The death of Rex Nhongo (an ex-Zimbabwean military general then commonly known as Solomon Mujuru) remains mysterious. He died in an inferno in his farm house in Beatrice. No suspects were apprehended. No motive was ever established. The government coroner concluded that the general died of suffocation from the fire. But a new book has just surfaced the story back into the public domain.
Who killed Rex Nhongo? is not a question the book answers but feeds off from the speculation. Unusual for a book of fiction, it opens with a preface, a long explainer of the death not so much the biography of Mujuru. It’s setting up the context for what is to come. There is no doubt this political mystery remains a haunting presence in Zimbabwe.
To add to the reader’s curiosity is the subtext of the hidden identity of the author. The book, The Death of Rex Nhongo, is written by CB George, who could be anyone. It is certainly a made up name with no prior history of authorship. And a forensic reading of the text eliminates the possibility of the author to be a black Zimbabwean. There are some linguistic details that only a foreigner or a white person can use to describe certain aspects of everyday Zimbabwean life that are peppered in this story.
I will hazard a theory even though it could also be wrong — the author is white, possibly foreign. Aside from the speculation of who killed Rex Nhongo running through the narrative, we are given an intimate peek into how the diplomatic community in Harare lives and interacts with the locals. The detailed intricacies can only come from an individual with access to this specie of political beings.
Perhaps, what I found intriguing is how the expat and diplomatic communities also games the system and fuels corruption and factionalism. The Saturday braai’s they have may seem to be innocent get-togethers but become the means in which to exchange information and comparing notes. They dabble into illegal activities, short circuit government bureaucracy, use minor local politicians as frontmen in lucrative business sectors such as mining.
The macro politics are effectively scrutinised but in a cleverly understated manner. CB George covers all the trending political topics in Zimbabwe — vague references to failing parastatals such as NRZ, the omnipresent CIOs, the vicious Chipangano, the ubiquitous road blocks, power-cuts, spiralling unemployment, and the 2013 general elections.
The story revolves around Jerry and April Jones the central couple who have a spidery connection to all the other characters in the book. In this instance, it is the wife April who is a British diplomat, and husband Jerry is an accompanying spouse. Bored with being a stay-at-home husband, he decides to use his nurse training to volunteer at a clinic in Epworth, a township at the outskirts of Harare. His shuttle from the suburbs to the townships becomes a vehicle to relay the contrasting images of Zimbabwe but there is also a saviour complex in his service to the poor.
Zimbabwe is a country of extreme poverty and obscene excesses. Jerry observes many young blackmen “with 4X4s and limitless disposable income …and yet outside mining, government, and the NGOs, there were no jobs… Msasa, Graniteside or Coventry, the industrial areas were now wastelands and the rusting signs of companies long since liquidated.” He gets to see Harare’s nouveau riche at trendy café’s and bars.
Meanwhile, Magaba in Mbare is also an important setting in the book. We witness Fadzai, wife to Patson, who is sometimes Jerry Jones’s cab driver, working at her stall where she cooks sadza. When her brother joins to help her, he fails to respect a notorious militia gang and as a result he is roughed up by Chipangano. Mbare, formerly known as Harare Township, is the heartbeat of this city.
The link to Rex Nhongo is implied through a gun. A CIO operative drops a gun in a cab that the cabbie discovers while cleaning his car at his home in Sunningdale. His wife and brother see it and also have access to it. The owner is busy searching for the cab driver because his bosses want to get rid of potential evidence to a crime we are never told about but can only assume is related to the death of the general. In fact, it is the gun that could have been used to kill Rex Nhongo. There are semi-official accounts that before Solomon Mujuru ‘died’ in the fire, gun shots were heard. The fire was a cover up.
Last chapter is more political and explicit. It is almost like an after-thought, a last minute addition before the book was rushed to the printers. It makes reference to the expulsion of Joice Mujuru, the cyanide attack at Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office, very recent political developments. The final chapter reads like a journalistic report. It lacks the subtlety of the rest of the book. It is an add-on to make the book as political. Most of the books about Zimbabwe published overseas always have to follow the same template. It can only be authentic and real if the politics of Zimbabwe are explicitly spelt out.
While the black characters end up dead, dispersed or in messy situations, the diplomats and expats leave. The jolting reality is that expat communities are temporary and short lived. Eventually expats return to their countries of origin and we are left to carry on, even when they have been meddling with our local affairs.
*The Death of Rex Nhongo is published by Quercus Publishing.