Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The return of Andrew Chatora...Harare Voices and Beyond

The UK based Zimbabwean author, Andrew Chatora, has yet another new novel on the way! This is the third novel in three years from the fast rising writer from Mutare. It is called Harare Voices and Beyond.

This story is based on the troubled lives of a white commercial farming family who dramatically lose both their very active father and their farm in Mazowe to jambanja. The term jambanja is Shona for fast and sometimes dramatic activity. Jambanja became the other term for the recent occupations of white farms in Zimbabwe.

After such a loss, the Williams drift reluctantly to their house in a posh northern suburb of  Harare but soon inactivity and poverty set in. The two white boys; Rhys and Julian Williams start to drift away physically and mentally. They go south of Robert Mugabe Way, into the traditionally poor black territory of Harare in search of survival, beer, dangerous drugs, easy sex and other things. Meanwhile, their mother, Doris, becomes a sitting duck. She floats mentally and the sudden fall of fortunes leaves her close to being an invalid. 

The boys are gradually 'going native' as they become involved in spaces and activities not usually associated with the well-heeled white masters of Zimbabwe since occupation. They are newcomers to a world of lack that they had only watched from a safe distance. There is always a price to pay when one falls from privilege. In colonial discourse, the term “going native” means the white man is becoming one with the 'savages' or the natives, to the extent of eating what they eat and eventually feeling as they do… 

When the worst comes, this family is caught up in a wave of loud misunderstandings amongst themselves and in the subsequent melee, the mother and one of the boys allegedly kill the younger of the boys by accident and in fear, they secretly bury his body in their home, until it is eventually discovered.

This is, to my knowledge, the first fully fledged novel by a black Zimbabwean writer to look at the setbacks suffered by white folk during the Zimbabwe land reform. Andrew Chatora searches delicately for the place and scope of the white community in post independent Zimbabwe.  Being a pathfinder of sorts, many may find this novel either unsettling or satisfying, or both.

Many critical questions shall be asked. How do you write white people effectively when you are a black writer from Zimbabwe? Would that tantamount to speaking on behalf of the enemy? Would you be able to show that their loss is as a result of complex events within and beyond Zimbabwe? The author’s real test was in tactically navigating this very contentious terrain.

Chatora has chosen a subject that is emotive and well followed across the world; the land reform of Zimbabwe. Was the reform right? Was the land reform necessary? Was the process, right? Was Mugabe right? Should Mugabe be bashed all the way for leading this land reform? What should the white people have done to come out unscathed? Have we ever seen a reform of a similar scale in all post independent Africa? How does jambanja echo the earlier process of white occupation of black land a century earlier?

But Harare Voices and Beyond does not disappoint.

The fast track land reform phase brought Zimbabwe into the international media, arguably much more than the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe itself. In a widely circulated website interview with Nordiska Afrikainstitutet of (February 2004), Zimbabwean writer and literary scholar, Robert Muponde, argues that ‘Land is the text of Zimbabwean History and Literature.’ He is referring to the centrality of Land in the earlier seminal Zimbabwean literature texts set in Rhodesia. Some of them are Waiting for The Rain, Dew in the Morning and Without a Name. In all these novels, land is either an issue in the background or is a side show with varying degrees of prominence.

As I come to the end of Chatora’s novel, I recall that Robert Muponde adds: “…the writer who a year ago was urging the politician to seize land, even factories and shops belonging to white people (as suggested in Mujajati's Victory of 1993), in the name of the people, now finds that the politician has not only outdone the writer in shouting the presence of inequalities in society. The politician has gone further. He has left the writer with two stark choices: the writer must endorse the politician's and war veteran's actions because that is what he (the writer) was urging in his poems (in the case of musicians, in their songs), or he must condemn the actions as reckless, etc.”

As I think about that, I realise that perhaps, a big take away from this novel is the author’s ability (which may surprise Muponde) to skillfully showcase and dramatize to the reader that the land reform in Zimbabwe has its sharp and irreconcilable contradictions. There are many versions of the land reform story of Zimbabwe, depending on who is telling which part of the broad story, where... and who is listening!

In many ways this is a detective story narrated through Rhys and Marina, two prisoners at the Chikurubi Prison as they recount their personal life stories which have brought them to their present realities. They are a crucial link to the mafia style underworld of Harare. In the dead of the night, Harare crawls with the least expected liaisons between the rich and the poor, black and white and at every corner, there is a surprise meeting between rivals. In this space you meet perverts, street people, hard core criminals, politicians, preachers, drug pushers...

Chatora is now a master at delicate subjects. In his first novel, he shows us the trials and tribulations of a determined black teacher from Zimbabwe who tries to teach English to white children in England. His second novel is about a native who leaves the periphery (Harare) for the centre (England) due to economic reasons, but later returns to the periphery (Harare) and returns to London once more!  

Harare Voices and Beyond is published by Chicago based Kharis Publishing – an imprint of Kharis Media LLC and is released on 1st February 2023. Copies will shortly available to order in digital, paperback and hardback format from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Walmart, Target Christian books and other online book retailers.

The book adds on to Andrew Chatora’s growing stable of contemporary fiction/migrant literature as it is a welcome addition to his cannon, two other books: Diaspora Dreams and Where the Heart Is are also published by Kharis Publishing and available from  Amazon.

 +Preview By Memory Chirere, University of Zimbabwe


Friday, October 7, 2022

New book on Dendera music

 Musambo WeDendera, by Biggie Chiranga

Published by EssentialBooks Publishing Co. Norton, Zimbabwe, 2022, pp105

Isbn: 9781779209443 for copies phone: +263786626048

 (A review by Memory Chirere)

This book is a sweet little thing written in easy Shona. It does many crucial things that no other book on Zimbabwean music has ever done. Let me go gradually and haltingly before I forget all the things that I want to say.

This is the first complete book on the history of Dendera music. It is elaborate; beginning with the brothers, Simon and Naison Chimbetu down to the subsequent successor Dendera musicians.  This book is a gift to those who are into the history of music genres. You see here the interconnectedness of the Dendera music genre with other music genres of Zimbabwe, making this one a book about both our sad and happy days as a nation. 

This book is the first one to follow astutely the life of a Zimbabwean musician; beginning with his parents in Tanzania, going into how and why they left Tanzania down to all the sons and daughters they beget and all the grandchildren who continue to come.

This one is the first book to pursue individual Dendera songs, slotting them into clear categories: Love songs, songs about death, songs with bird motifs, songs with animal motifs, songs in Swahili, songs in English, songs in Shona, songs in Ndebele.. on and on… This book is a bank of sorts.

This book goes into the functions and purpose of each of Dendera guitars and how they relate with the lyrics. It also goes into voices. The intricacies!

This is the first book to list the number of awards won by Dendera musicians starting with the founder, Simon Chimbetu to the latter day Dendera chanters.

This is the first book to carry all the pictures of Dendera band leaders and those of their band members.

The technique used by the author is to show how his own life intertwines with Dendera music over the years. Through that he searches for the meaning of Dendera. You may say that this book is Biggie Chiranga’s diary. Chiranga is a renowned Shona poet and educationist who had opportunity to come very-very close to Simon Chimbetu.

But this is not a perfect book. Not at all! It still needs much closer and more active proof reading and a more edifying cover in its second edition. Some of the photographs may need a total recast. There may be need to make an English version of this book as a matter of urgency because this book has to reach a wider audience.

This book answers many of the questions that you may have had on Dendera music and other musical genres of Zimbabwe. I hope that you can also see that I love Dendera music so much.

I wish we could have more other books like this one on Zimbabwean musicians.

Shona version:

Bhuku rino unotove mudyandakasungwa zvawo! Rakanyorwa neShona yakareruka ichitsvedzerera pakuverenga.

Bhuku rino rinoita zvinhu zvandisati ndaona zvichiitwa nechero bhuku zvaro munhooroondo yose yemabhuku emuZimbabwe.

Regai ndidome zvishoma zvacho ndisati ndakanganwa.

Rino iri ndiro bhuku rekutanga kunyorwa pamusoro penhoroondo yemusambo wemumhanzi  weDendera kubva paunotangira naSimon naNaison Chimbetu kusvika pauri nhasi.  Bhuku iri chipo chaicho kuvanhu vanoita zvenhoroondo yemimhanzi. Unoona bhindepinde revanhu veDendera nevamwe vaimbi vakawanda veZimbabwe, mukufara nemukusuwa.

Rino bhuku ndiro bhuku rekutanga kutevedza hupenyu hwemhuri yemuimbi kubva kuna baba naamai vachiri kuTanzania kusvika kuvana, kusvika kuvana vevana vavo- zvichingodaro... Unobva watoona kuti mhuri yekwaChimbetu iri kubva apa ichienda apo, ichienda apo. Kunge rwizi rwuri kuyerera…

Rino ndiro bhuku rekutanga kutevera nziyo dzose dzemusambo weDendera richidziisa muzvikwata. Dzerudo padzo, dzerufu padzo, dzine mhuka neshiri padzo, dzehondo padzo, dzerurimi rweSwahili, Chirungu, Ndebele neShona padzo…zvichingodaro zvichidaro. Kureva kuti bhuku rino ibhangi zvaro.

Bhuku rino rinopinda mumaimbirwo eDendera nehurongwa hwemagitare acho. Ihochekoche.

Rino ndiro bhuku rekutanga kudonongodza mibairo yose yakawanikwa nevaimbi veDendera kubva munguva yaSimon Chimbetu kusvika nhasi.  

Ndiro bhuku rekutanga kutakura mifananidzo yevaimbi vose veDendera zvose nemifananidzo yevanhu vavanoridza navo.

Bhuku rino rinoshandisa chidobi chokutipa nhoroondo yokuti munyori Biggie Chiranga anosangana papi muhupenyu hwake nenziyo dzakasiyana siyana dzeDendera, zvakare nziyo idzi dzinorevei kwaari.

Bhuku iri tingariti dhayari raiye Biggie Chiranga.

Hazvireve kuti bhuku iri harina mhosho dzaro. Pavachaita edition yepiri, ngapagadziriswe zviperengo nemavara akamheyama pano nepapo. Bhuku iri dai raiswa muchirungu kuti risvike nzvimbo dzakawanda.

Ukaverenga bhuku rino uchaona richipindura mibvunzo yako mizhinji pamusoro pemumhanzi weDendera nemimwewo mimhanzi yeZimbabwe. Ndinofunga kuti matoona kuti kana neni ndinoda musambo weDendera. Dai tikawana mamwe mabhuku akadai pamusoro pemhanzi yemuZimbabwe.

Memory Chirere, University of Zimbabwe, 2022


Friday, September 30, 2022

The man who wrote Marechera's letter!

                                                 Austin Kaluba

The so called Dambudzo Marechera’s letter to Samantha, which has gone viral on many websites, was not written by Marechera! It is actually a work of art by Zambian writer, Austin Kaluba. Kaluba wrote it as part of a 2011 project in Marechera’s memory. That is the fact! Often you see it written in many places that (the letter) was written by Marechera “to his white ex-girlfriend, Samantha, after Marechera had been expelled from Oxford University.” Many ordinary readers and scholars have taken the bait.

Austin Kaluba was born in northern Zambia in 1966 and studied journalism at the prestigious Africa Literature Centre in Kitwe-Zambia. He then joined the national newspaper The Times of Zambia as a features writer. He studied creative writing at different institutions in the UK. Kaluba’s poetry has appeared in the black UK newspaper The Voice and his short stories have been published in magazines in Europe.

KwaChirere recently interviewed Austin Kaluba about the sensational letter. We also replay the letter here just after the interview.  

 KwaChirere: Austin, is it true that you wrote the so called Marechera’s letter to Samantha, Yes or No.

Kaluba: Yes,

KwaChirere: When did you write this letter exactly?

Kaluba: It was in 2011 when I was living in Oxford in England. I did write the piece which is in epistolary form. At that time I was living in Oxford where I was studying Creative Writing at a Diploma level at Oxford University (Department for continuing education). I was frequenting several pubs where Dambudzo used to hang out when he lived in the university city. The pub is City Arms along Crowley Road. It is a real place. One old guy who knew Dambudzo likened my character with that of the Zimbabwean writer. I used to hit the bottle quite hard, was argumentative, anti-social and writing as my spirit dictated.

KwaChirere: Why and under what circumstances did you write the letter?

Kaluba: Ivor Hartmann, a Zimbabwen writer, came up with an idea of cerebrating Dambudzo's posthumous 59th birthday in 2011 and thought of putting together an ebook anthology entitled "Remembering Marechera," consisting of essays, reviews, short stories and poems to be published by StoryTime Publishing. He invited submissions until the 6th of April 2011. If my memory serves me well I think American-based Zimbabwean writer, Emmanuel Sigauke,  was to write some poetry while another Zimbabwean writer, Tinashe Mushakavanhu, who had studied Marechera at Phd level, was to do an essay. The Nigerian literary critic, Ikhide Ikheloa, offered to do some reviews on the late writer while Ivor Hartmann was to do some short Stories. The project was aborted and I thought of posting my piece online.

KwaChirere: Do you by any chance know how and why the letter went viral?

Kaluba: Not at all. I was just surprised to read about the avalanche of positive response the story generated in Zimbabwe and among Zimbabweans in the diaspora. Many believed it was written by Dambudzo. The response even crossed to academicians who thought the letter was written by Dambudzo himself. I had read works by the late Zimbabwean writer and tried through extensive reading on his life to understand his troubled upbringing in colonial Zimbabwe, his years in England and his bohemian life-style that could have qualified him to be some kind of black Oscar Wilde.

KwaChirere: This is very close imitation of what has been known as Marecherean language. Do you write your own works using this kind of language?

Kaluba: Sure, I identified with his anger and indignation at the corrupt world. I would say the Dambudzo in the letter has some characteristics that are purely mine. I agree with him at so many levels though I didn’t experience what he went through in life.

KwaChirere: When one looks at your letter, it comes close to real details in Marechera’s life, his expulsion from Oxford, his having had relations with white girls, his constant fear of being deportation back to Rhodesia etc. What is your comment?

Kaluba: Yeah, I had to get it right by not leaving any detail that summed up the life of the shamanic writer he was. His vulgar language and mistrust of any other person who did not share his views about the crooked world had to be crammed into the story. Dambudzo thrived on shocking people using sexual symbolism and other unconventional ways of driving his point home. I had to get all this right. I also ensured the story worked at two levels; Dambudzo representing Africa, explaining himself to his white girlfriend who is representing Europe. In short the story is about the damage Europe has done to its former colonies.


KwaChirere: What do you think you have achieved through this?

Kaluba: I though writing about Dambudzo was daunting. I had to go out of my way by getting into his character. I had to act like a method actor who sheds his self to enter into the character he is depicting. The success of the story to me lies in the reaction from people who knew Dambudzo personally and the other group that read his works. If the two groups can see him in the letter, then that is an achievement for me.

KwaChirere: May you please speak briefly about your own individual life and life as a writer.

Kaluba: I am an introvert who is highly opinionated and bohemian. I write poetry, short stories and do translations. One of my translations Frown of the Great in English was previously published as Pano Calo in ci-Bemba (the commonest language in Zambia) It has been re-published in Zimbawe by Mwanaka Media and Publishers as a bilingual collection. Tendai Mwanaka, the publisher has published a number of my poems in his anthologies promoting African languages. I am also working on a collection of short stories Mensah’s London Blues and Other Stories, to be published in England. The collection has two stories with Zimbabwean characters A Dream Deferred and Maria’s Vision. The latter has been made into a movie by Tendai Mudhliwa, a UK-based Zimbabwean film maker. The movie stars Memory Savanhu and a cast of UK-based Zimbabwean actors like Goodwin Ngulube, Lydia Nakwakilo, Ashley Majaya, Belinda Majego and Kudzai Manyeku. So you see Memory, my love of Zimbabwe has not ended with writing about Dambudzo but contributing a movie to Zollywood.

I have also translated John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress into ci-Bemba.

The letter itself below:

Dear Samantha

I think by now you have heard what happened when those hypocrites in administration chased me from their white university giving me an option between being sectioned or expelled. I chose the latter, a decision which shocked them out of their warped wits. I have forgiven them because together with you they thought as an African student from some remote Southern African country I was privileged for receiving tertiary education at Oxford, a learning institution they have overrated as a citadel of knowledge just like Cambridge or Harvard. It is such  academic mad houses that  keep on churning out arrogant, snobbish, hypocritical and pea-minded bastards who enter the world with the superior airs of holier-than-thou, we and them attitude calling themselves Doctors, Professors or any stupid titles to distance themselves from other ordinary folks whom they look down on as dunces.


These idiots have done little in changing the world for a better place. If anything, they have contributed in making it worse by joining their counterparts in the right-wing maggoty camp influencing policies that worsen this Babylon called earth. They wear gowns and mortar boards receiving degrees from pink-faced old blokes who shake their hands and congratulate them for entering the world of knowledge.


I am glad I never graduated to attend the graduation ceremony which I find nauseating. If I had, I vow I would have dressed in my blue jeans with a T-shirt or overall, just to show how stupid the all fucking thing is.


I had the same experience at the University of Rhodesia which was normally attended by middle class white boys when those white buffoons in administration kept telling us black students how lucky we were to receive education at the institution of higher learning.


You always accused me of being strange, eccentric, bohemian or even mad. I can assure you that I am as sane as any bloke right-thinking people consider as being normal whatever that means.


Do you remember the night you took me out on Valentine’s Day or some other stupid celebration at City Arms along Cowley road in Oxford and you kept on hanging on me and kissing me like we were movie stars. You were hysterical that I was not returning your love as you expected. I am always annoyed when a white person starts showering too much love on me. I am less angry when you people are hostile against my race or even blatantly racist to the extent of calling me Nigger, Kaffir or even monkey. I wouldn’t fight back or take much offence as some blacks would do. A white person fawning over me never fails to arouse sleeping demons in me that are hypersensitive to hypocrisy which I have been encountering since my childhood in Rusape shortly after my father died.


I have had so much of this sympathising from my school days at the mission school and university back home when those hypocrites felt they were doing us a favour by civilising our cursed lot. I am almost paranoid when it comes to racism masquerading as colour blindness.


Remember how mad you became when I even rubbished the idea of marriage as another form of societal hypocrisy. I see no difference between marriage and fornication, whether one is sanctioned by some holy man claiming to represent God, here on earth or two, horny fools deciding to copulate in the back of a car, on top of an office table or in some dark alley. Whenever I tried to explain to you things that have shaped my life, my childhood problem of stuttering nearly came back scaring the shit out of me.


I have elected to write you this letter long after we have parted just to explain some of my views on life. I know I am anti-social, but I feel most people who readily classify me to be equally anti-freedom of an individual or even mad. I live outside their narrow and provincial world just as I consider them outsiders in my world that is hinged on freedom of an individual.


My physical and mental insecurity that have dogged me since my father died have made me a stranger in a world where hypocrisy, lying and dishonesty reign supreme making anybody calling the perpetrators of these vices broods of vipers, an odd one out or a dissident.


Since coming over here, I have gone through several stages of identity crisis, self-hatred, self re-examination, excessive Afro-optimism, excessive Afro-pessimism, reversal racism, escapism and alienation. Maybe it is a manifestation of these conflicting mental feelings which made the authorities think of sectioning me.


After living rough in Oxford where I pitched a tent near the Uni shortly after being expelled, I am hanging a lot with my good Rasta friends in London. I am somehow in tune with these rootless, ganja-smoking pseudo-ideologists. We agree on many issues like the world being Babylon-the western influenced materialistic, oppressive, manipulative, and capitalistic. There is too much ganja and reggae music which I find soothing. I don’t however agree with some far-fetched ideologies of my Rasta brothers of revering Haile Sellasie, that dictatorial midget in Ethiopia as God. I also don’t agree with their excessive promotion of blackness which I find hypocritical and escapist.


Samantha, they say writers are show businessmen trying to interpret the world on paper unlike their counterparts in music who use music. There are two musicians I find interesting. It is Bob Marley and Jim Morrison. I connect with both of them in my lifestyle and telepathically. Both were shamans who died young and only received recognition when they were six feet under.


I have a premonition that I will die violently or young. I don’t care because I don’t feel I belong to this world. I am like an Abiku child in Yoruba mythology, a spirit child who is fated to a cycle of early death and rebirth to the same mother. Sometimes I dream of living in another age where I was a griot who was burnt at a stake for lambasting some tyrannical chief. At other times, I dream that I lived in another era as a poet who was drowned by the chief’s henchmen for refusing to apologise for an insulting poem he had read in a village arena against injustice.


Do you remember how Mrs Brown reacted when I wrote a short story on how I worked in a chief’s palace as a pussy shaver shaving the pubic hair of the women in a harem? I still remember the opening of the story. It read: ‘My job in chief Molokolo’s palace, who, all along thought I had been castrated, was to shave the pubic hair of his wives at the palace. The story ended with me bedding some of his wives and paying the ultimate price of death. You remember how white Mrs Brown turned when I read the story? She screamed that I was mad. Well, the morality of the story is that many leaders in power think their subjects are blind to their excesses in urinating on people’s rights. They think we are castrated until we rise up and unmask their hypocrisy or demand for justice.


I might go back to Zimbabwe because I can’t continue living like a tramp. I have already seen the inside of British Police cells twice or thrice. I have to finish the book I am writing first. It is called House of Hunger. I have destroyed several manuscripts of other books that I have attempted to write because I don’t feel they capture the message I am trying to communicate.


However, as a citizen of the world, a polyglot, I feel going back home won’t calm the demons in me that cry for a just society where the freedom of the individual is paramount. What I am reading in the Papers on Zimbabwe seems to be miles away from that ideal world which, both the repressive white regime of Smith or the popular nationalist black government of Mugabe, are miles away in realising a society I dream of.


Many African societies which benefited from the wind of change in the sixties have already failed to cut the umbilical cords of colonialism that connects them to their former masters both economically and socially. Nationalism might even be a guise of deep envy of the lives colonialists live. Many African leaders just introduce follow-fashion-monkey societies that emulate the system they replace.


You see Samantha, this thing called colonial mentality eats at the core of your heart or soul like a cancer. Many nationalists, and even academics, are both irredeemable victims of colonialism whether consciously or unconsciously. They don’t realise how entrenched the problem is in their makeup like DNA. They achieve what they call independence ( from what?) and change flags and national anthems but fail to establish new home-grown societies based on their cultures, values and norms.


Many erroneously think it is getting independence that is the most difficult stage in the freedom attaining process. I feel to the contrary that what is difficult is establishing a nation that is compatible with modernity. It is like having a baby. Every fool who has a healthy dick can impregnant a woman with no intention of having a baby. It is raising a baby that is the trickier part since you have to nurture the baby to young adulthood.


I know a number of my African intellectual friends who reject everything European in favour of everything African or black. These idiots need psychoanalysing by God himself since this is an extreme manifestation of self-hatred highly masked as race pride. Though I abhor most western things, I am equally nauseated by most things African. The Nigger who sang Say It Loud, I am Black and Proud was in actual sense saying Say It Fucking Loud, I am Black and Ashamed. Oh, yes isn’t it Louis Armstrong, hailing from the same shabby background who honestly complained in song that the colour of his skin was a sin?


Apart from my name Dambudzo, I don’t think Samantha you remember me revering Africanness or blackness. Most whites are racists, including you and several so called liberals, who shower us poor souls with love when they are consciously or unconsciously pitying us for being black. As I said earlier Samantha, a white person expressing excessive love for a black person is simply saying you are also a human being which is worse than any racist insult.


I remember my English teachers both at St Augustine’s Mission School and the University of Rhodesia praising me for getting good results by saying ‘well done Charles. You are such a brilliant black boy’. A brilliant black boy? Fuck! I could have killed those sons of bitches for not praising me because I was a brilliant pupil, and not a brilliant black boy. I know you would argue, Samantha, that I was being oversensitive, but what do you expect from someone whose race has received numerous insults since blacks and whites came into contact?


That’s why even now as I strive to establish myself as a writer, I don’t want the title to go with the adjective ‘black writer’. Fuck even other demeaning terms like black, Negro, coloured or African. A writer is just that, a fucking writer! Period.


Knowing how condescending you are, just like many of your kind, you will quickly find a word in your language to define me. Strange, bizarre, eccentric, bohemian, unconventional, odd or even mad. It is your language. I wish I could describe whites in Shona - that is deep Shona with idioms and proverbs that would elude even the most educated white linguist in my language. However, I associate the language with backwardness, provincialism and even the squalor.


I might link up with you when I come back to Oxford. Meanwhile, I am still squatting with several friends.




Charles William Tambudzai Dambudzo Marechera.





Saturday, April 2, 2022

Ignatius Mabasa: Borrowing is not sowing...

 (Ignatius Mabasa)

In this wide-ranging interview, multiple award-winning Zimbabwean journalist, editor, musician and scholar, Moses Magadza (MM), talks to celebrated Zimbabwean writer, Ignatius Mabasa (IM),  about many issues, including: Mabasa's iconic PhD; promoting the vernacular; some of his books; religion and creative writing; the power of storytelling; the infamous tiff between the late Les Enfant Terrible of literature, Dambudzo Marechera and Aaron Chiundura Moyo, the current state of writing and publishing in Zimbabwe; and being a musician.

MM: You are the first Zimbabwean to write a PhD thesis on a subject studied in English in your vernacular Shona at Rhodes University, South Africa. What inspired this?

IM: There must be a first of something, right? The Shona PhD thesis had to be a first. It had to be done. Zimbabwe got its independence in 1980. We are now a 40-year-old country but we still don’t value our languages. I think it’s a scandal and a shame!

By looking down upon our languages, we are perpetuating the cognitive domination that existed during colonialism where the colonised depended on the coloniser’s concepts and categories to think about his own reality. Then what is the value of political independence if we are looking at the world through borrowed paradigms? At what point will we tell our own stories - if we ever get to tell them - because we are forgetting them and forgetting ourselves? Chinua Achebe says the story is our escort and without it we are blind. There is a mental battle going on, unfortunately in this ideological battle, most Africans are like the wolf that ate its own tail thinking it had caught a very fat squirrel.

MM: This matter about your iconic PhD has gone viral on social media across the world. How do you respond to people’s reaction to you – almost like Ngugi WA Thiongo – doing a major work in your vernacular?

IM: My PhD written in Shona has shown me that there are a lot of Africans out there who identify with the problem of being mentally colonised. There is a strong desire to decolonise the mind. The challenge is that most key institutions - like schools and universities, government departments in charge of arts and culture, and the media - are unwilling to decolonise because the decolonisation agenda is not appealing to the cocacolonised mind. We still think wisdom speaks in English. We are proud when our children are articulate in English yet look at us blankly when we talk to them in indigenous languages. Our governments must understand the nexus between language and development. Borrowing is not sowing.

MM: Your thesis is titled Chave Chemutengure Vhiri Rengoro: Husarungano Nerwendo Rwengano Dzevashona". In English, the title equates to "The folktale in confrontation with a changing world”. Please say more about your topic and your thrust.

IM: Chemutengure is a deceptively simple indigenous folksong composed when the whites came into Zimbabwe with their many wagons. The song effectively serves as art, media, theory, as well as a critique of capitalism and colonialism. Unfortunately, as part of Africa’s heritage and indigenous knowledge system, Chemutengure has not been carefully studied in African schools and tertiary institutions alongside other national narratives and symbols.

Chemutengure is “pedagogy of the oppressed,” and critiques the need for Africans to pry, as Last Moyo (2020) puts it, “the grip of Eurocentric, Western-centric, and monocultural universalism to a more progressive cultural politics of a multicultural, inclusive, emancipatory theory and pedagogy.”

 If Chemutengure is an indigenous folksong that was created to critique, to analyse, to document, to generate communal and national dialogue – it means the so-called “primitive” indigenous people without the aid of European education and knowledge could make sense of an observed reality and guide the collection and evaluation of evidence.

Chemutengure is a knowledge product that fights against what Walter Mignolo described as the “inscribing conceptualization of knowledge to a geopolitical space (Western Europe) and erase(d) the possibility of even thinking about a conceptualization and distribution of knowledge ‘‘emanating’’ from other local histories.”

MM: What did you learn from writing your thesis?

IM: I learnt that it is okay to practice epistemic disobedience. I discovered that our fear of the gatekeeping in academia is also a design in the colonial system that stands in the way of intellectualising and theorising in African languages. I thank open-minded academics like Professor Russell Kaschula, one of my supervisors for the trailblazing work he is doing to intellectualise African languages. But here in Zimbabwe we need an academic revolution and even learn from our Chinese friends on how much they value and use their languages for development.

MM: Did you do your thesis as a writer or a scholar and how does the writer in you relate with the scholar in you - which is stronger?

IM: Initially I wanted to do a PhD in creative writing, because I am a writer and a storyteller. When I applied to one of the universities in South Africa that offers PhD studies in creative writing, they didn’t seem interested in indigenous language creative writing. A Professor friend of mine, Flora Veit-Wild, told me about auto ethnography. This is a way of doing research about one’s culture, not as an outsider (the way anthropologists from Europe used to study our cultures), but as an insider and active participant of that culture.

Auto ethnography as a methodology is also a product that demands very high levels of creative writing. I read a few articles on auto ethnography and just loved it. I think it is what most of arts and culture practitioners in former colonies should be doing in big numbers – because it allows us to build our knowledge systems as well as to reflect and think critically about processes that we consider ordinary. So, my thesis is a great conversation between the writer and the scholar in me.

MM: You burst on the literary scene in 1994 with Shona poems in Tipeiwo Dariro. Could you reflect a little on that first writing project?

IM: Tipeiwo Dariro is actually one of my many poems that I wrote after being frustrated by lack of publishing opportunities and being denied a voice as an aspiring young writer. It is a plea for a space in a sphere that is dominated by established voices. I had been writing poems and being published in magazines and literary journals – and those poems published in the different publications were some type of validation that I had what it takes to be considered a formally published writer.

It was after meeting with Chirikure Chirikure on a radio show that I read some of my poems. I can’t remember who else was there among budding writers, but after the radio show, Chirikure, who besides being a poet himself was also working for College Press Publishers as an editor, asked us to submit some poems to be considered for publishing. Tipeiwo Dariro was published in 1993.

MM: You then published Mapenzi, a novel.  How did this book impact the landscape in Shona literature?

IM: Mapenzi was my first novel. It was published in 1999. It was a result of a wonderful opportunity I got to be taught the history of the Shona novel by the late Professor Emmanuael Chiwome. Having been raised by my grandmother’s folktales, and then discovering Shona novels when I was about eight years old – I got the opportunity to see the trends of the development of the Shona novel including how the early writers were influenced by oral literature. So, during the lectures by Professor Chiwome, my colleagues were writing notes to pass the exam, but for me as a budding writer, I had found a very rare opportunity to get guidance on how to write a novel that avoided the many weaknesses found in the Shona novel.

So, you find that from the title “Mapenzi” you are confronted by an almost surreal world that at the same time allows the reader to be tossed in a vortex of psychological debris.  The style is almost unlike anything one had seen in a Shona novel – it is a fragmented story that is so sincere in how it critiques society in post-independence Zimbabwe. The storyline is so many things bedevilling an independent state. In a way the moral, political, economic and social decadence in Mapenzi stinks to the core.

So, I think Mapenzi was a success because it ditched the narrative style that had become associated with the Shona novel. The use of madness as a device to drive the story allows for so many possibilities and even allows readers to feel safe in their own madness.

MM: Some people have described your other novel, Ndafa Here? as a feminist project? How do you respond to this characterisation of the novel?

IM: It is very true. Actually, when I wrote Ndafa Here? I was very worried that I was going to be attacked for trying to speak for women, yet I had to because I was witnessing the cruellest and dehumanising things that were happening to two women that I knew – and these things were being done by other women. Again, like Mapenzi – I think the success of Ndafa Here? comes from the way it does not gloss over things that make other writers feel are too sensitive to write.

Literature must speak the truth or shut up – especially when it chooses to be advocacy literature like Ndafa Here? I met a woman in Harare who approached me and asked if I was Ignatius Mabasa. I said yes – and she sighed and said something like: “Thank you for writing the Ndafa Here? story. It’s my story – you were writing about me.”

She went on to tell me about how her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law ganged up against her and caused her divorce. She ended up in tears.

MM: You also wrote the novel Imbwa yemunhu. Now that title! What was going on?

IM: Imbwa yemunhu is a very spiritual and experimental novel. It is the only Shona novel I know that takes place in locations and settings that are spiritual. When you read the book, you will realise that when we judge people we have no time to love them, but if we sincerely love people, we give them medicine to heal. Musa, the protagonist is a “failure” in life because he is running away from an old man with a pack of dogs who is only visible to him. Musa gets labelled “a dog” because he is considered such a huge failure who at 40 is failing to get married and settle down. When Musa finds love, it is a married woman who is desperate to escape her marriage to a homosexual husband. The novel seems to be asking, “Who is without sin? Let him be the first to throw a stone!”

MM: Imbwa yemunhu is often called an antinovel. Talk a little about that.

IM: These are perceptions of critics and other learned people. I am not sure why they would call it an antinovel. I know that the style is different – the setting is crazy and the storyline very experimental. It brings together visions, dreams, talking cockroaches, songs, poems and still allows the reader moments to laugh. All I know is that of my four novels – Imbwa yemunhu is very special to me.

MM: Your other works, including the latest novel Ziso Rezongororo, have often been called extended Christian sermons. How do you respond to that?

IM: I guess I have always wanted to be a preacher. I am a lay preacher, and I love the word of God. As you know, we carry ideologies of who we are, where we live, what we love and read as well as the education we will have received. I guess this is why my works have such a strong aroma of Christ. I consider creative writing as a gift to influence society and in line with the biblical command that each one of us must use their gifts for the benefit of others.

As you might know, the experiences of an artist have a way of following him in his writings whether consciously or unconsciously. My grandfather was a preacher and from when I was eight years old I used to read the Bible to him because his sight was failing. So besides being a child of my grandmother’s folktales, I loved the stories that I encountered in the Bible.

MM: You are a pious man. How do you juggle creative writing and your religious life as a Christian?

IM: I am not sure why you are asking this question, but I guess it could be to do with the belief that most people associate with artists – that they are an unpredictable and weird lot who talk to themselves or argue with their characters. Here I am thinking of Charles Mungoshi’s Garabha in Waiting for the Rain. As for me, I write and create because God has given me the spirit to create, to teach, to challenge, to disturb, to nudge and even be silly and cause comic relief.

I identify a lot with Exodus 31. I guess this is why you can sense the aroma of Christ in what I write and in my worldview.

MM: You are also a story teller on stage and radio. What does that achieve that the written book cannot?

IM: Storytelling in front of an audience is the real deal! In the beginning was the word. Of course, when the Bible says this it is talking about Jesus, but for us as a people, before the written word, God spoke and we spoke too.

I started telling stories before I could read or write. My grandmother told me stories that she heard from her mother and her grandmother. All those were not written, but stored in their heads. Now here is the power of the spoken story – it is alive and flexible. It is not fixed but it responds to situations and circumstances. It changes as society changes and that can make it very rich and relevant to the people of any given period of history.

I love live storytelling because I get to see the responses from my listeners. It energises me as a storyteller and allows the spirit of the story to envelope the teller and the audience. This is why stories traditionally were told in a dimly lit hut after supper. They were a performance that relied so much on tone and pitch of voice as well as body movements. The atmosphere would just become alive.

I remember how after a story session we would be so afraid to go to our sleeping quarters because the rustling leaves outside would make us think that the rogue hyena had escaped from the story world into our real world! Stories are better when told than when written.

MM: How does your work as a Shona novelist and a fabulist relate with your work at the University of Zimbabwe where you teach in Media studies?

IM: I teach digital storytelling, filmmaking, photojournalism, global media industries among other courses. All these are ways of storytelling. The only difference is that they are visual. So, I am very much at home and I am even challenged to explore new ways of storytelling – especially transmedia storytelling.

MM: How do you think your philosophy of life has been captured in your work so far?

IM: This is a difficult question. It has not been much about my philosophy as an individual, but about who we are as a people because none of us is as good as all of us. We need to see how our God-given values as Africans have been captured by capitalism such that we have become shallow in our relationships, in our languages and our thinking. But that is not who we are. Munhu haasi muzvinhu, asi ari muvanhu nehunhu. No matter how well we speak English or bleach our skins, we will never become white people. And if you look at it, you will see that the West is now sick and tired of itself and they want us to be like them.

MM: More recently, you wrote an essay about the tiff between writers the late Dambudzo Marechera and Aaron Chiundura Moyo in the early 1980s as regards the place of Shona language in literature. What is the major thrust of your argument on the issue between Chiundura and Marechera?

IM: As a Shona language author and advocate I didn’t take lightly the contempt expressed by Dambudzo Marechera for the Shona language and its writers. Marechera is alleged to have dismissed Shona author Aaron Chiundura Moyo on two separate occasions, saying, “Aaron munyori, he is not a writer.” Like I pointed out in my essay published by Brittle Paper, through the statement, Marechera was condescending and promoting the philosophy of imperialists who took English to be superior to the “native,” his being, language and culture.

Marechera scholars have argued that his statement was banter. I argue that treating Marechera’s utterances as banter demonstrates how effective Marechera is in exploiting cultural practices such as jokes, drunkenness, “eccentric antics” and postmodern deniability as platforms for distinguishing himself from the “village” other.

In Marechera’s fight for recognition and relevance, the local is inferior and the global superior. Marechera used the English language as a hegemonic tool to shut out narratives by the muted subaltern and remove their dignity and confidence, while also expecting cultural affirmation from them. There is no doubt that Marechera was a genius, but he mobilized the same qualities to become an agent for the exclusion of the Shona language and its knowledge systems.

MM: What have been the turning points in your life as an artist?

IM: Having my novel Mapenzi selected by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair as one of Zimbabwe’s best 75 books of the century. Being awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to teach in the USA in 1999. Being invited by the San Francisco International Poetry Festival to go to America to read my Shona poems in 2009. Being appointed by the University of Manitoba as writer and storyteller in residence in 2010. Sharing a NAMA award with Charles Mungoshi for the best creative work for my novel Imbwa yemunhu in 2014. Having my fourth novel Ziso rezongororo published by Oxford University Press who coincidentally published the very first Shona novel by Solomon Mutswairo titled Feso.

MM: What is the current state of writing and publishing in Zimbabwe?

IM: The writing is getting better and going international – see the likes of Tsitsi Dangarembga, Petina Gapah, Tendai Huchu, Novuyo RosaTshuma, NoViolet Bulawayo and others. However, domestically the publishing is getting weaker and weaker. We have lost the ground gained after independence.

We have seen local publishing houses close or scale down operations. Zimbabwe Publishing House, Baobab Books, The Literature Bureau are dead. While Mambo Press is still there, it is no longer as vibrant as it used to be. The Zimbabwe International Book Fair too is on its knees. The Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe which played a key role in mentoring and developing writers also died.

We have efforts to support budding writers by the Writers International Network, but it needs organised support from those ministries charged with arts and culture. A nation that does not invest in telling its own stories will soon become colonised because cultural productions are not just a type of ideology, but hegemony as well. Besides de-colonisation, we need to have a de-westernisation project at a national level.

MM: You are also a musician. What inspires you and what have you achieved in this regard?

IM: I am a poet who loves to blend poetry with music. I have named my poetry with music – gospoetry because it is gospel poetry with music.  I have done three albums – the first two were with Ngaavongwe Records and the third one I did independently. I see poetry served with music as a beautiful and enjoyable way of communicating. I have received good airplay on radio and I have people who still treasure the poems up to today – especially the song “Yadhakwa nyika” that I did with my friend Albert Nyathi.

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