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Kwenzi Gizani should be urgent reading for all

Title: Kwenzi Gizani

Author: Prof. Kithaka wa Mberia

Genre: Play (Tamthilia)

Publisher: Marimba Publications Limited

Reviewer: Kelvin J. Shachile

Kwenzi Gizani is a Kiswahili play that follows the proceedings of the pursuit of justice by Chagi, whose daughter Kanevu has been sexually assaulted by her father Mkando. Chagi stands her ground to seek for clarity and justice as guided by the law but she comes to encounter the real custodians of mercy, each coming with well-structured reasons that have been grounded in either tradition and/or in religion and sometimes in acts of corruption. The play interrogates the length and depth the society goes to bury crimes that while they seem so forgivable and easy to be left to go live to haunt the real victims that carry with them the baggage of shame, stigma and physical pain.

The book highlights contemporary themes that acknowledges the mastery that Prof. Kithaka wa Mberia carries with him since I first encountered his work years back when I read his highly acclaimed play Kifo Kisimani, that was examined by the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) as a set book for secondary schools in the country. I applaud the urgency that mental health has been given in this book; the honest portrayal that accepts the deficit of understanding and patience by some people in the society who disregard it and yet still showcases the availability of those that understand and offer valuable support that should not be taken for granted.

The debate regarding the history of character is laid open and left for the readers to find clarity regarding the dynamics of identity. That sometimes, the people we know are not really who we think they are until they have been offered a chance to be themselves. The question that stays with me is whether the past history has the strength to be used as reason to warrant the award of mercy for someone who has committed a crime. And whether traditional and religious negotiations are possible means to settle high caliber crimes that happen within families and religious groups.

Chagi’s mother, Nyatu is the most memorable character for me in this play, her own contributions reveal the selfishness that people have regarding their own reputation even when the dignity of others is being tarnished.

Other than for those above, Kwenzi Gizani is an accumulation of very important themes from corruption in government authorities to the struggles children go through in schools in the aftermath of them being victims of various vices.

The book reflects the modern society and initiates debates of high potential that require the attention of thinkers, intellectuals, government officials and the entire society to rethink crime, its impacts and the pursuit for justice. I highly recommend Kwenzi Gizani for general readership. It is an important and very urgent piece of literature that needs to be accessed.

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Prof Kithaka wa Mberia has occupied the same office for 41 years

Five little known facts about Prof Kithaka wa Mberia.

1. He teaches Linguistics at the University of Nairobi and not Kiswahili, as widely believed by many. One of the many Vice-Chancellors he has served under, at UoN, long held the belief that Prof Mberia taught Kiswahili.

2. His book Kwenzi Gizani, which won the Jomo Kenyatta prize for Literature, last month (September 2022), was the first book he was submitting to be considered for a literary award.

3. He has self-published all his books, including Kifo Kisimani, which was a set book between 2005 and 2012.

4. He has occupied the same office, at the University of Nairobi for 41 years.

5. He writes in Kiswahili as a matter of principle. “I would be read more widely if I decided to write in English,” he says. “That is a price I am willing to pay.”