Monday, November 10, 2014

Are we now allowed to do book reviews in African languages?

I am thrilled! Tinashe Muchuri has reviewed Bhuku Risina Basa in the SHONA language. Why not? O, why not? Find it here:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

author of the longest novel in the Shona language

(pic by Magdalena Pfalzgraf : Zimunya, Kusema and Chirere in Zimunya's office.)

After searching for him for nearly two years, on Wednesday 29 October 2014 we got a surprise visit from Wellingtone Kusema, the author of Dzimbabwedande, the longest novel in the Shona language to date at 108 264 words! Link: We met and talked and laughed in Musaemura Zimunya’s office. He says that he has been abroad and he is now based in Harare and he is busy making sure that his novel is finally available in Harare.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Saturday, October 11, 2014

a picture of Luis Bernardo Honwana of Mozambique

For two full decades I tried to get in touch with my favourite short story writer, Luis Bernardo Honwana of Mozambique. I failed because of so many reasons. I gave up after trying so much. I began to think that he had died!  I respect Honwana so much. He is the author of the iconic 'We Killed Mangy Dog.' He is, alongside Charles Mungoshi and Luandino Jose Vieira, one of the reasons why I chose to write short stories from an early age. Recently, a gangly Zimbabwean journalist called Percy Zvomuya came to my office, unannounced... Now, I believe I may soon meet the great Honwana and be able to converse! If you adore Honwana's short stories like I do, follow this link:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I am quitting writing books: Ignatius Mabasa

Ignatius Mabasa tells a heart-rending story about book piracy in Zimbabwe. In 3 years he has earned NOTHING from a book that has been a national set text. He says he may as well quit writing books! Follow this link to The Herald:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

'Bhuku Risina Basa' now in the US

Bhuku Risina Basa is now available in the US through Emmanuel Sigauke at $10 USD. Email: It is also available on In Harare, it is available at the Book Café Bookshop, 139 Samora Machel Avenue for $11 USD. In the UK, it is available in Birmingham through Dr. Robert Masunga for £6.99 including postage. Phone: 00447788248187 Email:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sigauke's Mukoma’s Marriage and other Stories: a book review

Mukoma’s Marriage and other Stories by Emmanuel Sigauke (2004) Booklove, Gweru: Zimbabwe, ISBN: 9780797456600.
+ Reviewed by Tanaka Chidora, Lecturer Dpt of English, University of Zimbabwe
Emmanuel Sigauke’s 2014 collection of short stories is still hot from the oven. I have to admit that my first bite provoked more bites until I could not just put it down.

The most striking feature of this collection is the narrator. He may not be an entirely new feature on the Zimbabwean literary scape, going back as far as Mungoshi’s Coming of the Dry Season (1972). While Mungoshi’s narrator is the brooding type (my erstwhile favourite), Sigauke’s narrator is the witty, paradoxical kind, paradoxical because much as you may want to believe in his childlike innocence, his eye for the finest details betrays that innocence.

He is precociously observant in a way that reminds me too of Naipaul’s narrator in Miguel Street. For instance, while running away from Mukoma’s disciplinary action, the narrator is not too hurried to fail to give his readers an inventory of the features of Mhototi, his village: “I shot out of the hut and ran towards Chigorira Hill, past Chimombe’s donkey, past old man Bhunga’s graveyard, jumped over graves, past the big rock behind which we relieved ourselves every morning…”.

In one sentence in which the primary purpose is to tell us of his fear of Mukoma’s whip (or fists, sometimes), the narrator tells us that they do not have a pit latrine (or Blair toilet) and one can imagine what it is like behind that rock. Sounds familiar?

In fact, Mukoma’s Marriage and Other Stories will not fail to resurrect memories of life in the village – the numerous school fights and grown-up people fights and the village bullies and gangsters, mukoma’s disciplinary regime and manhood tests (those inevitably include a fight with Simba, the strong primary school bully), the daring provocation of the ire of bees (nyuchi dzegonera), the first tentative stirrings of manhood which only need a sex-hungry Amaiguru to provoke, the church gatherings that bear promises of girls with suggestive chests, or a schoolboy’s acute awareness of the presence of the female teacher! Sigauke’s narrator offers you these familiar memories in an unfamiliar way that will not fail to make you smile or even laugh uproariously on your own at the expense of being thought crazy.

Pervading the stories like the spirit of a recalcitrant ghost is Mukoma. The most memorable aspects of Mukoma are his wives and the fights. One would have expected the collection to be entitled Mukoma’s Marriages and other Stories because the marriages are so many that sometimes one loses track of which wife the narrator is talking about.

And then the fights! The fights are so numerous and violent that one would expect Mukoma to be dead by the time the stories end. Somehow, Mukoma reminds me of our brothers back in the days. They would nurture in us the belief that a real man does not fear. A real man fights and does not wet his shorts at the mere suggestion of a challenge. A real man does not run away when his mother’s ‘breasts’ are kicked by an opponent in an extravagant show of bravery.

The character of Mukoma is not new to Zimbabwean literature. The most memorable ‘mukoma’ (brother) character is Marechera’s Peter in The House of Hunger who loves his young brother, whom he calls ‘book shit,’ in a brutal manner as if the colonial experience has taught him that only brutal expressions of delicate emotions are the way to go.

But no mukoma character in Zimbabwean literature has ever been as relentless as Sigauke’s Mukoma. From the beginning of the each story to the end, Mukoma is not altered by events; he alters them. His love for the narrator is like an electric tug between brutality and affection. And reading the mind of the narrator concerning Mukoma is a challenge. Does he love Mukoma? Does he fear him? Even readers are left with serious uncertainty concerning Mukoma because one rarely knows what it is that will make Mukoma angry – sneezing while he is busy reading his magazines, or glancing at a picture on one of his magazines, or spraining your ankle, or not supporting him in one of his numerous fights or even supporting him!

What is it that produced such a character?

Is it South Africa and its notorious Wenera? Is it colonial Rhodesia and all its brutalities? What is it that Mukoma is fighting? He seems to be fighting with everything and everybody. He fights to get possessed by an ancestral spirit; he fights not to get possessed; he fights with the war veterans; raising his young brother is a war for him; he fights with some of his wives; he fights with his lodger; he fight in the village; he fights in the city…he fights all the time. 

Talking of the city, the narrator suddenly comes to town and he is in Form Four. Any narrator who shifts from the village to town is usually expected to narrate the shock of his first urban experiences, the shock of the transition from country dawns to city lights. But not this narrator. He just naturally narrates his urban experiences as if he was born in the city. Instead, he chooses to take us on a journey of Mukoma’s marrying patterns which, ironically, do not vary. Maybe the only variation is when he ‘marries’ a landlady. Otherwise, many of his wives are the kind you would find at Kubatana Beer Garden any time any day. In all these marriages, Mukoma says the first and the last word. Even when he asks for the narrator’s opinion concerning his choices, the only opinion the narrator can give is support.

It is very attractive for many Zimbabwean writers whose stories are set in the 70s to devote themselves to the war. of liberation. In this collection, that war is like a shadow that flittingly passes by. In fact, while the war is raging on, Mukoma is fighting his own kind of war. Even after the war, he fights with those who have been to the war! Those who have been to war hate Mukoma for enjoying the fruits of the independence yet he never fought for it. Concerning the fruits of independence, our very clever narrator is quick to point out that they included “two droughts so far and, therefore, government or donor-grain handouts to the village…”

I have a feeling that this kind of narrator has not been properly exploited in Zimbabwean literature. The narrator’s unusual humour, his calmness and his inimitable love for digressions make Sigauke’s collection worthy one’s money and time. I cannot wait to hear what readers will say concerning this collection, especially the womenfolk. This is the story of Fati, the narrator, and his half-brother, Mukoma, and Mukoma’s women. The women are an interesting lot. They keep coming. They keep making babies for Mukoma. Most interestingly, they keep getting fed up and going and before you blink twice more women come to take their places. I know this aspect of the collection is going to attract the interest of a certain section of readers.

Sometimes, it is vain to explain how good something is when the best one can do is to let the good speak for itself. I therefore find it prudent to conclude with a generous quotation from the collection:

‘By the time Brutus stabbed me, Mukoma had already left to fight with the Mhere boys. Earlier in the morning, at home, he had told me that he just wanted to come and hear my English, and to see if I had the right gestures for it, adding that he was not interested in the prize-winning ceremony that would follow the big performance, nor did he care about meeting with my teachers to discuss my progress. I don’t think when he left I had finished dying because even before Mark Anthony arrived at the scene, Half the audience had left the play and gone to watch Mukoma’s fight. Miss Mukaro, the teacher who had directed the performance, came to where I lay dead and whispered, “Caesar, your big brother.” I sprang up and looked where Mukoma had been standing and saw that he was gone.’  

Zimbabwean writer, editor and poet Emmanuel Sigauke is currently Professor of English at Cosumnes College (in Sacramento California). He was born in Mazvihwa in the southern part of Zimbabwe.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

kwaChirere reads 'The Gonjon Pin And Other Stories'

Published by amaBooks of Zimbabwe and several other publishers, The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by African writers shortlisted for the Caine Prize 2014 and from the Caine Prize annual writing workshop held in Vumba, Zimbabwe during the same year.

On receiving this anthology just before the Harare launch, I quickly notice that it is a massively solid book. I am intimidated. I am used to reading the usually thin volumes normally associated with short books in Africa. But since these are stories from one of the most prestigious awards in African literature today, I hope that quality will pay for the volume. I do not remember the last time I felt like this about a book.

I do not want to start with the shortlisted stories. I want to make my priorities right. I have been invited to anchor the discussion at the Harare launch. Some of the writers based in Zimbabwe will even give a reading.  I quickly go for the Zimbabwean stories.

Having been raised on the short stories of Luis Honwana, Charles Mungoshi and other writers from the Southern African sub region, I find Lawrence Hoba’s ‘Pam Pam’ a very comfortable landing pad. Due to my background, this is the story that speaks most directly to me. The sensitive child is snooping into the seemingly unusual world of the grownups who are also trying to come to terms with the most ‘weird’ in their midst. Muffled voice. Understatement. Power play. A surprise  ending. Hoba’s deft engineering- one soft word on top of the other… and on top of the other, almost like bricks, tells me that this was not easy to write.

‘The Sonneteer’ must be the ‘craziest’ story in this book! I am hoping that somebody will agree with me. I love the deluge of sonnets towards the end because it is a clever way of flourishing out after such a deep rendition on the tumultuous Zimbabwean condition. The story ends in successive loud spurts like a gas canister unleashed onto a hapless crowd. I like stories like this one, driven by silences – especially by what characters do not say to one another. We are no longer reading but are also writing the story alongside Philani Nyoni. The language is vigorously god forsaken and its rigors remind me of the late Marechera.

Later, at the launch itself, I was impressed by Isabella Matambanadzo’s views. Her ‘All The Parts of Mi’, just like Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s and Chinelo Okparanta’s are stories about betrayal, intimacy and courage.  During the discussion, I asked Matambanadzo about what she thinks about the use of the erotica in stories. Her candid answer sent the audience roaring in approval. It took us a while to return to silence.

‘The Intervention’ by Tendai Huchu is part of the Caine 2014 short list. It confirms my thoughts about his previous stories, especially the one which I have been struggling to translate from one language to the other. Here is a writer who has an eye for dramatic irony and the incongruence of human character. His stories challenge the reader to work from many points of view.

In ‘The Murder of Ernestine Masilo’ by Violet Masilo, the protagonist dies slowly from the first time you meet her. Her death is not shocking but why she dies is riveting. You are left with a feeling that a flower has withered before anyone could pluck it and place it in a vase. If only there was enough love…Typical character in typical circumstances.

‘Music From A Farther Room’ by novelist Brynon Rheam is a story filled with utmost colours and sounds  and wide spaces. It is a piece of painting or tapestry. If it were a piece of cloth, this story would flatter in the wind like a kite, landing on its nose until somebody picks it and throw it back into the sky just in order to see it and shout like toddler! I read it over and over for the sheer serenity that it gives me.

Had it come in good time, Barbra Mhangami-Ruwende’s ‘Blood Work’ could have been shortlisted! It is filled with a delicate tension right from the statement ‘I don’t like black people’ up to the end and you are always on the edge.  I hope I am not being prescriptive but this looks like my favourite story in this book, at least for now.

I then hurry to the winning story itself, ‘My Father’s Head’. I had read elsewhere that it is story filled with sad memories. I do not disagree but I discover that it is full of sweet sadness with more of sweet. Sad but not depressing.  The kind of balance associated with kopjes. On the second and even third reading, I begin to feel that this is about a daughter’s celebration of a father’s not so happy life. The language is syrupy, describing expanses of time and dwelling on tiny-tiny details of life like the paw of a dog and the flutter of a butterfly. I agree with the judges. It was right that this story won. Maybe it is not a story after all. It is life.

Among the short listed stories, I also have lots of respect for Billy Kahora’s ‘The Gorilla’s Apprentice’. Loneliness of people, and of animals too? A unique and unfulfilled camaraderie between victims from different communities? This story could just have won.

However, in just a few of these stories here, adjectives tend to pile on top of one another; adverbs trip over each other. Colons clog the flow of even short paragraphs, and the plethora of semicolons often cause the reader to throw up his hands in exasperation. If you are able to forgive the very few overwritten pieces, the Gonjon Book is something to carry on a journey.

+ a review by Memory Chirere

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bhuku Risina Basa now in Harare!

Bhuku Risina Basa is now available in Harare at the Book Café Bookshop, 139 Samora Machel Avenue for $11 USD. In the UK, it is available in Birmingham through Dr. Robert Masunga for £6.99 including postage. Phone: 00447788248187 Email:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Emmanuel Sigauke's Mukoma's Marriage hits Harare at last!

Booklove editor, Makadho with Ignatius Mabasa and Memory Chirere, admiring Emmanuel Sigauke's new book: Mukoma's Marriage in the Book Fair grounds during the recent Zimbabwe International Book Fair in Harare. A review is coming very soon. Watch this space...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bhuku Risina Basa: now in the UK!

Bhuku Risina Basa is now available in the UK. Get in touch with Dr. Robert Masunga in Birmingham for your copy, if you are in the UK or in the neighbourhood. Phone: 00447788248187 Email: It's going for £6.99 including postage in the UK. Meanwhile I will be reading from the Zimbabwean version of Bhuku Risina Basa for the first time at the on-going ZIBF's Literary Evening  event on Friday, 1 August 2014, 05pm at the Book Café, Harare.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Zimbabwe International Book Fair countdown


THEME : “Indigenous Languages, Literature, Art and Knowledge Systems of Africa”
ZIBFA invites all interested parties to participate in the special six-day event as follows:
“EXHIBITION” Venue: Harare Gardens, Julius Nyerere Way
ADMISSION FREE!!! to the Exhibition
Dates: 30 July 2014: Open to Traders Only
31 July – 2 August 2014: Open to Students and The Public
Time: 1000 – 1700hrs
“INDABA CONFERENCE” Venue: Crowne Plaza Hotel : By Registration
Day 1: 28 July 2014 0815 - 1700hrs
Ø Indigenous Languages and Knowledge Systems………………
Ø Language, Folk Art and the African World View…………….
Ø Indigenous Knowledge Systems………………………………...
Day 2: 29 July 2014 0830 - 1700hrs
Ø The Language of Indigenous Religions…………………………
Ø Health Lessons from Indigenous African Traditions………….
Ø African Heritages………………………………………………...
Ø Intellectual Property and Copyright…………………………...
Ø Indigenous Languages and Literatures………………………...
‘‘YOUNG PERSONS’ INDABA’’: Creative Writing in Indigenous Languages
Date: 30 July 2014 By Registration
0830 - 1630hrs at Crowne Plaza Hotel
‘‘WRITERS’ WORKSHOP’’: Maximizing on Mother Tongue Writings Through Value Addition
Date: 2 August 2014 By Invitation
If you wish to participate please register for the workshops by 17 July 2014 to avoid disappointment!!
1000 - 1600hrs 31 July – 2 August 2014 ADMISSION FREE!!!
For further details contact us at ZIBFA on: 04 702104, 7041


Thursday, June 5, 2014

the elderly characters in Gabriel García Márquez's short stories

The Nobel Prize winning Gabriel García Márquez who died on 17 April 2014 was considered by many as the greatest author ever in the Spanish language.

 Marquez’s most successful work as a writer is the long and expansive novel,  One Hundred Years of Solitude which became a huge success in the years after its publication in 1967 selling more than 10 million copies in more than 30 languages! It made García Márquez a leader of the Latin American literary "boom" and an international phenomenon.

 His novels, The Autumn of the Patriarch” (1975) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) are some of his greatest masterpieces. But his short stories are also some of the world’s best. My favourite, Strange Pigrims, published originally in Spanish in 1992 constitutes the author’s fourth short story collection. In Strange Pilgrims, the reader finds Garcia Marquez’s Latin American characters doing their best to survive on European soil.

Of all these character, Marquez’s elderly ones are more intriguing. They reveal certain internal resources which they have been scarcely aware of or unable to use before, bringing out how it sometimes feels to be old in a world that scarcely notices the challenges of ageing.

 Maria dos Prazeres
Maria dos Prazeres, protagonist of the story bearing her name, is a Brazilian mulatto woman living in Barcelona. She is a self- retired whore in her seventies who is planning for her imminent death, which was revealed to her in a dream. Maria is removed from her own country (Brazil) when her mother sold her to a Turkish official, who after enjoying her without pity, abandons her, leaving her “with no money, no language and no  name”. (p109) Now, old and seemingly useless to herself, Maria goes about the business of deciding on her funeral with matter-of-fact efficiency.

She has already purchased her burial plot and taught her dog, Noi, who sheds real tears, to locate the plot in the cemetery and cry over her grave. She has also made arrangements for a neighbour girl to take care of Noi after she dies and to let him loose on Sundays so that the dog can visit her tomb. Then, one rainy night, she and Noi hitch a ride home to get out of the weather. Maria trembles in the darkness, certain that the mysterious man who gives them a lift and asks to come up to her apartment is the Grim Reaper himself. Then, to her delight and surprise, she realizes that the stranger is actually a customer.

However, this story’s potency lies in the intricate ways in which the author gradually builds up towards the fact that; Maria does not know herself anymore because of her calendar age.

When she hitches a ride in the car of an unknown young man, in a raging storm at first, ‘she felt she was in a strange, happy world where everything was arranged ahead of time.’(p112) This is the magical moment for her because it pushes her away from brooding over old age and subsequent death.  She even feels ‘intimidated by her misery.’(p112) and on looking closely at the man, ‘she thought he was not handsome but had a distinctive kind of charm.’ (p113) When the man furtively looks at her ‘she felt ugly and pitiful.’ (p113) And ‘she regretted still being alive at her age.’ (p113)

This means that she is, unknown to herself, still on the lookout for a man. When the man decides to respect her and drive her right to her front door instead of letting her off at the corner, she looks at him and sees ‘a male stare that took her breath away.’ He asks profusely to come in and join her even when she protests against it.(p113)And when he demonstrates his desire for her by insisting on locking up the car and following her upstairs, for apparent passionate sex, ‘she knew it had been worth waiting for so many years…’ (p115)
Bon Voyage, Mr. President
In the opening short story to Strange Pilgrims, “Bon Voyage, Mr. President,” a deposed Latin American president is in Geneva for medical advice and treatment concerning a mysterious ailment. An ambulance driver, who happens to be a fellow countryman, takes his opportunity to ingratiate himself with the former leader, hoping to turn their friendship to his advantage. The ageing ex-president is not wealthy as thought, but destitute, and must be supported by his newfound acquaintances. Upon rescinding his ban on vice: drinking, eating red meat, smoking, eating shellfish and others, he finds happiness in friendship and being alive despite old age and being forced out of his country. Homero, the ambulance driver for the hospital in which the deposed president is being cured, has arranged with a funeral parlor to hawk its services to mortally ill patients and plans to sell the former politician a complete package, including embalming and repatriation.

 The story begins with:

He sat on a wooden bench under the yellow leaves in the deserted park, contemplating the dusty swans with both his hands resting on the silver handle of his cane, and thinking about death. (p3)

The above lines create an image of a very spent, lonely and tired person and from the onset; one guesses correctly that this must be an old person in distress and regret. But there remains, for a discerning reader; visible traces of a life of vigour, careful self- cultivation, glory and plenty rioting from underneath this wreck:

He had the arrogant mustache of a musketeer, abundant blue-black hair with romantic waves, a harpist’s hands with the widower’s wedding band on his left finger and joyful eyes. (p4)

Then the cruellest sentence in this arrangement tries to supersede all that: ‘The years of glory and power had been left behind forever, and now only the years of his death remained.’ (p3) Beneath that, is even a crueller rendition of the plight of the old man. He suffers from an insistently ‘devious’ pain whose position in his body the doctors had not been able to locate in both Martinique and Geneva. As they search for it very actively all over his body, they go to and fro almost like officers after a criminal:

They looked for the pain in his liver, his kidneys, his pancreas, his prostate, wherever it was not. Until that bitter Thursday, when he had made an appointment… at the neurology department with the least well-known of the many physicians who had seen him… (p4)

And when they locate it, it is as if the old man’s pain is a little devious animal, as hideous as it is devious. It is described as a very active thing with a youthful life of its own:

“Your pain is here,” he (neurologist) said…His pain was improbable and devious, and sometimes seemed to be in his ribs on the right side and sometimes in his lower abdomen, and often it caught him off guard with a sudden stab in the groin. The doctor listened to him without moving, the pointer motionless on the screen. “That is why it eluded us for so long,” he said. (p5)

 One has a feeling that the old man is crushed. At his advanced age; he cannot undergo an operation whose results are certain, cannot afford the fees for the operation all by himself, needs moral support which he cannot mobilise at this point since he is a stranger in Geneva and worse, a deposed president.

But the old man is intrinsically as indefatigable and daring too as the pain in his body. In the face of apparent doom, his whole life drama replays and recreates itself, seemingly pathetic but blest with an uncanny ability to ride through a storm.

He becomes more resolute, returning to the coffee that health experts had previously managed to turn him away from. He becomes realistic, agreeing to acquaint with Homerio and wife and eventually allowing them, when the worst comes to hand over jewellery and personal accessories to them to sell in order to raise his operation fees. He strips himself for the sake of his health. Homerio’s wife, Lazara eventually realises that the old man is still the graceful, cunning and calculating politician of old in spite of his ill health, old age, loneliness and poverty. To her, he gradually moves from being a ‘What a son of a bitch!’(p24) to being, as she admits to herself:

…one of the best looking men she had ever seen, with a devastating seductive power and a stud’s virility. “Just as he is now, old and fucked up, he must still be a tiger in bed,” she said. (p24)

After his five hours of surgery and subsequent recuperation, the old man demonstrates a vicious desire for life and it is said that: ‘He devoted himself to his rehabilitative exercises with military rigor…’ (p33)  He struggles on until his return to the Caribbean and subsequently moots a return to politics. Lazara’s description of him is one of the most memorable sentences in this story: ‘My God! Nothing can kill that man.’ (p34)

The seeming defeat of Maria and that of the deposed President is only an initial outlook. The resilience and constant retreat to the drawing board that you see in the elderly characters in these stories, confirm in a huge way the views that- just as sure as there is loss, there are gains that come with old age. These gains have been largely overlooked. Although young people, for example, may be fast and agile, they lack experience and knowledge. Their futures demand that they focus on their own personal advancement more than that of the broader community. The impressive physical resilience in the young is not matched by the emotional resilience, which comes much later in life. Marquez’s elders crawl towards a certain destination and new pedestals
+(By Memory Chirere)  

Monday, May 26, 2014

written isiNdebele is too conservative:Thabisani Ndlovu

                                                     (picture: Dr. Thabisani Ndlovu)
 The state of isiNdebele literature and language: lessons from the translation of Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe by - Thabisani Ndlovu.
Translating Where to Now, Short Stories from Zimbabwe (2011) to Siqondephi Manje? Indatshana ZaseZimbabwe (2014), made me realise how conservative written isiNdebele is, to a point where the written form is far from the spoken.

It cannot be otherwise given that in some cases, the most recent novel set for Ordinary and Advanced level is fifteen years old. This is not to say that the spoken variety must find its way into written form wholesale. It is to say that there are contexts that require us to use common forms of expression and not the “correct” but archaic forms.  I realised that if I had insisted on such “correctness,” the translation would have been stilted and substandard, thus ruining the beautiful stories.

The translation experience made me aware that there are many words that should have found their way into the isiNdebele lexicon a long time ago, words that some purists claim are not proper isiNdebele words. In other words, part of the poverty of written isiNdebele is a limited vocabulary due to inflexibility. The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) is partly responsible for the rigidity by discouraging words and forms of expression the candidates are familiar with – and here, I am talking about acceptable words and forms as will be discussed below.

In its spoken form, isiNdebele language is very well, far from being sickly; in fact, it is lively – at home and abroad. The language has, just like any other, varieties, including slang. Just as obtains in the speaking of any language, there are clear instances of ungrammaticality, which of course, should be corrected. To broadly speak of isiNdebele dying is, most likely, to speak of archaisms falling out of use, as archaisms do. Otherwise, for the most part, just like most languages, isiNdebele has shown great creativity and evolved. Our greatest worry should be that we do not have as many publications of creative writing as we should, especially current and inspired publications in this language.

Indeed, one of the contributing writers, Mzana Mthimkhulu, commented at the launch that it was strange but exciting to read the translation of his story in isiNdebele for the translation read like the original. His English story had been “translated back into isiNdebele, the initial language and context of imagining it.”

NoViolet Bulawayo, renowned author of We Need New Names (2013), makes a similar observation about her story in the collection when she writes on her Facebook page, “my English has Ndebele influences so to see ‘Snapshots’ translated into Ndebele is like a translation of a translation.” 

What is even more intriguing and fascinating about Siqondephi Manje? (2014) is that the authors in this compilation come from different linguistic, ‘ethnic’ and ‘racial’ backgrounds, making for a rich tapestry of subject matter, point of view and narrative technique.  These are contemporary and exciting stories with many cross-cultural influences to reflect the fluidity of life within and outside the borders of Zimbabwe; a fluidity of which the Ndebele people are part of.  As such, the stories are modern as are most of the experiences. For example, there are stories about migrating within Southern Africa and beyond, to England. We get a story about the xenophobic attacks against Zimbabweans in South Africa, and another about undertaking care work in England.

In English, the stories in Where to Now (2011) are riveting.  They take one through a journey of mixed emotions– laughter, sadness and anxiety are some of the few emotions.  They all demonstrate immense creativity.  Some flout rules of punctuation  whereas others use various forms of narration except the linear and those that use creative ways of stitching narrative and narrative time I captured these techniques in isiNdebele as closely to the original as I could. The result points to the exciting possibilities there are in writing in isiNdebele. Another important observation to make is that much as the source language (English) and target language (isiNdebele) belong to different cultural groups, hence different norms and idioms, there is also a lot that is common. The experiences in the stories are Zimbabwean, or are inspired by different forms of Zimbabweanness. This expands our ways of thinking about Ndebeleness, language and culture.

There were a couple of charges against the very essence of translation by one of the panellists at the ZIBF workshop, Felix Moyo – a television actor, publisher and “specialist” in isiNdebele. The drift of his speech was that isiNdebele literature can only improve if Ndebele people write their own literature from scratch. In his words, the translation amounted to “borrowed robes.”  He wanted the Ndebele to wear their “amabhetshu” (animal skins that were worn by men before Western clothing), even though he was wearing a jacket and tie. Indeed, he  pooh-poohed the effort and likened it to child’s play – “Asizanga dlala lapha” (We are not here to play), after my paper about the translation of Siqondephi Manje (2014). I am using Moyo’s example as it encapsulates some of the very attitudes and practices by those who consider themselves the custodians of isiNdebele, that have led to the arrested development of the language and its literature.

Those who are familiar with global literature will know that part of the reason English literature became dominant is because of translating works from other languages, notably French, Russian and German. Authors such as the Dane Hans Christaian Andersen, the French men Voltaire and Albert Camus, the German Franz Kafka as well as the Russians Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov, just to name a representative sample, became inspirations to generations of writers writing in English both inside and outside the UK. In Zimbabwe, Tsanga Yembeu (1987), the translation of Ngugi waThiongo’s A Grain of Wheat (1967), stands out as one text that has positively influenced a lot of writers in chiShona, including the translator, Charles Mungoshi. Recently, Tom Matshakayile Ndlovu translated Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins (2002), and rendered it as Izintombi Zamatshe Ezimsulwa (2011).

The only worry we should have about translations is their quality. Good translations can only augment literature in the target language and, in the presence of a well-developed reading culture, also foster good writing. The insularity that is being championed by those such as Moyo can only entrench the sorry state of isiNdebele literature. In fact, realising the value of translating interesting literary texts from one language to another, Gudhlanga and Makaudze (2007: 13) write that “The quantitative and qualitative boom in Shona fiction could be promoted by the establishment of a Translation Centre, one where trained and experienced translators translate good works of art from English into Shona.” The same can be said about isiNdebele literature.

At the Zimbabwe International Book Fair workshop as well at the launch of Siqondephi Manje?  (2014) I gave examples of words that were to be found in the book. Words such as “iphephabheki” (derived from paper bag) and “suphamakhethi” (supermarket). The audience’s reaction in both instances, was to say to vehemently declare that these two are not isiNdebele words. Even when I pointed to the audience at the launch that I had known “iphephabheki” for more than thirty years, and even when some of them admitted to using the word just about every day for the same length of time if not longer, there was still an insistence by others that it was not an isiNdebele word. They proffered “umgodla” instead, which is not the same thing as “iphephabheki.” When I pointed out that this word is found in the siNdebele dictionary, more than three quarters of the audience at the book launch did not believe that. Indeed, the word is entered on page 193.

It  turned out that those who professed to be fundis in the language did not have isiNdebele dictionaries, a situation which obtained at three schools I visited – teachers of isiNdebele, including the Heads of that department, did not have dictionaries in the language. To their credit though, some of these educators were frustrated by the inflexibility of the marking scheme, a marking scheme that said a word like “iphephabheki,” once used in a composition, should be marked as an error. Interestingly, the definition of “iphephabheki” in the isiNdebele dictionary is, I am convinced, wrong. The entry reads: “Iphephabheki ngumgodla wephepha olengiswayo.” But this word is used by isiNdebele speakers to refer to a plastic bag used to carry one’s shopping; a plastic bag usually re-used not only for carrying purchases but just about anything – books to school, vegetables, clothes and a myriad of other things. The entry needs to be revised.

Other words that the audience at the launch were convinced were not proper isiNdebele and were not in the isiNdebele lexicon are listed below and next to them, the page number where it is entered in the siNdebele dictionary. The words are: “isuphamakhethi” (supermarket) (p.265), “iwindiskirini” (windscreen) (p.276), “ilayini” (line or queue) (p.131), “ibhimu” (refuse bin) (p. 96), “idindindi” (lively party) (104), “rusa” (rust) (p.372), “joyina” (to join) (p.286), “iphakhi” (park) (p.192). These are words that teachers would mark as incorrect the instant they appear in pupils’ compositions, irrespective of the context and words that some “masters” of the language will not touch with ten poles. This, needless to say, results in very stilted writing, making pupils think that written isiNdebele is difficult, archaic and uninteresting.

One is reminded of NAMA winning author Ignatius Mabasa at ZIBF 2013 when he pointed out that educationists are “conspiring to destroy mother languages [like chiShona] by making it difficult at school,” resulting in students shunning vernacular languages at high school, “citing them as complex subjects” (  Accessed 24 February 2014).

There are two instructive observations one can make here. The first is that Isichazamazwi sesiNdebele (2001) or isiNdebele Dictionary is a good lexicon. But it is not used effectively. It is the storehouse for words in the language and should be referred to in order to establish the existence or non-existence of particular words as well as their usage in various contexts – just as we do with English. If educators and self-styled masters in the language determine (one has to ask from where and how they derive their standards) what is permissible in the language without referring to Isichazamazwi sesiNdebele (2001), it means that we are not tapping into already existing and systematic work in compiling and growing the vocabulary in the language. It also means that in the absence of the dictionary or ignoring the dictionary, decisions on the use of the Ndebele language are nothing more than thumb sucking exercises. More significantly, it means less words to use by the speakers and writers of the language (when ironically those words appear in their lexicon), resulting in stifled creativity.

One of the clear tasks of isiNdebele is to grow its corpus.  Languages that have done this successfully, especially English, have demonstrated a “readiness to absorb words from foreign tongues, or to make new ones where existing terms are not adequate” (Rajarajeswari and Mohana, 2013:41). Indeed, as Bryson (2009) observes, about half the words in English are, etymologically speaking, not English. English and other languages like it, grow their vocabularies unapologetically, the result being that “every year new words appear, while others extend or change their meaning” (Rajarajeswari and Mohana, 2013:41).

While I acknowledge that the isiNdebele lexicon is robust, more can still be done. Note that it was compiled fifteen years ago. Clearly there are financial challenges that hamper constant updating of the siNdebele corpus. But if we are serious about developing the language, one of the key things is to invest in updating the lexicon and promoting its use through constant reference to it and by so doing turn the dictionary into the linguistic compass that it should be. When one considers that every year new words appear in the English lexicon, it does not take much imagination to see how far behind isiNdebele is.

 There is a list of words I used in the translation, Siqondephi Manje? which should have found their way into the siNdebele dictionary by now. I will give a couple of examples. It is a good thing that we have in Isichazamazwi sesiNdebele (2001) words that address technological advances such as “imeyili” (e-mail) (p.140). Missing are words “imeseji” or “i-esemesi.” We also have to think of new orthographies. Whereas before we did not have nouns with two vowels following each other, now we do. I suggest a space between the two vowels. Another example of such a word would be “i-oyili” (oil). Perhaps because of a lack of such facility, Isichazamazwi sesiNdebele (2001) has the entry “oyila” (to oil) (p.348) but no entry for the noun. Similarly, there are words such as “khasitoma” (customer) (p.125) and “phasipoti” (passport) (p.193). Much as I appreciate the siNdebelerisation of these words by insisting on the initial “i”s in both words, the resultant words do not reflect how they are usually pronounced.  We say “iphaspoti” and “ikhastoma.” Similarly, all speakers of isiNdebele know “ifriji” (fridge).  Hardly anyone refers to it as “ifiriji” as that becomes a chiShona pronunciation once we insert an “i” after the “f.” Another similar situation obtains with the word “phethuro” (petrol) (p.192). When pronounced with a “u” the word sounds like chiShona. In any case, everyday pronunciation of this word is minus the “u” to give “phethro.”  In direct speech, this is how I have written such words in Siqondephi Manje? (2014), to capture how they are pronounced.

 Other words that should have gone into the lexicon by now include “irali” (a rally), given that we already have entries such as “irakhethi” (tennis racket) (p.200). Words like “shayina” (to polish or to show off), iphikhinikhi, (picnic), diza (pay a bribe), “irayothi” (riot), “i-intanethi (internet), “isikulufizi” (school fees), “idriphu” (drip) – after all we have words such as “diritsha” (move in reverse) –“glu” (glue), “ok’sijini” or “okisijini” (oxygen).

One of the charges levelled at Siqondephi Manje? (2014) at the ZIBF workshop and the launch of the book was that it was a bastardisation, dilution and corruption of isiNdebele. I am using just a few of many words that were uttered to register unhappiness, concern and in some cases, outright dismissal. Interestingly, these judgements came from people who had not read the translation.

Even if they had, it was apparent, from a show of hands that the majority did not have Isichazamazwi sesiNdebele (2001) and if they did, they were not using it at all. On what basis then, were they making their judgements and prescriptions? Who or what had empowered them to make those pronouncements? All kinds of answers explain the kind of entitlement I am describing, except scholarly argument. Here, I am reminded of a comment made by one of the participants, author Godfrey Muyambo. Talking of some of the difficulties of publishing in isiNdebele, he cited how one’s surname, and he gave his as an example, together with the fact that he is known to be of Venda origin, has always been a disadvantage. Even where he did manage to publish his works, they would get attacked at a personal level, to a point where students in the exam would attack Muyambo as a least fit person to write ‘proper’ isiNdebele because of his background.

 In the end, we have exam responses that are not engaging with the text on its merits but the supposed unsuitability of the writer to write isiNdebele.  Thus, we have a caucus of people who imagine they are the custodians of the language who sadly, do not do much research and are set in their ways. But a language, and I did make this point at the launch, belongs to all the people who speak it and there should be healthy and informed debates instead of “dictatorships” founded on seniority, family name and other  spurious claims

Not surprisingly, Siqondephi Manje? (2014) was discussed by some purists in relation to the 2013 Zimsec isiNdebele examination.  The examinations council was accused of killing isiNdebele, insulting the Ndebele people by portraying them as a people who love using vulgar or “gutter language” (Mpofu in Southern Eye, 25 October 2013). Ironically, most of those who complained about the “bad” examination paper had not seen it, let alone read it. Some went as far as signing a petition without reading the Grade 7 paper. Isaac Mpofu, veteran isiNdebele writer, registered his discontent about the Grade 7 isiNdebele paper and concluded, “Our desire is that our children learn to speak good Ndebele language within the context of our culture” (Mpofu in Southern Eye, 25 October 2013). Indeed, the Grade 7 paper works towards that end.

For the benefit of those without access to the examination paper in question, there are two situations that caused all the brouhaha.  The first is a passage that captures touting for a fifteen-seater public taxi, popularly known as a kombi, as well as taking a ride in the same vehicle. The aim is clearly to alert pupils to varieties of isiNdebele, including slang. The tout asks a traveller, “Yeyi baba[1] uyahamba ngapho?” (Yeyi there baba, are you going to town?”  to which the men the question is directed at indicates that he is indeed going to town. The tout then turns the driver and says, “Misa jeki[2] utopi[3] uyahamaba” (Stop the car jeki, the topi is going to town.) When the tout addresses the man, he uses language that will not offend someone of the man’s age. He does show some respect. When the tout turns to talk to the driver who is his age mate, there is code-switching and slang comes in. No one can deny that this is a typical conversation between a tout and a potential passenger and then tout and kombi driver. The rest of the passage is written in beautiful siNdebele, with not one more slang word. The point was to show that Ndebele does have varieties in its spoken and written form, including slang; that the language is alive and creative. One is reminded of why languages such as English even have dictionaries of slang as well as of synonyms. What controls language use or diction is context. A puritan attitude towards certain forms of the language is tantamount to the English expression of shooting oneself in the foot. At worst, it is a display of sheer ignorance concerning principles of language and language use.

The second instance that seems to have invoked the ire of commentators like Mpofu need not have done so at all. Mpofu writes how isiNdebele is a language that shows a lot of respect.  The sub-heading of that section with the word “likhikhitha” (is a prostitute/ woman of loose morals) instructs the students: “Phana ibala elihloniphayo endaweni yaleli elidwetshwe umzila” (Give a euphemistic term in place of the underlined word). That question is teaching pupils to use respectful words in place of less respectful ones. Words like “umangumba” and “yisifebe” are already euphemisms compared to the stronger form, “iwule” (slut, prostitute) which is not used in the question. To claim that twelve and thirteen year olds have never heard these words is to be dishonest, to put it mildly. With regard to Siqondephi Manje? readers will find words such as   “hlanza” (vomit), “izibunu” (buttocks) and others like them. These words are not used gratuitously.  Using euphemisms in their place would have distorted the tone and meaning of some stories resulting in a stilted and terrible translation.

Let us take “izibunu” (buttocks). It is common to hear people say of children with inadequate clothing, “abantwana bahamba ngezibunu egcekeni” (children wear worn-out clothes that show their buttocks). Likewise, “olezibunu ezinkulu ngolezibunu ezinkulu; ongalazo kalazo” (whoever has big buttocks is said to have such and the same for small or smaller buttocks) – that is how Ndebele people speak without any profanity implied in most contexts.  I am thinking specifically about events and contexts in the stories contained here.  For example, an angry character should appear as such through the language he or she uses.  Needless to say the language should suit that character.  As a translator, one of my key duties is to make sure that the translation is as close to the original text as possible, having of course, taken into account the cultural context of the Ndebele people. In any case, we have in our families, those with a penchant for saucy language and older persons seem to acquire a licence to utter obscenities at will. We need to be honest about what we mean by Ndebele culture; which in the first place cannot be represented by one person’s family or a clique of self-declared experts. Similarly, isiNdebele differs from region to region.

The discontent about the Grade 7 paper is instructive in the way it reveals some enduring and simmering issues in Matabeleland in general.  A number of people at the launch expressed worry about the teaching of isiNdebele by chiShona speaking teachers, some of whom only have a smattering of isiNdebele. They asked what the Ministry of Education was doing about that situation. Unsurprisingly, there was insinuation, in the discussion of the Grade 7 examination, that the paper had been set by people whose first language is not isiNdebele (possibly chiShona speaking?) hence the “poor” quality of the language in the paper and also “insult” to the Mthwakazi nation. The more the discussion unfolded, the more one realised that there was a conflation of issues.

The obliquely stated issues included unhappiness that chiShona speaking people now dominate tertiary institutions (see also Accessed 22 February 2014), government departments and other areas of work at the expense of the isiNdebele speaking populace. These issues are tied to slow development in the province and the memory of Gukurahundi. All these are legitimate issues.  Their crystallisation results in a rather extreme form of nationalism that wants to insist on “purity” of identity, privileging amongst other things, language. To that end, Felix Moyo urged Ndebeles: “protect your language,” at the ZIBF workshop. Similarly, a young contributor passionately declared: “We are compromising too much. Mina ngifuna isiNdebele sabokhulu.” (I want the isiNdebele of my forefathers). While I understand these strong sentiments, I hope those who utter them realise that they are inimical to language growth; that in fact, they contradict the discourse of pride in one’s language. I also hope that for purposes of growing isiNdebele, we can separate issues and zero into the singular task of analysing the language and finding ways of making it more expressive in its written form.   

It was thus heartening to note that Pathisa Nyathi, celebrated historian and one proud of his Ndebele heritage, stressed the need for flexibility regarding isiNdebele at the launch of Siqondephi Manje? (2014). He warned of an accelerated demise of isiNdebele in the absence of open-mindedness, adaptability and creativity. From the younger audience, some also lauded the translation as the kind of work in isiNdebele they would easily identify with and enjoy. After listening to some readings from the text, a group of pupils asked how they could write similar language as they had heard from the readings and not be penalised by teachers. In short, they were attracted to the language and style in the writings. One of the key aims in the writing of isiNdebele is exactly that – to capture and captivate a younger audience. This can be done by writing relevant stories using a mixture of “classical” isiNdebele and a contemporary version of the language. It is a commendable thing to note that the book can also be bought on line. But what will make people buy the book is not its migration to a technological space but its quality. The same applies to future texts of isiNdebele. What will recommend them is quality. At the moment, that quality is low but Siondephi Manje? (2014) is a significant effort towards improving the quality of written isiNdebele. One speaker at the ZIBF said he appreciated the effort that had gone into Siqondephi Manje (2014) but felt that Ndebeles were “not ready for this kind of writing.” Those who will read the book will find that Ndebeles have always been ready “for this kind of writing” – it is an honest linguistic and cultural interpretation; it is a mixture of the old and the new – just the way it should be.

It is clear that we need more fiction in isiNdebele and that fiction had better be of good quality – exciting and inspiring to both younger and older readers. That is also how you grow a crop of inspired writers. As things stand, there is first and foremost a dire need for a robust dialogue and debate about isiNdebele language and lexicon. What is needed is a creative standardisation process. Our university professors in this subject are quiet and have been for a long time. Equally important, we need to have at school and university levels, courses on creative writing in indigenous languages. 

Times change and so do people and their languages. That is how English grew – borrowing words and quickly incorporating them into the English lexicon. Some people say isiNdebele is dying. What I agree with them is that we have a dearth of books in the language, publications of such being too few and far between. But the language itself is very much alive and vibrant.   A language that grows is one that is in constant and creative use, whose lexicon evolves with time. In its written form, such a language should reveal the creativity of the people who speak it and in particular, the novel ways in which those people capture experiences.  Once this is achieved, it will inspire other writers to be even more creative.
+ + Thabisani Ndlovu is with the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. This is an abridged version of a paper based on Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) Workshop – 28 March 2014, and launch of Siqondephi Manje? Indatshana ZaseZimbabwe (2014), 29 March 2014. Contact: