Author: S. Nyamfukudza
In every war or revolution there are always more fighters than just the ones who take up arms and fight. There are those who, in preparation for the victory they believe is eminent, take to educating themselves so that when the time comes for them to do so, they will be qualified enough to lead the country to new and greater heights. All the wars that have been posed against evil regimes with the aim of toppling them have had these two types of fighters, and in most cases, if not all, these two groups of fighters never seem to get along quite well. Before gaining independence in 1980, guerrillas in Zimbabwe (known as Rhodesia at the time) were engaged in a war to free their country from the evil Smith regime. With this war taking place, and victory looming near, there were members of the movement who believed that while others were busy fighting in the bush, the movement also needed members who will be ready to lead the country when the time came.
“The Non-Believer’s Journey” is a story written by S. Nyamfukudza and tells the story of a young teacher who, while wanting to join “the boys” in the fight, is taken aback by talks about tribal divisions that caused troubles for the fighters. Published in 1980, the story follows the life of Samson Mapfeka, a teacher in Highfields, Salisbury, who, because of his attitude and behavior towards the war, many might see as a traitor to the movement. After receiving a letter from his father about the killing of his uncle by “the boys” (as the guerrillas were called) after they were told that he was a sell-out, Sam sets out to go back to his village for his uncle’s burial; but the trip ends up becoming more than that. The story begins with the setting in Highfields where Sam and his friends are always finding solace from the war at the bottom of the bottle. Waking up after a heavy night of drinking, Sam decides to go back out for another round of drinks to ease his hangover before setting off for the village.
After having had a couple of drinks with his friends, Sam finally gets on a bus set for his village with nothing but the clothes on his back and some money for is sibling’s school fees. While on the way the bus comes across a road block where a young Afrikaaner soldier orders everyone in the bus to get off for inspection of their identity documents. After seeing that Sam was a teacher, the young solder decided to make some jokes about it to impress his older colleagues. No being in a mood to be made fun of by someone young enough to be his little brother, Sam decides to retaliate to the young solder’s mannerism, which only succeeds in angering the latter. Angry that a black person was speaking to him in such a manner, the young soldier decides to parade his power by ordering that Sam’s language be brought forth to be searched because of suspicion that he was actually taking supplies to the guerrillas that were in his village. Sam then informed the young soldier that he had no language and not believing him, the young solder ordered that all of the language be brought forth to be searched. While the language was being brought forth to the young soldier, a passenger wearing a white shirt decided to run away and the search was brought to a halt, and all the passengers were ordered back into the bus to leave while the soldiers chased the unknown man who escaped. All the passengers blamed Sam for the bad luck brought on that poor man who they suspected was taking much needed supplies for “the boys”.
Irritated by these developments in the attitude of his fellow passengers towards him for standing up for himself to a young man who had no right talk to him like that, and weary of walking after curfew after the road block caused them to run late, Sam then decided to get off the bus at a township near his village where he will spend the night and walk to the village in the morning when it was safer. It is in that township that he meets a young woman from his past, Raina, from whom he finds out that he is late for the funeral because it had happened on that day, and with whom he spends a drunken night making love to. The following day, after spending the day making love to the same woman, he made his way to the village to find the old men of his clan sitting together discussing the events that had happened. He joined them only to find that the family was still torn by the age old indifferences that have managed to tare his family apart. He later found out, to his disappointment, that one of his younger brothers had decided to leave school and join “the boys”. On his final night at the village the guerrillas decided to go to his village and the leader of the group called Sam aside to talk to him. He asked Sam if when he returned to the village he could bring them some medicine and, being aware of the danger the leader was asking him to put himself in, for a cause he didn’t believe in, Sam got into an argument with the leader which ended with the latter killing him.
The brilliance of the story comes from how the author tells of a side of the Zimbabwean people who, during a time of fighting and struggle, didn’t care much about taking up arms and fighting. He tells of a new generation of Zimbabweans who no longer believed in bullets and guns but believed in education, and the struggles that came from those who were fighting physically and those who were fighting using education. Sam was a young person who knew of the struggles that his people were going through but never took an effort to fight – be it politically or physically – and hid his shame by drowning his sorrows, not knowing, like Mr Mike Muendane would say, that sorrows can swim. It is a brilliant read and a definite age turner.