Jul 31, 2011

Mwansa the Great

Mwansa the Great is a short film by Zambian film maker, Rungano Nyoni. It has been racking up awards and special recognition at various film festivals. I have yet to see it but I’m impressed by what I’ve seen thus far, and thought to share. Enjoy!   

Jul 25, 2011

Nervous Conditions – A Review

October 2004, Fiction (2nd Edition)
Lynne Reiner Publisher, 224 pages
 ISBN-13: 978-0954702335, Available on Amazon

“I was not sorry when my brother died. Nor am I apologizing for my callousness, as you may define it, my lack of feeling.”
Never have I read such a bold opening to a novel. I paused briefly to check what roller coaster ride I had just committed myself before allowing myself to be launched into the story which turned out to be quite intense and thought provoking.

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story about a young woman in pre-independence Zimbabwe. The story takes place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and centres around two female cousins, Tambudzai (Tambu) and Nyasha. The adult Tambu reflects back on her adolescence and in particular the major events that shaped her life.
Tambu is raised on the family homestead and spends much of her time gardening, fetching water, cooking & cleaning – typical activities for a young girl living in a rural village. Nyasha, on the other hand, moves to England for a number of years while her parents attend university. These divergent paths shape their worldview & have a profound effect on the type women they both eventually become.

Tambu yearns to attend school but her parents seeing no value in that endeavour aren’t eager to spend the money, and instead send her brother, Nhamo. Despite this she convinces them to let her plant maize on a small portion of her mother's garden in order to raise money for school fees. Her mother insists this exercise in futility will be a meaningful blow to Tambu’s pride and stubborn mind, and the reluctant father agrees.

When Nyasha and her family return from England, her father, Babamukuru takes Nhamo into their home and sends him to the mission school where he is the headmaster. Nhamo is quite gifted, and aspires to attain as many degrees as his uncle. He’s cocksure and is often unkind to Tambu; he antagonizes Tambu by rubbing in her face the opportunities denied her because of her gender.

When Nhamo dies mysteriously, Tambu takes his place in Babamukuru’s household and she undergoes what she describes as a “reincarnation.” She and Nyasha have up until now been awkward around each other – Nyasha is quite anglicised and has forgotten to speak Shona. There is a language barrier as well as a cultural one too. Nyasha is not the timid daughter of a mission school headmaster as is expected; she questions and argues constantly. She has seen a different life than the one she is forced to conform to in Rhodesia, and she refuses to do so! This horrifies and intrigues Tambu. Tambu cannot understand why Nyasha is unappreciative of her parents and the lifestyle she is afforded; surely she must realise how lucky she is when compared to other young girls her age such as Tambu herself.

As Tambu begins to understand what drives Nyasha’s rebellion, she is more sympathetic and shares some of the same frustrations. Much of their frustrations is driven by the narrow view of what it means to be a woman in a rigid patriarchal society. Nyasha’s mother,
Maiguru, though well educated and somewhat worldly, is pigeon holed into the role of doting wife and mother. She is subservient to her husband and his family, and keeps much of her own thoughts and desires locked away – she seems almost stuck in her condition and does little to fight back. This infuriates Nyasha to no end!

As Tambu becomes learned and free thinking, she finds herself increasingly out of place when visiting her parents and other family members. She’s growing into a woman very unlike her own mother or what her mother desires her to become. Her mother finds this traitorous and believes Maiguru and Babamukuru are attempting to steal another of her children.

This is not simply a story about family drama. It is about girls maturing into teens. Women moving up in the world by virtue of their hard work and/or education and not because of advantageous unions. The struggles of a newly educated class as they straddle the “white man’s world” and that of their forefathers. Familial pressures to help less advantaged (and sometimes lazy) siblings. The gradual emancipation of the black man. Social acceptance of outsiders.

This is not an easy book to read. It’s quite intense in parts but Tsitsi Dangarembga does a remarkable job in making it enjoyable; she is truly a gifted writer. There are laugh out loud moments and others that make the reader just cringe. The middle part dragged a little more than I would have liked, and I found myself urging the book to pick up momentum again; which it did! This is definitely not a book to be read in one or two sittings, it is best drawn out over a number of days.

This is an important book and pays an emotional homage to the people who most influenced Dangarembga. It’s a beautiful piece of modern literature! Give it a try, and if it’s been a while since your last read it’s worth the re-read. 

Jul 19, 2011

Demo ya tiyene tonse!

Today’s post is short. I’d like to draw your attention to Malawi. Malawi is a special place to me; I spent part of my childhood there, and have an enduring fondness for the land and the people. July 20, 2011 is slated to be a day of peaceful protest by the people to voice their displeasure at the government led by Bingu Mutharika. This could go many ways it may be a bust or it may be the first step towards something big -  but whatever the outcome I hope peace prevails and that people’s voices are heard.  Anyone familiar with protest in this part of the world understands how often the government machinery uses its goons (political cadres + police) to inflict harm and cause confusion.

Read this post by Steve Sharra, currently based in Mzuzu, for more detail. 


Jul 13, 2011

A soother!

I need a soother, and would like to share it with you compliments of a relative newcomer on the Zambian music scene – Mutinta. Thanks to Sipho Ngwenya for passing this along. J

Jul 12, 2011

Womanist agenda

Today’s Post newspaper has a very well written editorial about women’s participation in politics. The author rightly suggests that this should be part of the agenda for this year’s elections. It has the usual call for women to be integrated in Zambian political process and being empowered. All good stuff and it echoes a lot of what many of us talk about.

However, I want to add different dimension. For those who are empowered – economically, socially and/or politically – what are we doing to aid those who have not achieved the same? I do not exclude myself from this question.

On the part of politicians I don’t think it’s simply enough to run on a feminist or womanist platform and not follow through with meaningful change for your primary constituents. Zambia has no shortage of female political juggernauts but where is the service delivery to match their words? Don’t talk to me about the need for advancement of women, when you won’t spearhead policy change that places a priority on equitable access to education, employment and health care, and the eradication of child marriages. Pick your focus, there are many to go around.

Instead of being used as mouth pieces or mud wrestlers by the party leaders, how about going back to the core reason why many of us still decry the lack of opportunities for the majority of women folk? We need advocates willing to buck the trend, who don’t subscribe to the continual postponement of our dreams and aspirations.

I am cognizant of the fact that people still view women in politics, particularly those who are outspoken, as not normal or even unwomanly but you know what, there are some detractors whose jobs it is to make noise and disparage. This is where strength is numbers comes in – working as caucus in collaboration with civil society and other politicians on a defined set of goals to get this accomplished.  It can be done. We have no shortage of examples from other fledging African democracies. See example here. Shame the detractors by doing the job and by doing it right!

Jul 8, 2011

In your face, Zedbeats!

As part of the push to market Zambia more aggressively the Tourism Board (ZTB) is rebranding the logo and slogan. For the last 31 years or so, the slogan has been Zambia, The Real Africa. I remember as a youngster, my grandpa made sure we all had t-shirts and other paraphernalia with the logo, and hey I was happy to oblige; it was always a great conversation starter – “Oh, are you from Zambia?”

An open competition recently netted the following winning result:
Discover Zambia, Experience Africa

It’s still growing on me. I must say it’s fresher and is catchy, though lacking a professional feel that I'd expect to see.
Now this whole endeavour would likely have gone largely unnoticed by most people until the Board announced the New Brand Relaunch Concert scheduled for this evening. The music headliner is Fally Ipupa. For those who don’t know, Fally Ipupa is an award winning, Congolese artist based France; his music is quite popular.
Earlier this week, I started hearing grumblings from Zambians on Twitter and Facebook about this decision. People want to know why ZTB chose a foreign artist to headline this event. Zambia has no shortage of musical talent, and in the last decade the industry has really flourished. If the aim here is to draw attention to all the natural beauty and resources in Zambia, why wouldn’t the Tourism Board use this opportunity to showcase local musical talent?
This is nothing against Ipupa. I like his music just fine and having him perform in the country is not an issue. However, this is not the appropriate event! I’d like for someone at ZTB to explain the rationale here. Surely, they aren’t insensitive to emotions that rise to surface when we talk about foreign music getting more airplay and attention over our own? Perhaps, we have it all wrong and they were spurned by more local artists than they could count and had to look elsewhere.
Answers please!

Jul 7, 2011

Still waiting?

The population of Africans under the age of 25 currently stands at an estimated 60%. Given this information should we really be parroting the same old line “today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders?” Shouldn’t we be today’s leaders?

If we’ve learned anything from our North African brethren, it’s this - they’re tired of waiting for promises to be delivered; promises of employment, middle income and above, political representation and a whole host of others. What about the rest of us? Are we still waiting for our grandfathers to deliver on their promises?

As I look at political rallies and other gatherings, young people still appear to be relegated to chanting slogans and the usual tomfoolery associated with such. Brother and sister, stop grinning for the camera and shouting how you’re going to ‘fix’ the opposing party’s members if they cross your path. Please for once, use your brain and start engaging in meaningful dialogue with those you declare “you’d die for.” Stand up and challenge the status quo.

And then we have the apathetic who boldly declare, “I don’t care about politics, they don’t affect me. I’d rather sext people on my BBM list.” Okay...I made up the last part, but I’m sure you catch my drift. If you still believe politics don’t affect you, think about that the next time you walk past a giant pile of rotting refuse that hasn’t been picked up by the city council or when load shedding leaves you in darkness for hours on end.

I am encouraged to hear about people like Mundia Paul Hakoola of Young African Leaders Initiative who’ve stepped up to the mantle, and are getting to work. This group is focused not only on getting young people in Zambia involved in our democracy, but also in the economy. Among other things, they are building a Leadership Development Module that is piloting in secondary schools in four provinces that includes Entrepreneurship, Democracy and Human rights, Good Governance and Corruption. The goal is equip young people for work in various sectors of the economy.

Young people have to be entrepreneurs and pioneers of change!

Success in numbers…

Jul 6, 2011

The Butterfly Heart by Paula Leyden - A Review

March 2011, Children’s Fiction (Age 10+)
Walker Books, 240 pages, ISBN 978-1406327922
Available on 
Amazon and Walker Books

The Butterfly Heart is set in Zambia, and tackles themes such as friendship, trust and cultural understanding. It is a portrait of young siblings Bul-Boo and Madillo, and their friends Winifred, Fred and Ifwafwa. The story is told from two primary points of view and goes back and forth between them.

The book opens with a classroom scene; Bul-Boo is concerned about Winifred, a usually vivacious child who has recently become sedate and unengaged in class. Winifred rebuffs all attempts by Bul-Boo to share what has her so miserable, and Bul-Boo reluctantly brings into the fold her chatterbox twin Madillo and their neighbour, Fred. Together they try to unravel the mystery.

As the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place and the children discover the enormity of the situation, they recruit Ifwafwa, the snake man, to help. Ifwafwa is a wise man of few words, and is very deliberate in his thoughts and actions. These traits are initially compelling reasons to recruit his help, but in their desperation to save Winifred before it is too late, Bul-Boo and Madillo grow impatient and wonder if their decision to rely on him fully was the right one.

I won’t ruin the story by revealing what Winifred is facing or how things turn out. You’ll need to read the book, trust me, it is well worth it. Ms Leyden’s writing is beautiful. Her descriptions are vivid, and I had little trouble seeing the different scenes in my head. I found myself fully engrossed in the story from the beginning to end. On the pages with insights and dialogue from the children’s characters I really believed I was reading the words and thoughts of children, and not an adult’s interpretation. In the hands of a less skilful writer the effort could have fallen flat.   

Bul-Boo and Madillo are an entertaining set of twins. Madillo is very talkative and has a knack for exaggeration. One can’t help but smile at some of the things that come out of her mouth. She’s a child full of ideas in her head and no filter on her mouth. Thankfully Leyden doesn’t depict her as an annoying child – she’s quite endearing. In the words of Bul-Boo, there is “nothing shadow-like or silent” about Madillo. On the other hand, Bul-Boo is quieter and more thoughtful. She has a keen mind and internalises a lot of her thoughts; since much of the book is written from her perspective it is very interesting to see how she sees the world around her and responds to different circumstances.

What took this book from very good to brilliant in my estimation is how Leyden incorporates various lessons within the story – lessons that are meaningful not only for children, the intended audience of this book, but also for adult readers.

Here’s an example:
In describing the change of attitude by a tell-tale classmate following a prank by Winifred:

“…I think it’s the only time I have seen her play a trick on someone. It stopped him telling tales, anyway, and since the lollipop (a gesture of remorse from Winifred) he and Winifred have become a bit friendly. Maybe he was just mean because he didn’t know how to make friends.” (Bolding emphasis is my own)
 I cannot neglect to mention the lesson in the central story of this book – the situation Winifred finds herself in. It is very timely, and I cannot remember a time this was tackled in children’s literature. Given that we see this through the eyes of children, it serves as a handy opening for dialogue.

I recommend The Butterfly Heart for readers of all ages. It is very well written and is a solid read. I would love to see this book added to reading lists in homes, reading groups and schools. You can read Paula Leyden’s biography here.