orwellian romp

Book Review: NoViolet’s glorious satire of Zimbabwe politics

By Laura Angela Bagnetto

Posted on August 18, 2023 10:25

 © Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo holds her book ‘Glory’, shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize for Fiction. (Daniel Leal/ AFP)
Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo holds her book ‘Glory’, shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize for Fiction. (Daniel Leal/ AFP)

A scared horse sporting a wool scarf and a slightly demented old stallion set the tone for a warped, Zimbabwe-adjacent political satire, ‘Glory’, by NoViolet Bulawayo.

When the world is going to hell in a binga basket, the people, or in this case, the animals, must band together to combat injustice.

In Glory, shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize, NoViolet Bulawayo takes the pulse of Zimbabwe on the brink of 2018 elections – and gives clues to the upcoming polls.

The novel opens with Old Horse, aka the Father of the Nation, speaking to a crowd of animals in Jidada, in a very lightly disguised evocation of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe.

In her recounting of Vice President Tuvius ‘Tuvy’ Delight Shasha’s coup d’etat, with the help of pit bull General Judas Goodness Reza, novelist Bulawayo gives a nod to George Orwell’s Animal Farm with several biting anecdotes.

‘A face like a baboon’s behind’

Tuvy, also a horse, bears an uncanny resemblance to Zimbabwe’s incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Reza is in the mould of current Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.

Before Tuvy pulls off his great caper with the help of Reza’s pack of pit bulls, he cowers from Marvellous, known as Dr Sweet Mother, a Gucci-wearing donkey with a ‘face like a baboon’s behind’ – a less than complementary characterisation of Mugabe’s wife Grace.

Surrounded by her Future Circle group of young upstarts who did not participate in the Liberation War, Sweet Mother speaks out against Tuvy. She humiliates him in public speeches by using her ‘simple mouth with 36 teeth’, in veiled reference to Grace’s rivalry with Mnangagwa.

Sweet Mother calls her husband Old Horse ‘Baba’, or father, just like Grace. She also seizes several dairy farms and receives a doctorate from the University of Jidada ‘as easy as ordering from a KFC drive-through’.

While Old Horse is painted as a geriatric, slightly demented stallion, his insight into politics gives Dr Sweet Mother the idea that she, too, could rule Jidada.

Tuvy attends international summits and conferences ‘with the confidence of a honey badger’

In a poignant scene before Tuvy’s coup, Old Horse speaks to Sweet Mother of his vivid dreams featuring dead comrades.

These former comrades ‘haunted’ Old Horse, the Father of the Nation, threatening his glory, and furthermore, ‘they had not in fact died natural deaths’. As a leader who regularly eliminated his rivals, Mugabe was often portrayed as an African liberator turned tyrant.

The atmosphere in Jidada is full of anger and resentment with the animal citizenry expressing their discontent with Old Horse’s regime on social media and WhatsApp groups, reminiscent of the mood in Zimbabwe at the time.

Post-coup rapture

The animals on the street rejoice when Old Horse is deposed, but after noting Tuvy’s penchant for empty buzzwords such as “open for business” and “new dispensation”, they wonder whether a horse wearing a colourful wool scarf can really save the nation of Jidada.

The new dispensation cannot happen without the West’s money, so Tuvy, now re-named Saviour, attends international summits and conferences ‘with the confidence of a honey badger’.

And while Tuvy packs his cabinet with old cronies, they celebrate by dancing to ‘Mai va Dhikondo’. A particularly chilling song made popular by the 5th Brigade, a North Korea-trained death squad that carried out the Gukurahundi, the ethnic cleansing against the Ndebele people from 1982-1987 under Mugabe, ahem, Old Horse.

But while the reader might be fooled that greed and political gain is the crux of the novel, Bulawayo weaves the mother-daughter narrative of Destiny, a young goat who returns to her mother, Simiso, in 2018, a decade after fleeing the town of Lozikeyi, a 1.5-hour drive from the city of Bulawayo.

But we have already won the election, Comrades, because don’t we fix the menu, gather the ingredients, prepare and cook it?

Their strained relationship is evident to Simiso’s neighbours, who greet Destiny like a long-lost soul. Bulawayo’s minor characters play an important role in the relationship between mother and daughter, as well as setting the scene for the upcoming 2018 elections.

“The war may be over, but I’m still a soldier. They won’t recognise me or bury me at the Square of Liberators, but as long as I have breath in my lungs, my name will remind you I liberated this country,” says Comrade Nevermiss Nzinga, a hen, one of Simiso’s many neighbours.

Violence is our thing

As the country gears up to go to the ballot box, Tuvy names Brilliant Nzinza, a compact pig in a black suit and glasses, as the minister of finance. Nzinza, who might remind Zimbabweans of Mthuli Ncube, calls on Tuvy to cut down his entourage going to Davos, but makes a mistake when he responds to the president’s comment on sanctions.

“Well, it might help to remember that sanctions aren’t really our biggest problem, your Excellency. As you know, they’re mostly on corrupt members of the Seat of Power, along with animals and entities who’ve been implicated in rights abuses and undermining democratic processes,” he says.

When Nzinza questions the government plans to tax e-commerce and eliminate fuel subsidies, Tuvy responds: “Violence is our thing, our language. So, give us unrest, give us protests, give us rebellions, give us a fight, give us anything you can think of, we’re ready with that thing.”

Parts of the novel recount in painful detail the terror of those who witnessed or experienced wanton violence

The elections are already in the pocket of the Chosen party, as the Minister of Things assures everyone that they will win against President Goodwill Beta. Jidadans call Beta the real Saviour president, the democratically elected one, the God-anointed one (who has the characteristics of preacher and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa).

“But we have already won the election, Comrades, because don’t we fix the menu, gather the ingredients, prepare and cook it? Haven’t we already appointed the Head Chef – and the first female chef in the history of Jidada’s elections too? And don’t we certify the results?” the Minister of Things says.

Tuvy is seemingly tone deaf, more enamoured with talking to his smart speaker than listening to the people of Jidada who proclaim that the government “replaced white colonists with Black colonists”.


As the book progresses, the mother and daughter goats, Simiso and Destiny, gradually come to the realisation that they share a collective sorrow, one that is rooted in the violence that has pervaded Jidada since liberation.

© ‘Glory’ by Noviolet Bulawayo (Viking)

Bulawayo’s symbolism of red butterflies and a tree with white pods that look like the bones of anti-colonialist firebrand Mbuya Nehanda underscores the enormous personal losses suffered by the people. Parts of the novel recount in painful detail the terror of those who witnessed or experienced wanton violence.

The author pays homage to resilience and resistance in Jidada and beyond, including a full page of the words “I can’t breathe”, referring to the last words of Eric Garner, an unarmed American Black man put into a chokehold by US police that ultimately killed him.

The author of the award-winning novel We Need New Names, Bulawayo entrances and informs on her sophomore effort, leaving the reader bereft at the end of the book.

On the first read, Glory seems like a brilliant tale of love, loss and politics. But Bulawayo’s penchant for satire and the many not-so-hidden messages feature luminaries of Zimbabwe’s past and present.

Among these characters are ‘our very own Bull of Ndebeleland, nicknamed Father Jidada’, which refers to Joshua Nkomo and the ZAPU party. An allusion to current Zimbabwe information minister Christopher Mutsvangwa, who cut a ribbon on a garbage can that was lampooned on social media, earns a snigger as Tuvy ceremoniously cuts a ribbon on a public toilet.

On the eve of  Zimbabwe’s elections 2023, Bulawayo’s tale of grassroots resistance against the backdrop of an animal dictatorship gives yet another view of the complexities of living under political oppression.

Glory, by NoViolet Bulawayo (Viking, 2022)

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