Ngugi’s birth pains

CityPress - - Voices - CHARL BLIGNAUT charl.blignaut@city­press.co.za

Birth of a Dream Weaver by Ngugi wa Thiong’o Harvill Secker 238 pages R240 at takealot.com

This week, Dr Stella Nyanzi, a Ugan­dan ac­tivist and aca­demic, still lan­guishes in jail in Kam­pala for call­ing Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni “a pair of but­tocks” on Face­book. She was cam­paign­ing for free san­i­tary pads for schoolgirls, a prom­ise the state has re­neged on. The vil­i­fi­ca­tion of Nyanzi be­gan last year in her vi­o­lent stand­off with the pa­tri­archy at Mak­erere Univer­sity, a hub of east African learn­ing.

Fifty years ago, as Uganda, Kenya and oth­ers fought the fi­nal stages of their in­de­pen­dence strug­gles, cel­e­brated novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o trav­elled from Kenya to the com­par­a­tively “black African” world of Uganda to study at Mak­erere. In Birth of a Dream Weaver, he de­scribes in de­tail the four years he spent at the univer­sity as he found his voice as a play­wright, jour­nal­ist and novelist, writ­ing un­com­pro­mis­ingly about the ef­fects of colo­nial­ism and the era­sure of black his­tory.

On one level, Dream Weaver is a de­light­ful, in­sight­ful and easy read, a use­ful con­tin­u­a­tion of the au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal writ­ings that be­gan with Dreams in a Time of War (2010).

De­light­ful be­cause here the grand man of let­ters is still the lit­tle-known un­der­dog, and each of his suc­cesses is a blow against the es­tab­lish­ment.

In­sight­ful be­cause of the de­colo­nial strug­gle at our own uni­ver­si­ties as the ef­fects of rain­bow­ism wear off. The par­al­lels are loaded and Wa Thiong’o of­fers a frank ac­knowl­edge­ment of Euro­pean cul­ture’s role in shap­ing him – but at the same time gives a scathing cri­tique of cul­tural im­pe­ri­al­ism.

Dream Weaver is also an an­gry book in which the author re­lives ev­ery slight against him and warns of the strug­gle that would later see him im­pris­oned and forced into ex­ile.

Mu­sev­eni, who has locked Nyanzi in a cell, has ruled Uganda since 1986. In draw­ing on colo­nial-era laws, the courts have or­dered she re­ceive a men­tal ex­am­i­na­tion.

The strug­gle, as Wa Thiong’o’s book re­veals in glo­ri­ous and petty de­tail, is far from over.

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