90 minutes with Shimmer Chinodya
Elliot Ziwira @ The Book Store
SHIMMER Chinodya (SC) is one of the most prominent writers in Zimbabwe who has mastered the genres of verse and prose. He is equally comfortable with poetry as he is with the short story or novel. He has also penned English language textbooks used in Zimbabwean schools and the SADC region. At the Bookstore’s pen Elliot Ziwira (EZ) recently had a wide-ranging interview with the prolific writer. Below are excerpts of the interview.. For the full interview, visit www.herald.co.zw.
EZ: Thank you so much for gracing The Bookstore with your presence Shimmer.
SC: You are welcome.
EZ: So who really is Shimmer Chinodya?
SC: Oh God! l don’t know! It’s just so many people that l am trying to meet and know.
EZ: So many people that you are trying to meet and know?
EZ: And it also reflects on your writing!
SC: Oh, it also reflects on my writing? Ok! I think my life or anybody’s life is a prism. It’s a prism. A prism has got six sides, is that not so? And you turn it around and you see something, and you turn it from another angle and you see something else again. It’s a prism, but it’s also like a multi-layer.
EZ: And where do you place your self in that multi-layer?
SC: (Slight hesitation) which one of the books have you read?
EZ: All of them.
SC: No! All of them, really? Ok!
EZ: You were saying that your life is a kind of a prism and a prism has six sides, and l was saying where exactly do you place yourself in that layout?
SC: At this moment or in the past?
EZ: Starting from 1982 when you published “Dew in the Morning”.
SC: l think; l don’t know whether l had been lucky or unlucky. I have been variously blessed with a very full life; a life which is littered with events, littered with people, littered with changes. Ah! In fact one or two people have said; “When are you going to get yourself out of yourself, and start writing in another direction?” one of my editors, and l argued with her that for me, some of the most effective writing in the world is about obsession with the self and coming to terms with the self, and showing the pains of daily living.
Ah! I think my writing starts off like dew in the morning. It’s very precise, short. “Farai’s Girls” tries to be like that as well. They are both dew in the morning books; “Farai’s Girls” and “Dew in the Morning”. I think in “Dew in the Morning” you can also see the strife. “Dew in the Morning” is a prelude to “Strife” (2006).
EZ: How old were you when you wrote “Dew in the Morning?”
SC: I was doing, I think, Lower Six when I started it. You want to hear the history? You are interested right?
EZ: Yes, very much so.
SC: It is very interesting. My brother and I, he is late now; he died at 44 which is very young. I am like 14 years older than him now, if you can fixate death. My brother and I had always wanted to write a book. In essence, he was a better writer than me.
SC: Yeah! He was a scientist. He had a PhD in plant pathology.
EZ: He was older than you?
SC: Yes, he was older than me by two years; one and half years, so both of us were voracious readers.
EZ: What was his name?
SC: Reward, as in reward, R.E.W.A.R.D, Reward Chinodya.
EZ: He never published anything?
SC: No. He later branched into science, and he got a PhD in plant pathology, like I said earlier on. He worked for the Cotton Research Centre, initially as a researcher, and then he became a director. In primary school we read voraciously. Our father used to bring us books from I don’t know where.
EZ: He was also an avid reader, your father?
SC: Yeah, but he was very slow. He would mouth all the words. He would take two weeks to read a newspaper, and read everything, including the classified ads, but he kept bringing home all these books. I love my father so much. I think he was my primary influence at reading.
But Reward and I; he was very good in English, very good at compositions. I don’t know how we sat down and said: “Let us write a book about Gokwe, a book about us moving from Gweru to Gokwe. Let us write it together.”
And foolishly we decided that he would write the first half and I would write the second half. It was the most stupid decision.
When I looked at his piece, we didn’t go very far. I think we did like 10 pages each, then we stopped. He was eloquent, very articulate, and I was struggling with this poetry, this pseudo poetry of mine in “Dew in the Morning”; more lyrical and Reward was more journalistic; very stylish and all that. We didn’t even discuss the characters. We didn’t even discuss anything, but it got us thinking; the beauty of this bizarre experience. It got me.
EZ: So how long did it take you to write it?
SC: We would go to the fields early in the morning; ploughing and weeding, and then we would go to school. I was at Goromonzi High, and he was at Fletcher.
I would say I would write during the holidays, mostly. At school with the homework and all that it was tasking, so I would write in Gokwe (our rural home). You see I was very close to my experience, if you remember the comment by Antony Chennells (Associate Professor of English at the University of Zimbabwe).
EZ: Yes I do.
SC: And I think his introduction is beautiful.
EZ: And how long did it take you to write “Dew in the Morning”, if I may ask one more time?
SC: I wrote it over a period of two years, I think; Form 5 and 6, and a bit of first year at university. Two years, but two years of long nights.
EZ: And “Farai’s Girls?”
SC: Farai was a two-and-a-half-month project. “Farai’s Girls” is more of—the girls are there and you want to lay them up. It was an easier book to write. But then the pitfalls—gender, the gender brigade come to you and say: “Farai’s girls? So the girls belong to Farai? That’s sexism.” People can be very blunt and very cruel, because all I wanted was to show the hardships—I think it’s in “Can We Talk” (1998). “Farai’s Girls” is a prelude to “Can We Talk”. All my books are preludes to each other.
EZ: That is why I believe that the autobiographical mode that you use in your work actually follows your life. You have just said that “Dew in the Morning” was influenced by your move from Gweru, and it reflects on that movement. And if one is also to look at “Farai’s Girls”, it highlights a young man’s struggle to locate himself as he opens out to love, “Dew in the Morning” is a prelude to “Strife” and “Farai’s Girls” is also a prelude to “Can We Talk”, which means your work actually follows you!
SC: Yeah! It’s like you do a book and then that book actually grows on its own into something else. When you are writing, you are always catching up with yourself. Sometimes it’s two years; like “Dew in the Morning” was two, three years ahead of myself. “Can We Talk” is like, I don’t know, 10, 15, 20 years. “Strife” is like my whole life. What is your question again?
EZ: All right, I was saying that your work follows you since you use the autobiographical mode, which means your own experiences are reflected in your work. Is that true?
SC: Very much so, yes, yes, but then like I have said somewhere before, the setting, character and thrust of a fictional work can sometimes assume a life of its own, if you may refer to some parts of “Can We Talk”.
EZ: Yes right.
SC: l don`t know how; you know you are good at these words, diatribe; what does it mean, discussion? This abortive conversation between the unnamed narrator, he is not named you see. He is a male, 40 something husband, and his wife. Initially l called it “Love Song” and it was just as long as three or four pages. The man complains and the woman answers back. The first four pages; but then l put it away. I don’t know three, four, five years, and l got back to it. Now this is a typical example of a book assuming a life of its own. If you read it; l was discovering myself every two days when l wrote it, and you can tell from the shift, the pages of words. l don’t know if you did and how Alice comes in at the end.
EZ: It actually reminds one of “Queues”; the unnamed narrator and Rudo. What exactly prompted “Queues”?
SC: “Queues” is another one that took a life of it`s own. I am autobiographical, but l tell you the genesis of “Queues”; you wouldn’t believe l was autobiographical. Rudo is like half a dozen of women l have met, mostly professional; but l think in the last paragraph of “Queues” I say: “Now l know Rudo l have been queuing all my life. I have been queuing unwashed, hungry and thirsty and I have made a wrong turn.” This whole idea of queuing; I have queued with kombis and they have almost scratched my car. I mean its very similar “Queues” and “Can We Talk”.
This is my life long battle to show the male side. People think it’s easier. They think young boys or men exploit women. They exploit women, but I have always argued that men suffer more than women. You can tell legally now. I mean women can get away with murder. You can tell from the NGO brigade. It’s a good thing to be a woman. I remember arguing with Tsitsi Dangarembgwa. Tsitsi is my best friend in the whole world, and telling her: “Tsitsi if we go to America; you and I and sit at a table, you will steal the show. You are a woman.”
EZ: Ok, let’s go back to “Queues” right! Who is exploiting who, Rudo or the unnamed narrator here?
SC: I think they are exploiting each other.
EZ: In what way?
SC: I mean she wants a husband; she wants a God fearing, church going regular man who would sit with her on the sofa and watch television and not go out and come back at three o’clock in the morning.
EZ: And she believes that such a man exists?
SC: Yes, she pretends to be this model woman who is upright.
EZ: But then she is in love with a married man?
SC: Year, but then she is in love with a married man! She is exploiting him. She wants somebody in her life; a surrogate father for the child; a boyfriend for her. She has just come out of a divorce. But then the unnamed narrator is like looking for a small house or big house or medium house. I am not sure which, or where. After “Farai`s Girls” or after “Can We Talk” he wants a rewarding experience with a mature woman. JC in “Tavonga” is really the most mature woman that Godie and that narrator ever got.
EZ: And Bhiya?
SC: Yes and Mr Bhiya in “Tavonga”. I think that’s a more equitable relationship; JC and the narrator. There is exploitation in the end; but then they most likely survive it. I mean “Tavonga” mostly adapt to this narrator who comes from a seemingly pseudo; upright, perfect marriage. He searched; and he runs into JC and sees an alternative definition of family because JC is different. She adopts Linda and her baby and her own daughter. And they are a family unit of females. It’s a family unit of females and this narrator ventures into that family.
EZ: So can we call this family feminist in a way?
SC: I think you can. I think one or two people have said that it’s quite intensive, including one of my editors. They say that l am masochist and misogynist and I don’t think I am. My mother in “Dew in the Morning” is clearly the hero there. JC, I hold her up and say, she runs her own house and its feminist; you see. JC is a feminist but then she is a loving feminist. She is a woman both sensually and spiritually; whatever you want.
EZ: Ok how about this use of alcohol; sex and religion? There is lot of escapism in your work. If one looks at “Queues”, “Tavonga” “Strife”, “Chairman of Fools”. The use of alcohol and maybe this escapism through sex; alcohol; religion and music, is it deliberate?
SC: I don’t know all l was doing was can we talk; l get carried away; Chiwoniso and Tavonga; l mean it’s so real that there is no time to catalogue yourself. I think for the real writer, there is no time to catalogue yourself. You are just taken up, so obsessed and so bruised by your own life. It gashes out of you.
EZ: What is your take on religion?
SC: I have said it somewhere that religion is; l think it is beautifully confusing, and that’s nice for an artiste; that’s great for an artiste, because you need beautiful confusion to come up with anything to put up anything.
EZ: No; let`s be direct here. Looking at “Chairman of Fools” right! There is this struggle, this conflict in religious cycles. There is conflict between Christianity; science and tradition. What can you say about that?
SC: Ok when Farai falls sick and when they are trying to explore it; that maybe he was bewitched or maybe it has to do with the ancestors; beer; writing? I don’t think there is a clear cut or difference between all these aspects. I think and see that’s the beauty and disadvantage of being an African. We Africans are so obsessed with ancestors; so obsessed with God; with the future.
Whereas the West has adopted a more pragmatic not necessarily pragmatic but practical, scientific explanation of life; explanation of the universe, I find that blurred, it’s all very blurred; the edges of these disciples, whatever you call them. I mean religion to an African writer like me is endless. There are so many challenges; that I come from a bira in Gokwe on Monday or Sunday and then on Saturday I am at Mereki or some despicable club somewhere, you know; doing something totally different. I sit somewhere. We Africans have the best materials in the world. I remember telling this to my students at St Lawrence University where I was a professor of creative writing. I mean they would write me essays or stories like, “My pet died, so I went to MJ Shopping Mall; MJ, Michael Jackson Mall. I decided to go shopping”. Now that’s very strange, that is a major tragedy in a white American life. My cat died, so will she mind Mr Bhiya who decides to go shopping, drinking or whatever .This American will go shopping.
EZ: So can we separate Shimmer from Farai?
SC: Well I think Shimmer is Farai, Shimmer is Godie, and Shimmer is unnamed. Do you remember ooh it’s a pity you didn’t bring your books, that italicised part in “Infidel” that’s outrageous. Ooh you were asking about my attitude towards religion. I have to talk about “Infidel.” How I was raised as a God fearing young man and I was saved and I sang songs and I lived a clean life as a teenager and how the world impinges on my faith.
EZ: In what way?
SC: And this guy does funny things and how I grew out of that to become a sceptic. How I got into that outrageous discussion of space and stars and forever and ever in dispute. Stanely Mushava wrote a very interesting review of “Infidel”, how it challenges the new churches, how it challenges tradition as a concept of God. I am talking about religion, the concept of God. How it gets us to think about these Pentecostal churches; people like Makandiwa, Magaya and the prosperity brigade.
EZ: Ok, still there. What is your attitude on that?
SC: I don’t like those churches.
EZ: You don’t like those churches, why?
SC: No, no! They did something to my life. They did, I don’t like people like Makandiwa and Magaya.
EZ: They did something to your life, in what way? You are taking this personal now.
SC: Yes, I don’t care. If I could tell you a story; It’s powerful and emotional and it draws; No, No! I mean personally Veronica, Vongai, it’s a V, V, you see. Godie is like Farai, Godie is I don’t know who else I can call him but Veronica is constantly a V, V.
EZ: Veronica is into these Pentecostal churches?
SC: And this eventually destroys her marriage because she is taking her salary and paying tithe and then not sending her kids to school. I mean this is religion impinging on accepted marriage; on the family unit. And then Veronica; especially women in these churches buying into this idea of showing off, flamboyantly dressed, driving a nice cars, having nice homes. It’s materialism and it’s bluntly anti- repentant. I went there once. I won’t tell you what that church looks like, like an airport. You know it in Borrowdale, Hear The Word, Celebration, and I went there once. Oh my God it was something else; my skin was literally breathing. I have stopped drinking. I haven’t drunk for four years.
EZ: That’s great .Thank God.
SC: The alcohol was sweating out of my skin. I was wearing my Jesus sandals; I had denims that were almost falling down my waist.
EZ: And you decided to go to church?
SC: I was talked into going you see, so I went. There I was just appalled by people who look at you like this, and Veronica says this is my husband and they look at you. It’s the artiste thing you see. Look at the way I look.
EZ: Now who is Veronica to you, to Shimmer or Farai?
SC: Veronica is Martha. Let me betray myself. Veronica is like virgins of the suppressed, the emotionally suppressed, sensually challenged, totally known self seeking in a materialistic way, but different from Godie. Godie seeks a meaning to life, seeks a very broad meaning to maleness, to love, to books, to sex.
EZ: But you haven’t yet answered my question. I said who is Veronica to Shimmer?
SC: Yes, I am just trying to show Veronicas limitations. Veronica is his girlfriend, Vongai in “Farai’s Girl’s”, Vongai and Veronica. What’s the other V?
EZ: And Rudo on the other hand?
SC: These are whole. Martha is a young, what’s the word? Fleshy, tempting, beautiful teenager in Form Three, Form Four; that’s Martha for you. And this comrade eventually rapes her, never mind the source of that. Just read. That is the young Veronica who becomes the young Martha, who becomes Veronica, no who becomes Vongai in “Farai’s Girl’s” and then metamorphoses into Veronica. So Veronica is also a prism like Rudo. There is a bit of Veronica in Rudo. So Veronica also has, the females also have their prisms. If you take Masiziba in “Dew in the Morning.” If you take Veronica.
EZ: What has prompted the use of the metaphor of madness in your work?
SC: It wasn’t conscious. I don’t know why my life has been absolutely surrounded by madness. Jairos in “Dew in the Morning” goes nuts. Farai in “Chairman of Fools” breaks down, Rudo is bipolar. I think its an indication of our society, the prevalence of madness in my fiction. It’s what the narrator; the writer in “Chairman of Fools” calls the clawing world out of the annex. Annex pretends to be a self contained unit, a slice of life but then it’s a microcosm of the clawing world; a mad world out there. And then the mad world quite by incidence, which you identified in your reviews, breaks down; politically, socially, socio-economically. But I think because I was just writing these as stories that obsessed me and now you readers can sense it; that there was so much madness. I wasn’t conscious of that. I mean Jairos was natural in the “Dew in the Morning” and I suppose his breakdown was natural.
EZ: And the family unit. Do you believe that there may be an ideal family unit, if religion is not allowed to take center stage in the family, or maybe we can say that individuals actually mold themselves , if they decide to be tolerant to each other’s religion?
SC: Yes, I think you are making a good point. I don’t think its just religion it’s the self. It’s what I call to fulfill. When Godie in “Infidel” is eventually kidnapped by those women, the prayer groups and in “Chairman of Fools” Farai is asked: “Mr Chari what do you want me to pray for you for?” And Farai says, “Fulfillment” and she says, “Only that?” I think the word “fulfillment” sums it for me. Fulfillment comes from so many things; the self, a healthy relationship, tolerance, divergence beliefs, beliefs I wont call them religions; belief. I am trying to run away from raw religion and suggesting that there are so many other pressures acting on people, especially Zimbabweans. We are a very unique breed of people. Look at our politics, look at our churches; we are very volatile, a very volatile society.
EZ: So you are saying that when it comes to religion, there is no religion that can be said to be holistic? Which means for Africans, we can accept ourselves as we are with our African religion and be happy with it, and if somebody decides to be Pentecostal , we should allow them to be?
SC: I think we need a healthy tolerance of diversity. I mean there is so much diversity in African beliefs without even the West coming in. We were colonised, we speak English, go to the same toilet in English, but then traditionally we can’t run away, which is strife. I mean which is “Strife”. “Strife” is about that strife which exists in beliefs. I think the edges are blurred. You can’t talk of the purity of a particular religion.
EZ: In reference to your work, does the issue of avenging spirits hold water? Can they really make somebody mad?
SC: I think they do. I have talked to many people. You might be wondering why I haven’t published a novel for so long; since “Strife”, no “Chiwoniso and other Stories”. “Chiwoniso” comes in 2012. I was doing textbooks for SADC. You know “Step Ahead”. We are going to talk about that; for ten years. What am I trying to say?
EZ: We are talking about avenging spirits.
SC: Ooh ok I don’t know why. Ooh we are talking about “Strife”. I think they do and I was telling you about my writing life from 2006. I have been talking to lots of people, lots of people, mainly women because men are boring. I don’t know if you think so? You don’t think so? I find men absolutely revolting.
SC: Like you can’t talk to a man sensibly and creatively. I mean just last night, I was somewhere, somewhere unnamable, unmentionable and this man comes to me and says, “Nedza Chenjerai and then I say, “Oh dzakaonekwa.” Then he says: “Chenjerai is Harvest of what?” So I look at him and say: “Chenjerai is ‘Bones’, “Harvest of Thorns” is me, Shimmer”. And then within three minutes he was lecturing me on coaching young writers and virtually accusing me of failing to coach young and upcoming writers. You know I did 50 Budding Writers workshops for absolutely nothing.
EZ: So you are saying the conversations are always predictable?
SC: Yes, but I know women have their own problems; but you know people say, I am a misogynist; that I am sexist. But there is Shimmer spending so much time with women. All the things I know about tradition, about mermaids, about avenging spirits, I get them from women. I can spend six hours with a woman, no harm intended, no sex necessarily intended; just talking.
EZ: That’s very true because it is reflected in your work.
SC: Ooh is that so?
EZ: That’s why one cannot separate you from your work.
SC: From women?
EZ: From your work. You are Farai, you are the unnamed narrator in “Queues”, you are Godie, you are Bhiya. You click so much with women, you see, but the problem is that this man, who clicks so much with women around him, is not an ideal husband.
SC: OK he can’t transfer those communicative skills into his own marriage?
EZ: Yes, Why?
SC: But that’s because if you compare Veronica with JC, you see Veronica doesn’t talk much. Which is why in “Can We Talk”, there is that clash in the first four to five pages and then the writer says, “I am going to talk anyway. I know you are not going to answer back”.
EZ: So who exactly is the problem here? The man is free when he is outside; he is actually communicative when he is outside. He is communicative when he is outside, but when he comes back home, he feels that his own home is a prison. Why is it that when he comes back, he feels that his home is claustrophobic?
SC: Well, he is not allowed to bring beer into his bedroom. I don’t know about you. You got through that phase, where you want to drag your spouse; this confusion; Godie or Farai, whatever you may want to call me. Drags his spouse and says, “Let’s go to Chinhoyi Caves.” This is a true story, and then she says, “What for?” He says: “Let’s just get away and go”. They spend virtually Friday, Saturday and Sunday without 10 minutes of sleep. He just goes out and drinks the whole weekend. And there is some kind of attraction, some kind of solution, some kind of hope and yet it’s so reflecting this total difference between them. Here is a wife who won’t touch gin and tonic, who won’t touch Redds, Rose Redds, and dry Redds or is sitting there being dragged through a weekend by a lager swelling husband. I mean it’s an attempt you see!
EZ: To redeem the relationship?
SC: To redeem the relationship yes. It’s an attempt and other attempts.
EZ: So you are saying that this wayward man can be redeemed and this wayward woman can also be redeemed for the family unit to be intact?
SC: Yes I am trying to think that Veronica in “Farai’s Girl’s” is more forthcoming. She is Vongai, Vee, Vee, and Vee. She is Vongai, they play tennis, they spend the weekend together, and they talk.
EZ: Ok and this materialistic aspect of the main characters in your work, which you have referred to through the paradigm shift to the middle class perspective.
SC: Oh! Money, money! Class, class!
EZ: Class, class! Money, money! Materials, materials!
SC: But don’t you remember the poem in “Can We Talk”? “I flee from you my dear wife , in search of simplicity” and he goes on to say that the middle class is oppressive for my male doppelganger . I have never used that word, doppelganger.
EZ: Yes, that’s Dambudzo Marechera’s way.
SC: Yes, I am not comfortable even personally on trying to free myself from Chari, even though personally I am not. I find myself stuck with an environment in which I cannot mascaraed as classy middle class. I find it selfing. You are most likely to find me communing with another class.
EZ: Coming to this issue of class through your writing and your profession as a professor, right, you have achieved a lot , you have gone abroad, you have taught at different universities and you have acquired something out of it?
SC: It doesn’t show on me (laughs). You want to hear this Mr Elliot? I think in 2002-2003 The Standard brought out in January, a list of the best and the worst dressed artists in Zimbabwe. They were about six. I topped the worst dressed list (laughs). They wrote: “For all the Commonwealth prizes and NAMA Awards and all that, he could do better” and they talked about my brown jersey and my unshaven head and beard. I think I am very natural, but part of that is like a protest. Like look at my hair it’s white. All Zimbabweans either dye their hair or shave. This complete lack of adventure which you find in New York or Jo’burg is so embarrassing. I mean women would shave their heads and totally be bold or men would do things with themselves. If you are an artist you need a kind of camouflage. I think maybe that is why I was considered the worst dressed.
EZ: The worst dressed with all those Step Aheads?
SC: Ooh no, this man who has done all those books. It’s quite amusing, but it’s nice. Let me tell you a secret. I have cannibalised my life so much people think they understand me, but there is so much. You don’t know what I am going to write. I like to ambush you my readers.
EZ: So you said you are protesting, right?
SC: Yes it’s a mixture of like; I want to be like this. It’s also like, you don’t know me. You think you know me. I want to be inscrutable.
EZ: You want to be inscrutable, but what is there to show for all the Step Aheads, like you were saying?
SC: What would you expect?
EZ: Like Farai actually has acquired a lot. Farai has acquired a lot of property and I know you are Farai.
SC: Ok! All his kids are graduates from Cape Town and Rhodes, beautifully educated despite Veronica, who doesn’t contribute a rand to their education. I don’t know what you want.
EZ: I want you to tell me a bit about you, about your family. You see and what you have achieved.
SC: You now want to expose me! Well, are we talking about Farai or Shimmer or both?
EZ: I know they are inseparable.
SC: They are inseparable! What do you want me to do? Do you think I should drive a Merc or do you think I should live in Borrowdale or Borrowdale Brooke?
EZ: Because you can afford it.
SC: Do you want me to wear a Pierre Cardin, Phillip Chiyangwa type of suit? Do you? I mean but I haven’t worn a suit for four years. I have a suit, a Pierre Cardin that I got when my brother Reward’s daughter was married. I married her off, and I was given a Pierre Cardin. It’s in my wardrobe. I haven’t put it on for three years. I am not sure whether it’s still the right size for me. That’s the only one I have; one suit, but then I would like to live a simple life.
EZ: And how many houses have you acquired?
SC: (laughs) Oh God! Are you a prosecutor in a Mai Majuru case?
EZ: You are a friend of mine. As a friend you have to tell me something.
SC: No I can’t go into that. No! Except to say this; this is constructive. I think our artistes should be good investors.
EZ: Shimmer you have been writing for more than 40 years; poetry, academic books, novels, film projects, documentaries, but it doesn’t show on you, why?
SC: I don’t know whether it is modest or shame with me. I don’t want to drive imposing cars, like that ugly Hummer. It’s noisy. It is the ugliest car that I have ever seen. I want to drive a good dependable car. My father taught me the value of modest, the value of work and the despicable nature of money. I grew up afraid of money and it is that which shaped me as a shrewd investor. One should not be carried away by the drive for miracle money.
My father was a good investor despite the fact that he worked for Indians as is depicted in my fiction. He left us a six hectare plot with about 20 tenants and an extended house. I have always been afraid of money and that fear or awe with money has always been with me. I remember one Christmas holiday when my brother Reward and I were given money; a tickey each, by an uncle and we took it to our father because we did not know what to do with it.
I managed to build a beautiful house for my family in Bluffhill, a four-bedroomed house with a swimming pool, which I left with my wife and the children when we divorced. I like comfort; I like to live in a spacious comfortable place.
EZ: So where are those other flats that you own? I know you are living in Belgravia, are you staying by yourself? Have you decided not to remarry?
SC: Oh! No! No! Who told you? Yes I stay by myself in “quotes”. I hope to meet JC again. By the way JC died six or so years after the publication of “Tavonga” but I still meet Linda and Tavonga. Tavonga is now in Form One. JC, whose real name is Jessie Chibanda is an accommodating and open woman, unlike Veronica, who is rather a nun. Farai is a free spirit.
EZ: So I was saying Shimmer, writing has been rewarding to you in terms of self fulfillment and all.
SC: Well one doesn’t want to blow trumpets on their achievements. I do not come from a family of trumpeters. I am a much happier person than what most people think. I live the way I want, and interact with people who enrich my mind.
I could shock you that “Step Ahead” could send children to university in Cape Town. I must admit that the Step Ahead series did wonders for me, even though I was talked into it by Barbra Nkala; a good friend of mine, a brilliant editor. I started it as a Grade Seven revision book which I did in three or four weeks
It was very good for me, I should admit. If you look at artistes across the board, like Sulumani Chimbetu, Alick Macheso, Mutirowafanza, Mukadota, Aaron Chiundura Moyo, Charles Mungoshi; I don’t know about Jah Prayzah; I think artistes should be good investors when they are at their peak or vintage point. Oliver is my model. They buy cars, sire 20 children, have 10 mistresses and have numerous side flings. I probably went through that, but then it goes back to my background, my upbringing, my fear of money and business sense, helped me a lot. Oliver (Mtukudzi) is my model.
EZ: I understand you were friends with the late Chenjerai Hove; you see, he seemed to be running away from something. What can you say about him and other artistes who run away from their people and seek solace from foreign lands on the auspices of fleeing from their enemies, real or imaginary?
SC: Let me tell you this, writers think they have secrets but they don’t have secrets. What is sad about my friend Chenjie (Chenjerai) and people like Thomas Mapfumo is that you throw yourself at the system like what Chenjerai used to write against (Minister) Jonathan Moyo and President Mugabe. Mapfumo also used to do the same. This donor community, this so called human rights movement in Europe will pluck you out when you are in trouble and give you a place to stay, lectureship, residency and money. You can’t come back home. It will be like selling your soul. As for me I hope I haven’t sold my soul, despite all my achievements. I decided not to stay in Europe or America like Chinua Achebe. The mere fact of uprooting yourself from your material, your source of inspiration, your roots, will simply undo you, that is why Oliver Mtukudzi is still relevant and a finer artiste than Mukanya (Thomas Mapfumo) who is busy missing home, like I did when I wrote “Harvest of Thorns”. He has lost touch with the younger generation. He is no longer relevant.
Artistes should not uproot themselves from their source, because they simply die. Thomas Mapfumo has lost relevance now. Yes, Zimbabwe is a burning house with a thatched roof, but I don’t think artistes should run away from it. It is morally wrong. It is not proper for us to desert our ship. Things will always change for the better. Who said in 10 years time things will still be the same in Zimbabwe? I cannot run away from my material. Why should I go and live in other people’s countries when I can write textbooks for Zimbabwe and SADC? I have never written about America or any other country although I have been to more than 25 countries.
EZ: Would you consider revisiting the Step Ahead series for possible revision?
SC: Oh, no! Am done with textbooks; I am too old for them. I will let them find younger writers and I will guide them, since they will be using my passages and all.
EZ: Maybe as a parting shot what word do you have for aspiring writers?
SC: Read, read, read! Write, write, write, write! Open your windows to ventilate your imagination. Look around you; listen and learn. Be humble and persistent. Welcome to an excruciating and yet rewarding career. That is the mark of a good writer.
EZ: Thank you so much Shimmer for your time at the Bookstore!