Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
Last Saturday was a unique day for poets, writers and readers in Harare as they celebrated the Black History Month and also the launch of a newly published novel that will add weight to the anti-gay voices in Zimbabwe.
The get-together of performance poets Saturday afternoon at the Pamberi Trust Garden for the monthly House of Hunger poetry slam was a solidarity act to join the rest of the world in celebrating Black History Month running throughout February under the theme “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories”.
The slam was held in partnership with Litfest Harare and Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights.
This is not the first time that local poets have taken part in this world-wide recognition of the work done by the fathers and mothers of the struggle for African American civil rights since the 1920s when Black History Month started as a week-long event known as Negro History Week.
In an interview, one of Zimbabwe’s most accomplished poets and an official of Litfest Harare, Chirikure Chirikure, said it is an important and honourable gesture by Pamberi Trust to give young poets a chance to interact. He said it is more than celebration of Black History Month but also a moment to commemorate, reflect, interrogate and build the future on an informed foundation.
“There is always a danger of being casual about Black History Month because it is coming from the diaspora and yet Africa is part of the same past or process despite geographical apartness,” said Chirikure.
Hector Rufaro Mugani, who is Pamberi Trust’s youth development projects officer, concurred with Chirikure but added that the Poetry Slam recognises Black History Month as an inspiration that sows dialogue between citizens about issues that affect them together.
A background of this year’s Black History Month given by an international institution called Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) on its online platform explains that “from port cities where Africans disembarked from slave ships to the battle fields where their descendants fought for freedom, from the colleges and universities where they pursued education to places where they created communities during centuries of migration, the imprint of Americans of African descent is deeply embedded in the narrative of the American past. These sites prompt us to remember and over time became hallowed grounds.”
About 18 poets who performed at this slam did not limit themselves thematically or linguistically and this encouraged free expression. However, during intervals, the slam master Mbizo Chirasha also known as the Black Poet did not tire to remind poets about the legacy handed down from the key figures of the Black History Month.
As is the case with any poetry slam, there were three phases, with judges giving scores after every performance. Selected high-scorers then performed in the second round from which another group of top-scorers was selected for the final round. And on Saturday, three slam winners Marshal Sango, Richard Chiunda and Felix Msebele walked away with book prizes which include the anthology “Laughing Now”, “Once a Lover, Always a Fool” by Bulawayo-based poet Philani Nyoni and “Bhora Mberi: Kukunda Chete” written by Charlton C Tsodzo.
Pamberi Trust believes that awarding the poets with books by local authors also sharpens interest in reading and an interrogation of contemporary issues being tackled by these authors.
Albeit not aligned to Black History Month, the launch of the novel “Not in Zimbabwe” authored by Milton Chitsime later in the evening at the School of Social Work attracted a large number of fellow writers and book loving community members who were accorded a chance to reflect on the importance of safeguarding our human dignity against homosexuality.
The novel, with main characters being ministers of government and the church, highlights the friction that exists within families that have been ripped apart by the activities of a homosexual family member or members.
Speaking after the launch, poet Edwin Msipa said the launch of this kind of novel was also an opportunity to thank President Mugabe for his solid stance against the immoral practice which other Western countries see as normal yet it has been abominable since days immemorial.
Friends and relatives, organisations such as the Harare City Library, Zaka Development Association and a church called Heart of Healing, came together in support of Chitsime. Harare City Library representative Takwana Masunda encouraged local authors to write and actually publish because local libraries are mainly congested with foreign books which may not address themes that in real terms affect the indigenous people.
Both events on Saturday had emcees whose vigour and humour could not let anyone doze off! Poet and writer Felix Mafumhe Mutasa, who handled the book launch as master of ceremony, took the audience on a journey of thinking about the theme of homosexuality in Chitsime’s novel. Music from Leonard Mapfumo and poetry from Tinashe Muchuri, Brian Tafadzwa Penny, and others, also carried the same message of resistance against cultural colonisation.
Author Phillip Chidavaenzi, who edited “Not in Zimbabwe”, said in his speech that it is not easy to publish in Zimbabwe and hence Chitsime’s break into print must be celebrated.
Chidavaenzi said he felt excited to edit Chitsime’s novel because it challenges other writers to have the courage to speak about issues such as homosexuality and how these impact upon national economic programmes such as the Zim-Asset.
“Sometimes when one writes it is always good to write about those issues that other writers are afraid to write about because this then distinguishes you as an author. This novel is a very contemporary, bold and courageous book and would like to encourage you all to buy a copy and read,” said Chidavaenzi.
The author Milton Chitsime did not speak much at the launch but clad in a neat suit, he sat reservedly near his friends. He was born in Zaka in 1988 and holds a bachelor of Social Work honors degree from the University of Zimbabwe. Apart from fiction, he writes poetry, non-fiction and quotes and has featured in anthologies such as “Flowers of a Dry Season”, “Tsuro Ndisunge” and “Not in Zimbabwe” is his debut English novel.