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Pragmatic morality in Valerie Tagwira's The Uncertainty
of Hope: A Book Café discussion
October 03, 2008
audio file details
When does survival
outweigh morality? How do traditional values and family structures
survive in Zimbabwe's current economic environment? How does
one view "criminality" when obeying the law puts one's
family at risk? These and other questions debated on 18 September
2008, when a small crowd gathered at Harare's Book Café
to discuss Valerie
Tagwira's 2007 novel, The
Uncertainty of Hope, published by Weaver
Held just days after
Zanu PF and the two formations of the MDC signed an agreement to
address the crisis in Zimbabwe, the book's title was particularly
relevant. The speakers and many in the audience spoke to the uncertain
hope they were feeling that the political agreement would bear fruit,
and that it would make positive changes in the lives of everyday
The two presenters,
both from the English Department at the University
of Zimbabwe, spoke about the themes and issues the novel raises.
discussed "the family at the crossroads." As she pointed
out, The Uncertainty of Hope explores the challenges currently facing
the Zimbabwean family. It is through the plight of the protaganist,
Onai Moyo, that readers are "lured to mirror, reflect and
interpret and comprehend the prevailing social and national malaise
with a view to finding alternatives to the incessant challenges."
Magosvongwe, the novel dwells on these challenges in part because,
as she quoted the book, "When a man is in a sinking ship,
he thinks of nothing else, but the sinking ship." Listen
Magosvongwe views the
Moyo home as a microcosm of Zimbabwe more generally. Onai's
husband, Gari, loses his job when his employer relocates to South
Africa. This threatens his manhood and his ability to provide for
his family. He takes his frustrations out at home, abusing his wife
physically, verbally and psychologically.
"The wider economic challenges dogging the nation, as evidenced
by the perennial petrol queues and queues for other elusive basic
commodities among other pressing basic demands, are dramatised primarily
through the hardships of the Moyo's." The already fragile
Moyo family further fragments in the face of these challenges.
catalogues the difficulties facing Zimbabwe, but it leaves the reader
wondering what to do about it, Magosvongwe holds. The novel explores
HIV/AIDS, cross boarder trading, the braid drain, and the collapse
of the health care system, among other issues. But "given
the desperate situation that the book presents," Magosvongwe
asks, "where does one go with this. Where do we go from here?
How can the family be salvaged?"
discussed rules and survival in The Uncertainty of Hope. Quoting
from the novel, she said: "life is all about survival of the
fittest - rules can be twisted to suit one's needs."
But, she cautioned - whilst that is how things feel now, when
Zimbabwe's economy recovers, will Zimbabweans be able to recover
our honesty and restore economic order, or will we continue to operate
laws are meant to safeguard justice and fairness, protect the weak,
and prevent the abuse of power. But, as Muganiwa asks, "how
do you synchronise rules and survival, especially when they entail
opposing actions." In The Uncertainty of Hope - as in
Zimbabwe today - rules and regulations are made absurd by
a serious lack of amenities. Thus, people engage in ‘criminal'
activities in order to survive.
In contrast, even when
traditional social norms and institutions such as the marriage contract
are broken, participants are still expected to uphold them. Despite
the abuse she suffers in the home, Onai is judged by the standards
of a functional marriage, and fears the stigma and isolation she
would face should she divorce. As Muganiwa observes, "the
Shona cultural code of conduct has long failed to function in the
ghetto, where basic survival is top priority." Lacking the
support she would have had traditionally to address the abuse and
improve her situation, Onai stays in her marriage despite the abuse,
for the sake of her own survival.
says that a wife must never deny her husband conjugal rights. If
she does, she has effectively given him permission to look for other
sexual partners outside of the marriage. But, as Muganiwa asks,
"How does a battered woman accept intimacy from a man who
has just wounded her? Survival instinct tells you to run from the
enemy. But the binding marriage contract rules insist that one fulfils
all duties." Listen
Muganiwa points out the
contradiction and paradox when traditional beliefs and culture are
no longer tenable, or when the accepted rules and norms can no longer
operate because the surrounding reality has changed. In other words,
how can you be expected to be a law abiding citizen when obeying
the letter of the law means you'll starve or your family will
suffer? But, Muganiwa observes, Tagwira redeems the characters who
keep to a certain moral code of conduct - even if they have
not always followed the rules. This code of conduct includes "compassion,
generosity and constant re-examination of one's actions and
"Is there a time when survival is more important than morals
and law?" In The Uncertainty of Hope, the answer is yes.
Date: September 18, 2008
File Type: MP3
Duration: 1min 06sec
Date: September 18, 2008
File Type: MP3
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