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Lauren Beukes

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Archive for the ‘Zimbabwe’ Category

The Spark: Shadows

I’m very happy to have Zimbabwean writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma writing the second ever installment of The Spark*, a guest blog series that highlights new African fiction.

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Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is the latest in a spate of hot young Zimbabwean writers, from Tendai Huchu and Petina Gappah to Booker short-listee, NoViolet Bulawayo, who cut their teeth on crisp short stories.

Tshuma won the Yvonne Vera Award, was shortlisted for the Zimbabwe Achievers Literature Award and is currently a Maytag Fellow for MFA Creative Writing at Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Bulawayo describes her work as “fierce and unsentimental”, much like the raw and moving essay she wrote about what sparked these stories off in her head:



The Spark: Shadows by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma 

2010: New wave of xenophobic attacks, South Africa. There were things which had come to lodge themselves in my throat, like crust; a lot of anger and something unpleasant, like envy. Wanting to belong to spaces that seemed to hold on so firmly to their identity in the way I saw my own, as a ‘displaced’ Zimbabwean, tinged by a shade of, in this new environment called South Africa, insincerity. There is an unsettling sense of impermanence in being in a space that is not your own, in which you cannot fully invest as, for example, a voter, a builder, but rather exist as a rather parasitic form, sucking and being sucked, and hoping to plough your sweat back in your own country. It was this which forced me to sit down and have a conversation with my homeland.

The move from Zimbabwe to South Africa had been, for my family, although an improvement in the quality of living – no more scrambling for food or money – a rift in many other ways; displacement, the humiliation that sometimes comes with being a foreigner, the surface formation of friendships, impermanence. It made what I had experienced in my country all the more poignant, all the more bruising. It made me feel ‘raw’.

The early drafts of Shadows were a different kind of raw, though. Written in the first person female voice, in a township setting, which comes with all its patriarchal connotations, they read as a narrative whose struggle for female emancipation overshadowed all other aspects, something this story was not and could not be about. I switched to the male voice, and, ironically, Mpho, with all of his issues and entitlements and patriarchal tendencies, began to speak more honestly for me.

It’s strange, trying to write about the urban experience of my country in the past decade; one remembers not the pain, but the laughter. As Mpho says in Shadows, where I come from, people do not cry; we may make fun of our sorrow, even laugh at it, but we do not cry. And so, it’s not the long hours spent in mealie-meal queues one remembers, but the women squawking and clawing at one another as they fought over a bag of mealie-meal. How, in the face of severe shortages and those days of bloomas – that ugly, emaciated bun which substituted for real, yeasty, delicious bread – the baker suddenly had a power currency which had been formerly reserved for sugar daddies and businessmen. That memorable ruling party jingle that trended like the latest American R n B songs, that had children wriggling their behinds on dusty townships streets: ‘Tony Blair, the Blair-ya that I knowuuu is a toi-le-tee!’ The Blair toilet is a pit latrine used in the rural areas of Zimbabwe. It was designed in the 1970s courtesy of the Blair Research Institute.

We remember the loved ones we lost, and something clinches our chests; those we loved who could have been saved had there been half-way decent service at the hospitals, those we heard were being thrashed in the rural areas for practising the ‘wrong’ politics, those who dared to voice a different truth – the Jestina Mukokos the Owen Masekos. Those real and those who swelled into myth – because it was just so unbelievable, you see – who have become a cinematography of dancing Shadows. It makes one ask, ‘Who am I? What does it mean, to be Zimbabwean in this space and time? The individual and society, the personal and the political, self and country?’

Mpho’s mother, Mama… She is a mesh of everything, of stories I heard, people I knew, memories, histories, yearnings, make-believe, all meshed into one. It was only fitting for me that she be a prostitute, loaded with an animating history and a life that was not without its glorious, memorable moments, but a prostitute, nonetheless; how else to explain this incestuous act we as a people had been having with our country? Raping it, plundering it, all the while with big grins plastered on our faces? It had become a way of life, this, black market this, black market that, a new, suave level of bhundu economics, that was profiting a few and hurting many.

And then of course, these relations between people and country which are complicated, because they sometimes intersect intimately at smaller, less formal dialogues; the histories shared by Zimbabwe’s Ndebele and South Africa’s Zulu tribes which, given Zimbabwe’s delicate state, intensified identity disillusionment, leading Ndebele Zimbabweans to want to lay claim to a South African identity. This was done with a manic, utopic expectation that was at once painful and because false, led to further disillusionment. I was trying to explore, trying to remember, trying to conjure up, trying to deal with this ‘Zimbabwean humanity’, my humanity.

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s website

More on Shadows here

Buy the book in paperback from Amazon HERE or from Exclusive Books HERE

Buy the ebook from Amazon HERE or from Little White Bakkie (South Africa) HERE

(*The Spark is inspired by John Scalzi’s The Big Idea. African diaspora writers and publishers: want to write about your new-ish book? Please go to the debut post here and scroll to the bottom for guidelines on pitching.)


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Vodacom prize – the winning columns

For anyone keen to read the actual columns in question that brought in a (joint) win as best columnist Western Cape in Vodacom’s Journalist of the Year Awards, I’ve posted them here.

With Teeth, is a regular fixture in The Big Issue, which supports the homeless and unemployed by providing them with a hand-up not a hand-out.

I’m thrilled to say it’s the second year in a row that the column has won the category.

• “Pest Control” looks at how Jacob Zuma might want to consider implementing an updated campaign against The Four Harms ala Mao Zedong. Only, whereas Chairman Mao declared war against sparrows, flies, mosquitoes and rats, the focus of the ANC President’s pest control programme is on tackling scorpions, weaselly former associates, bearish big business and, of course, putting down those mad mongrel dogs of the media.

• “Privacy” examines how Facebook and social networking sites have us willingly dishing up personal and sensitive information on our religious beliefs, political leanings and sexuality for free that oppressive governments would have paid a pretty penny for during the reign of the Stasi or Special Branch.

• “Mugabe is the next Al Gore” puts forward everyone’s favourite dictator for the role of global anti-consumerism campaign hero in the wake of last year’s riots in Zimbabwe, price-slashing and empty supermarket shelves.
Full columns after the jump…


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Inaugural Litblitz raises almost R8000 for women refugees!

I just got fabulous news from Tania, who organised the inaugural Litblitz event at the Joburg Country Club and Baobab Bookstore in Long Street on Sunday past, that the event raised R7880!

The evening featured five minute readings from me, Finuala Dowling, Gus Ferguson, Hugh Hodge, Patricia Schonstein, my awesome coworkers Sarah Lotz and Sam Wilson, Epiphanie Mukasano and Mary Magdalene Yuin Tal of the Whole World Women Association, a xx chromosome refugee group who benefited from the evenings proceedings. (more…)

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Still holding out for a happy ending

Once upon a time in a land much closer than you think, there was a terrible regime that threatened to tear the land asunder. You must understand that it didn’t start out as a terrible regime. No indeed, as these things so often do, it started out with the best intentions.

Newly liberated from foreign overlords, the regime wanted to build a better, brighter place. And they tried, in their own way, they really did. It just sort of slipped, the way things do, like dirty dishes piling up in the sink.

Only while the dirty dishes in your sink or mine might be crusted with dried bits of bolognaise sauce or maybe cemented porridge that you sort of have to chip off with a spoon, the regime’s dishes were soiled with human rights violations and repression and corruption and fear. And over the years – many years – it just got worse and worse. It’s amazing how quickly these things stack up. How hard those stains are to get off no matter how much you scrub and scrub.

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