Monday, 4 April 2016

Writing What We Must: Public Intellectualism and the Book in Zimbabwe.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The appreciated South Africa based weekly, The Mail and Guardian,  recently carried a feature story that related to an interview it had with renowned Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga.  My primary interest in the story was what Dangarembga had to say about the many things that affect not only her work but also the placement of the ‘writer’ in Zimbabwe’s cultural political economy.  In the interview, written more as a letter/story, Dangarembga makes reference to the fact that in Zimbabwe, for all the talk and radical nationalist narratives about decolonization, there is limited little to show for it. 

She raises a lot of other important issues that in the final analysis point to an evident cultural recognition weakness by Zimbabwean  society of its public intellectuals.  That particular weakness being the tragic fact that we, as Zimbabweans, do not recognize our writers nearly enough.  Not just by way of acclamation, but also by way of ignoring their welfare needs. 

In writing this, I am in no way attempting an analysis based on Dangarembga’s cited interview with the respected Southern African mail and Guardian  weekly. On the contrary it is based on a general perception I have personally had about the tragic lack of recognition of our local writers. 

Regrettably,  it is a painful truth that we have so many of our writers surviving in difficult circumstances (cross check the current status of Charles Mungoshi for confirmation). 

All of this, while trying to claim them for our own and as part of our national heritage and culture. 

Somehow we expect that our writers will be able to write without any material support from the state or private corporations and still be able to make us culturally/intellectually proud.  The anticipation that we will receive international acclaim from the writers that we produce is still prevalent yet we don do much in terms of fostering the necessary culture of intellectualism and reading.

Our book publishing industry is on its deathbed while our libraries are only functioning in aide of examinations run by ZIMSEC and university institutions that are offering what they refer to as ‘parallel’ university qualifications.

Our country has lost its creative writing center.  We are struggling to retain the few remaining organic writers in our midst.   Where they exist they have had to confront the challenge of having to write  for a primary audience that is not Zimbabwean.  They tend to have to follow the path of where they are most recognized. 

This sadly would include sometimes having to present the country in a Conradian ‘ heart of darkness’ framework that may appear artistic but also understands how the shrinking publishers market now works.  The lucky part for us, Zimbabweans, is that they still choose to continue writing altogether. At least we will still get to know how they think, how they view their own society of genesis and its placement in the world.

Theirs is, with trepidation,  a fundamentally international audience.  And they are correct in pursuing such a path.  It not only pays the bills but it also affords them an international recognition that transcends any notions of vacuous nationalism that is currently being exhibited by our government. 
But it is not enough for us to claim that they write for a global audience when in essence the primary audience of their work, the people of Zimbabwe,  are increasingly undertaking collective amnesia about their importance to their uncensored  national importance and sense of belonging . 

I has not helped that our media has also been muted in its response to the cultural question as to what it means to be a Zimbabwean.  That is to say, the media is failing to understand the full import of what an organic intellectual and even celebrity culture would entail for us to not only understand who we are but to imaginatively utilise the  limitless boundaries of our imagination as to who we think we are and who we can be.  As a people. As a country.

This has been the same, though for different reasons, with our musical,  theatre and television artists.  They too have been grappling with the dilemma of not being recognized at home and valued more in our Diaspora.  Both by way of popular appreciation but more importantly by way of material remuneration. 

The major respite has emerged from the academic life where post event/book/album/sculpture analysis has tended to be based on measuring its anthropological and cultural impact scientifically. Our writers are appreciated more in the academic world than they are in our real lives.  We need to change that. Or else we will lose our souls (national, personal or otherwise)

To counter such a calamitous possibility there is need to harness the new technology that informs what must become a new and energetic national book publishing industry, a much more appreciative and democratic principle driven media and a keener general public in their appreciation of public intellectualism. Not in order that it limits our intellectual possibilities. But instead that it expands it.  And in the process, helps us come to terms with not only who we think we are, but who we can possibly become. As creative and free Zimbabweans.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his own personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)