Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Debating the Changing Writing, Cultural Intellectualism in Zim

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Last week the inaugural ‘The Write Affair’ discussion forum was held in Harare at the Zimbabwe German Society.  The topic for discussion, the State of Writing in Zimbabwe, was ably handled by the discussion panel that included renowned Zimbabwean poet Chirikure Chirikure, novelists Virginia Phiri and Robert Mukondiwa, new media editor/journalist Stephanie Kapfunde and journalist Percy Zvomuya.  The audience was comprised largely of young creative artists (writers, musicians, poets, visual artists, playwrights, new media writers).

In the discussions that ensued it was apparent that the state of writing in the country was not where the majority of participants wanted it to be.  Of the many issues that emerged from the discussion, I flagged out at least four that are key to addressing the discouraging state of writing and cultural intellectualism in the country. 

The first was the reference made to the lack of a reading culture in the country.  Not that people are not reading to pass examinations. More in the context of what one panelist questioned anecdotally as how can we expect new better writing if you have potential/new writers who do not read? This was backed up by another colleague who insisted that writing also requires research and hard work. 

References were also made to the post independence years where not only the mainstream media but also schools and state sponsored cultural institutions insisted on a culture of reading beyond the syllabus and thus contributed in varying ways to new literary and artistic perspectives on our society.

The second aspect that I found to be key was the relation between writers and the publishing industry. Or put in another way, writing and livelihoods/profit. In this, it was apparent that the publishing industry is not only diminished but functioning under difficult circumstances. The writers also do not trust the industry and have embarked on a strategy of self-publishing their own work.  Both in order to avoid censorship or to also seek recognition by publishers outside of the country who may be more professional. 

The third aspect that was inevitably going to emerge was the discussion on the relationship between the internet/new media and literature. The one view was that the arrival of the internet was a good thing for writing in Zimbabwe.  The other was that there is a difference between what appears on social media/internet and literature. Suffice to say, there is an ongoing interaction between traditional literature and emerging forms of expression.  Though a tweet or Facebook post is definitely not a book and vice versa.  More importantly was the unanswered question of whether in both cases, the medium may eventually affect the message, form and meaning of writing. 

A fourth reflection point was the issue of writing in its generic creative form.  That is writing that goes beyond literature in the form of song-writing and script writing or even painting.  This was the element of the holistic cultural dimension of writing and its importance to Zimbabwe’s variegated but collective creative imagination. It is a dimension that is often overlooked but literature has always been linked to other spheres of the creative arts such as songs, traditional music, dancehall music, film, radio and television. 

This symbiotic link should be re-examined and where possible re-established within a democratic framework that is fair to all in the creative industry. 

A final emerging issue from the discussion was the need for cross generational exchange of writing knowledge and experience between older and younger/emerging writers and creative artists. This salient point remains a cornerstone to continuing with the diverse tradition of Zimbabwean writing and creativity that transcended not only politics, but also language and genres. 
In all of these key issues, what also emerged was the issue of the way forward for writing in Zimbabwe.  The easier recommendation was that there be more meetings to discuss various issues affecting the writing element of the creative arts industry.  The harder recommendation was on the need to structure the way forward around actions that also link up with other stakeholders in order to restore the dignity, pride, belief and hope to Zimbabwean literature and cultural intellectualism. 
While the urgency of the latter cannot be disputed, it will always emerge from concerted but free discussions by writers in literature and other cultural spheres of our society. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)