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Grieve Sibale: Between Two Worlds

Sibale’s first novel takes a traditional path, the tale of a Zambian who struggles to make a living in his village and then heads off to the big city, where he finds things are even worse. Chifutu is the son of a chief. His father had married twice, with his first wife producing five daughters and his second wife no children. Only when he married for a third time did he have a son, Chifutu. As the only son, he is not spoilt but rather encouraged to be tough. (We are given a story of how he outwits the school bully.) He is keen on going to school but his father sees no point and thinks he should be out working in the fields. He sneaks off to school but when a new teacher arrives, who brutally punishes any child who misses a class, his father persuades him to drop out, as he has to have some time off for the harvest. He is shy with women so when a very sexy young woman wants to dance with him, he is very glad. Very soon he has taken Nthope away from Kapitao, the District Commissioner’s messenger, and they are married. But times are hard and Chifutu struggles to make a living, owing money to lots of people that he cannot repay, while Nthope’s clothes are in tatters. This causes rows between the couple. Eventually – and this is where the novel begins – Chifutu decides he has to go off to the big city to earn a living.

But the big city does not work out. He is tricked out of his small sum of money soon after he arrives. He then earns his living helping carrying passengers’ luggage at the station but is arrested for suspected thieving but is lucky enough that the (white) police chief realises he is innocent and helps him find a job as a houseboy. There he works for Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Marshall. Mr. Marshall is the provincial commissioner. He is now very sympathetic to the Africans, primarily because when his previous wife had tried to shoot him, his then houseboy had thrown himself in front of Mr. Marshall and saved his life. Mr. Marshall now has health problems, as he is overweight and a recovering alcoholic. His wife, Margaret, is a dyed in the wool racist. She calls Chifutu boy which he hates and treats him badly and is always running the Africans down for being lazy and dishonest. When Chifutu catches her together with her lover, he is fired. His next job is in the copper mines, from which Zambia (it is called Zambwe here) earns much of his money. His intelligence and education are recognised and he is promoted but when the workers all go out on strike, he initially joins them but then goes back to work. When Zambwe wins its independence soon after, he pays the price.

He returns home, as broke as when he left. He has been away for five years, without sending a single letter. Nthope had remained faithful for most of the time, though with difficulty but when Kapitao forces himself on her, they go off together. The consequences of this, when Chifutu finds out, are disastrous. It is certainly not a great novel but Sibale tells his tale well and it is interesting that while some of the whites are shown as out and out racists, others are not and the Africans are by no means always shown in a positive light.

Publishing history

First published 1979 by Neczam, Lusaka