Panelists: Tendai Huchu, Panashe Chigumadzi, NoViolet Bulawayo
Moderator: Ranka Primorac
Following their presence on different panels, three Zimbabwean writers came together in a discussion to talk about their work and country.
Tendai Huchu, NoViolet Bulawayo and Panashe Chigumadzi sat with Ranka Promorac as moderator who set the ball rolling by asking the panelists how the past fifty years of Zimbabwe’s history impacted them as writers.
“To ask me to exclude the things in the country I was born is asking too much, it is my reality,” Tendai said. “Zimbabwe for the past 200 years is a particularly interesting place and it was only natural for my imagination to reside in Zimbabwe,” Panashe added. She revealed that while her family had left Zimbabwe when she was three to live in South Africa, she never stopped being Zimbabwe partly because her father kept her country alive for her and being Zimbabwean in South Africa sort of made her stand apart.
The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician, Tendai’s second novel is set in Edinburgh, Scotland and Ranka was curious as to whether he was moving away from Zimbabwe. “In the book, I wanted to use a setting that is in a place I love,” he said. He went on to explain that he wanted to tell a story about Zimbabweans in a different country. He added that he can’t get away from being Zimbabwean so it’s always in his writing.
For NoViolet, writing about Zimbabwe in her first novel was something she had no control over. “I could not write it. But now that I have done this thing, I can go beyond it.” She mentioned that she wasn’t sure about the reception her current project would get as it was going to be different from We Need New Names.
Highlighting the many challenges that Zimbabwean publishers’ face that make getting stories across to readers as books difficult, the conversation turned to alternate ways of storytelling. Tendai spoke of certain musicians, especially in the Zimbabwe dancehall. “We see narratives from guys who with certain resources might have decided to their stories through literature.”
Other mediums stories were being told were through serialised novels in newspapers and on Facebook, and also in short video clips that often went viral via WhatsApp.
The discussion touched on transition, how a lot of Zimbabwean writing was coming from outside Zimbabwe, and on to the use of humour in the three writers’ works which Panashe said came from a place of trying to laugh about the things that were painful and how Zimbabweans themselves in their everyday lives used humour. She also traced it back to a time when people had to “find ways to say things in convoluted ways because of censorship.”
There is a point in the discussion between Tendai, NoViolet and Panashe where they seem to forget the audience and veered into a conversation about Zimbabwean music. Tendai spoke of the use of music in his work. They spoke of how some languages seem to be more popular in certain music genres and NoViolet brought the conversation back to the use of local languages in writing.
After independence, she said, the government encouraged the writers to use the local languages in their work and for a time it flourished and she remembered reading a lot of books when she was younger. But this writing in local languages has reduced.
Enajite Efemuaye works as enterprise editor at Kachifo Limited, one of Nigeria’s foremost independent publishers, and is also the Manager of Farafina Trust. Her work has been published in African Independent, This is Africa, Ake Review, Sabinews.com, Guardian Life Magazine and Brittle Paper.