THE grave marked number 1237 at Warren Hills Cemetery in Harare does not seem at all special to anyone who might give it a glance as they navigate the narrow paths of the cemetery, trying not to disturb the dead.
Like other graves around it, grave number 1237 is a bit untidy, with mushrooming layer of grass threatening to cover the name of the man who rests there. It is the name of the man etched on that tombstone whose soul and bones have found a resting on that piece of real estate in Warren Hills that makes grave number 1237 special.
The tombstone simply reads: Dambudzo Marechera, Writer. For any follower of Zimbabwean literature, the mere mention of that name is the only introduction needed to the late writer.
Marechera, the maverick of Zimbabwean literature who passed away in 1987, had a greatly influential role in the generation of writers that came after him. He inspired a troop of disciplines that read his classic books like House of Hunger, Black Sunlight and Mindblast as if they are scripture.
In fact, so great is his influence that 31 years after he passed away, one of the country’s current stars in the world of literature took time to make a trip to Warren Hills to pay homage and tend to the untidy grave of the fallen literature rebel.
Philani Nyoni, the winner of Nama awards for acting and poetry, made the glorious pilgrimage to Marechera’s resting place, fulfilling his desire to “meet” the man who had such a great influence on his own writing.
“I met Dorcas Gwata two years ago. She had been referred to me as a ‘person to know’ in Bulawayo as much for my extra-curricular activates as for my work. After our meeting she wrote a blog piece which was published by a local online site under the title ‘Philani Nyoni the Next Marechera?’
“We got along quite well, in her subsequent travels to Zimbabwe we got to work together quite often in our attempt to fuse art and mental health to bring meaningful breakthroughs to mental patients. On that basis she invited me to a lunch with the British Ambassador and Zimbabwean alumni of the London School of Health and Tropical Hygiene. After lunch Dorcas and I did something we both had been yearning to do, which is visit Marechera’s grave,” said Nyoni.
Finding Marechera’s grave however, had been harder than they initially thought it would be.
“It’s a bit of a walk from the main road past the graves of Provincial Heroes. I learnt that some of the people buried there served in DRC. Most were buried between 2001 and 2002. It would be a long journey to the 1987 graves,” he said.
According to Nyoni, the grave they found was unkempt, although its state of untidiness was not alarming. After finding the grave, Nyoni was inspired to pen a poem as he sat besides the man who had such a big influence on his career.
“The fellow who took us to the grave works there and had a hoe. The grass on the grave was short but a bit taller than lawn for example. The cemetery is generally well kept. I did a bit of work on it but this was mostly symbolic but when I sat down to write the caretaker cleared the entire grave,” he said.
Having finally located Marechera at his final address, Nyoni could not help but muse at the writer’s legacy.
“We are very privileged to have him as the bedrock of Zimbabwean literature, to know that no matter how far you go, how close one skirts with the edge, there’s a man who did more and left the bar pretty high for all who followed. He gave his all to the craft. He brought newness into the world beyond his local context. Visiting him was a surreal experience,” he said.