Gukurahundi is not a word that is known in this country, at least not in the way that we know the words Holocaust or Genocide or Massacre. It is, however, a seminal event in the history of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. It was when Robert Mugabe sent the fifth brigade of the Zimbabwe Army, a brigade that had been trained by the North Koreans, into the area around Bulawayo and murdered thousands of his political opponents in the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). It was an event that set Zimbabwe along a path of repression from the mis-1980s until last year when Mugabe was forcibly removed from power. It is an event that stills hangs its shadow over Zimbabwe. It is an event that is central to this book, although the book is not set in the actual time of the massacres. It is set in the present day, looking at how Zimbabwe and particularly the people around Bulawayo are dealing with the consequences of what happened.
Bukhosi has gone missing. His parents, Abed and Agnes, begin to look for him. It gives nothing away to say that Bukhosi has fallen a victim to those opposed to his secessionist politics. This is made clear from the start. It is just that Abed and Agnes do not realise this, and do not look in the right places. What follows is a story of deception, of power plays and of people struggling to do the right thing, if only for themselves.
To describe the main character as manipulative gives no real idea of how self-serving and self-obsessed he actually is. His whole purpose is to make sure that his life is a comfortable as it possibly can be, even if that means lying about the whereabouts of Bukhosi, which he does with consummate skill.
I will not say any more about the plot. Let us look at the language. There is no doubt that Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is a skilled writer. She uses language that sweeps you along with the story, and she never lets you forget that Gukurahundi is the underlying theme of the story, the motor on which everything else depends.
There is one difficulty with the language. There is no glossary for the Ndebele words that are peppered throughout the tale. This was not a problem for me because I have spent a considerable amount of my life around the offices of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and I know what words like bhundu (the sticks) and mfana (boy) mean. Most people will not have a clue, and that will make it difficult for them to understand some parts of the book. This, however, is a fault of the publisher and not of the author. It would not have been difficult to provide a glossary, and it should have been done.
Apart from that, however, anyone who wants to understand what is happening in modern Zimbabwe, or even modern Africa, should read this book. It will give you an insight that others will not have.