“I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologising for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling”.
Anyone who knows a true symbol of Zimbabwean writing knows those opening lines. Those are the opening lines of the 1988 novel ‘Nervous Conditions’ by Tsitsi Dangarembga, legendary Zimbabwean writer. Dangarembga is featured in the new podcast, ‘Women Writing Zimbabwe’ by Tawanda Mudzonga.
Mudzonga is a writer and journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe who recently released a podcast documentary titled ‘Women Writing Zimbabwe’ which was released on the 31st of July on BBC Sound Services. The documentary features a wide range of Zimbabwean writers both in Zimbabwe and in the diaspora. Mudzonga traces the origins of women’s fiction beginning from Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, the nation’s ultimate independence in 1980 and modern-day writing. ‘Nervous Conditions’ is set in the late 1960s in Zimbabwe and details the struggle of a young girl named Tambu who lives under a patriarchal society and during the war for independence. Another writer featured in the documentary is Sue Nyathi (author of ‘The Polygamist’ and ‘Golddiggers’) who discussed her latest novel ‘An Angel’s Demise’ that features stories of Zimbabwe’s liberation war and the infamous land grab. Sue discussed her motives behind writing a novel with topics which are often thought of as controversial.
Another author featured in the documentary in Dr Valerie Tagwira who authored the novel ‘The Uncertainty of Hope’ which speaks on the infamous Operation Murambatsvina that swept across Zimbabwe in the mid-2000s. At the time her book was released, a cousin cautioned her of the dangers that might emerge from publishing such a novel; she decided to go forward with publication ultimately winning the prize for ‘Outstanding Fiction’ at the National Arts Merit Awards and acclaim from the likes of Charles Mungoshi.
Also featured in the podcast is writer NoViolet Bulawayo who’s book ‘Glory’ was recently nominated for the Booker Prize. The book is a political satire that features a world run by animals (think ‘Animal Farm’) and discusses a nation that has been engulfed in dysfunction. It is often difficult to tackle issues such as these in African countries under the threat of censorship, imprisonment and even threat to life. “Having an opinion in Zimbabwe can be dangerous” is a phrase uttered by the host which is an issue that many Zimbabweans can relate to. However, writers decide to go on and publish their stories. The podcast also discusses the issues of censorship, colonial legacy, immigration and Zimbabwean socio-economic challenges that the nation faces which hamper down on authors. Other writers that chime in during the podcast are Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu to mention a few. Excerpts from the books ‘The uncertainty of Hope’, ‘Nervous Conditions’, and ‘Glory’ are read during the podcast.
The podcast was not only a wonderful celebration of the great women writers that are daughters of Zimbabwe but also a sobering walk back into Zimbabwe’s history. The issues of colonialism, the liberation war, race and betrayal all come to light and are a stark reminder of the reconciliation and healing the nation still has to take. It was ultimately a cathartic experience listening to the podcast.
To borrow the words of another Zimbabwean author (and one of my favourite Zimbabweans) Dr Nozipo Maraire “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” There is no power more pulpable than knowing where one comes from and this is best achieved by the act of writing and documentation. It is exciting to see a great deal of Zimbabweans, both women and men, writing the nation’s history, daily experience and our heritage. Today even have teen authors such as Makomborero Nhau, Nicole Runako Mudondo and Nothando Cindy Usayi. Book launch parties are a common fixture across Zimbabwe, literary festivals such as LitFest Harare and Harare Open Book Festival draw literature lovers across the nation and beyond. Books of all genres are being released from romance, fantasy, science fiction, motivational books and literary fiction. The future of Zimbabwean letters is in safe hands.
‘Women Writing Zimbabwe’ can be listened to for free here (BBC World Service – The Documentary, Women writing Zimbabwe)