Dambudzo Marechera was 31 when he first met Flora Veit-Wild in 1983. She was 36. Now, for the first time the latter reveals how she had an adulterous affair with the famous writer, then looked after him as he died from AIDS and later on discovered that she too had caught the HIV virus.
In the most candid article she has ever written about her relationship with Marechera, published in the March issue of Wasafiri and an abridged version which was published on Memory Chirere’s blog and came out in the March 3, 2012 issue of the Mail & Guardian Veit-Wild, known worldwide as the foremost authority on Marechera and his works, talks about how she met Marechera in Charles Mungoshi’s Zimbabwe Publishing House and was immediately struck by him.
She writes: “Looking me up and down, he said: ‘Oh, my lawd, your garments cannot be from here. You would rather expect them in a Bloomsbury setting than in prissy old Salisbury.’ His stilted Oxford accent and the exaggerated emphasis on some of his half-mocking, half-serious words made me smile. I was curious to know him better. “
And know him better she did. She goes on to write about the various meetings she had with the temperamental writer after that. Tumbling about in the grass next to the University of Zimbabwe pool, spending her first night of passion together with Marechera at the Seven Miles Motel, booking a room with him at another seedy city hotel and a three-day outing with him at Lake Mcllwaine (now Lake Chivero) are some of the revelations that Veit-Wild makes in her piece originally titled Dambudzo and Me.
Hitherto this memoir Veit-Wild has refused to comment about just how intimate her relationship with Marechera was. At a Dambudzo Marechera conference held at Oxford University in 2009, one of the participants asked her directly if she had been romantically linked to the Zimbabwean writer. She declined to comment, saying she would talk about it “when the time was right.”
It seems that time is now.
Her romantic affair with Marechera lasted 18 months, several of which he was housed in her family home, living with her, her husband and her two children. Her husband was the then director of the Zimbabwe German Society.
After several incidents where Marechera embarrassed the family and his incessant drinking, Veit-Wild found a flat for him to live in Harare’s Avenues area. It was a bedsitter, flat number 8, at a place located at the corner of 6th Street and Herbert Chitepo Avenue (then called Rhodes Ave). Modern day Hararians may know the place very well – Sloane Court – now the headquarters for a number of commercial sex workers.
Dambudzo was photographed at his Sloane Court apartment in March 1986 by Ernst Schade. Some of those photos can be seen on the Dambudzo Marechera Facebook page which is run by some Zimbabwean fans of his and has close to 8 000 fans.
Marechera would live at Sloane Court for the last three or so years of his life which it seems consisted mainly of writing and drinking. Veit-Wild writes that in September 1985, upon returning from a family holiday she visited the writer at his flat. She found him in bed, “in his fortress of sheets and blankets, reading. Everything is dirty. The fridge and the stove have stopped functioning. He lives like a caveman. Late in the day he goes out to get drunk.”
In 1986 came the first indications that all was not well with Marechera’s health. “One day in February 1986, D tells me that he has been to a clinic for a test of his semen. There was blood mixed with his sperm. He says it was hilarious. The female nurses were very embarrassed. The legendary writer in for a semen test. They got a male colleague to show him where and how to collect the specimen. When he comes out of the cubicle with his vial, the nurses don’t know where to look.”
Things went downhill from there. In 1987 Marechera’s health worsened. “On one of my usual ’rounds’ to D’s flat, I find him in a very poor state. He is coughing badly and has a high fever. I take him to our family GP, Nick C, who has seen D before. ‘You are not looking good today, Dambudzo,’ he says, and, after listening to the rattling in his lungs, tells me: ‘Take him straight into Parirenyatwa.’”
A few days later the doctor revealed to her; ‘Dambudzo has AIDS,’ he tells me, ‘HIV-related pneumonia. One cannot tell how long he is going to live.’
Veit-Wild immediately got blood tests done on herself. Three weeks later they came out. She was HIV- positive.
Those were Marechera’s last days. On August 15 she found find him in his flat, “feverish, dehydrated, out of breath. I take him straight to the hospital. His lungs are damaged to an extent that he hardly gets enough oxygen. Yet, when I come the next day, I find him upright in his bed, smoking. His wish, muttered in between drags on his cigarette; I should bring him something to write with, he wants to make a will.”
When she came back the next day she found him unconscious. In the early hours of August 18, 1987, Charles William Dambudzo Marechera died, leaving his German friend and former lover as the unwitting heir to the propulsion of his literary legacy, and as the repository of so many secrets about his life, some of which are only coming out now, 25 years after his death.
Veit-Wild arrived in Harare yesterday afternoon, March 7, 2012. She will give a talk at the Zimbabwe German Society next week about Marechera and will also spearhead the revival of the Dambudzo Marechera Trust which will promote literary endeavour in the country.