Literary luminaries gather as Ngwenya explores creativity and identity

Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya

LOCAL author Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya headlined a captivating event last week Friday. Hosted at 25 Drew Road in Chisipite the book event took place during Culture Month and brought together prominent figures from the literary scene to witness conversations led by award-winning writer Memory Chirere and storyteller Tinashe Muchuri who explored Ngwenya's literary journey and her unwavering dedication to preserving the IsiNdebele language.

Ngwenya spoke openly about her childhood love for storytelling and the influence of golden-age writers such as Barbara Makhalisa Nkala. "I write out of passion, and to preserve our language," she stated in a conversation with Memory Chirere. This passion permeates her work, which includes both English and IsiNdebele titles such as "Inyawo Zayizolo," "The 50 Rand Note," and "Portrait of Emlanjeni."

The lively discussion which also included a question and answer session with the writer, delved into Ngwenya's creative process, the role of literature in cultural preservation, and the exploration of mental health through her characters. Piracy and its impact on authors were also addressed, highlighting the challenges faced by the creative community. Ngwenya, a champion for women, also paid tribute to their resilience.

The event, was graced by the presence of Barbara Gotore the Acting Director of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ), literary icon Barbara Makhalisa Nkala, Professor Musaeumura Zimunya, writer Shumirai Nhanhanga, Brain Garusa from Book Fantastics as well as Professor Francis Matambirofa from the University of Zimbabwe who skilfully steered the evening as master of ceremony. The event was also attended by family, friends and literary enthusiasts from diverse backgrounds.

Breaks between discussions were filled with artistic expression. Bulawayo's electrifying spoken word poet Umqemani captivated the audience, while Mbira music songstress Aripheleng provided a melodic counterpoint.

Below is an excerpt of the conversation between Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya (TNN) and Memory Chirere (MC)

MC: I understand you have a background in town planning, what are the intricacies of moving from that area into creative writing and back to town planning?

TNN: I cannot say I moved at all because town planning is creative work and writing is also creative work, it’s a work of imagination. When I am doing town planning I get to a site and look around and immediately I would know what needs to be done on that site, where the roads, sewer system, shops and residential properties would be located. It all starts in the mind and so is writing, that’s why I can manoeuvre easily. I am a town planner by day and a writer by night.

MC: What gap in Ndebele literature where you attempting to cover with your two Ndebele novels Izinyawo Zayizolo (2016) and Zalabantu Ziyebantwini (2022)? Ndebele literature is broad and you have written two novels, what were you trying to answer?

TNN: At first what made me write in Ndebele was a simple passion for storytelling. I grew up with a passion for storytelling admiring our big writers such as Barbara Makhalisa. I first read her novel when I was in primary school and I was so amazed.

I did not know that there could be writers who were African or who could be Ndebele because I grew up in rural Matabeleland and there were not many libraries, the few books that were in the school library were written by white writers. We just had textbooks written in Ndebele but not novels.

MC: You also write in English, tell us about that kind of movement. Where are the challenges and the opportunities of writing in both English and Ndebele?

TNN: Writing in English is not a problem because the audience is there and it is wide. However, if you write in Ndebele you must be passionate about writing. Ndebele is a language which developed from the South African Zulu language. When we grew up we used Zulu books as literature texts so you notice that Zimbabwean Ndebele had to compete with the South African Zulu which is the original language resulting in a relatively smaller market. So you must be passionate if you want to write. I write out of passion and to preserve our language.

MC: I see that you are a writer from Matobo in Matabeleland, what is the place of Matobo in your writing?

TNN: Matobo is where all my writing started. All my imagination starts from Matobo even when I write in English because that is the place where I grew up. I write about things that I know and most of these I have observed from my formative years going to primary and secondary school in the district of Matobo and only came to Harare for tertiary education. I am part of Matobo and Matobo is in me.

MC: There is this collection titled The Fifty Rand Note (2017). Why the Fifty Rand Note when we are in Zimbabwe? Where is the connection between this title and what we find in this book, why is the fifty rand note outstanding in a Zimbabwean book?

TNN: In 2009, I had an experience in South Africa I had often noticed that whenever something went wrong, Zimbabweans were automatically suspected.

In this particular case, I further developed the story which was born from this incident where I was in a taxi from central Johannesburg to Soweto with my nieces and nephews. During the journey, someone stole a fifty-rand note while money was being passed to the driver.

Since we were speaking in a foreign language, the other passengers suspected one of us was the thief. The driver, assuming we were guilty, made a U-turn and headed back to the station, refunding everyone's fare. After questioning a particular man, the driver searched him and found an extra fifty-rand note in his pocket.

MC: That is very painful. Talking about pain, there is a story in the collection titled A Dollar for Two. Why are you interested in the tendency to mix humour with painful subjects? Very humorous but painful story, why are you keen on that tendency as a writer?

TNN: I am just writing what Zimbabweans do because in each painful situation that happens Zimbabweans make jokes out of it, no matter how painful it is. I am just being Zimbabwean, observing Zimbabwean life, culture and attitude toward everything.

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