Sweet Medicine – Panashe Chigumadzi.


The cover image of Panashe Chigumadzi’s Sweet Medicine.

By Esther Mirembe.

[This review may contain major spoilers.]

The same kind of impotence that made her want to cry at the cruel joke teachers, parents and the world played on these innocent souls when they told them they could be whatever they wanted to be. It was as if they had forgotten that great disappointment that had slowly crept up on them, as dreams of self-actualisation morphed into thoughts of stomach actualisation, sacrificed in order to put food on the table.

Sweet Medicine is set in Zimbabwe at the height of the economic crisis. Tsitsi, a young woman, slowly realises that life after school is not everything she imagined it to be. She does get a job but the money is barely enough to sustain both her and her family. As is expected in most African families, you get the education so you can get money to help out your relatives. Coming under all this pressure, Tsitsi decides to get herself a blesser. Well, he is, of course, a married man and this actually causes his marriage to fall apart. Tsitsi becomes the main woman who, in desperate need to keep her man, more out of a need for financial security than anything else, visits a n’anga (what I suppose you’d call a witchdoctor).

That’s the gist of it really. I needed to lay it out that way so we understand why I call it a feminist book. I like that Tsitsi, Mrs. Zvogbo the aggrieved wife (even though she does not play that role) and Chiedza who are all central characters make very feminist decisions. Mrs. Zvogbo is not an Undivorcable Woman.

Mrs.Zvogbo was not an Undivorceable Woman. Not an Undivorceable Woman, who would refuse to see that she was no longer wanted. That he had a new life.
No, she was not an Undivorceable Woman who could forgive her husband’s sins for the sake of a name…
No, she was not an Undivorceable Woman who could forgive her husband’s sins (of the flesh and others) for the sake of sanctity. The sake of a holy union.

I liked the way she makes her decision with so much dignity.

Chiedza, goes on to become a prostitute. I posted a quote on my Facebook where Chiedza, feeling judged by Tsitsi, asks why people who wanted to be engineers but then go on to become maybe lawyers are not pitied yet ideally, it is the same thing, right? Of course, the moralists came running. The thing about Sweet Medicine is that even though everyone makes really skewed decisions, you understand. And this is how life is, really. We rarely have to choose between black and white. It’s usually grey. And for those particular moments we do what is right for us.

I find it ironic that Tsitsi finally gets the church wedding to Mr. Zvogbo after visiting the n’anga. And that is only the last of the ironies in this amazing book – the ironies of life really. That Tsitsi used to be the best in class, that she comes from a strong Catholic background and so on. The character of Tsitsi is so well crafted. I can’t think of better ironies.

Sweet Medicine is on my required-reading-for-everyone list. Especially; for us who have been sold the education dream; for us who bought it and realise now that there might never be returns or if they are there, they are underwhelming; for us who like to go to church on Sunday and have our intolerant moral grounds; for us who have done things contrary to everything we were taught to believe because we had to survive; for us who find ourselves between hard places and having to make even harder decisions that we have to live with; for us who like a good story.