Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Musa Zimunya, Marechera and others in the turmoil of 1973

                                                      Musaemura Zimunya

Through a recent article that appeared in the Joburg Review of Books, eminent Zimbabwean poet, Musaemura Zimunya relives the Pots and pans demo at the varsity of Rhodesia in 1973. Here is the link to his very informative narrative: ‘Marechera was the epitome of this simmering revolt’— Musaemura Zimunya remembers the Pots and Pans Protest of 1973 – The Johannesburg Review of Books

Friday, August 25, 2023

KwaChirere interviews writer, Fatima Kara

                                               Fatima Kara

Fatima Kara’s debut novel, The Train House on Lobengula Street, published this 2023 by Envelope Books, is a rare story about Indians coming to settle in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The story is about the Kassims; a traditional Indian Muslim family taking the economic opportunities that Southern Rhodesia offers to migrants from the east in the challenging 1950’s and 60’s. Virtually a villager from Hunyana village in India, Kulsum, the main character, is caught up in a struggle against both Indian Muslim traditions and the racist terrain of Southern Rhodesia. In The Train House on Lobengula Street, Fatima Kara delves into her childhood experiences in the Indian community in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe) in the 1950s and 1960s.

Below is my interview with Fatima Kara done this August 2023:


Memory Chirere (MC): Fatima, congrats on your debut novel. I see that there is not yet much information on you on the internet. Tell me about yourself.

Fatima Kara (FK): As a third generation Zimbabwean, I was born and educated in Bulawayo. I received a BA and Graduate Certificate of Education from the University of Zimbabwe. Stories about people have always captured my interest. I find working cross culturally particularly engaging. The creative process of inventing characters inspires me. I use lots of description to help place my readers in the story and spending time in different locations in Zimbabwe helps me to capture place.

MC: When you are not writing, what do you do?

FK: I propagate trees that give us food: pawpaw, mulberry, avocado, and fig with the purpose of offering these saplings to community leaders to plant orchards at schools and community centres around Zimbabwe.


MC: What is your idea of a good novel?

FK: I like characters to be believable as I enjoy following their emotional journeys and essential to this is realistic dialogue. Fluidity of prose and the richness of language are essential to high quality creative writing.  For me the significance of the subject matter is key. My novel is based in historical facts. I find creative writing that approaches difficult human issues without flinching, very engaging. In my novel writing about Kulsum’s deep desire to give her children a life better than hers was compelling. There were times when her emotional journey got heavy and was painful, but I persevered.     


MC: How much of Zimbabwean writing have you experienced?

FK: My favourite Zimbabwean writers are Charles Mungoshi and Petina Gappah. Some excellent writing came out of the struggle for independence. Charles Mungoshi immediately comes to mind. He portrays with ironic detachment the devastation of local Shona communities, materially and spiritually, by the settler regime.  On the other hand, Petina Gappah’s stories are compelling, and the satire is brilliant.   


MC: What do you say about your situation as a Zimbabwean writer of Indian origins?

FK: I was born and bred in Zimbabwe. Although I am not African, I consider myself fully Zimbabwean. Growing up and being educated in Zimbabwe is a formative part of my life and fundamental to who I am. As you know, the space I describe in my novel is the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city located in the largely Sindebele-speaking province of Matabeleland. This is where I was born and therefore my stories are based in the culture that is not the majority.


MC: At what point did you get into writing? What was your journey like up until the publication of this novel in 2023?

FK: During my childhood in Bulawayo’s vibrant Indian community, I saw a lot of things that troubled me – like young women travelling to faraway places to enter arranged marriages and Indian men practicing civil disobedience against the white police. I couldn’t know for sure what happened to them all, but I wanted to write a version of their stories. I was always curious about the life experiences of older members of the community and I listened to their stories and wrote them down. A few years ago the story was ready to emerge from my mind and onto paper.


MC: In The Train House, you go episode by episode, from 1940 to 1969, pursuing the life of Kulsum particularly. You put very specific contents into specific years. What was the influence behind this time bound structure that you use?

FK: The story is grounded in historical facts and the places it describes are realistic but it’s a work of fiction. I wove broad social history together with details of the Indian community. The novel is important to me because I wanted to  tell the story of the contribution of the Indian Bulawayo community to the struggle for independence, a story which most Zimbabweans don’t know.


MC: There is the very sensitive issue of arranged marriages at the heart of this novel.  How do you relate with this practice as an individual?

FK:  In the early part of the twentieth century, arranged marriages were the cultural norm and the bride and groom rarely met before the wedding with caste playing an important role. Over time, the system of arranged marriages has evolved and at present they are more negotiated. Today the families are still involved in introducing suitable partners but nowadays the men and women have a choice.


MC: You write solidly, packing every episode with both the tiny details and fundamental experiences of your characters. I find your style meticulous and elaborate, demanding that the reader put aside everything and sit down with your book for a while. Was this deliberate and what has been the influences behind that kind of writing?

FK:  Thank you. Yes, it was deliberate. I want to bring my reader into the minutiae of the lived reality of my characters, especially the women, and that means describing how they spend their days, how they relate to each other and their families and to the external realities and forces they come up against. These are immigrants to Southern Africa, bringing with them and trying to preserve their own cultures, to negotiate and find their place in a new and often very different culture. As with many other novelists, I feel the need to speak truth to power, through my characters and their experiences. The writing of this story was organic and based largely on my own experiences, as the struggle for independence goes on in tandem with the family saga, where Nurse, Amar the barber and Kulsum’s husband Razak, help to provide safe houses for activist leaders. Kulsum, the story’s protagonist, fights for her daughters to get an English education that will free them from a caste system that ensures their continued dependency on men.


MC: In this novel, your women are generally very conscious of the menfolk and of traditional norms around them. What do you think about the role of women in societies closely conscious of tradition and religion?

FK: How could they be other than conscious of what their men and their society’s norms expect of them? This is their reality and it’s one of the reasons I want the reader to see it from the women’s lived experience. Kulsum and Razaak fall in love and respect each other, but their relationship is put under huge strain by the societal demand that their daughters be married within the caste. The women characters in my novel know that Indian women must play the part given to them. But they are astute enough to see that in the baffling new world they have entered in Southern Africa things are different. With Nurse’s guidance and encouragement Kulsum, Lakshmi and Manjula make the decision not to be victims. We follow Kulsum’s emotional journey as wife, mother, businesswoman, magical gardener and nurturer as cook. At the same time all three women keep a balance between tradition and modernity.


MC: To me, Kulsum herself appears to dither between accepting her fate as a woman in an Indian Muslim family and finding her own way. What do you say?

FK: Kulsum does not dither. She is determined to give her children the best that life can offer in the colony and like a chess player she moves her pieces with brilliance and shrewdness. She successfully gets her daughters to have an English education, she takes her family out of poverty by starting her own vegetable business and then she builds her own house where she can bring up her children. Kulsum learns and is guided by Nurse and Lakshmi, gurus of wisdom and life. She becomes a leader who crosses cultural boundaries. She in turn guides and helps the young widow Manjula, the tearoom owner, thus advancing women’s dignity.


MC: For you, what is the purpose of Kulsum’s daughter, Zora? Is there much distance travelled between mother and daughter?

FK: Zora is central to the story. Kulsum fights for her and her sisters to have an English education. Zora does brilliantly at school and helps her father in the business. When she has an arranged marriage and is sent to Uganda, Kulsum is devastated, and she plots to go and see for herself how her daughters are doing. The bond of understanding and love between the mother and daughter is strong.


MC: Your men; Abaa, Razaak and Osman appear to be steeped in the family norms and into making a living as Indian traders abroad. They appear cleanly cut into this role. What do you think is the crisis that the Indian men away from India have had to face over the years?

FK: It was economic survival. The government dictated what part of the economy they were sanctioned to enter. Farming and industry were the domain of the whites. Indians were only allowed to be merchants in designated areas, not in the city centre. The Indian business community cultivated bonds with the Blacks and the Blacks in turn made a conscious decision to support another disadvantaged group classified as Non-White, rather than choose a white business. Solidarity came from supporting each other and the Blacks built these alliances because they were largely treated with respect and dignity by Indian merchants. There is a scene in the novel in Latif Trading where one of Zora’s customers, a senior black seamstress talks about how Zora taught her how to count money and helped her to work out measurements for the articles of clothing she sewed, and these skills empowered her to start her own sewing business.     


MC: In this novel, we do not seem to move out of the Indian family to engage with the non-Indian Bulawayo community. The closest that we come to Africans is through the houseboy, Jabulani. And even then, he is not so much part of the story. Was that a conscious decision and what led to this?

FK:The Train House on Lobengula Street revolves around segregation, racial discrimination and people fighting for their human rights. In Rhodesia Blacks, Indians and Coloureds were all classified as non-whites. The Bulawayo Indian community stood up as a community to fight injustice. They cultivated links with the activists and did not just take being denied the privileges of citizenship lying down. The protest tradition in Southern Rhodesia preceded the rise of the nationalist movement. There were people fighting for the rights for recognition as humans and for human dignity and that manifested itself in campaigns of civil disobedience like when they drove their cars to the whites-only driving cinema and blocked the entrance until admission was granted to people of all races. They fought and won the right to enter public libraries and swimming pools. They supported the activists; provided safe houses in Bulawayo, visited political prisoners in detention centres and provided money, groceries and school uniforms for the families of detainees in the high-density suburbs. They also took a great risk in printing and distributing an underground magazine to politicise Indian youth.


MC: You are based in the US at the moment. How do you negotiate the various spaces you occupy, Indian woman from Zimbabwe who sometimes works in the US?

FK: The “spaces” you refer to are geographical. I write from the space inside my head and my soul, and this requires focus, deep concentration, solitude and time. Quite like Kulsum, I constantly collect and cultivate herbs and seeds to share with others, fostering friendships that extend across many parts of Zimbabwe. I am in the fortunate position of being able to live in diverse cultures and so I engage, learn and appreciate whichever culture I have the privilege of being present in.


MC: Besides this novel, what else should we expect from you?

FK: As peoples in the diaspora are intimately familiar with, our stories are intricate and layered and don’t always fit neatly onto chronological frameworks that are easily plotted. There are many more adventures that my characters experience and I look forward to sharing these with my readers. I am working on the sequel to The Train House on Lobengula Street.       


MC: Thank you.




Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Daves Guzha returns with AIKAKA!


Yesterday, Wednesday, 9 August 2023, in the evening, I went to the Theatre in The Park in the Harare Gardens to watch veteran dramatist’s, Daves Guzha’s one man play called Aikaka! The play is showing every evening between 7 and 8, until the 12th of August.

In that one man play, the major thread is based on the former President of Zimbabwe, RG Mugabe, rising from the dead and starting to wander about Harare, musing at what life has become in his short absence. 

I must admit that Guzha brings the RG deportment and mannerism, without doubt. That characteristic line of hair just under the nose and RG’s typical sudden shifts between emphatic anger and joy, the up and downs of his shoulders….his emphasized pronunciation of certain letters in a word as in s-o-v-e-r-e-i-g-n-ty and Z-i-mbabwe!

It is a satire on all of us and, interestingly, on RG himself. None of us are spared as RG lingers the longest at the Mbuya Nehanda statue erected at the intersection of Samora Machel Avenue and Julias Nyerere Way in the Harare's central business district. “I am sorry, ambuya, but I could have done a better thing for you…” RG says in his long speech, stepping all over the place as he looks at the 3-meter high statue. He turns to the Reserve Bank and says very critical issues about the major characters in that building. He serves his best when he turns to the imposing Zanu PF Head Quarters.

Sometimes RG chides his successors, and he clearly and notably overrates himself and the audience is ironically allowed to see through some of his weaknesses as a man and leader. There is the clever use of a delicate, believable but unreliable narrator! It is criticism that allows you to critique the critic!

Guzha expertly turns to change his wardrobe and appears as several other personae. The climax, I think, is when the svikiro turns to the three major characters in the coming 2023 presidential elections of Zimbabwe who are hanging on a puppeteer’s rack, turning and twisting. Guzha  taunts the presidential candidates with fundamental questions. It is like some kind of under-worldly inquisition. The puppets were done and controlled by Booker Sipiyiye. I could only marvel at the timing of the play! If it had come a month earlier or a month later, the effect could surely have been less.

Although this is a solo act, there is exciting contributions from renowned poet Tinashe Muchuri and playwrights, Stanley Makuwe and Patience Phiri. Aikaka is a typical Shona interjection and it expresses the speaker’s utter surprise at the sudden turn of events or the sighting of the least expected things in life. Aikaka points at incongruence for example, when you see a man flying or when you see the hare chasing a dog!

If you are in Harare this week, this is a play worth watching! Veteran actor and director, Daves Guzha, has been off stage for over fifteen years. His most well known one man play was called The Two Leaders I know. Subsequently it was turned into a movie.

+This review by Memory Chirere