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April 21, 2011

Book Review || Zenzele by J. Nozipo Maraire

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Zenzele - A Letter For My Daughter'is a novel that really makes your brain race around in circles.

The story is basically a letter written by a Zimbabwean mother to her daughter, who is leaving the safety of Zimbabwe for the international world. In it, she speaks of many things - love, religion, that sixth sense we all aim to have - but mostly it is about how Zenzele needs to remember her place as an African - more specifically, as an African who is not oppressed.

The reason the novel takes my brain in circles is because I am faced with a terrible dilemma whenever I read novels protesting against colonialism. This is because I am a white person living in a country that previously oppressed the majority of its population, but I share none of the stereotypical views expressed in these novels - they annoy me to tears sometimes - and yet I am faced with people every day who believe in those stereotypes.

It breaks my heart to read about the characters' experiences - the story about Zenzele's cousin Tinawo, who worked hard at school to earn a white dress with pink flowers, only to see her mother chased out of the shop by the white owner because they didn't serve black people, was particularly poignant, and made me feel embarrassed to top it off.

This is the sad legacy that the oppressors have not only left behind for the black Africans, but also for the white Africans of South Africa: those who had nothing to do with the colonialism are still viewed as the oppressor but slowly become more and more like that which we tried so hard to abolish decades ago - both sides will always accuse the other of racism - there will always be an assumption that one side is trying to oppress the other simply because of this joint history that we share in this country - there will always be this feeling of hatred and fear.

More than anything Zenzele has saddened me, because there are assumptions about both white people and black people that will never disappear, simply because they're right there - staring me, and all other readers, in the face every time we open the novel.

However, Zenzele does leave me with a sense of hope - the final chapter is all about love and how it brings people together. I truly hope that South Africans can become entwined together like the lovers' tree in the story so we can truly build a beautiful country together.

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