Dec 13, 2011

Holiday!



Dear reader, the next few weeks will be rather quiet here on Seize the Moment. I'm taking my annual holiday and will be catching up on rest, visiting family and whole host of other activities that will take me away from my beloved blog. I hope to see you back here in the New Year. 


I hope you had fantastic 2011, and that 2012 is even better! Thanks for all your support, and I look forward to more projects and blogging. 

BongoHive

BongoHive is a first of its kind innovation hub in Lusaka, Zambia that serves as a space with a core focus on giving the tech community a community facility where they can bring their ideas to life.The goal that these ideas can be harnessed and used to bring innovation to various fields such as health, education, and economics. 


BongoHive has been involved in organising tech meetups on Saturdays and has supported Google Technical User Group and Random Hacks of Kindness. This group was also involved in monitoring the recent elections held in Zambia via Bantu Watch


This past weekend I had the pleasure of interviewing Lukonga Lindunda on Zambia Blog Talk Radio to learn more about BongoHive, and I'm pleased to share the audio from that show. 


Happy listening, as always. 

Dec 7, 2011

A path to success

As you well know I’m a big fan of CAMFED’s work in Zambia and other countries in southern Africa. They work to improve the lives of girls and women through education, business training and small grants. Yesterday, I received a flyer in the mail and in it were three different success stories on young women helped by the organisation. I jumped online to read more because I LOVE such stories and it makes it that much more meaningful to make a donation when I can see tangible results.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:



Dec 4, 2011

Chilu Lemba Interview

This past Saturday I interviewed Chilu Lemba on Zambia Blog Talk Radio. This was a wonderful experience because I've followed his career from the time he was an on air presenter at Radio Phoenix in Lusaka in the mid-90s. Fifteen years down the road Chilu has gathered a wealth of knowledge in radio, advertising and music, and I jumped on the opportunity to speak with him about his ongoing and upcoming projects. 


Here's the audio from the show! 

Nov 22, 2011

Make it count


Recently it seems as though not a day goes by without hearing some prediction of catastrophic events in the next few years and decades – the depletion of water resources, a world war triggered over rising food costs, a collapse of the global economic system….and the list goes on. Taking all this to heart can be especially demoralising. This is not to say we should bury our heads in the sand and pretend we’re living in paradise; I think we should use such things to spur us into action.

Let us innovate, especially those of us in the early years of our careers. What do we really have to lose? If this world is going to be worth living in for the duration of our lives, we need to start taking charge of our fortunes and helping shape the future.

Instead of making moon eyes at Forbes magazine’s with profiles on the “richest” and “most influential,” ask what you can do to make a difference in your own sphere of influence. 

Nov 20, 2011

How democracy works


On my drive into work last Friday, most of the news centred on the massive “Occupy” marches that happened across the country yesterday. I zoned out a little because I’d heard the same stories last night, and all the facts remained the same – over 100 people arrested in New York, Portland Police using pepper spray on protestors, etc. However, there was one thing that caught my attention, a chant by protesters in LA.

“This is how democracy works.”

For me this encapsulates some of the anger that’s been fermenting among Americans who feel that the system is rigged. From an early age citizens of this country are taught about the value of participatory democracy. These actions include registering as a voter, campaigning for candidates, standing as candidate, attending town hall meetings, etc. This has always been a source of admiration on my part because that’s how democracy works – having an active citizenry.

However, there’s a seedier side to the system with the influence of big money on the local and national level. People are rightfully asking, “if my elected representatives are beholden to big money interests, when does my voice get heard?” Isn’t the point of participating in elections the opportunity to get someone who represents your interests to sit at the table?

And as we continue to see families, schools, and social programmes hurt as the result of this prolonged recession while politicians dither and bicker, it should come as no surprise when people are protesting in the streets calling for a change in the system.

This is a test of the American system, seeing how most of us react to people involved in acts of civil disobedience to get attention drawn to the issues they’re complaining about. And even further, will this spur real change in the system. 

Nov 14, 2011

Juju’s Dilemma



Love him or hate him, the one thing you have to give Julius Malema credit for is his ability to get people in South Africa and around the rest of the world talking about issues of inequality, poverty, high unemployment, and the lack of economic freedom  for the majority of South Africans even after 17 years of post-apartheid rule. These are social time bombs that cannot continue to be ignored especially as we see a new ruling class flaunt obscene levels of new wealth while the majority remain stuck in poverty. Malema’s proposed solutions are what have people, including the ruling ANC, nervous about; these include nationalisation of mines and land expropriation without compensation. 

Nationalisation of mines would mean the change of ownership. However, how would that solve the issue of massive unemployment? Malema argues that the change of ownership of a mine can result in more people being employed, and greater revenues; and those greater revenues can be used to fund social programmes. I’m not entirely sure why he believes that under their current ownership mines aren’t as productive as they would be in public hands, and that there are hundreds or thousands of jobs that are just waiting to be created. And further, how would they be more profitable when nationalised?

This certainly wasn’t the case with Zambia’s copper mines. When prices and production fell, these mines became a drain on the national coffers. This was coupled with government meddling, lack of maintenance and investment in plant, equipment and technology. All these forces were a recipe for disaster and the industry was brought down to its knees, taking with it thousands of jobs and causing a tsunami across the country’s economy.

In addressing this issue of nationalisation, I have to ask – who exactly would benefit? Well, first there are the investors and shareholders in the mining companies who will need to be paid market value for the investment. Would this be achieved by purchasing shares on the open market or through negotiation? And does the government have the money to do so? This is something the South African government cannot get around, unless they wish to forcibly nationalise the mines and set the stage for a showdown large institutional investors and their countries of origin, as well as shareholders within their own country.

Other beneficiaries are people like Malema with business interests in the mining industry who are jockeying for positions as some sort of “Head of the Mining Nationalisation Commission.” I see it purely as advocacy for personal empire building and individual power and not about national interests. Their reasoning rings false.

Government, in my opinion, shouldn’t be running businesses. Countries like South Africa already have a system sullied by corruption, nepotism, etc, and are these really the right people to be running such an important part of the economy? Governments should focus on good governance, and creating and maintaining an environment conducive to sound business practices.

This is an issue of grave national importance and should be spoken about openly and honestly. Do not allow loose talk to drown out all the voices in the room. History is littered with utopian ideas that were based on good intentions but with what is at stake here, I’m sure the people of South Africa can’t afford to say “ooops” in 5-10 years when things go to hell.

Nov 9, 2011

Forgotten Rennaisance

This Saturday I'll be interviewing Simunza Muyangana on Zambia Blog Talk Radio. Simunza is a self described “communication and technology enthusiast,” and he works as Digital Media consultant in Zambia. He co-founded the popular African Urban Online magazine – Broken Hill Magazine (BHMagazine), which debuted in 2000.

Most recently Simunza has been involved in organising and hosting Zambia’s first TEDx event – TEDxLusaka. TED is a non-profit organisation devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started as a one-off conference in 1984 and has since grown to a global set of conferences. The TEDx program is centred on local, self-organized events that bring people together to stimulate dialogue and share ideas through TED-like experiences.

TEDxLusaka took place on November 4, 2011 and was held under the theme “Forgotten Rennaisance.” The objective was “to ignite a discussion among the thought leaders of the current generation by reminding them of some aspects that mark our common identity. Have our conversations changed over time? Have we made strides with regards to women enjoying their rights? How do we raise leaders for the future? What are the stories we tell of ourselves? Where have we achieved in the world of science and innovation?”

Listen in if you can  at 6 a.m. PST, 9 a.m. EST, 14 Hrs GMT, 16 Hrs CAT. I'll also be sharing the podcast after the show airs. 

The link for the live show

Nov 6, 2011

Finding happiness

A while back I shared how I’m increasingly more appreciative of the lesson all my college professors kept emphasising – the need to network. Working full-time and family commitment is definitely draining and it’s easy to get caught up in a relaxed routine that removes you from constant contact with people outside of work and nuclear family. You really have to work at it!

In recent months I’ve also come to the realisation that being around people who challenge and help me grow makes me a much happier person. I’ve learned not to be afraid of change because I don’t want to stagnate in my life, personally or professionally and so I empower others to help me as needed.

Additionally, I need to find meaning in my work. It’s not simply enough to just earn a pay cheque or to volunteer my time in projects to keep myself busy.  I hate being aimless or doing busy work. I’m getting back into one of my hobbies, photography, because I remember how much enjoyment I gain from it. This may sound like something right out of Oprah Show, but these are truisms in my life.

This quote by Andrew Weil put my thoughts quite succinctly:
"We humans are social animals. Reach out to others. Make social interaction a priority. It is a powerful safeguard of emotional well-being."
Where are you in your life and where do you derive true happiness? 

Oct 24, 2011

Independence Day:Music Break

On this 47th anniversary of Zambia’s Independence I’m taking a musical break; nothing quite like mental relaxation. Enjoy!


Oct 23, 2011

Mama Kankasa – Freedom Fighter

Mama Chibesakunda Kankasa was a firebrand during the Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP era, serving as chairperson of the Women’s League and as member of the Central Committee, which at the time was the highest policy making body within the government. 

In the lead up to independence in 1964, she and her husband were active in the movement agitating for Zambia’s freedom from colonial rule. In her words, she was nicknamed “national cook” by the male freedom fighters who were hosted numerous times in her home and she boldly asked when she could join the movement beyond just being a hostess. Her husband, Timothy Jiranda Kankasa, was supportive of her role as a nationalist and declared – “a revolution without women’s participation cannot be a reality.” 

In 1955 she stepped up her role serving as a recruiter and helping bring more prominence to the role of women. During her time in the UNIP administration as minister for women’s affairs (1969-88), she helped push for expanded women’s rights such as paid maternity leave, which was successful. Of particular note about Mama Kankasa is how young she was during the height of the nationalist movement - she was only in her twenties. 

Today, Mama Kankasa, at age 75, remains actively engaged in initiatives such as the increased access to education for girls in rural and urban areas. She founded an orphanage in Lusaka's Kalingalinga compound, and also mentors young women interested in politics and leadership. 

Oct 20, 2011

Mama Chikamoneka – Freedom Fighter

To commemorate Zambia’s independence this year, I’m highlighting the work of several freedom fighters whose names remain as footnotes in our history books. They are the unsung heroes who played very important roles in the fight against colonial rule – the courage and bravery of these women is inspiring and sets an example of what can be accomplished when you stand up for what you believe is right. Today, I highlight Mama Chikamoneka. 

Julia Mulenga Nsofwa also known as Mama Chikamoneka was a fierce activist and organiser. Chikamoneka was a moniker she adopted to hide her identity when mobilising citizens to avoid being jailed, which happened quite routinely. The literal translation in Bemba is “it will be seen.” 

She organised women protests against colonial oppression and was a founding member of the Women’s Brigade. The Brigade housed nationalist leaders, raised funds for the cause and organised events across the country. Mama Chikamoneka was incredibly effective at recruiting and was often at the forefront of the protests and marches she organised. She also rallied women to boycott butcheries which abused their African customers and often sold inferior meats.

Her home was used as a meeting place for other leaders of the nationalist movement who were in hiding, and was in fact where the African National Independent Party was formed. This party later morphed into the United National Independent Party (UNIP) which later led by Zambia’s first president. 

Mama Chikamoneka’s most legendary act of defiance was her decision to march half naked with other activists in public to protest the abhorrent colonial regime and to call for immediate independence. This happened in 1960 when Ian McLeod, Secretary of States for the Colonies, visited Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia).  McLeod famously wept as a result of this action, and Mama called it “the most amusing incident in my life.” In her view, to show her nakedness was the highest form of anger and the only weapon she had – she wanted to highlight the suffering of the people. 


 Courtesy of The National Archives UK


Mama Chikamoneka was honoured for her role in the nationalist struggle by former president Kaunda, and when she died at age 76 in 1986 was given a state funeral. 

Oct 14, 2011

Never a dull moment


The last few weeks since the inauguration of the new Zambian government there has been seemingly non-stop ‘house cleaning’; boards have been purged, bureaucrats fired, airports renamed and various decrees issued. I’m not necessarily one of those people heralding this a new dawn. Call me jaded but I’m old enough to remember when this happened in 1991/92. This isn’t to say needed overhaul should be stalled, I just think we need to be smart and diligent about it all. 

For those who have a case to answer for, be it abuse of office, embezzlement or just plain incompetence, by all means get rid of them and replace them with more capable people. However, let’s not lose sight of a fundamental problem we have in a lot of our institutions – the lack of checks and balances. How many times do we see positions being filled by well connected cronies and/or relatives that should otherwise go to the most qualified person selected from a pool of applications? How many times do we have to hear about billions of kwacha going missing and unaccounted for before we realise we have a serious problem with internal accounting and auditing? 

You can get rid of the rotten apples but if the environment from whence they came is still rotten, guess what…

I applaud the new government for its zeal in cleaning house, but this is just the first step. We will only see true transformation, when the systems at their very core are flushed out and healed. Are we brave enough to tackle such a task regardless of what we each may personally lose such as a personal connection in the passport office to get expedited services? J

Oct 5, 2011

Miss Representation of Women

This is a trailer for the upcoming documentary “Miss Representation” by Writer/director Jennifer Siebel Newsom. It tackles the issue of how girls and women are portrayed in American mainstream media. This looks very interesting and I look forward to watching it when it premieres on OWN, October 20.

Check here for screenings that may be coming to your area.



Sep 30, 2011

Women's movement for today!

You'll probably tell from the tone of this post that I'm pretty fired up. This is quite possibly the most emotional post I’ve written to date. I am vexed, pissed, disgruntled <insert any other synonym and it probably fits> but what trumps this is that I'm motivated! 

Women’s representation is Zambia’s government:
16 MPs (of 148 positions), 2 cabinet members (of 28 positions), 4 deputy ministers (of 18 positions).

This is completely unacceptable to me; however, this is not about assigning blame. The unvarnished truth as I see it is that as women we are really going to have to bootstrap our way up – with or without bootstraps.

We have a myriad of issues beyond the dismal gender representation in national politics that need serious attention. Change will not come by grovelling to men in power for political appointments, permission to run in elections, money to fund campaigns or for legislation that address our most immediate needs. If you’re reading this as an anti-man tirade, you’re wrong and are probably in the wrong place to begin with!

What we need is a true women’s movement. This will not simply be about reforming a few laws here and there but completely bucking the system. This movement needs to support grassroots projects to empower women and girls, and help bring these to the national level where the profile is elevated and benefits felt by greater numbers.

We further need a cross generational dialogue to harmonise the mission. As a young woman I see the value to learning from the women who’ve gone before me, and I know others feel the same. Our foremothers who fought in the anti-colonial resistance showed us what strength is numbers and determination can do. As we do this we can then rally together to meet our overall objectives:
  • Adequate and good quality education
  • Harmonising of customary and statutory law to remove inherently biased practices that disenfranchise women.
  • Legislation that allows women to own and inherit property from husbands and fathers.
  • Stiff statutes against gender based violence, gender based work discrimination, marital rape and child marriages
  • Increased access to financial products such as bank accounts, loans, grants
  • Universal access to family planning
Women are a political force and we are needed to change the course of our country. We need to move out of the shadows – we are not simply dancers at rallies, birthers and reproducers. I’m tired of the patriarchy that we’ve allowed to chain us. Only when we redefine ourselves as political agents can we make this work and plough ahead with a decisive move towards a more just world.

In the words of Gloria Steinem - "The future depends entirely on what each of us does everyday." 

Sep 26, 2011

The people have spoken

Picture courtesy of UKZambians
The campaigns are over, the ballots counted, and a new president has been inaugurated. We also have a split parliament since no party has an overwhelming majority. There was jubilation in some corners and utter shock in others. The people have spoken. 

This election outcome is noteworthy for various reasons:
  1. the incumbent president was defeated by an opposition leader, who was making his 4th attempt at becoming president and had at one point been one of the top bwanas in the ruling party 
  2. the ousted ruling party had been in power for 20, albeit with three different leaders
  3. women’s representation in parliament has been reduced. We have only 16 female MPs in the 148 member body which accounts for a paltry 10.8 percent. It was previously 14%.
You’ll notice I didn’t add “peaceful transition” as part of the noteworthy items. This is an intentional omission because Zambia does not have a history of electoral violence. Sure there are rubble rousers here and there out to cause trouble and this last election wasn’t an exception but by and large we do not have the culture and environment that fosters such ugliness. With that said, shame on the people who intentionally destroyed private and public property, I hope the law catches up with them before too long. We have no place for such in our communities. 

When our now former president held a press conference to concede defeat and congratulate the winner of the presidential elections, I was really chuffed with pride! Zambians had once again shown why we are set apart from other countries who continue to be held hostage by sycophants & ruling elites with blood on their hands.

Furthermore, elections monitoring was aided by the launch of BantuWatch which provided an avenue for vigilant Zambians in all corners of the country to immediately report concerns without fear of being grabbed by police forces and thrown in jail for speaking up. I really like this initiative because it put power back in citizens’ hands, and we didn’t have to rely solely on the government, SADC or EU to inform us of what was happening at polling stations across the land.   

Many people expressed frustrations with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) for the rate at which results were being announced. Before the start of the elections, the chairperson of the ECZ had promised the results would be announced within 48 hours of the polls closing, and they were well within this schedule given the fact that some stations had delayed voting due to various factors – ballot papers arriving late, elections officials seemingly being unprepared, unruly party cadres causing confusion, etc. 

ECZ definitely needs to assess how they conducted their business and make changes for next time, particularly in the area of providing verified results in a timely manner to the media and through their web site. Otherwise, they will continue to feed fears (rational or irrational) about vote rigging and unsubstantiated rumours spreading like wild fire about who is leading, who has lost, etc will not be doused. 

Credit is due to commercial and local radio stations like Q-FM Zambia who provided live coverage when verified results were announced. This was a handy tool to have especially when coupled with a live stream easily accessible for those living outside Zambia. They definitely stepped up and issued a challenge to others in the market! 

The next steps

Every single candidate who ran did it on a particular platform. As the dust has settled we know the names of all our representatives. Democracy only works if it is participatory. We cannot sit back & say “let elected officials figure it out.” Absolutely not! They need to hear from us on a variety of issues:
  1. Draft constitution that continues to die in parliament. We need a constitution written to reflect the will of the people, and not for politicians and their closest allies. 
  2. Economic expansion that brings jobs and more money into people’s pockets
  3. Elimination of government waste
  4. Education reform that (a) stops the counter-intuitive practice of throwing school children out of the system for not passing exams, and (b) builds a system that trains children and adults for the jobs of today and tomorrow. 
  5. Legal protections that have teeth for the most vulnerable in our society – children, women (widows, women who haven't achieved economic or political autonomy), people with disabilities, people with long term illnesses, children born behind bars, etc. 
Stay vigilant, participate and guard our democracy from those who may seek to exploit it for their gain - only then can we taste true prosperity! 

Sep 24, 2011

Podcast - social media & technology

Here is the podcast of my interview earlier today. Brenda Zulu wasn’t able to make it due to a pressing work assignment. However, Sally Chiwama, a fellow team member from BantuWatch and journalist was available to share with us her experiences and insights about the use of social media and technology in Zambia. It was a very invigorating discussion, and I hope you find it useful. My thanks to Brenda and Sally for all their help.

Happy listening! 

Sep 23, 2011

Social Media & technology in elections

This Saturday I’ll be interviewing Brenda Zulu on Zambia Blog Talk Radio. Brenda is an Independent Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Journalist and “a leader of a Media Company, the African New Media Group which is specializes in delivering Web 2.0 services to it clients and also offers Media consultancy.” She has interests in the effective use of social media by media organizations, civil society and other parties, blogging, micro-blogging, computer and internet access in rural areas, among others.

Brenda’s most recent project has been her involvement in BantuWatch. BantuWatch is a joint initiative of civil society and (social) media activists in Zambia under leadership of SACCORD. The platform “allows citizens and civil society to monitor and report incidences around the electoral process in near real time...it provides channels for citizens and civil society to use mobile phone, social media and other internet-based channels to report on electoral offences such as intimidation, hate speech, vote buying, violence, tension, polling clerk bias and voting misinformation.”

Many of you will recognize the Ushahidi platform being used by BantuWatch. Ushahidi was created in the aftermath of the post-election violence in Kenya as means to collect reports from the community via email and SMS. These reports were then placed on a map as a means of tracking. Innovative stuff!

In our discussion Brenda will talk about the work at BantuWatch, the successes and limitations of technology in the just ended general elections in Zambia. I’m really looking to this event!

The segment will air at 7 a.m. PST, 10 a.m. EST, 15 Hrs GMT, 16 Hrs CAT. 

Here is the link to listen 

You can participate by:

calling in on 1-347-237-4270,
sending a tweet to @zambiablogradio or @missbwalya
or posting a message on the ZBTR Facebook wall


If you have questions you’d like to pose ahead of time send them along and I’ll be sure to ask them during the live show! Like all other segments that I’ve hosted, I will post the podcast for your listening pleasure. J

Sep 20, 2011

Election Day – Sept 20, 2011

Today was the much anticipated election day in Zambia – presidential, parliamentary and local elections. According to the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) an estimated 5.2 million people are registered voters. I kept track of the events throughout the course of the day with the help of friends, family, social media & local radio. Thank you everyone!

There were some delays and clashes in some areas of Lusaka that added unnecessary tension. Lilanda and Kanyama townships were two major flashpoints of unrest. 

Here’s an audio clip of voters in Lilanda speaking after they had been tear gassed by police officers.  In it you’ll hear a woman bemoaning the use of force when all they wanted to do was to vote in peace.



Here’s an audio clip of the ECZ public relations officer speaking about delays and how time extensions would be made to compensate for the lost time.


(Audio clips courtesy of Luciano Haambote of Radio Phoenix)


Doubt continued to be cast on the electoral process by some factions with more claims about pre-marked ballots and a lack of transparency. At this time I am not sure if any of the reports are verified – various monitoring entities such as BantuWatch and EU/SADC elections monitors have not confirmed the reports. We’ll have to wait for more information on this. 

Some pictures made available:

Polling station in Lusaka
Courtesy of Mannasseh Phiri, Jr

Truck with suspected pre-rmarked ballots set ablaze

And now, we wait for results to start coming in! 

Sep 17, 2011

Bantu Watch



Civil Society Organisations in Zambia have launched an initiative called Bantu Watch using the Ushahidi platform to allow citizens across the country to report & track any issues during election time. These issues can be about ballots, intimidation, materials and equipment, security, vote counting & results, etc. 

You can submit a report by:
  • sending a SMS to 3018
  • sending an email to uchaguzi_zambia@gmail.com
  • sending a tweet with the hashtags #BantuWatch or #ZambiaElections 
  • or filling out the form on the website.

This is critical piece of technology that can greatly aid us in the election process. It allows citizens to have a voice beyond just what happens in the voting booth, and can act as mechanism to hold politicians and other officials accountable for actions that happen between now and when a new government is inaugurated. 

Visit the website to read current reports and to sign up for alerts. There is also a complementary Facebook page

Please spread the word! 


NAREP Manifesto

NAREP President, Elias Chipimo Jr, outlining his party's vision for Zambia. 


Sep 16, 2011

Issues based politics




In the run up to a highly contentious general election, one would expect the various candidates vying for jobs to be speaking on issues of substance. Substance would be:
  • A jobs plan that outlines mechanisms to encourage job creation i.e. through business loans with interest rates that aren’t set by loan sharks, tax breaks, etc
  • A plan to provide adequate and far reaching access to healthcare for all Zambians regardless of social standing
  • A plan to grow industry through the private sector ensuring Zambia moves from being a country that imports almost everything it consumes from tissue paper to light bulbs.

However, little of this is happening. Instead you have two major political parties led by two geriatrics who are solely focused on trading insults like street vendors fighting over ownership of a street corner. This distresses me because we don’t have a third party candidate who has chances of pulling an upset. And really, why must I take a pair of chaps seriously who seem to be playing with the fortunes of my people and our future?

When we reach a certain level of maturity and saviness we will challenge candidates to be serious or pay the penalty at the polls. This is as simple as asking pointedly “when you talk about fighting corruption, tell us the steps you will take as opposed to just saying “I’ll arrest all these thieves when I become president”” Instead of just following the status quo - it's us v them.

Countdown to September 20 continues...

Sep 12, 2011

Wandi’s Little Voice by Ellen Banda-Aaku – A Review



2004, Children's Fiction
 Macmillan Publishers, 64 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-4050-6040-0


Wandi’s Little Voice is Ellen Banda-Aaku’s debut book. The book won the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, 2004 in the New Children’s Writer category.

This delightful tale is told from Wandi’s point of view. She’s a young girl on the cusp of puberty dealing with an overbearing mother, a downtrodden father and interfering family members. Wandi’s mother is an entertaining woman – she is very conscious about social standing and appearances, and does everything she can to present a ‘proper’ picture of her family. She forbids Wandi from mixing with the children of Matelo township, which is perplexing to Wandi because she enjoys playing in Matelo; in her words “Matelo was an experience…children were free to play.”

Wandi also struggles to understand why her mother gets away with exaggerations and white lies, when this is something she herself gets punished for as a child. It’s one of those hypocrisies that adults live with.

As the story progresses we get to understand Wandi’s parents and other family members a little better through her eyes. As she becomes more cognizant of things around her, there’s an accompanying level of maturity and empathy that wells up inside her.

For a book that’s only 64 pages long, Banda-Aaku juggles quite a bit of content more than just competently. The pace was just right; it wasn’t preachy or full of clich├ęs. This is a great read, and something I definitely needed. How could I not love a book that gave me many laugh out loud moments, and a trip down memory lane to my own childhood? 

Sep 10, 2011

Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera – A Review


1998, General Fiction
 Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 151 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0-374-29186-0, Available on Amazon

I finished reading Butterfly Burning a few days ago, and I’m still struggling to describe what I read and how it affected me. The book’s description describes it as follows:
“Set in Makokoba, a black township [in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe], in the late l940s, the novel is an intensely bittersweet love story. When Fumbatha, a construction worker, meets the much younger Phephelaphi, he"wants her like the land beneath his feet from which birth had severed him." He in turn fills her "with hope larger than memory." But Phephelaphi is not satisfied with their "one-room" love alone. The qualities that drew Fumbatha to her, her sense of independence and freedom, end up separating them. And the closely woven fabric of township life, where everyone knows everyone else, has a mesh too tight and too intricate to allow her to escape her circumstances on her own.”
This book is so much more than a love story between Phephelaphi and Fumbatha, I’d say that piece of it takes a backseat to the much larger story – the struggles a black underclass torn from the countryside and living in shanty towns, cobbling together some sort of humanity out of the inhumane, a woman’s burning for an existence independent of her lover, and self acceptance.
What’s gripping about this story is Yvonne Vera’s use of language and expression. On one hand it evokes such powerful imagery, at times I feel as though I really am in that time and place seeing first hand the events as they unfold. Here’s an example:
“Fumbatha sees the sky peel off the earth; that is the distance between the land and the sky. This hill is a surprise.
A hand swings forward and throws a heavy load. Another picks the tune and adds a word. A pristine word to a song makes everything poignant. The birth of a word is more significant than the birth of a child.”
And on the other, some parts leave me so befuddled; I have to read the passage multiple times to make sense of what exactly just happened. This makes me feel a little cheated because I’m obviously missing on what Vera is saying. At those moments I almost wish she used less lyricism to avoid obscuring the point she is trying to get across. So, it is in this vein I find myself bouncing between empathy for the characters and detachment from them.

I feel the tragedy and self-destruction of Phephelaphi’s life quite acutely, Vera is unflinching in her narrative.

This is definitely worth reading, but if you’re looking for a plot driven book this may not be for you. It has its highs and lows, and through it all one cannot deny the talent of Yvonne Vera. I have other titles by her to read, which I look forward to.

Sep 2, 2011

Q&A with Ellen Banda-Aaku

Ellen Banda-Aaku was gracious enough to do a Q&A for Seize the Moment. This is a complement to the book review of her latest book, Patchwork,  that I published a few weeks ago. I enjoy such interactions and I hope you do too. Without further ado here’s what Ellen has to share about her life and work!

When did you start writing and who/what inspired you?
I started writing about 8 years ago. I Moved to Ghana and found that I had some time on my hands so I wrote a story for children and entered it for the Macmillan Prize for African writing. Surprisingly my story won! [This book, Wandi's Little Voice, will be reviewed here later this month] 

You started off with children’s fiction. How/why did you make the switch to adult fiction?
Patchwork started as a book for children. But as I wrote it, somehow it changed in terms of tone and length so I finished it as an adult novel.

Do you plan to return to children’s fiction?
Yes I do. I plan to start a book for teenagers before the end of this year. Plan being the perative word here.

How did you come up with the idea for Patchwork?
I don’t really plan my stories they tend to just grow inside me. However, after I had written Patchwork I realised that I draw a lot from things I saw when I was growing up. Things I was unable to ask questions about.

How would you best describe the story in this novel?
As a coming of age story?

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not really. I would like my readers to enjoy the story and to take from it whatever they wish.

Which of your characters do you most relate with (please give a brief explanation of why you relate to him/her)?
Interestingly, I don’t relate to any of them. However, my favourite characters though are Bee, Sissy and Grandma Ponga.

There is some criticism of African literature that it continues to focus on AIDS, poverty, war and violence and in doing so, plays in to Western stereotypes. Your thoughts?
My view is that literature should reflect a balanced reality. AIDS, poverty, war and violence unfortunately exist in all societies, the problem arises when they are portrayed as prevalent mostly in Africa to the extent that it over shadows all other positive aspects of the continent.

What are you working on right now?
Nothing at the moment.

Most people write part time. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I teach Creative Writing

What do you like most about being a writer?

I get to do what I love doing.

What do you like least about being a writer?
The lack of financial rewards.

What book is sitting on your coffee table or night stand right now?
Little Liberia by Jonny Steinberg

If you're interested in learning more about Ellen Banda-Aaku, please visit her web site. Her work can be purchased online through Amazon.co.uk and Kalahari.net. 

Aug 31, 2011

September reading


For the last two weeks I’ve been on a reading hiatus. With the number of books I’ve been reading recently, and the varying levels of intensity I think my brain just got overloaded and decided to take a much-needed break. In light of this, I’m trying to formulate a plan for September. At this time I think my focus will be children’s literature. With that said, I only have two such books in my TBR (To Be Read) pile. These are Wandi’s Little Voice by Ellen Banda-Aaku and Eno’s Story by Ayodele Olofintuade.

A brief synopsis of each:
Wandi's Little Voice - "The lovable narrator of this novel is Wandi, a young girl balanced between childhood and adulthood, and between the shanty town where she loves to play with her friends and the refined suburbs to which her mother would like to confine her."

Eno's Story - "Eno lives happily with her father, until one day he disappears in an accident. Her uncle says that she is a "witch" who has caused her father's death. She goes through many struggles before moving in with other children who have also been called "witches" and have been sent away from home."

I’m also committed to reading two books by Yvonne Vera – Butterfly Burning and The Stone Virgins. Neither one will be an easy-breezy read, so I think having children’s literature interspersed between them will act as a nice buffer. 

Does anyone have any suggestions for children’s literature I can add to my list?