Integrity vs. Status: A review of Unimportance

by Elizabeth Tendo Bisikwa

‘’ To be important is an awful existence. It is a trap and most of us, me in particular, walk into it with blind enthusiasm.’’ Pg 125

At first glance, I placed ‘Unimportance’ onto the list of books with peculiar covers. The stage with drawn curtains overlooking an auditorium with red velvet chairs did not make much sense in relation to the title until I hopped onto the exhilarating journey Thando had to offer.

Thando Mgqolozana is a South African writer born in Cape Town. ‘Unimportance’ succeeds ‘Hear me alone’ (2011) and ‘A man who is not a man’ (2009). The book is a retrospective view of a Student Representative Council presidential candidate, Zizi , twelve hours before delivering his manifesto speech. In the twist of events, Zizi physically abuses his girlfriend Pamodi who flees, leaving him distressed. The pursuit to make amends and therefore prevent her from ‘’painting an unpresidential picture’’ leads Zizi into traversing the entire campus throughout the night. He makes a declaration the next day before the students but will his reputation and hard earned status be upheld or will his reputation be tarnished henceforth?

While reading the first twenty or so pages, I felt like I was on a merry go round that made sudden stops, went backwards then forward at a terrific speed! It was as exciting as it was perplexing. At a moment, I was in H-12, Zizi’s room listening intently to the exchange between him and his lover. Before I could get a hold of this, I was attending The Extended, a Branch Executive committee meeting and the ride went on. Thando’s style of writing is remarkable as it leaves one no time to form the words into sentences and then paragraphs. Every event is a bang! As Zizi searches for Pamodi in the rather interestingly named locations such as ‘Adult World’, Ruth First, the Barn…oh how could I leave out the Condom square, we are introduced to the good, the bad and ugly friends and acquaintances. Madoda  for one, the eccentric former roommate who almost burns down their room.

       ‘’Nobody tells you when you enroll that university is a halfway house for deadly roommates.’’

The experiences Thando recounts are relatable for one who has gone through or is going through campus.

The major issue that ‘Unimportance’ addresses is the conflict of integrity versus status. What happens backstage in the lives of  the moguls we adore, the self proclaimed ‘men ah Gad’ , politicians and even us as individuals? From Zizi’s struggle to portray the image of a demigod, it is evident that sometimes all the uprightness we see is a performance. At the end of the day, even when the accolades are presented and praises sang by every Tom, Dick and Jane, the demons that lurk within terrorize us to death or confession. Aside from this, Unimportance exposes the objectification and sexual exploitation of women, abuse of public resources, the betrayal by so called friends and notably, the notion that academic giants ought to take up the highest positions in given institutions is rubbished.

        ‘’ Being an A-grade student doesn’t automatically make one the fittest to govern.’’

In a wrap up, Thando encompasses the political, social, cultural aspects of campus life in a post-apartheid era and this package is presented through Zizi’s lenses. I believe that beautifully written work has the power to entertain, enrage, electrify, thrill and most of all edify. Unimportance did all that for me. It is a must read against which I would put four stars.