Joe Ruzvidzo (aka Joe Black) has made a name for himself as a desktop publishing swiss-army knife. He combines graphic and web design with a knack for words and a constant eye on current affairs — mostly through Twitter where he is infamous for his aggressive quality control of the news media. No grammar errors, faux pas or untruths pass unscathed down his feed.
Ruzvidzo also created and runs consumer watchdog site Consumerizim, and founded NBO magazine — an online publication that is getting Africans to tell their own stories.
Now, Ruzvidzo has really put his head on the chopping block and self-published a collection of short fiction stories.
Behind Enemy Lines is Ruzvidzo’s first serious foray into printed publishing (apart from his regular columns in Harare News), though the collection is available for e-readers from Powerplay (see below) or Amazon. It holds seven stories that are bursting from the pages with life and wit, set alight by Ruzvidzo’s colourful and heartfelt writing.
Ruzvidzo does well to absorb the reader into the worlds he has created. As a Zimbabwean, it’s hard not to be — his stories are rooted in the contemporary culture, politics, and landscapes of the nation.
In The Order, Ruzvidzo describes the aftermath of the Third Chimurenga, when fire bombs will reduce Harare to rubble soon after “the old party lost so heavily in the “harmonised” elections of 2023 that the presidential portion of the election results was never announced.”
Using a letter from father to son to trace events from the Second Chimurenga to the destruction of the Sunshine City in the Third, Ruzvidzo paints a bleak and sickeningly familiar and likely picture of the nation present and future.
“I lived in a Zimbabwe of thieving whores, a festering pit of lies and decay run by a coterie of thieving charlatans . . . I lived in a Harare where nice guys finished last, and was so perversely corrupt that there appeared to be no way for a decent, hardworking and law-abiding citizen to survive without breaking a law.”
Whilst the letter format and apocalyptic imagery are well-worn tropes in the international mainstream, Ruzvidzo is breaking new ground by rolling them out in a local setting. His commentary on Zimbabwe is terrifying, but it’s thrilling as a reader to have the familiar feelings of blockbuster Hollywood (think the atmosphere of Walking Dead or Resident Evil) laid over familiar old Harare.
“The once bustling Fourth Street just a couple of blocks north of my hideout, was a graveyard for the rusted, skeletal remains of long-dead motorcars giving a visual tally of long-dead motorists. The once-proud twin towers of the Karigamombe Centre and the Reserve Bank building now just seemed like a jagged pair of arthritic middle fingers, raised in accusation towards aloof or non-existent gods.”
The Order joins the eponymous opening story Behind Enemy Lines as my favourite pieces in the collection, but there are certainly a few gems for everyone to enjoy here. I asked Ruzvidzo about his use of fiction as commentary, and how bad he really thinks things will get here.
“It’s very tricky to see how Zimbabwe is decaying and having nothing to say on the matter,” he said.
“A few times, when I do look to the future in the book, it is based on what I see happening in the present.”
Some of Ruzvidzo’s characters share attributes including being outcast, isolated, or rebellious, and disgusted by the world they live in. It’s hard for authors to keep themselves out of their books, and I sense parts of Ruzvidzo in each of his characters. Maybe he does too, but if so, does not relate to any heroic attributes they might have.
“I think what we see now as a hero, is just an ordinary or flawed or frightened human being, who when faced with impossible circumstances just decided to do either the right thing or the necessary thing,” he told me.
Ruzvidzo says he has been tinkering with these stories for years, and finally plucked up the nerve to get them out and test the waters.
“I wanted to see if there was a market for my own special brand of nonsense,” says Ruzvidzo, who also has a novel in the pipeline.
As first goes go, this is a good one, and an exciting addition to our local fiction. The executioner should stay his hand for Joe Ruzvidzo this time.
Behind Enemy Lines and Other Stories is available Amazon’s online bookstore in both electronic and paperback format.