Monday, April 29, 2013

Zimbabwe Writers Association Gweru meeting: 11 May 2013

The Zimbabwe Writers Association (ZWA) is inviting you to its Gweru writers get together meeting to be held in GWERU at the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe (Cnr 8th and L. Takawira Street) on Saturday May 11, 2013 from 10:00am to 14:00pm.

This is a moment to reflect, read to one another and find a way forward for ZWA. The major part of the programme will include; presentations by Prof Willie Chigidi and Mrs K. Muringaniza entitled ‘How I Create.’ Tinashe Mushakavanhu will talk about ‘What growing up in Gweru means to me as young writer and critic.’ A substantive agenda will be sent to you very soon.

Writers are reminded to bring $10 as membership fees. Remember: the major objective of ZWA is to bring together all willing individual writers of Zimbabwe in order to encourage creative writing, reading and publishing in all forms possible, conduct workshops, and provide for literary discussions.

Zimbabwe Writers Association (ZWA) is the newest nationally inclusive writers’ organization whose formation started in July 2010 leading to the AGM of June 4, 2011. It was fully registered with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe in January 2011.
++Inserted by Mr. Tinashe Muchuri, ZWA Secretary
Contacts: 0733 843 455/

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Following up on a NAMA award winner

       David Mungoshi (extreme right) with fellow writers in Harare.
Some people take awards in the arts for granted. After the ceremony, they do not care about the winner. They do not make a follow up to observe the effects of an award on the artist. kwaChirere followed up on David Mungoshi whose novel; The Fading Sun won Zimbabwe's National Arts Merit Award (NAMA) in the Outstanding Fiction category in 2010, to see what NAMA has done in the real life of an artist.

Published in the UK by Lion Press, The Fading Sun is David Mungoshi’s second novel. A woman in menopause stops in her tracks to take stock of her life. From the leeward side, Mary has more than her fair share of maladies. Mary’s skin is wrinkled. Mary suffers from bouts of migraine and arthritis. Mary has had each of her three deliveries by caesarean section. Mary has lost one of her ovaries early in life. Mary has a thyroid problem which has led to thyroidechtomy. Mary has lost one of her breasts through mastectomy and she wears the breast prosthesis.  

David Mungoshi respects NAMA and is happy that he won in 2010. Three years later, he feels that the award reignited his writing career.

kwaChirere: It was three years ago. Now, can you say that winning a NAMA was worth anything at all? Again: congratulations!

David Mungoshi: I never thought I'd hear those words from anyone! The award has made a lot of people other than me very happy: my wife Elizabeth and the children and everyone in the Mungoshi clan. My younger brother in Canada has just ordered a copy of The Fading Sun (TFS) for himself with Man, I am still very happy.

kwaChirere: Mary, the central character in ‘The Fading Sun’ has cancer and other various maladies. What inspired this story? What did you want to get at?

DM: I have always been gender-inspired. I remember writing a pretentious little story many years ago in which I was examining the question of Lobola. Pretentious because I was still just early into my teens and obviously quite green in such matters. Anyway I called the story,’ She’s a Commodity.’ I don’t remember what happened to it. It’s a story of how a woman rises higher than her husband in the party of liberation and how the husband can’t handle that and starts getting physical. In Stains on the Wall, the women are also treated sympathetically. When I wrote The Fading Sun, I was responding to a request from a friend to see if I could write that kind of story. I guess I am trying to show the resilience and versatility of women, how they conquer extraordinary odds because make no mistake, Mary conquers. I guess I am also saying that for people like Mary death can never be a tragedy and it can never vanquish them.

kwaChirere:  With TFS, what type of readership did you have in mind?

DM: I was writing for everybody, to affirm womanhood and show how a woman is the very apotheosis of life itself. I wanted all males to do a bit of introspection as well and perhaps get to discover that there’s more to life than the trappings and the image and upward mobility.

kwaChirere: I suspect that the major talking point with TFS will be on how you as a male writer went for various ‘deep’ women’s experiences. Why did you do it?  

DM: As I said before, a friend challenged me. I was a little hesitant to start with and then one day I was talking to Yvonne Vera about just this problem of writing intimately about matters that may not always come naturally to one if you are the opposite gender. I have never forgotten what Yvonne said to me, it was at one of the Book Fairs in Harare, she said the imagination is the freest space and that all things were therefore possible. The rest, as they say, is now history and the deed is done. Will I do it again? Most probably yes. At one of the readings I did from the book quite recently, a lady said to me that there was a lot of passion in the story and in my reading of it. Another said she thought that I liked women and I said yes because I do like women. They are the most beautiful people that I know and I am not just talking about appearance here. So, yes, I shall probably write another story in the mould of TFS. But for now I am just fine-tuning my next offering which I hope will show the depth and variety in my approach to writing.

kwaChirere: Various people who have read the book like chapter seven very much. They say it is episodic, green maize cobs are roasted and the hyena laughs. Any special reasons why you wrote that chapter the way you did?

DM: I think I wanted to try and achieve what one of my lecturers during my undergraduate years called the ‘immediacy of the experience, the intensity of the experience.’ It was quite exciting trying to do what I did in that chapter. I am still wondering whether or not that kind of innovation can carry a whole story. Perhaps we should soon find out soon, in another year or two, after I empty my creative tray of what’s currently in it. I am thinking of writing something along those lines. The theme is there already and I am working on the plot, the way that I always do, in my mind!

kwaChirere: The script that began as TFS, like any other, must have some history. You know that scripts disappear, scripts are abandoned, some scripts are ill fated and some are effortless. What is the peculiar history of this script?

DM: I guess TFS was just a little ill-fated. It was always praised to high heaven but somehow didn’t see the light of day until Sarudzayi Barnes of Lion Press came along. She’s a fantastic person, lots of vision and grit.

kwaChirere: Every artist imagines himself reaching a certain level with his art. Where are you going and how will you get there?

DM: I am looking at the stars, thanks to the NAMA! I want to go out with a bang, at the end of my earthly sojourn. So there will be more perceptive, innovative and engaging writing to come, poetry, short stories, more novels, and the lot! I want to write things that can unsettle people but also make them feel good. Sounds paradoxical doesn’t it? I assure you it can be done.

MC: Which writers influence you?

DM: I remember reading a poem by Tafirenyika Moyana in Parade Magazine in the late 1960s. He called it ‘A God’s Error.’ It was my first real contact with evocative poetry. Moyana’s imagery was just fantastic and his sense of bathos quite unparalleled. He is most probably among my very early influences. Then of course Ernest Hemingway. Charles Mungoshi introduced me to Hemingway. But when it comes to a sense of the epic I still think Milton’s Paradise Lost ranks among the very best. When I read Achebe’s Arrow of God I couldn’t believe what the man had achieved. I wondered if I could do it. Conrad’s ‘Under Western Eyes’ was also a great read for me. Now I am hooked on Kahlil Gibran and I guess I try and do some of his stuff here and there.

kwaChirere: How do you relate as brothers and as writers with Charles Mungoshi?

DM: We relate quite well. We have always been brothers and friends. We began writing at about the same time and were both first published in African Parade in the 1960s. That’s a long time ago! Charles has always believed in my writing despite the fact that for me recognition has taken its own sweet time to come. Our styles and concerns are different and so is our ideology. In my younger days I was avidly leftist. Perhaps I still am deep down but the realities on the ground have perhaps dictated some adjusting without necessarily compromising on any of my progressive stances such as those on gender and collective justice. How would you classify my story, ‘Seventy-Five Bags?’

kwaChirere: What have you learnt from doing TFS?

DM: I think I can say without hesitation that I have learnt the value
of research and empathy. There is no way I could have written a story
like 'The Fading Sun' without these two attributes. The book has also
taught me to be patient and to understand that when its time is due a
work of art will get due recognition. The writer, like the actor, must
be 'in character.'

kwaChirere: If your wishes were granted, which of your fresh scripts would
you publish next and why?

DM: 'Catalogues.' It is a story in which I try to do quite a few things
including the use of magic realism and the grounding of my plot in a
universe that has historicity. So I strive to write so evocatively that the reader who has roasted groundnuts or green maize can experience the delicious smell
and feel the taste in his mouth.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

today is the UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day

Virginia Phiri (left) donating copies of her books to the University of Zimbabwe library a couple of years ago.
The World Book and Copyright Day on 23 April is  17 years old  now. UNESCO Member States around the world celebrate the power of books to bring us together and transmit the culture of peoples and their dreams of a better future.

This day provides an opportunity to reflect together on ways to better disseminate the culture of the written word and to allow all individuals, men, women and children to access it, through literacy programmes and support for careers in publishing, book shops, libraries and schools. Books are our allies in spreading education, science, culture and information worldwide.

The city of Bangkok has been designated “World Book Capital 2013” in recognition of its programme to promote reading among young people and underprivileged sections of the population. Follow the link below to read more on World Book and Copyright Day 2013:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Now... the longest novel by a Zimbabwean!

Title: Footprints in The Mists of Time
Author: Spiwe N Mahachi- Harper
Publisher: abba press (December 1, 2012) ISBN-13: 978-1908690128
Reviewed by Memory Chirere

Spiwe Mahachi-Harpers’s new novel, Footprints in The Mists of Time, boasting of a whopping 181 008 words, is now the longest novel by a Zimbabwean! It is a show of sheer immense narrative tenacity and talent. This outruns Wellington Kusena’s novel of 2011;  Dzimbabwedande, which is the longest Shona novel at 108 264 words.

Footprints  is a 419 broad paged historical novel based on the life and times of generations of migrant African labourers who settled in Southern Rhodesia; before it became Rhodesia and subsequently Zimbabwe. This is a welcome alternative to dry history that tends to work with facts, maps, figures and diagrams.

This book traces about four generations of workers of Malawian origin, beginning with Bhaureni Nyirenda’s journey from Nuhono village in the Nkotakhota District of then Nyasaland in 1899 to settle at Southern Rhodesia’s Patchway Valley Mine in Gatooma District. You move from Bhaureni to his son Masauso, through to grandson Chakumanda and great grandson, Mavhuto (in the present day) and their wives, children and neighbours who are variably from Northern Rhodesia and Mocambique.

Their voices talk about the treacherous journey from Nyasaland to Southern Rhodesia on foot, drifting slowly in different droves and waves of various sizes. This is a story about the oppression of people and their consistent dehumanisation on the farms and mines, leaving the conscious reader with a suggestion that Africans have travelled a very long road of suffering.

This is a story about the anxieties of people brutally isolated and trapped in localities far away from their original homes. This is a story about moving on and even drifting without finding an anchor and with no ability to return to the source. This is a story that defines the nature of colonial exploitation in Southern Africa.

This book reminds me most of Alex Huley’s Roots, that well known saga of an African family in American slavery, in demonstrating that all people displaced by capitalism become chattels and not humans. And the process of being turned to an animal begins when your tormentor make you doubt the humanity within yourself.

Pushed out of his village by the desire to work and be able to return and pay taxes, Bhaureni Nyirenda realises while in Southern Rhodesia that: “ I was nothing and nobody but just a lifeless limb detached from the rest of the body. There in the village (Nyasaland) I also left behind my soul, without which I felt empty and hopeless, like a piece of dead wood cast adrift in a river and left at the mercy of the forces of nature, to sink or float.”

 He leaves behind a wife and children and is never able to return to them even when he thinks he might return soon and very soon. The Southern Rhodesian mine system sucks him, never giving him enough to survive and retrace his steps. The return journey would be as tragic as the first journey because one does not want to return with nothing to show. And as shown in this story the release of the 'aPhiri Anabwera' song does not help matters.

On the other hand, the migrant labourer is reminded by the indigenous Shona people and ironically, the white man, of not belonging to Southern Rhodesia. They are mabhurandaya or mabwidi who come from the compound and no sane person should befriend or marry them. All they do is get marooned here and shed tears when homesick. They sweat in the mines and suffer to death from the dreaded respiratory diseases from the dusty underground. Their destiny is the mine cemetery which is just a junk-heap.

This novel reminds me of Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s poetry in The Arrivants and Mother, in demonstrating that all displaced people survive on memory stored in both the mind and the genes. The migrant community re-enacts home through language and culture. Their stock names are meaningful: Ganisani, Chimwemwe, Mavhuto, Masauso, Mpinganjira, Chakumanda and others. Knowledge is handed down from father to son and the mine compound becomes encyclopaedic.

Towards the end of the four generations, there is a search for roots. A dying grandfather says to a grandson: “The urge to journey back to Malawi is much stronger now than when I was younger…You, Mavhuto, can retrace the footprints of your great grandfather back to the warm heart of Africa (Malawi)… only animals fail to trace the trail of their births through the ages. Do not misunderstand me and imagine that I wish you to go and bury yourself in some remote rural village in Nkhotakhota. Far  from it. I just wish you to go and reconnect with the land of your fathers and lay to rest the souls of the dear departed who mourned everyday for their loved one until they too died in despair. After that you can go and settle anywhere you wish beyond the horizon”

And then he makes an even bigger argument: “I am very proud to be of Malawian origin but I think those of my people who have been here for close to four generations should no longer be regarded as foreigners as if they are expected to pack their belongings…they have been here…going round and round in circles…”

This massive book asks you to read slowly; forward and backwards to cross check on a name and to clarify a date or a relationship.  It is going to be an important novel for Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi.  Zimbabwean fiction itself rarely puts the immigrant and his off springs at the centre of the narrative. Because their general impoverished condition stems from the days of colonial conquest, these people have participated in many liberation movements in the region. Their names were found within the ranks of Zanla, Zipra, ANC and other such organisations. Their role in the politics, sports and arts of the region is very difficult to ignore. Now, here is a novel written solely from their point of view.

 Footprints is Spiwe Mahachi Harper’s third novel after Trials and Tribulations and Echoes In The Shadows. The author is a trained teacher and holds a degree in French Culture and Civilisation. Currently, she stays in the United Kingdom, dividing her time between Zimbabwe and that country.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Zimbabwe's hottest new countryside writer

Elias Machemedze reads from his novel Sarawoga at a recent writers meeting in Harare.

Elias Machemedze, author of the novels; Sarawoga and Nherera Zvirange is an unassuming lanky young fellow. However, he has a robust personal story which he tells slowly and carefully. Machemedze’s life story stunned the gathering of writers at the Zimbabwe Writers Association meeting in Harare on Saturday 2 March 2013.

His story is that of a rural based writer of our time who overturns the tables. Before he was through with his O levels, out in rural Shamva of Zimbabwe, he had already begun to work on the script of what was to become the novel, Sarawoga. It was developed from a thin line story narrated to him by his father, Chisango Machemedze.

This is an intriguing ‘old world’ story about Chief Nyasoro who raises a step son, Sarawoga. In his youth, the cunning Sarawoga, tries in various ways to usurp Nyasoro’s throne with the help of the newly arrived white settlers. His appetite for power can only be equated with evil. As a result, the spirits of the land of Chipindura intervene and Sarawoga is killed mysteriously. Done in impeccable Shona language with no lapses, this novel reads like a rendition from another time. This is work that no upstart village teenager could have written all by himself.

But Elias Machemedze’s elder brother could not have it! He could not tolerate a younger brother who killed precious time scribbling and claiming to be a writer. How can you claim to be a writer when you should be in school, he ranted at Elias. You cannot afford to lose your way when I am still around, he promised. In a fit of rage, he tore Elias’s whole script to pieces! Writers do not come from the villages and the nook, he reasoned. In no time, the young Elias was running for dear life.  

Not to be outdone, Elias did not run far. He resorted to the bush and the nearby Kakomo Kembada hill to brood and be ill for some time. Here, he would secretly resuscitate and finish the Sarawoga script, far away from the prying eyes of his elder brother. At every stage, Elias would however come down the hill and surreptitiously show his work to his teacher at Zvomanyanga Secondary School, one Enock Kalani. He got the much needed approval. He would then walk home and pretend to be normal and yet, he was so inspired that it hurt!

In due course, the script was published into a novel by Priority Projects Publishing in Harare in 2004. It later became a school set text, to be read and studied across Zimbabwe. The life of a celebrity began for Elias Machemedze. The village was stunned. Later, when Oliver Mtukudzi adopted Sarawoga into a feature film that appeared on Zimbabwe television and even made a song based on it, the villagers were speechless.

Elias continued to till the lands and to herd cattle. He continued to write. Despite his youth, he continued to accompany his father into the mountains and the villages to consult the svikiros over various matters. Apparently, the Machemedzes belong to the Chipadze chieftainships who are the original rulers of the present day neighbourhood of Bindura. That is why Sarawoga has names of rivers and hills in present day Bindura town. Because of the constant touch with the spirit mediums and seers, Machemedze became familiar with various lore, far beyond his age. In his works, the spirits of the land proselytise at length. In his speeches and in ordinary conversation, Machemedze speaks like an oracle, animated and definitive.

Machemedze’s second novel is called Nherera Zvirange. It is another heartrending old world story about a banished orphan who fights against all odds to reclaim his father’s throne. Before that he falls in and out of trouble many times. He leaves home to stay in the bush and troops are despatched in order to catch him. Here are crude military strategies that keep the reader on the edge of the precipice.

Elias says when inspired, he writes very furiously, not caring about method. Afterwards, he puts the papers aside for some time and goes fishing in Mukwari or Gwetera rivers, returning only much later to perfect the script. Sometimes he visits the locations on which his stories are set so that he remains in touch with the space and time of his stories. Terrain means a lot to Elias. 

He is following closely in the footsteps of Patrick Chakaipa and Francis Mugugu who wrote about the Shona people in the pre-colonial times. He says he enjoys writing about power because that is maybe one of the oldest subjects around and he is royal himself. He has numerous manuscripts that he will release sparingly because, as he says, "It is getting to be too fast out there!"

With the help of partners, Elias Machemedze is in the process of establishing his own publishing company; Pangolin Publications. He hopes to work with and publish young writers who are in circumstances as his. Here is an example of a writer who writes from amongst the people about the people’s enduring traditions. He says that whenever he meets his readers, they seem to wonder if he is the real Elias Machemedze. He also wishes to get married and become settled one day.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is Joseph Conrad’s 'Heart Of Darkness' racist?

Scholars of literature and some keen readers in Zimbabwe must be aware of a small but very powerful novel by Joseph Conrad entitled Heart of Darkness.

Although it is a novel of 1899, it has sparked debate on whether it is indeed a text that is racist. Even the great late write Chinua Achebe was sucked into this debate that has been going on for decades now.

Heart of Darkness follows one white man’s nightmarish journey into the interior of Africa. Aboard a British ship called the Nellie, three men listen to a man named Marlow recount his journey into Africa up the Congo River in a steam boat as an agent for a Belgian ivory trading Company.

Marlow says that he witnesses brutality and hate between the white ivory hunters and the native African people. Marlow becomes entangled in a power struggle within the Company, and finally learns the truth about the mysterious Kurtz, a mad agent who has become both a god and a prisoner of the "native Africans." After "rescuing" Kurtz from the native African people, Marlow watches in horror as Kurtz succumbs to madness, disease, and finally death.

The description of African people in Heartt of Darkness is unpalatable, at least to a conscious African reader. They are seen as and referred to as SAVAGES. This is what the narrator says about the Africans and Africa: “It (Africa) was unearthly and the men (Africans) were – no, they were not inhuman. Well, you know that was the worst of it – this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They (Africans) howled and leaped and spun and made horrid faces but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar.”

That is not enough because there is some more of this kind of descriptions: “…as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rich walls, of peaked grass roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling… The prehistoric man (the African) was cursing us (white men), praying to us, welcoming us – who could tell”

The structure and style of Heart of Darkness is the first challenge. We have a narrator reporting Marlow’s narration of Marlow’s experiences in Africa. This is a story inside another story, inside a story! You may say that technically, Heart of Darkness ceases to be Conrad’s story and therefore if the story is racist, then Conrad is not necessarily racist!

The story is partially Marlow’s because only what is remembered or deemed important by him gets to be narrated. It is also partially the narrator’s story because his record of what he heard Marlow say is his sole experience. We are therefore faced by a situation where we should not fully ascribe the blame to either Conrad or Marlow. Againa: technically the story operates from several “subsequent” points of view. We keep on saying: who is racist here?

Chinua Achebe, Africa’s most prominent novelist, who happens to find the novel racist, thinks that Marlow speaks for Conrad because Conrad does “not hint, clearly and adequately at an alternative frame of reference by which we may judge the actions and opinions of his characters.” Achebe’s assertion that Marlow speaks for Conrad is further strengthened by the fact that Conrad himself makes a journey similar to Marlow’s down the Congo River in 1890. It is the nature of literature to be wholly or very partially autobiographical.

Those who agree with Achebe insist on the point that: in the nineteenth century where adventure novels are heavily loaded with the author’s experiences as in Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, the authors tended to agree to be associated with their major characters. Conrad, who tended, throughout his life, to see the multiple conflicting dimensions of one thing, would definitely not want to disassociate himself from Marlow, who undertakes the same journey as his creator

For Achebe, Heart of Darkness is racist because it projects the image of Africa as “the other world, the antithesis of Europe… the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot. I do not doubt Conrad's great talents. Even Heart of Darkness has its memorably good passages and moments..."

The “Achebe school” is also angered by the portrayal of the Thames River as representation of modernity against the savage muddiness and hazardous Congo River of Africa. There is also the “wild and gorgeous apparition of an (African) woman” pitied against the serene civilized mood of the intended (white woman). The “worst insult” is the pitying of the thoughtful life-like white men against the grunting men of Africa.

Those who disagree with Achebe and company put across a series of arguments that revert back to the ideological environment under which the novel was conceived and written. Their argument is that the writing of Heart of Darkness was done at a time when considering Africans as savages as and lesser beings than non-Africans was the norm.

They point out that Conrad set his story in the Belgian (King Leopold II’s) Congo of the 1890 when the Africans in the Congo region were being forced to extract ivory and rubber for the Empire at gunpoint. Those who resisted got killed or dismembered and to imagine a kind of discourse that saw blacks as having equal humanity with other races was unthinkable. They even think that Conrad attacks imperialism because he identifies it with clear plunder and not the pretensions of civilizing the savage and spreading Christianity.

However, even then, Conrad’s attack of imperialism has its contradictions. Conrad questions the morality of colonialism and exploitation but he does not question the colonial mission itself. Although Conrad’s Africans are pitiable, they are nonetheless niggers and are victimised quite as much by their own stupidity and ignorance as by European brutality.

One of Kurtz’s last utterances: “Exterminate the brutes!” demonstrates that the term “going native” does not mean becoming one with the savages. Despite the delirium, Kurtz knows the clear cut racial divisions and his white man’s duties in Africa.

In addition, “Darkness” in Heart of Darkness tends to be metaphorical. Darkness holds a multiplicity of meanings. The only unequivocal meaning of darkness in the novel seem to be one’s descending to inhuman levels of thought and behaviour – like Kurtz and the whole Belgian colonial establishment. In Heart of Darkness evil is portrayed as African and if it is also African that is because some white men in the Heart of Darkness behave like Africans!

Reading Heart of Darkness, you are certain that for the western readers of the 1890s, it must have shown the extremities of conquest, of course, but, it definitely must have confirmed the western concept of Africa as the land of savages. If the novel caused sympathy towards the African, it was that sympathy one has for an animal in agony, not fellow human beings.

It is important to note that Chinua Achebe, who developed a revulsion against this kind of writing, vowed to write a literature that redeemed the black image and rightfully, his novels; Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, portray Africans as real beings with strengths, weaknesses, philosophies and languages.

+(by Memory Chirere)