Shat­tered dreams through Ben­jamin’s per­spec­tive

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page -

Harvest of Thorns Clas­sic: A play by Shim­mer


THERE is no doubt that as you read this play you get supporting ev­i­dence on what the play en­tails. The ar­rival of Ben­jamin back home from the gru­elling war shows clearly lost tra­di­tions and frac­tured lives. Ben­jamin and his mother Shamiso are at log­ger­heads be­cause they view tra­di­tional ex­pec­ta­tions dif­fer­ently. Ben­jamin is com­ing from the wild bush where the law of the jun­gle ruled. It was sur­vival of the fittest. Tra­di­tion or no tra­di­tion one had to take pre­cau­tions and make sure she or he sur­vived.

Many young men and women never re­turned. They per­ished in the thick­ness of war. Ben­jamin could have lost that ten­der­ness of heart in the war. Re­mem­ber we have al­ready seen that he takes a mil­i­tant stance when he does not agree with what his mother would be say­ing. Af­ter fix­ing the stove Shamiso is all smiles and tells Ben­jamin that his fa­ther al­ways said he was cut out to be an engi­neer or a me­chanic and he would cer­tainly have be­come one had he not —.

Ben­jamin re­acts an­grily to the in­sin­u­a­tion that he could have be­come one if he had not de­cided to leave school and go to war. He in­ter­rupts his mother be­fore she fin­ishes her state­ment ac­cus­ingly ask­ing her: “Had I not what?” Shamiso read­ing that the sit­u­a­tion might be­come nasty de­fuses it say­ing, “Never mind.” Shamiso’s talk zeroes in on what Ben­jamin was plan­ning to do with Nkazana, a girl from an­other tribe. She asks if her peo­ple knew she was there.

Ben­jamin is im­mune to such facts as he asks his mother what dif­fer­ence that would make. Shamiso is con­cerned about tra­di­tion and cus­tom. She tells Ben­jamin that as a mat­ter of African cus­tom, her peo­ple would need to know she was there. Be­sides any­thing could hap­pen to a preg­nant woman, es­pe­cially when it is her first time. Ben­jamin takes his mother’s con­cern likely. To him all this is im­ma­te­rial. He is war hard­ened and cares less about cus­tom or tra­di­tional ex­pec­ta­tions.

He says: “In the bush we had dozens of ba­bies with­out any­body bat­ting an eye­lid.” War has no or­der. Lives are bro­ken dur­ing the war. Ben­jamin re­veals some evils of the war where peo­ple go about mak­ing ba­bies willy-nilly with many dif­fer­ent women. No­body both­ered to say this or that about that reck­less be­hav­iour. All this sup­ports that Ben­jamin was from a wild bush where there was no law putting lids to weird and un­couth be­hav­iours.

Shamiso tries hard to ham­mer some rea­son­able­ness on Ben­jamin telling him that the sit­u­a­tion at home is dif­fer­ent from the war, stat­ing that if some­thing should hap­pen to her —. Ben­jamin again in­ter­rupts Shamiso say­ing, “If some­thing hap­pens, it hap­pens.” She si­lences him and in a hushed tone ex­claims ask­ing Ben­jamin what­ever he did out there. Shamiso now fears her son could have done the worst out there.

What could he have done? Ob­vi­ously, at war there is blood­shed. She is afraid that Ben­jamin could have killed a lot of peo­ple out there. Any ref­er­ence to the war makes Ben­jamin emo­tion­ally charged as he an­grily asks his mother Shamiso: “What do you think I did ‘out there’? Shoot birds with a cat­a­pult?” Shamiso is shocked by that kind of re­ac­tion from Ben­jamin. Re­al­ity dawns on Shamiso that her son is re­ally steeped in blood from the war.

Ben­jamin, driven by emo­tion, gives us a sum­ma­tion of what ex­actly he did in the war though he ap­pears to deny it. “All right, all right. I just walked around with a gun on my back. I didn’t shoot any­body. I didn’t see corpses and I didn’t touch any. I’m clean. There are no venge­ful spir­its af­ter me or my fam­ily. I don’t have to be cleansed. You don’t have to take me to a n’anga or priest or that blasted over­seer of your Holy Church who preached hon­esty ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing but stole all your pi­ous lit­tle pen­nies. Is that what you want to hear? Does that make you happy?”

Ben­jamin has gone to ex­tremes and re­veals what ter­ri­fies his mother more as we are told that she quiv­ers with hor­ror. He has given us a graphic scene of what he did in the war. Briefly he car­ried a gun on his back. He shot peo­ple, saw corpses and touched them. He is un­clean. He knows there are venge­ful spir­its af­ter him and his fam­ily though he ap­pears not to be­lieve in tra­di­tion and cus­tom. He des­per­ately needs to be cleansed.

He needs to be taken to a n’anga or priest of the church though he speaks ill of him. Ben­jamin knows what he is sup­posed to do to lead a nor­mal life now that he is back from the war. To­gether with his com­rades they went through a lot of things. They killed a lot of peo­ple and lost a lot of their col­leagues as well. Ben­jamin is dis­turbed by such talk and asks his mother if they could just not talk about it. Talk­ing about the war brings about sad me­mories to Ben­jamin.

Shamiso is over­whelmed by the events such that she ex­presses a wish that if only Ben­jamin’s fa­ther was there and she did not have to face that alone. She wishes Nkazana does not have com­pli­ca­tions. Things have not gone as ex­pected. Peo­ple had high hopes of get­ting all things eas­ily af­ter in­de­pen­dence. When Shamiso ex­presses her fears of Nkazana hav­ing com­pli­ca­tions with her preg­nancy Ben­jamin asks what hos­pi­tals are for.

Sar­cas­ti­cally he asks, “Aren’t all in­sti­tu­tions open to all races now, since April 18, 1980? Aren’t schools and hos­pi­tals free?” Ben­jamin is an ex-com­bat­ant and is sad­dened to find that all that they fought to achieve has not ma­te­ri­alised. Shamiso is con­cerned about Nkazana’s wel­fare and asks her son to be good to her and promise not to hurt her stat­ing that she is just a stranger there un­til they sent word to her peo­ple.

Shamiso was shocked to hear that all her “peo­ple” died in the war. Was it true that all of Nkazana’s peo­ple were dead or Ben­jamin took ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion and eloped with her? From this piece we get pieces of the play be­ing prophetic, for its times and chal­lenges of a new Zim­babwe which teach­ers and learn­ers can pur­sue in class. Next time we shall read a por­tion on ex-com­bat­ants and how they were treated in the early days of in­de­pen­dence.

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