In every stone, a scorpion emerges

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Gracious Madondo

Bvuma’s “Every Stone That Turns” is concerned with conflicts devastating independent Africa today.   

The anthology gives a critique of independent Africa’s most striking reality - the shortcomings of African independence characterised by neo-colonialism, corruption, unemployment and violence.

The anthology cuts across three phases of African history - the colonial era, wartime and present-day Africa free of colonial oppressive systems such as forced labour, slavery and racial segregation. 

“Every Stone That Turns” is emotionally captivating because it was authored by a participant of the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe.

Born in 1954, Thomas Sukutai Bvuma attended St Augustine’s Mission school before joining the war.

After the war, Bvuma attained a BA degree majoring in literature and linguistics from the University of Zimbabwe and later a Masters in Media Studies from Oslo University.

In 1982, Bvuma joined the ministry of information and later became the Deputy Editor of Herald newspaper.

Bvuma, also known as Carlos Chombo (pen-name), is ranked among a generation of poets such as Chirikure Chirikure, Chenjerai Hove and Freedom Nyamubaya, who emerged after independence recounting tales from the war.

Throughout the anthology, Bvuma captures socio-economic and political struggles faced by independent African nations. Bvuma gives a brief but enduring background of the struggle for independence- a shared experience that unites Africans across the continent.

This thought is depicted in his most celebrated poem of all, “The Real Poetry”, which is famous for its richness both in content, form as well its diversity in the history it captures.

According to Memory Chirere, “The Real Poetry” is carved across centuries of chains and whips. It is written in the red streams resisting the violence of Effective Occupation. It was engraved in the killings in Katanga. In the Betrays of Mau Mau...”

The anthology’s title derives its name from the poem “Every Stone That Turns” (2011). The title poem opens up on the economically and politically most marginalised part inthe African narrative today. Bvuma’s depiction of the shortcomings of African independence is incisive and candid.

The title poem, “Every Stone that Turns” alludes to the corruption that has become synonymous with most African countries.

“Shocks at every bend/scorpions waiting to sting under every stone that turns.”

The poem forms the basis of the anthology’s focus on exposing the ills, conflicts and tensions in African economies, particularly the Zimbabwean economy characterised by corrupt political                          leaders.

Bvuma’s concern with exposing the ills of social stratification resonated in the  famous third chapter of Franz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth” titled “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness”, which discusses how newly independent African leaders fail to lead due to mental unpreparedness for leadership and the shock to newly accumulated wealth.

In that chapter Fanon says: “The national middle class, which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime is under-developed middleclass. 

The unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.”

Likewise, Bvuma depicts how the much-awaited and hard-won independence brought about sweet but contradicting results to Zimbabwe. Bvuma captures this in the irony, “A baby to decades-barren parents arriving without limbs.”

Instead of independence bringing economic freedom, emancipation and strength to the black people, it weakened and “castrated” Africans as depicted in the poem “We Surrendered Our Balls”.

“What happened to the can-do never-say-never-enterprising spirit?/Comrades/Is it that when we gave away our grenades at demobilisation we surrendered our balls too”.

Bvuma’s poetry is protest poetry. He protests against foreign aid and donation to Africa. He believes that African nations struggle to achieve total independence because of dependence on foreign aid and donations to build economies.

Through the image of a prostitute in the poem “Marrow”, Bvuma depicts how foreign aid slowly become a disease that eventually kills and destroys Africa.

“Africa lies obscene on her back, one leg pegged to Europe the other to America,/one handcuffed to Japan and the other clutching at straws and fireflies,/aid from East, aid from West, aid from North, AIDS for Africa.”

“Marrow” is the longest and most comprehensive poem in the collection. The five-page long poem is divided into five sections with each section capturing and highlighting issues discussed in the rest of the poems such as episodes from the liberation war, shortcomings of the independence and political betrayal by leaders, who become selfish with the national cake.

“The peasant fancies a farm,/the worker his own factory,/the corporal wants to become head of state not general while the power and glory shine pillaging politicians service accounts not constituencies” the persona laments.

As Ngugi waThingo asserts in “National Identity and Democracy” (2015), concerning who should control the national cake or who should take the largest share, reality points to political leaders, who get the best from the spoils of independence, as they are in control of the economy and its resources.

Bvuma echoes these sentiments from a common man’s point of view, expressing how the rest of the people, especially those who participated in the war suffer from unemployment and poverty.

“Petals of the Unknown” is a poem dedicated to a liberation war fighter, who after achieving independence does not see or enjoy the fruits of his life sacrifice.

“At work, I am stuck at the bottom like lead in liquid light/ the ladder is pulled away from my feet as if I was a street kid gate-crashing into a private party.”

Bvuma’s “Every Stone that Turns” is a commendable piece of art, which not only celebrates the African fight for justice and development but also serves as a handy African history book.

Through his work, Bvuma continues to fight for the economic development of post-independent Africa calling for a selfless leadership that puts people first ahead of personal interests. 

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