the sacrifices that earlier generations made to give Zimbabweans like myself and other Africans across the continent, opportunities that were denied them. The stories that make up the creative part of my PhD project entitled ‘Homewards’ are inspired by the experiences of such extraordinary women like my grandmother, whose heroic stories are often silenced in favour of African nationalist narratives with all-male heroic struggles. Carrying out research for this project, I had the opportunity to meet some wonderful, strong, Zimbabwean women who are continuing the tradition of making sacrifices for future generations. I hope that ‘Homewards’ manages to tell their stories respectfully and capture the dignity with which they face their daily struggles.

For the critical part of my project, I study Dambudzo Marechera’s The House of Hunger (1978), Chenjerai Hove’s Bones (1998), Yvonne Vera’s Stone Virgins (2002), Valerie Tagwira’s The Uncertainty of Hope (2006), NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names (2013) and Tinoendepi, a play devised for The AMANI Trust/University of Zimbabwe Theatre Project (2002) to provide a reading that privileges alternative voices to the dominant narratives about Zimbabwe’s recent historical transitions. My main interest is in the uncomfortable topics of sexual violence and rape, state-sanctioned violence and the depiction of perpetrators.

As my PhD journey draws to an end, I hope that the problem of gender-violence in Zimbabwe is not the only story about Zimbabwean women that the world gets to hear, because it isn’t.

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