18th August 1987 the Death of Dambudzo Marechera

Dambudzo Marechera

Today we remember the extraordinary and explosive life of Dambudzo Marechera, the Zimbabwean ‘enfant terrible of African literature’ who on this day in 1987 died homeless, penniless and sick from AIDS on the streets of Harare at the age of thirty-five. Tragically for Marechera, even the greatest genius cannot flourish if through the misfortune of their awful circumstances they have become sociopathically programmed to deride contemporaries, to show absolute nihilistic contempt for academic and literary institutions and, at all opportunities, to bite the hands that attempt to feed them. Unfortunately, as the culture of Marechera’s war-torn birthplace had for the previous century been systematically used, abused and ultimately destroyed by White rule, such a brutal finale appears to have been the destiny of this perplexing figure – this simultaneously sensitive and insensitive Poet Brute whose task was always to question, provoke and even endanger all kinds of authority figures whom he would encounter in his too brief life.

Deadly aware of his ‘problem child’ reputation, Dambudzo blamed his mother for ‘cursing’ him with a first name that had traditionally been given to girls, and which means in his own Shona language ‘the one who brings trouble’. Little wonder then that this brilliant outsider would grow up seething with resentment. Born into extreme poverty, in 1952, Marechera as a young boy found his escape from his violent surroundings through reading, after obtaining his first book – a Victorian children’s encyclopaedia – from a rubbish dump. His homeland was at that time still named Rhodesia after the dreadful Victorian adventurer, Cecil Rhodes, whose gold and diamond mines had turned most of the population of former Matabeleland into his private slaves. Now still governed by the racist white minority under Prime Minister Ian Smith, Rhodesia was by 1965 boiling over with bile and antipathy, and Marechera was forced to enter his teenage years in a country mired in civil war – one that would not conclude until the creation of the Republic of Zimbabwe in 1979. His country’s instability, its permanent turmoil – these were the factors that most informed his art and his future lifestyle. And though Marechera’s singular if vexatious brilliance emerged soon afterwards, so too would the signs of an unstable personality that would persistently and ultimately sabotage his life.

Marechera won a scholarship to the University of Rhodesia but was expelled after his participation in campus riots in the summer of 1973. Shortly thereafter, he won a scholarship to Oxford University: a life-changing opportunity! Marechera, however, did not adapt well to British culture and in particular the rigid Oxford educational tradition. Alcoholism now fuelled his inherently rebellious nature; after numerous disruptions, his final act at Oxford was an attempt to set fire to the university’s New College. Given a choice between psychiatric treatment and expulsion, Marechera made his decision: “I got my things and left.”

Three years later, these six words would form the opening sentence of his extraordinary book, The House of Hunger – a collection of eight stories and two poems. After quitting Oxford, Marechera had chosen to live a shadowy existence in a tent by the River Isis in London where he wrote and drank. The House of Hunger was a semi-autobiographical account of violence, squalor, political upheaval, cultural and racial divides, and personal torment as viewed through the eyes of a Rimbaud-like boy-brat visionary – it found immediate acclaim, in 1979, going on to win the Guardian Prize for First Fiction. Marechera however rejected the plaudits in favour of self-sabotage: he arrived at the award ceremony wearing a flamboyant red poncho and proceeded to throw china, chairs and accusations of hypocrisy at his fellow participants. Marechera returned to the newly liberated Zimbabwe shortly after the publication of Black Sunlight, his surreal novel about revolution set in his nation’s violent landscape. But the author’s itinerant and recklessly provocative lifestyle continued in Harare, where his reputation, talent and future prospects were just not enough to prevent him from self-destructing. In the words of his biographer and champion, Flora Veit-Wild, Marechera’s “major quest in life and work was to fight any form of pretence, to unmask all forms of oppression of the individual’s freedom and rights.”

Dambudzo Marechera’s untimely vagabond death in no way reflects fairly the vivacious life of this extreme, almost heroically contrary figure. But it does aid Marechera’s legacy as his role as an African literary hero continues to gain momentum. In 2009, even stuffy Oxford University celebrated the life of their would-be arsonist!

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56 Responses to 18th August 1987 – the Death of Dambudzo Marechera

  1. Paul Wyrd says:

    Shame he didn’t manage to burn down Oxford.

  2. tingz agwan says:

    big upp to Dambudzo 4 relentlesly exposing any pretence and oppresion of da black mann by babylon and amongst ourselves.your legacy lives on

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    the zimbabwean voice

  5. innocent dhliwayo says:

    ws great somebody, wsh if i lived during his day … its a shame de very year i w born ws de very year he died…hats to his remnants

  6. tawanda says:

    I like the brains of dabudzo

  7. jeremani abedinico says:

    marechera was one of the greatest african figures. one can learn from him that background has much to do with our world views.

    • Tendai Kiwa says:

      The conspiracy,the controversy and the extra ordinary talent.Here we experience his life and how he stayed true to his reading and writting.

  8. osso says:

    Anga ari Rombe

  9. Anga ari rombe rakaita semuprofita chokwadi. He talked about the black sunlight and it fell on him(darkness) about how to manage his life well and really to follow his intelligence. Life is amazing at times, those who are veryintelligent behave in the most stupid manner zvechirombe chaizvo.

  10. tachimsekiwa says:

    he was a great figure and wil alwayz inspire me.big brains no sens3e

  11. Nicholas Musiwa says:

    This man was brilliant but he lacked support and by that he died without being eard. God knows what this man was made up of and what he was up to. His legacy will always live to be remembered.

  12. Anonymous says:

    life short nasty, brutish and poor. may your rest in peace Marechera

    • K. Falconer says:

      This was a classic case of flawed genius. Dambudza was mentally unstable…..in fact he was clinically insane. Unfortunately society is willing to overlook such psychosis if one is blessed with talent.

      • Dorian says:

        “Unfortunately society is willing to overlook such psychosis if one is blessed with talent.”

        I’d say “FORTUNATELY” !!!

        “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted” – Martin Luther King Jr.

    • tina says:

      he is my inpsiration, great man! Rest inpeace Dambudzo!

    • Anonymous says:

      Truly, ‘the enfant terrible of african literature’, since then and now.No wonder, he responded very well with James joyce.Honestly, i applaud him as a Genius and totally dismiss him as a Mad man. His rich and powerful Anarchic works of literature supports and give evident proof to his ‘Intellectual Anarchism’.A genius, a prophet, a witness, a writer, a novelist, a dramatist, all these talents depict that he was a ‘Jerk of all Trades’.A true genius,african hero, liberator, champion and a great man.You’re a creator in Golder’s Green.Big up! hats off.Your legacy will leave for ever.R.I.P.

    • proudmpandaz says:

      Dai arimupenyu Zimbabwe yaidai yave pane chidanho chepamsoro soro

    • climongondongwe says:

      the best that thrwas

    • EVANS KANINI says:

      Dambudzo Marechera was a great son of Africa. I never met him, but I knew of him through his explosive works of art.

      He will be remembered in the intriguing literary world as one of the most distinguished linchpins of the development of African literature from generation to generation.

      The legacy he created on the need for sincerity over the societal vices of pretence and hypocrisy, as well as the cause of individual liberties and freedoms, will live on, and forever. His great book,

      • EVANS KANINI says:

        His, Dambudzo Marechera’s book which I read, entitled House Of Hunger was a classic. His unique behaviour notwithstanding, I would say that here was a great son of Africa, and to say the least, a genius, who achieved much in a short period of his dramatic life on earth. He lived beyond his time. I thank the authorities in Oxford University- where Marechera was alleged to have attempted to set the universities New College on fire, for later allowing a celebration of his life at the Oxford. This was a good sign of the triumph of hope over despair. I am from Kenya and I will always remember Dambudzo Marechera. Zimbabwe has also produced other great and reputable writers such as S. Namfukudza and Stan lake Samkange, who wrote the epic book entitled, “Year of the Uprising”. And do you remember one thing? The great British novelist and Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing, who wrote “The Grass is Singing”, grew up on a large farm in Zimbabwe before relocating to Britain in 1949. Doris Lessing was born in 1919 and spent many years in Zimbabwe. She still lives in Britain. I like Zimbabwe owing to the fact that it has been home to gifted people like Dambudzo Marechera. Long live his spirit of courage of telling it as it is verbally and orally. Thank you and may Dambudzo Marechera rest in peace to eternity! This is Evans Kanini from Nairobi, Kenya. Good day and cheerio!

    • Anonymous says:

      Sounds like the talented rock stars who die young e.g jimi hendrix

      • muturi says:

        Even Jesus, Srinavasa Ramanujan, Ota Bonga and Bob Marley died young. But did they seriously give us answers to the problems that plague us? They all sadly left man running blind,celebrating madness and fornication…


      He is perhaps the only Zimbabwean writer whose works will never make you enjoy reading works of other Zimbabwean writers. He defied all the odds and has inspired some of us who solely live on writing. But we also need to correct his wrongs, that without discipline no matter how talented one might be, you will not reach that far.

      In that regard I consider Marechera to have gone as far as he could, but one who could have gone very far had a s ense of discipline be fostered in the writer.


    • Tsitsi P.S says:

      A mad man given rope will: entice those who like seing things, make happy those who like drama, affect the souls of those who value life, reverse and rewind his life to pick up all the pieces that make him angry so that he finds reason to tie the knot and put the loop round his head… THIS WILL BE THE DEATH OF HIM..and so he died Dambudzo, buried in his own coffin of self distruction***

    • tichaoana aka manyemwe says:

      dambudzo was great though his intelligent was destructive

    • Langton says:

      Dambudzo was a well gifted writer I wish if he had lived longer,he had his own personal challenges.

    • Patrick utsiwegota says:

      RIP my bro

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    • relence ndou says:

      he was great this man,i feel heart broken because he died in my year of birth.

    • ray says:

      He was tormented by literature demons..otherwise an icon

      • Anonymous says:

        its disheartening my man dambudzo but rest in peace .. I wish one day you ocupie mie so that i can go on with your brilliant works…

    • tambie says:

      Dambudzo went as far as his life pattern could take him, that was not his choice
      its something he could not run away from *(own life).Who ever thinks this man could escape the path to his death is sadly dull for even your own path no matter how great you are ,you follow your own lead.The ones who remain behind will always say you did not do enough ..think about it, Dambudzo FOREVER and you just to your grave and even your own family will not remember your good and even bad .

    • Onias says:

      To me he was a great hero. He called a spade a spade. I like it when he said, “both the one on his right and the one on his left were listening to what he had not said”. Most people have a problem of not understanding what this hero meant when he said/wrote something.

    • tichaona says:

      what an extraordinary guy he was,but if high IQ’S are not properly directed towards productive paths in lyf .It all ends up in sorrowfulness and vain

    • ugbeyi Joseph says:

      May he regret his earthly stays in his heavenly bliss my regards to your contemporary Richard Wright

    • Anyanwu Augusta C. says:

      No comments… Just wish I lived in his time.

    • Anonymous says:

      Brilliance and articulation defined in the life of this legend. Madness was his sanity.

    • zimbabwean says:

      it was not in the totality of madness but the feel for expression.

    • Anonymous says:

      heish Love you Dee

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