Olubola Alamu interviewed Chenjerai Mhondera in this extraordinary interview.
Cecil Jones Myondela known among his legions of fans, readers, and fellow writers as Chenjerai Mhondera is a POET, script writer, short story writer, novelist, author, performing poet (artist), song composer, dramatist (actor), and comedian. He has graced numerous functions both in his country and outside. Performs poems on different functions, social ones such as weddings, graduation and birthday parties, Christmas and New Year parties strictly when booked to perform on such functions. He can be booked for road-shows and awareness campaigns to move cause for individuals, corporations and the likes. He comes from the East and is a citizen of the World.
He is the author of THE MANIFESTO# Anthology of Peace published by Alakowe Publishers.
Olubola: I have just finished having a look at The Manifesto#. That was a sizeable volume of poems. Quite impressive. What was the inspiration behind that anthology?
CM: I thank you, Olubola Alamu. Nothing much, except that humanity far from being bettered or improved, it is now at the verge of extinction. I am inspired by the poverty of the peasants, the struggles of vendors in streets, exploitation and manipulation of the poor by the bourgeoisie, kwarshiorkor and marasmus of the voters’ children, the obesity and extravaganza of the politician’s children. I’m inspired by the graduate who has never been employed, the politician dividing mass and forwarding his own selfish agenda, sneezing economies and coughing morals. I’m inspired by nature rebelling against humanity, the zoo’s grievances against the poachers. I am inspired by peace, that doesn’t peace amongst us. I am inspired by the Word that says write, when everything of this nature, happens. I am inspired by the oppressee (oppressed) fighting to undo the oppressor, and the oppressor refusing to be undone. I’m inspired by the revolution amongst struggles of men.
Olubola: How long did it take you to write all the poems in The Manifesto#?
C M: Well, I can’t be very sure about how long exactly, except that from my voluminous raw gem, it took me a day or so to come up with such a compilation.
Olubola: Why the hashtag in the title of the book?
C M: Expresses the energy and urgency of peace, I feel when it comes to serve ready the Word that was in me.
Olubola: You seem to have a special interest in protest poems. In an interview with Best New African Poets (BNAP), you were quoted as saying that if you could be a poem you would love to be a protest poem. Why the love for protest poems?
C M: Protest Poems, for me are live performance. They expresses with urgency needed, the emergencies amongst men. They speak with energy to soul of men. They are full of life. They effectively communicate the message in me – in all its emotions, in all its vigorness.
In other words, they enable me to speak my mind, fearlessly and without such prejudice. They are the soul of my writing, and I can’t divorce from. They are the spirit of my bitter ink.
Olubola: In your interview with BNAP, you said you have been writing since Grade 4. Can you tell me more about your educational background?
C M: My academic life is purely a protest.
Olubola: Chapter 10 of The Manifesto# was written entirely in a Zimbabwean language. What exactly is it about?
C M: It is a message, in particular for Zimbabweans, which the world outside can reference as well. But when I did it, it was to show how I am so particular with African languages as well. I made it an inhouse thing. It’s a family matter, and there was no purpose in trying to sound elite in the Queen’s. It’s a tribute to my origin but with an international touch. I meant to show people, that while many other people may feel eloquent and elegant in borrowed languages and cultures, I feel otherwise. I don’t feel like eroding, diluting and corrupting my origin and identity. At the same time, I didn’t intend to hide anything from those that might feel foreign to the language. I am exporting African languages, and persuading outside world to try or dare on language as well, and feel as well as experience the beauty in every language. It defies the conventional inferiority thinking, that pushes forward or believes that, African languages and cultures are not as competent as to be adopted and used equally as good as other diverse languages of the world.
Olubola: Apart from Chapter 10, some other poems in the book appear enigmatic in that they incorporate names and places that may be foreign to people outside your country. Don’t you worry that such writing style will reduce your reach with The Manifesto#?
C M: To regard the book, or anthology with such particularity that the book is meant for Zimbabweans is an obvious mistake by most readers. In fact it comes not as a complement but an insult to author, when ideas are trivialised or particularised to a community of micro-society within a macro-society. Particularity is appreciated when a people or certain is deriving or drawing reference to that people. An idea, no matter how it seems to fit well with whatever people or particular society elsewhere, it must be treated IN the broadness of its context of with the broadness of its intent to avoid politicisation and corruption of that thought or idea. It will be shear unbecoming or selfish and greedy of every society – Zimbabwe, in this context to possess a writer and his ideas by virtue of him coming from their society. A writer is a shared resource. Mentioning of such places and names tells them, a writer breaks beyond the artificial boundaries. He is universal – and except if he is universal, flexible and not barred from writing everything everywhere, for him writing would mean race, and writing for a particular race is f***
Olubola: In your poem “Begging for Sanctions”, you seemed to have a different opinion of Nelson Mandela, a man who is worshipped both within and outside Africa as a hero. What informs your opinion about him?
C M: I’m happy that you said, it seems. My context and broader context of it, is that nothing is what it seems. Yet in either way, if what it seems is exactly what it is, then that should usher you into understanding why I have been regarded as LORD OF CONTROVERSIES. Not lord of controversy, but controversies… Mandela is father democracy of Africa, not father democracy of South Africa. A legacy, I think many Presidents in Africa are trying to pursue, regardless of the fact that he is coming from a potholed or wounded past. But I haven’t seen what life this Democracy has ushered, in people’s lives, except that the majority of our population in Africa have been impoverished. For the majority of our people in Africa, they think democracy is to insult our leaders instead of approaching them with ideas on how to develop our nations…. Our independence was not qualified by selfless, and generous deeds of those that lead our revolution in Africa. We are independently dependent. I understand South Africa is well ahead most African States. Actually, I can call it a patch of Western society in Africa. But the very society of South Africa, is still backward. The average African in it, is economically decapitated except for politicians that are proud beneficiaries of the constitution together with investors (foreign or “natives”), on behalf of entire population in Africa. This is not a utopian dissection of this enigma of history. I was in South Africa. I know what I am talking about. I was in the library and archives, to weigh what history has written about the man was really truth or fiction. I was into movie houses and or cinemas as well. I got something. But my brief stay and researches in South Africa tells me otherwise. The ground is not yet even. And if Mandela who in this case, is democracy personified is not queried here and there and become a subject of discussion and debate, then I am strongly convinced that the truth will never be heard and the ground never even in Africa.
Olubola: Reading through The Manifesto#, you seemed to be lashing out at the Western world in the collection. Does that mean that you’re of the opinion that the West has not done Africa any good?
CM: I resort to remind you that nothing is what it seems. It maybe close to what it seems, but not exactly what it seems. The West has done so much good for Africa. They have enslaved, oppressed, deceived and colonized Africa. They have educated, Christianized Africa, they have funded almost everything in Africa. They have funded our educated, funded our civilisation, funded regime changes and cultural genocides and dilution processes, they have funded moral decadence in Africa. They have funded our welfare – donate clothes, donate food, donate guns and ammunition, they finance our wars in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. They have civilized us on ways of democracy, and by democracy they are fucking Africa and all developing worlds. They have planted seeds of confusion amongst us. They have divided our population and teach us to be hypocrites. They have deceived US into backing them as they do these evils in Africa. I think the greatest good, I have learnt so far from West is that they are best people ever whom the population in Africa and the entire world, do not understand. I have a feeling that even as they sanction us, they are helping us -not to express their superiority and or their strong racial sentiments. They are helping us to understand that sanctions help us to resolve our disputes as nation or society. They are helping us to understand that sanctions help us emerge from being an impoverished part of end of the society. They fund our kids to learn in diaspora or abroad. They are cause problems amongst us – and are quick to present selves as saviours to our crises. I appreciate them in everything. I appreciate that they are a philosophy, that Africa and other developing world are taking long to understand or probably they will never understand.
Olubola: Still on The Manifesto#, Africa is depicted in the book as an underdeveloped continent that is ravaged by conflicts, political unrest and civil corruption. This has been the picture of Africa to the world for a long time, thus forcing some writers like Adichie to start speaking of debunking the “single story” of Africa. Do you think that your form of writing is still perpetuating this “single story”?
C M: It can’t be a single story as such, when it brings many other players into plot. Africa is not being demonized as such. We are not depicting her in such anaemic appeals as such… Besides, even if it becomes a single story in that respect, in its singularity, it becomes plural of multiple when it is repeated or written from another end or several ways. The stories of corruption, underdevelopment, political unrest and rife conflicts, are not fictional. They are real. And by writing them, we are engaging our governments and inviting them to negotiations tables. We are saying to our oppressors, come, let’s discuss this and find permanent cure to these ills and permanent problems. The way, I see it is that most developing societies, Africa in particular, have temporary solutions to permanent problems.
This issue of temporary solutions and or resolutions to serious challenges, crises of problems facing Africa makes our problems more permanent than anything else. This is then what makes us seem, to write a single story of Africa when we address such serious always dogging us day and night. We are writing to find permanent cure or answers and solutions to those problems we are faced with. And it is my belief that it is only when the truth is told, that Africans will have permanent solutions or medicine to heal from what seemed permanent. I am of strong conviction that when truth is said, permanent solutions will be fashioned and our problems in Africa and all developing world, will then become temporary. They will become ice, melting in our sunny solutions. But as things are, currently we have sunny problems and ice solutions. We cannot say the politicians are wrong, and the people (citizens) are right. We cannot say the west did this and that to us- and for that, they are wrong and we as Africans are right. Let’s all accept the blame, and each one of us emerge wherever they are and approach our leaders with such solutions. Let’s all register a paradigm shift, and optimise solutions, challenge our leaders and institutions to implement such – and then after, I think even books from Africa will tell a beautiful tale of African struggles, breakthrough, progress, success and ways to sustainable peace. I think there, it will make sense to accuse whatever writing of being a single story. Because as far as I’m concerned, Africa is dynamic is fictional world but while wholly, she is static in her problems. I am a survivor from August 1, killing in Zimbabwe – and you call such a single story? I am a survivor from Marikana mine shootings – and you call such, a single story of Africa? I am a survivor from exploding dynamite, at White Sports Stadium in Bulawayo – and you call such a single story of Africa? I am a survivor from the brutal killings and violent, massacres during the blood marred land reform and fast track, in Zimbabwe -and can you keep, telling me it’s a single story of Africa? Today, I am busy answering this interview, and someone elsewhere is scheming my persecution and how I should be censored and eliminated? Can you, keep calling such a single story of Africa? I think you now understand the pluralism in the story of Africa. These are emergencies, serious in our midst. I am coming from a political party torn region. Think about Rwanda, the Sudanese, Ethiopians, the Somalians!
Olubola: Many African writers that have made a headway did so because they were born in the West or they had the chance to emigrate to the West and make some important connections. With the seemingly anti-West tone of The Manifesto#, do you think that you may be undermining your opportunities for wider exposure?
C M: I do not seek exposure in hunger. My writing is not my money or my food. Let me be a bestseller because I address reality, not a bestseller because I evade truth and reality and live hypocrisy of life full of beauties of unrealistic imaginations. If a writing is good, it is good and you do not need to be in America or Europe for you to make a fortune of a big name out of it. You do not need to become big because you are in the city, such isn’t history. Make a name, and count even from the bush end of the village. Let Africans make names and even big names in Africa, let the Chinese do the same, the Latins, the Russians, the Indians, the Australians, the Asians. If there are no facilities and environments to breed, prompt and promote rise of big names and ideas in your country or society, then it tells that someone elsewhere is sleeping on duty, and there is poor communication between the state and individuals in that society ( between the government and its people). People know where they need, the government to chip in, how when and with what aid? What facilities do we need to promote togetherness, oneness, freedom and greatness amongst us as people of one community, one society, one nation, one globe? It is very unfortunate that our world, is biased to think we can never be great unless we get biased towards West and command favours from it. I stand by this conviction, that believe in yourself, believe in your word and action, believe in your God and capacity, and you become that person you want to be or you dream to be. I repeat, I stand by this conviction, that neither looking West nor East, North nor South is going to uplift and better the unbecoming fortunes of an African. Africans need to accept responsibility over themselves. They need to know what are they going to eat, wear, drive, earn, create, manufacture, own, and leave behind as legacy and heritage for their children and descendents in Africa..
Let me also advise you in that context, that in either way, I have never been anti-west in tone, but I have charged Africa and entire developing world to desist from this habit of entirely being a dependant and strain the budgets of other continents : West, East, South, North included. Yet ironically this charge to say, Africa stand on your feet, developing world, stand on your feet, has been interpreted to sound anti-west tone. Mine, is an anti-oppressor tone. And I’m distinct in that anti-oppression tone. If the west feels nabbed in my writing, then they are that oppressor. If the politicians, feel the same, then you cannot runaway from a fact that they are that oppressor. The SADC, the AU, the EU, the NAM, the ICC, the UN, is named. And that should tell every other Mind that the anthology has no such specificiations of singling out individuals, societies, and institutions to denigrate, vilify and undermine, lambast and insult anyone. No. And I mean no. There is inclusivity IN everything I wrote. It can’t be an anthology of peace, honestly if the truth is not told, and with reconciliation not based on genuine need to amend our war ravaged and hatred torn past. The west are, and and are always our best allies just like any other continents, if Africa Leads in the transition they want to see occurring in their societies… But the current state of things are not only stressing and regrettably, but also confusing and misguiding to the West and those approaching Africa and other developing societies with aid. If we need world class cinemas, let us approach the world outside us with such specifications as artists. If we want, conference halls and Theatre centres erected in Africa, in every country, every region, let us approach them with such and ensure that such funding are not mismanaged, diverted from their sole intended purposes To Help as extra, unaccounted income for an individual there in authority or a politician running the portfolio. It’s such clarity and explanation, I owe to the World Tour prove any rational mind that I do not read our emancipation, freedom, independence, peace, tolerance and understanding from politics and propaganda of whatever political parties, power arrangement of states… I repeat, my word and presence in this world, does not need to count because I support West or East or South or North. Come on, I do not subscribe to such conformist mentalities. I am a reformist, a reformer and a revolutionary. I am not biased towards oppression – whether it comes in form of democracy or dictatorship. I do not appreciate that I will be great because I am a resident writer in west or east, north or south. I do not appreciate that I will be great and have had exposure because I have been flown to be interviewed at BBC, ALJEZERA, Washington News, New York Times, Beijing or Moscow News. That’s the same thing that ducks up my mind, when people in Zimbabwe think that I’m a prolific writer, who has not got exposure, enough and fair coverage from media: newspapers, radio stations, online interviews, Television coverage, and all that. Honestly my genuine question is how could I get exposure when the peasant is not reading from me, the vendor is busy on his wares and doesn’t bother reading me, the politician is busy with his portfolios in parliament, the censorship board is busy trying to censor my word, the publisher rejects my manuscript, the clergy has no time to read my works, and the religious man thinks does not want to read because it sounds political, the average citizen thinks reading books is old day thing. Then what exposure so I need, and for what? Even as I write, Christian or religious literature, the Christian there feels he should read that work for free or he has no need for the book – he is too busy. Now, look, the journalist is not even there to capture all this and promote talent growth – cover on local artists or Talents. When he covers a story on you, he is up to something else or celebrating victory and fame nurtured internationally, probably by BBC, (hahaha) then everyone will begin to say, oh wow the dude is excellent: he appeared on BBC and this and that…
The point I’m making is, it should be news that someone will be reckoned renown writer or celebrity after being covered on Nigeria news, Nairobi news, SABC news, Africa 24, without someone or an African having had to be flown to West or East, North or South. Let I be known in my village, in my city, in my location, in my community and for me that’s exposure. Let me be read, in my community by everyone -and that’s exposure. The more they read, for instance Zimbabwe has over 14million population. And I suppose 7million are adults and literate, and if my book is selling a dollar, I’m talking of being a 7millionaire (US) in Zimbabwe. South Africa has 50million potential buyers, go throughout entire Africa, maybe we are talking of a 3billion or 1, 2billion population, and out of 1,2billion population, half are adults and literate. Now think of me as a 600millionaire. I haven’t gone to America, not even in Moscow or Beijing, or Sydney or London. I think it comes back to say, who is an African? What is he doing to better and improve his neighbour. We need Africans to be sane, normal and back to their senses for exposure to be a possibility in Africa, and for our African celebrities to earn fortunes in Africa. I have no bad blood against west or east, north or south, but let’s not overstrain them for being a kind and charity heart to Africa. They are giving a very moral lesson to Africa when they come up with talent shows that nurture and groom Talents in West even as early as Two years of age. These are such lessons we should learn from America, from Europe from Australia, from everywhere that we should create facilities and environments to nurture, grow, expose and export as well Talent’s in our midst. Let’s not abuse the West by scrambling for such opportunities they create for their own descendants. It’s not our right to be covered on their channels, or to be adopted by them and command financial and material rewards from their organised coffers and generous provisions. I cannot personally rely on that. I want to see the same, happening in Zimbabwe and in Africa. Let it happen in Nigeria, in Kenya, in South Africa, in Gaborone, in Kigali, in Uganda, in Madagascar. In Egypt, in Lybia. That’s not being anti-west, but it’s being pro-Africa. Let’s learn from West and implement the same in Africa. Besides, it’s another way, governments in Africa can get revenue when they give the much needed attention or least needed attention to arts industry in Africa. That paradigm shift is needed, and we stop this overreliance on West. Let me be a resident writer at University of Zimbabwe, let me be a resident writer at Rhodesvile University, at Nsukka (University of Nigeria) at Makerere, at Nairobi University. Come on at Kenyatwa University. Isn’t that enough exposure? Let me read and present my books at all universities countrywide, let me exported to do the same seminars at selected universities elsewhere across, Africa. Isn’t that exposure? But Africa, waits until the west extend charity to me, that I be their resident writer in Sweden, Norway. Listen, charity! They wait until I be made to come and present my works at Oxford University, or Harvard. Can you imagine that? I therefore so not believe that my welfare should entirely be this burden to a stranger or neighbour when, my father is a live. Come on, why should i be this orphan, when my mother, is alive. My parents are as fit as fiddle, but I am made a beggar. Why? Should I abuse, the west for being nice to us? No. So that’s my task to put the house in order. And MANIFESTO #ANTHOLOGY OF PEACE, is that book particularly as Well as many of my works elsewhere in A CASE OF LOVE AND HATE, HURRICANE TORTURES OF NOW, HURRICANE TO THE WORLD etc.
Olubola: Have you ever been negatively criticised for your work? If yes, how did you handle it?
C M: That’s exposure for me. I call it interaction and communication for a common good. I personally regard writing as an argument, the writer does not need to be 100%right in whatever he says, in order for him to be a good writer or great writer. You maybe 99% right, and allow that 1% to be room for negativity. You maybe 90 % right, but allow that 10% for negativity, and I tell you, you will grow. Knowledge is shared wisdom, and wisdom is shared knowledge. You lose nothing for learning from others, just like you learn nothing from those that do not share their opinions with you. Because writing is an argument, an argument has movers of motion and opposers of motion for it to be in motion. Don’t expect to be always right, otherwise you will be greatly disappointed or you will be a disappointment to yourself and your egos. You are writing to people: they are not robots. They are entitled to their own minds and opinions. They may differ drastically from you, but that doesn’t mean you wrong, and they are right or you are right and they are wrong. We all have different portions or sizes of understanding. Someone’s soft spot, is someone’s hard spot. Know all that. When you are a writer, be a fool in order to learn more from others. Jones is harsh on your writing, and someone else comes and tells you it’s a cake, man. Respect every criticism its own context -weigh it’s prose and cons, and see what works best for you and your audience. But in the process of embracing, every other criticism, have a spirit of discernment -and be able to tell, whether some of those that criticize you are not guided by jealousy, malice, evil intent or employed as agents of censorship to ban your writings and up to eliminate you ultimately. Be careful in everything you do. But if criticism is limited to writing, an argument is set rolling and kept in motion. We write today in order to write to write tomorrow and forever. Don’t be afraid of arguments, they make you grow. Do you see any scars on me? If any, they are not from wounds of criticism. No one was ever hurt, or killed by criticism. I love the ugliest criticism to be set rolling against my literature, because it exposes also where I lack, and gives viewers and audience a choice to make, from an informed position. After all, we write to cause change, to influence, change and change that changes people for the better.
Olubola: What inspired you To establish the Young Writers Club, and what are the activities of the club?
C M: Now International Writers Association (IWA), it helps to nurture, grow and expose young writers. Young as in those budding, unknown writers in schools, at universities, at colleges, in our communities, in Zimbabwe and beyond borders into Africa beyond as well. The dream is in capturing Talents worldwide, harness them, grow them, expose them, export them,
Olubola: Who are your role models as a poet?
C M: After suffering multiple fractures within me, I emerged a poet. You help me, tell who is my model or models, then.
Olubola: Your book Chinotimba Jokes/Masasi aChinoz was launched earlier this year. How has its reception been?
C M: Well, I can only talk about it when you buy or get to hold your own copy of the book. (Hahaha)
Olubola: You have published a collection of poems, a collection of jokes, and a collection of quotes. Do you have plans to also publish a collection of some of your plays?
C M: Apart from a CASE OF LOVE AND HATE, which is in quotes, I have a feeling that all my books can be adopted for screenplay. Even in my anthology of poetry, you can watch a cinema and feel the music playing in the background. Think of Hurricane Tortures of Now, Hurricane To The World, Manifesto#Anthology of Peace. (Hahaha), all of them can be adapted for acting or performance. I have a feeling, they may make very good documentaries if put to good use, or as a way to preserve a word in them from getting lost or becoming rare and extinct amongst mankind. … But since you have specifically, asked for collection of plays, I can’t promise to promise (hahaha), but if a word inspires me to script write, a play is possible. I had been scripting one, inspired by OPERATION RESTORE LEGACY in Zimbabwe, but I quickly abandoned the project when I felt pressured by other demands elsewhere. Besides, I just felt that buyers of scripts are rare within my reach. I feel you have advised and encouraged me to pursue it as well, if time becomes not untimed for me, those are some areas, you and I agree here, now that we will venture into. (Hahaha)
Olubola: What should we be expecting from Chenjerai Mhondera in the near future?
C M: Controversies.
Olubola: I’ve just realised that I have made this a very serious interview. Let’s end it on a more relaxed note. Who is the woman that’s dearest to Mhondera’s heart?
CM: My dearest woman is a kiss of Poetry, a hug of prose, and love-beat of my conscience.
Olubola Alamu is an advocate of edification through words. She believes that people eventually become what they read, and nothing short of edifying and flawless writing is worth presenting to a reading audience.
She has several skills in her repertoire, but her all-time favourites are editing (of both academic and nonacademic writing), reviewing books, and developing manuscripts. She also archives her thoughts at thamarshaven.wordpress.com . She is the Editor-in-Chief at Editfy Publishing, and she lives in Osogbo, Nigeria.