William Kamkwamba: Victor, not victim

This is William Kamkwamba.  He’s not Zimbabwean but the video is incredibly inspirational, so we’re happy to hijack anything with a crazy feelgood factor for Africa.  We’re sure that there are loads of people doing stuff this innovative and smart in Zimbabwe and probably just not getting the exposure. Do you know someone who’s Zimbabwe’s answer William Kamkwamba? Let us know in the comments section below.

Do check the video out. If you’re not grinning from ear to ear at the end with a warm and fuzzy kind of pride, check your pulse. You’re probably dead.

Thank you so much to Shamiso M. for sharing this link via Facebook.

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Andrew Mwenda: Forget poverty reduction, it’s time for wealth creation.

We really, really liked this TED talk by Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda from 2007. He was talking about Africa, in general, not Zimbabwe in particular, but it all translates.  Some good stuff and jaw-dropping statistics in here.

Top 10 highlights include:

  1. The average African country receives aid that is 13 – 15% of its GDP.  (Eek!)
  2. The Western media gives a distorted and inaccurate view of African reality (Yes!!! We hate that!) They focus on despair and hopelessness, civil war, hunger, famine.  This may be a reality, but it is not the only reality
  3. The effect of this media coverage is to inspire pity and charity in the West. (Exactly! Not partnership and progress. Grrr!)
  4. This strips Africa of self-initiative. (Strips it bare, y’all!)
  5. Yes, Africa has fundamental weaknesses but it also has opportunities and a lot of potential.
  6. We need to shift the African ambition from “poverty reduction” to “wealth creation.” (We want to high five this point so bad!)
  7. Sending someone to school and giving someone medicine does not create wealth for them. (Eh?  Sorry, Mr. Mwenda, here we vehemently disagree.  Sending someone to school empowers then to create wealth for themselves. Pamberi nekudzidza!)
  8. Who do you know who ever became rich by holding out a begging bowl? (Who indeed?)
  9. Africa’s inability to engage the world in a more productive relationship is due to a poor institutional and policy framework. (Is this a euphemistic way of saying that all African governments, except Botswana’s, are a hugely disappointing mass of predictably corrupt and/or backward-looking thuggery? This is a question, not a statement.  Please don’t hurt us.)
  10. Not all aid is destructive. The mistake the international trade community is to identify singular successes and duplicate them across the entire African continent, without taking into account the specific and unique nuances of different areas.

***

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Zimbabwean Writer: What am I free from if I cannot enjoy the benefits of freedom?

Tinashe Mushakavanhu

Tinashe Mushakavanhu

If you have any interest at all in modern Zimbabwean literature, there’s a good chance you have come across one of Tinashe Mushakavanhu’s offerings on the net. He edits Sentinel Literary Quarterly, an international journal.  We particularly like Mazwi, Mushakavanhu’s online portal focused on Zimbabwean arts, culture, and literature, which is on hiatus while he completes his PhD at the University of Canterbury in Kent.

We caught up with Tinashe for what turned out to be a hearty oops-we-botched-the-Skype-audio-capture-but-thank-goodness-we-were-also-recording-on-our-phone chat about, among other things, literature, education in Zimbabwe and luck vs. ambition in creating success.  Click on each link for audio.

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Read the Guardian article here.

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***

References:

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And…we’re back!

The protracted silence is a tricky one to explain but perhaps the best way to put it is this: In our research, we have encountered two types of people doing it in Zimbabwe right now: those who are earning their way and those who are acquiring their way. We want to tell the stories behind the first kind of person. Why? Because that’s what we want to do.

Sometimes we get to tell the stories in the speaker’s own words, like we did with Trevor and Joe. But sometimes, the stories we want to tell have reluctant stars. Modest, ambitious, driven people who prefer anonymity to the spotlight for reasons which, if you know Zimbabwe, you understand.

We struggled with this in terms of stories to publish in the second half of 2010. Could we write the stories anyway, and anonymize the names and places? The answer was: No, we couldn’t. Without a name and place, it just became an unspecific jumble of words.

So here we are: New Year and new tack. But still the same end goal: to show you the good face of Zimbabwe and all the positive stuff in between the violent Vikings and the voiceless victims. Yes, we do like alliteration. Besides: Where else can we use the word “Viking” with such flagrant incongruity and get away with it? Sort of.

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The Doon Estate: We Still Make Stuff, Y’Know…

Quality craftsmanship at the Doon EstateThe Doon Estate in Msasa – on the eastern outskirts of Harare – is an odd place. On the surface, it looks like a bustling farmers’ market selling everything from homemade confectionaries to traditional African batiks to authentic European antique furniture to locally penned children’s books.

A quick look at the price tags, however, will tell you that the prices are, for the most part, at least 400% of anything you would pay at Mbare Market, Harare’s other major market, albeit a significantly less diverse and less-upscale one.  We walk around, thrilled by the artistry and doing our best to be inconspicuous eavesdroppers.

  • German lady at an on-site café: I did yoga three times a day while I was there (presumably in Germany) and am definitely into that kind of thing if it is going on here…
  • Local Owner: Business is down. Way down – nobody has got any money.
  • Local Customer: We have just come back from South Africa. We were there for three months and the difference between there and here…it is like two different planets.
  • Local Owner: I’m hearing from everyone that this is it. They simply can’t take it anymore. They’re out.
  • Elderly Lady: As long as I have grandchildren here, I’ll find a way to make a living.

It strikes me, not for the first time, that life in Zimbabwe is utterly dominated by conversations about life in Zimbabwe. We walk around with old friends and stumble upon another friend who has produced the two most startlingly cherubic babies you’ll ever see. So y’all are still having sex, then? Is my very first thought. Despite the “Great Malaise”? Good for you!

The sleek carvings, the aromatic pastries, the colorful tapestries – people are still creating stuff and making a living, it’d seem. Until you ask about the factories that supply the goods on display and hear that as many as six of them have shut down in recent months. Or that the local market for these arts and crafts has dwindled into virtual non-existence. Or that if something looks good it could very well be because only distribution is carried out in Zimbabwe. Every other process that relies on quality is done abroad. In countries like New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and China.

That doesn’t sound very environmentally sustainable to us. We are becoming increasingly aware of how ecologically hostile the face of success is in Zimbabwe. There are millionaire businessmen who work in Harare yet make the weekly commute to a South African home. Graphic artists might draft the initial image locally but they’ll send it to New Zealand for finalizing and China for printing, before having it shipped back to Zimbabwe for distribution.

We really like the look of a local illustrator’s drawings. Rose Rigden’s work is a reflection of the woman herself. Upbeat, colorful and not at all mired in despondency. Unlike the dialog going on at the surrounding stalls. We chat to Ms. Rigden about how we’re looking to repatriate back home. She’s warm and not at all as negative as we’re sure we’d now be had we been here during what everyone wearily refers to as “Oh-Seven and Oh-Eight” – the leanest years in Zimbabwe’s

A vivid Rose Rigden creation

A vivid Rose Rigden creation

history (so far). When Zimbabweans were the stars of the global media’s Poverty Porn Production.

She tells us the tale of how, while her daughter was studying abroad, Mrs. Rigden sent her a recorded message inadvertently featuring a cockerel crowing in the background. It seems it was this avian screech, rather than the sound of her own mother’s voice, which tugged most relentlessly at Rigden Minor’s heartstrings. So if you ask Rose Rigden, how to reverse the decade-long exodus, she’ll tell you: Just play them the sounds of Africa.

We love the romance of that sentiment. And we don’t have the heart to ask how the sound of democracy being dismembered or hope being squelched by weighty jackboots will encourage anyone to come back, but we know what she means. And God bless her for meaning it.

Four Seasons Spice Stand

The Four Seasons spice stand is also worth a closer look. Food in Zimbabwe tastes spectacularly flavorsome. Farmed in Mazowe, packaged in Msasa and distributed across Zimbabwe (together with some exports to the UK), we’re impressed by the locality of this long-standing success story. Nuts, lentils, herbs and spices in giant plastic bags and tiny shakers.

Everything for sale at the Doon Estate is beautiful. we’re sure it’s the rose-tinted spectacles through which we’re viewing things, but it’s hard to care about objectivity right now. we want to buy it all. The portraits of elephants with intertwining trunks; the homemade marmalades; the intricately carved wooden flamingos that teeter atop dining tables. The craftsmanship is exquisite. In a country where semi-broken is now the best you can hope to find and where imagination and creativity rarely extend beyond how to plumb new depths of chicanery, if you are in a position of influence, the Doon Estate is a heartening anomaly.

Now for that lottery win we’ll need to finance our shopping spree here…

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Zimbabwean Blogger: Meet Joe Black

We weren’t sure it was appropriate for people to be witty and charismatic in Zimbabwe anymore.  There’s oppression and cholera around these parts, you know.  It’s like taking a bunch of starving kids to a pro-bulimia rally.   You just don’t do it.

Which is why we raised a theatrical eyebrow when we came across http://www.rustygate.org: a blog by Joe Ruzvidzo, aka Joe Black.  How can your interest not be piqued by a guy who is “Wanted by your mama” and “Inspired by Obama”?  Brownie points for lyrical dexterity aside, we were genuinely intrigued by Mr. Black.  We wanted to know how Funny and Creative are getting by in nose-to-the-grindstone Zimbabwe.  What would he be like?   Garrulous and upbeat with a beefy laugh and a generous charm?  Like a black Santa without the gifts?

What we found was a dreadlocked “Joe Black”.  Still smiley and charming but not nearly as upbeat as we’d expected.  Joe, a graphic designer by trade, blogs “when something pisses (me) off”.  That’s twice a week, right now.    We meet at a place called The Maiden.  Formerly a swish English style pub overlooking the grounds of Harare Sports Club’s cricket ground.  Now, sans cricketers, it’s a grimy bar we wouldn’t visit by ourselves, where waitresses look at you as though you’ve asked them to point you towards where the virgins are being sacrificed if you order anything as outrageous as a cocktail.  Dirty plates are left stacked in full view for hours while surly servers in flip-flops do their best to provide as underwhelming a service as possible.  Job done, ladies. Job so very done.

Mr. Black.  We haven’t lived in Zimbabwe for about 12 years but we want to come home now.
Don’t do it.

Why not?  Isn’t everyone happy?  You know, because of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and the return of democracy.

Nope.  Everyone is depressed.  On the surface, it might look good but it’s a bubble that’s about to burst and nothing that is 100% self-funded thrives, or even survives, here.

But we’re smart, Mr. Black.  We are smart and hardworking.  That must count for something.  Surely we could make a go of it?

I tried that here, I tried it in Botswana and it didn’t work.  I ended up coming back here and taking a 9 to 5 job working for someone else.  Now every 25th of the month, at least I know my check is coming.  I know that I’ll be able to pay my bills and I don’t have to spend eons chasing revenue that will never come in.  But at least I have a job, so I’m not complaining.

Ok.  But we see lots of fancy cars, Mr. Black.  Lots and lots of them cruising along the streets.   People must be working.
Unemployment is 80% and rising.

But there is money here.  There must be.  We drive past houses that look like exclusive spa retreats – every single day.
Sure there is money, but it is concentrated in the hands of a teeny tiny minority.

Did you really just say “teeny tiny”?
No that was your poetic license; but I did say the minority is very small.

Who are they, this tiny minority?  Perhaps we could date one of them.  We are still single, you know.
Bankers, corporate concerns, politicians, relatives of politicians…

That’s a pretty big dating pool, Mr. Black.  Do you have names?  Numbers?



Ok, never mind, we can do our own research.

So, why don’t you own a farm?  Apparently people our age (none of your business, Reader) we are all very farmer-ish now.
I’m not ready to sell my soul yet.

Ah.  Well, of the things you could sell, we’d recommend getting rid of your soul before, say, a kidney.

I’ll keep that in mind.

But we used to read reports of empty shelves at supermarkets and endless queues for fuel.  That isn’t a problem now.
Sure but that’s a bubble that is going to burst soon.  None of the goods on the shelves is Zimbabwean.  Apart from the way they are transported being environmentally unsustainable, it also hikes the prices way up until they are artificially and prohibitively high for a lot of people.

But everyone is a farmer now, Mr. Black. We don’t get it. Didn’t we used to be a “breadbasket” or something?
Zimbabweans used to be the kings of Africa.  Now we are at the very bottom of the continent’s totem pole.  The very bottom.  To be pitied or resented.

That’s kind of a downer, Mr. Black.
It’s also true.

Ok, so that’s how people live.  What about where they live?  We hear people are buying houses for rock bottom prices like USD 100,000.  For that kind of money, we could pay off our mortgage in well under 10 years.
Mortgage?! There is zero credit in Zimbabwe.  None at all.  No loans.  If you want to buy something, you buy it in cash.

Even a house?
Especially a house.

But we don’t have that kind of money just lying around.
Then rent.  But choose your location carefully.  People don’t feel safe in their own homes anymore.

Because of the persistent blackouts?
Because of the violent crime.  Armed robberies are often carried out by the very people you would expect to protect you from lawlessness.

This is very disheartening, Mr. Black. Why don’t you leave?
Because I am a Zimbabwean.

Well, so are we. Do you feel that you are more patriotic than us?
Yes, I do.  And … if I can’t make it here, I can’t make it anywhere.

That last bit doesn’t really make sense to us.  But it is the opinion of someone who cannot be accused of having done it, whatever “it” is so far, the easy way.  So we leave it at that. Mr. Black leaves the pub before we do.  He is engaged and has a Mrs-Black-to-Be waiting for him.

At the table, we’re left to wonder, not for the first time, if the sticker-arounders are mindless lunatics or admirable loyalists. And how do you tell the difference between the two?  As we get ready to make our way out of the bar, we’re not sure how to put a positive slant on that conversation.  A lot of realism and not as much stardust as we’d hoped.   But Joe Black is getting on with it.  This living in Zimbabwe business.  Articulate, cynical and salaried.  We enjoyed that…

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Zimbabwean Director: Test Us and See How Far We Go

It’s hard to know how to describe Trevor Chidzodzo.  And we suspect its best not to try as the temptation  to embellish might prove a little hard to resist.

He’s a slight, dreadlocked man who thinks like a warrior and talks like a poet.   We reckon he looks a little bit like Tuku too.  The word militant is an easy one to hijack.  To associate with negative connotations because of the unspeakable acts so often carried out in its name.  But Chidzodzo’s militancy is heartening.    That one can have such a fierce self-belief and hold on to it so steadfastly when, realistically, the best you can hope for is cacophonous indifference, is remarkable.

He describes himself as a filmmaker who can wear every hat: producer, writer, director, editor, camera man.  And he has worn all of them.  Successfully.  So much so that his directorial debut, a collaboration with Tsitsi Dangarembga, – a silent film (***insert quizzically raised eyebrow here***) entitled Grind Your Mind won the award for Best Short Film at the International Images Film Festival in 2006.

We can’t remember now what we had expected Chidzodzo, a former current affairs editor at the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, to be.  Bitter, maybe.   Or cowed by the vastness of the mountain artists have to climb in the quest for success.  Instead we found  a man with a fiery conviction and an intensely lyrical way  of expressing his firmly held ideals.

Click the audio player below to hear Trevor Chidzodzo in his own words.

Note: We conducted the interview while driving along some pretty potholey streets.  If at times the audio sounds like it was recorded inside a tumble drier that was inside another tumble drier,  that is the reason why.

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Transcript: Fontanians.com Interview with Trevor Chidzodzo

Clip 1
On why he left his post as a program editor at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation – the national broadcaster. (Part 1)
Fontanians: So tell me then…cause Jude mentioned that you used to work for the ZBC
TC: Certainly. Yeah I did.
Fontanians: Ok. And then this is a post that that you left…? How did you leave that post?
TC: It was just a one-day resignation. That I said, “Enough is enough”. One it was…it’s not creative. I think I suffered most. You know, you do your job, you do news, you do those documentaries, the current affairs programs, you know? Yeah. It’s propaganda.
0:34
Clip 2
On why he left his post as a current affairs editor at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation – the national broadcaster. (Part 2)
With news, what I liked, what I appreciate working for news is you get to learn – you get to work under pressure. But creatively, you are dying.
0:12
Clip 3
About his inspiration, Dambudzo Marechera, a Zimbabwean poet prominent in the 1980s who is said to have gone mad before he died prematurely.
I’ve got a favorite quote then, from his – one of his poems – inonzi (called) Batanai Gardens where he says: “I’m against war and against those who are against war. Against everything which diminishes an individual’s blind impulses.”
0:14
Clip 4
About the challenges facing creative people in Zimbabwe:
What Dambudzo Marechera went through, (indistinguishable) this time, it’s the same thing that we are, we (artists) are going through. Of course now the situation is like most…er…situation yacho yango, zvango chinja … zvango peindwa (The situation is now, it’s changed…it’s just been painted over). But we’re still… As artists we’re still facing the same problems. Handiti? (Aren’t we?) We…we are not fully supported.
0:21
Clip 5
Fontanians: Do you see yourself as someone who has had to suffer for your art or for your integrity?
TC: Yeah, I have suffered as an artist. Because one: we don’t have proper structures or organizations that support an artist. Especially those artists who want to go their own way. Those artists who believe in themselves. Those artists who believe in their voices. Those artists who are not … who do not write just for the sake of writing, or who do not just produce film just for the sake of producing films.
0:40
Clip 6
On making it alone, despite a lack of backing
TC: I’d say I’m the first person in Zimbabwe to make a silent movie and also to make it on (interruption as he drops
his phone) and to make it using a mini-DV camera. I met a writer on my way. And I didn’t wait for anyone…I didn’t
need anyone to tell me: Trevor, it’s time to make a movie. Or to say: The script that you have, it’s perfect, you can do
it. But I just thought…I followed my intuition.
Fontanians: Which movie was that, that you did?
TC: Grind Your Mind.
Fontanians: So Grind Your Mind was a silent movie?
TC: It was a silent – that was my first movie.
0:38
Clip 7
Test Us and See How Far We Can Go
Fontanians: Trevor let me ask you then, when you say you don’t have support, in Zimbabwe today, right, a lot of industries or a lot of sectors don’t have support because of the way the economy is and stuff. Who do you think should be supporting you?
TC: Well, we have the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe
Fontanians: There is a culture fund?
TC: There is a Culture Fund of Zimbabwe
Fontanians: Where does that money go?
TC: It’s meant to support the artists. But sometimes we don’t understand how the…
Fontanians: …money is distributed…
TC: Money is distributed.
Fontanians: Which ministry is that under?
TC: Er…Sports, Education and Culture
Fontanians: And even now, like today, with the Zimbabwean economy what it is, there is a culture fund?
TC: There is a culture fund.
Fontanians: Have they cut it?
TC: No, it’s still there because it gets foreign aid.
Fontanians: Oh, so it’s subsidized by NGOs?
TC: Yeah.
Fontanians: How much money is it, do you know approximately?
TC: Not really, not really the total amount. But what I know…like last year, with Tsitsi, she had to refuse to take the money…
Fontanians: I don’t know Tsitsi, sorry…
TC: Tsitsi Dangarembga she is one of our prolific filmmakers in Zimbabwe. (undistinguishable)…She has done well. But at one time they had wanted to give her US $2000 and she said, “What will I use this $2000 for?” It’s more of like … it’s a scorn. It’s more of like you are not taking artists seriously…
Fontanians: So she turned it down because it was too little?
TC: It was too little!
What else would you do with that…?
***
2:08
Clip 8
On the argument that art is not a priority in modern, struggling Zimbabwe:
Fontanians: Ok, but Trevor, what about if somebody said: people don’t have food, they don’t have medicine and art is not really a priority. What would you say to somebody who said that to you?
TC: I think those people, they are living in the dark ages. Because for a nation, for a people, to get awakened, it is the work of an artist.
0:24
Clip 9
On the role of artists in society
It is the artist who inspires that nation. Because the artist is a voice – his voice or her voice is reflective of what a people is experiencing.
0:14
Clip 10
On the choices a Zimbabwean artist has to make during these lean times
TC: There has to be a structure which supports you, you know? So that you don’t suffer so much. Like for us (artists) in this time. Sometimes it’s either you have to make a decision: Should I use this dollar to go into town (to work on my project), or I use this dollar to buy myself a loaf of bread?
Fontanians: And what do you do? If you had that dollar, what would you do?
TC: Most of the times I use that dollar to go and do my creative work.
Fontanians: So you literally will go hungry?
TC: You literally can go hungry. And you can even spend a day without eating anything because to me art is very important. If I don’t do it, I get sick. I get depressed, I get frustrated. But if I do it, I am a happy man. I’m a happy person.
0:54
Clip 11
On art, commercialism and respect: He starts off talking abut the success of Dominic Benhura, a renowned Zimbabwean sculptor
…because he (Benhura) has managed to have an audience out there. A market. He has managed to establish a market. So I’m saying it’s not all just about art. But art has a market. Art has an audience. So if those avenues would have been created for us, I think we can make it. We can make it. Because with us it’s not that we want the money. But we know the value of our works. So those values of our works should be appreciated. Like you find at this moment someone says he wants me to do a job for him and he wouldn’t want to meet my rate, that’s where they now make us suffer.
Because they don’t value art as that important. If they valued art as that important… like you’ll find in the international community they value that. They know the money that’s due to that artist be it an actor, be it sculpture, be it music, be it what. It’s given a priority. Whereas now here, it’s not it. The artist is in the background.
1:14
Clip 12
On art’s role in politics
But now, when they, like with the politicians, if they want to hold national events, the first person they think of is an artist. Why? Because that artist…they know will have messages that will reach out to people. And the artist is the first person who can manage to win an audience, to win a people , to concientize (sic) them, to mobilize them and even to bring some order in a society. I think is an artist.
0:30
Clip 13
On how he achieves and defines his success
Fontanians: Trevor, would you describe yourself then as a “successful artist” or would you just describe yourself as an “artist”. Would you actually put that word in front of yourself to say: I’m a successful artist?
TC: I will put myself as a successful artist. Because one: I’ve managed to do some creative work without waiting for any aid. Which I think with that I feel I am unique. With that. And I know I can go an extra mile. But the reality is I have to push through it through thick and thin. But one thing is, I don’t need to wait for anyone to tell me, “Now, Trevor, you need to do this.” I have that personal conviction that I can do it. But now for me, what I need is working with the right people.
0:52
Clip 14
Whether there is money, or no money – we can make it!
I think the problem that I have been seeing as an artist is, where we suffer most, sometimes, is we are not that organized. But if we are organized, whether there is money, or no money – we can make it.
0:15

View in PDF: Trevor Chidzodzo Interview Transcript

What we’re wondering:

  • What are the choices for creative Zimbabweans who want to hone their skills and showcase their talents?
  • Alongside Shakespeare and Chaucer, should we also be studying works by Marechera and other talented Zimbabwean writers in schools?  Is that already happening?
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