By Viola Zimunya
“One of the dreams that I have always nurtured is that one day, when I grow up, I will be a poet and a dancer!”
Thus the mood of the evening was set as Namibia hosted, for the first time, the 27th Noma Award for Publishing in Africa prize presentation on June 19 at a local hotel.
The presentation was made by Speaker of the National Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab, to Zimbabwean writer Shimmer Chinodya, for his novel Strife.
Gurirab had several reasons to be “happy and proud” that evening, not least among them the fact that one of the members of the Jury Committee for the noma award was professor Peter Katjavivi, now Director of the National Planning Commission, formerly Namibia’s Ambassador to Belgium and then Germany and before that, University of Namibia’s vice chancellor.
The humour continued, with Gurirab chronicling his and Katjavivi’s escapades as they travelled to exile during the years of Namibia’s struggle for liberation. The audience that included publishers, ministers, MPs, University of Namibia community, diplomats and students, was in stitches for the most part as the tale unfolded.
On a more serious note, however, Gurirab said, “We are elated that the winner of the 2007 Noma Award is from our own SADC region – a Zimbabwean writer.” Chinodya has an impressive list of publications to his name that include novels, radio and film scripts, children’s books and educational textbooks.
“That much we know but good writers tend to hide some of their stuff until the right moment. Nobody is going anywhere, we will wait,” Gurirab prophesied. Perhaps there is still more to come from Chinodya.
Gurirab also reminded those present that Chinodya is writing in a country that is facing serious challenges, but also opportunities, “at the time of change and reconciliation”. Chinodya has shown that books can be published even under difficult circumstances, said the Speaker, adding that courage should be drawn from the examples of the winners.
The human spirit, the creative spirit, according to Gurirab, “is not bowed by difficult circumstances”.
Chinodya seemed to agree with the Speaker in his acceptance speech, on a very positive note. For him, creativity comes from grief and suffering, and he urged upcoming writers to “exploit the continent’s grief to explore art forms”.
Chinodya said despite the disasters facing her, “Africa is set for a social, political, cultural, economic, and artistic renaissance. Literature is one discipline which can describe and affirm, honestly and imaginatively, the continent’s nightmares and dreams.”
As far as time is concerned, Chinodya is not one to issue an immediate social commentary. He called himself a “long-distance” writer, who rather sits and looks back at events perhaps long after they have happened, before writing about them. The novel Strife, his eighth, took him four years to perfect. Its setting is Zimbabwe, but a Zimbabwe that spans one-and-a-half centuries – “long before, during and very certainly after independence”.
Here he chose to skirt the political landmarks and rather focused on relationships within a family clan, Chinodya mentioned. For him, Strife was time to explore his culture, having already written about the Zimbabwe liberation war in Harvest of Thorns, another award-winning novel, 16 years before. He will, in due course, write about present-day Zimbabwe, he responded to an earlier question.
“How many new novels and films are being churned out on the Vietnam war – 50 years later? On the Second World War? Can any nation ever forget its conscience?” he asked.
But when he began writing Strife in Germany, “I sensed I had struck a rich, artistic vein, but it took me four years to fulfil this realisation.”
The realisation won him the most prestigious book prize for Africa, a prize he admits to have coveted over the years.