Bookshelf caught up with Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya (TNN) to find out more about the author and her writing.
Bookshelf: Who is Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya?
TNN: A woman from Matobo, a leisurely writer, a mother, a town planner by profession, real estate consultant in business.
Bookshelf: You indicated that writing is a hobby and that your job as town planner comes first, how exactly are the two linked in terms of the creativity involved in both endeavours?
TNN: I can say town planning requires a creative mind because you are required to turn a bush or even a dumping site to a vibrant built environment, say a town with all communication networks in terms of roads, buildings, breathing spaces like parks, water and sewer reticulations, which are linked yet do not disturb each other. In writing, you create a setting first, that is where your story is happening, who are making it happen and all those characters must appear real to the targeted audience. The characters must have feelings; they must laugh, cry and get married or die. They must be purposely planned just like in town planning.
Bookshelf: We have heard about your successful garden project you initiated for your village. How does it feel to give back to society?
TNN: All I can say is that I feel satisfied. I am a kind of a person who does not want time to get by without doing anything productive, whether it is going to pay me or not. If someone benefits from it and their life improves, that gives me unending satisfaction. The Garden Produce in Mlugulu Village under Chief Malaba gave me purpose on this earth. I don’t want to feel like I came to this earth to eat, create problems for other people to solve, complain and die.
Bookshelf: What are you planning to do in future in order to keep Ndebele language alive? Do you think there is progress in the output of creative works in Ndebele language?
TNN: I am a reader and I know that in reading there is so much to learn. Everywhere I go the first place I visit is a book store. I have been noticing that Ndebele novels are very scarce yet that is my language! It is a language I want my children to speak first before any other they may want to learn. I made it my obligation too as a Ndebele person to do something about it.
I have written two more Ndebele novels yet to be published and I will continue to write more when God allows it. I don’t think there is much progress in the Ndebele creativity works.
Bookshelf: When is the English version of novel going to be published? You said it is not a ‘translation’ of the original novel, what do you mean by this? Does the English version capture the Ndebele idiom?
TNN: It can be published anytime next year as the editors are still working on the manuscript. It is not a translation, I insist. I had to rewrite the whole book from Ndebele to English and even added another chapter. If you were to read the first chapter of the English version, you will find that even the opening lines are not the same as in the Ndebele version. The novel does capture the Ndebele idiom translated directly though. The English version is for a wider audience and I tried as much as possible to show what I wanted to show about our life as African Ndebele people, how we interact, share problems and live together as a community.
Bookshelf: Why is it that there seem to be a few, if not none, new authors publishing in Ndebele language?
TNN: I think some of the people who could be writing in Ndebele look at what remuneration they will get from it judging from the limited Ndebele audience in this country. These writers may then opt to tell their stories in English. Also remember that Ndebele develops from Zulu and Ndebele writers may find it difficult to compete with Zulu writers. The languages are almost the same. The Ndebele writer is therefore in a business and cultural predicament
Bookshelf: What is the story in this novel about?
TNN: I am comparing the traditional judicial system versus the modern system dealing with three crimes which are committed in the community where the story is set. One is tried at village level by the headman. The second is tried by the magistrate court and judgment is passed, the third is tried at High Court level and judgment is passed. How does this judgment affect the traditional way of life? How can these loopholes in the modern law be recognised, especially where there are issues of avenging spirit (uzimu, ngozi in Shona), our traditional way of life, marriages, amalima/ nhimbe, funerals, rain dances and the Njelele, what was happening there?
Bookshelf: Why did you choose such a theme?
TNN: I wanted to provoke thoughts around our ways of life as Africans. Was everything about us bad and everything about white people good? I just wanted to remind people that we must not abandon some of our rich cultural values and that we must take what is good and live with it and abandon what was no longer desirable.
Bookshelf: What other works have you written or published since you started writing?
TNN: I have written an anthology of short stories titled “The Fifty Rand Note and Other Stories”. Two stories from the anthology were published by University of South Africa Press in their IMBIZO Journal volume 1 and 2 in 2014. The anthology with 15 stories is coming out before the end of this year. I have a novel in English titled “Echoes and Scents of a Rand Coin” and a spiritual inspiration book titled “Graduate from the Valley School”.
Bookshelf: You indicated once that you write when you are angry, please tell us more about what happens with the ‘anger’ and the act of writing.
TNN: Yes, I write when I am angry or in an uncomfortable space. To me writing is like an outlet that takes away all the pain. I wrote profusely after shutting down my business. I was angry and there was nowhere else I could have survived if I did not write. The suppressed anger which was in many business people in those times could have blown me up.
Bookshelf: Tell us more about your parents and your childhood.
TNN: My father is a reader and speaks good English, he is still alive and reads at 74. We had a mini library at home which had children’s books but mostly written by European writers. I read most of them but when I came across a book written by an African writer Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart”, when I was in Grade Five, I could not suppress my joy because I thought that only white people wrote books. I knew one day I would write too! Yes, I was a librarian when I came across that book, and then my teachers used to bring me books to read.
Bookshelf: Thank you very much and we wish you the best in your writing.
TNN: Thank you.