THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

Writing is an opportunity to spit back at the world: Interview with Ignatius Mabasa
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
March 18, 2010

Read Inside / Out with Ignatius Mabasa

View audio file details

Ignatius MabasaWriter, storyteller and gospel poet Ignatius T Mabasa is one of the better known independence poets in Zimbabwe. He has published two collections of poems in Shona: Tipeiwo Dariro and Muchinokoro Kunaka; and two books, Mapenzi and Ndafa Here.

Zimbabweans are very literate, but do you think we have a culture of literature?
We used to. There was a time when we had vibrant writers associations, and writers used to take their work to the people. That was the time when the ZIBF was also very vibrant. These days the literature culture isn't there. You find that if kids don't get exposed to writing through school as literature set texts, then that's it. Writers don't have as many platforms as we used to. When writers cannot come together to discuss and share ideas, a lot of things in turn get affected. I think also the Ministry of Education had a literature bureau which encouraged people to write in their mother tongue. This combined with what was happening in the economy helped to erode the culture.

What does writing mean to you?
It's an opportunity to say things that I wouldn't be able to say in other fora. It gives me the opportunity to synthesize and distil my thoughts and then present them to the public, even though I may not be able to get a bigger platform such as politics. Through my writing I'm able to reach more people. Writing is a liberating process, it's a process that gives me a voice, it allows me to capture the history of happenings in society as they happen. It's an opportunity to react to the happenings, to the madness and to colour the world. It's an opportunity to spit back at the world if you will. Listen

What do you think is the role of the writer?
Writers have taken over from where the storyteller left. Where the storyteller was a custodian and voice of reason, trying to point the way and correct the wrongs in society. Writing has to be relevant; it has to address the needs, happenings and problems. I try to do this in my writing. When I write I try to present problems for debate. It's writing that is anchored in people's lives.

You write primarily in Shona, but you also write in English. How does the language you write in affect the stories you choose to tell?
To be honest, I don't decide which language I'm going to use when I'm writing a story. Inspiration for me chooses its own language. Usually the moment I see something, the lines start forming and they decide that they going to be Shona or English lines. It just happens.

You mentioned storytellers earlier, have we made a successful transition from oral tradition to documenting our stories?
I think we have lost quite a lot. We had lots of stories and we've lost the opportunity to borrow from the oral tradition of storytelling. Storytelling is something that most people think belongs to the nursery. But in our tradition it was something that was told to everyone. It had a purpose; that is how we were socialised, that is how our people were educated. We quickly embraced new forms of communication and forgot to nurture and look after the oral tradition, which forms the backbone of our writing and story telling. If you go back and look at our early writers like Patrick Chakaipa, Solomon Mutsvairo and Paul Chidyausiku you can actually see the influence of ngano. Listen

What role do you think language plays in development?
We underestimate the role that language plays in development. As somebody who grew up listening to stories and songs by my grandmother and village folk, I have a strong appreciation that my language is not just any language. It's the part of the reason why I write in Shona. We are growing into a language less people. We've got kids who don't speak Shona, they don't read Shona and they don't write Shona. When you deny young people the opportunity to learn their own language, and you impose or encourage learning in a different language you are killing so many things in the process like confidence and identity, and then you see the issues that Tsitsi is talking about in Nervous Conditions. Listen

What kind of Zimbabwe would you like to see?
I would love a Zimbabwe where we respect our differences. Lets celebrate our diversity and have a Zimbabwe that embraces the values of our people. Our values are something you see in our folk tales. We are family, but we are becoming so individualistic, but that's not how people used to live. They say munhu munhu, nevanhu, nyika ndini newe, nezvakati komboredza. Uripo nekuti ndiripo. That's why when we greet each other we say makadiiko? And you reply tiripo kana imi muripo. It means ‘without you I am nothing'. I would love a Zimbabwe where we treat each other as human beings where our rights are protected and the government has the interests of the people at heart.

Nyika yadonha

Ngwanda ngwanda
Ngondo ngondo
Ngatitize Zuva radonha
Hapachisina pekugara, matongo ega-ega

Ndatarisa pakaturikwa nyika
Nebenzi raitamba nayo nezuro
Ndikarohwa nehana . . .

Kana nyika ikasadonha
Payakaturikwa ipaopo
Kuti gwengwendere
Sendiro pachitsanana,
Ichadonha seharahwa
Yasimuka padoro yakoriwa
Ikakoshiwa mudonzvo wayo
Ichitaya hari dzisati dzanwiwa . . .
Kana nyika ikasadonha,
Ipaop payakaturikwa nebenzi
Isu vanhu
Tisu tichadonha
Sematamba nekuti
Ichatiwira tichitiza.

Kana isu vanhu
kuti pwata,
sedoto rehoto
kana sedoto pamudzanga
kana tikasati zhokoto
semuti watemwa,
hatichazodonhi zvakare
kusvika Kristu achiuuya.
Nekuti pakuuya kwaKristu
Hakuna ibwe richaramba
Riri pamusoro perimwe ibwe
Kunze kwake iye Jesu
Ibwe rangu, ibwe repakona
Dombo rakareba kundidarika!


Anxious Land

Make good your escape. The sun has fallen
And all joy is gone, mummified.
Make good your escape.
The land has fallen,
And there is no place to call home.

We wake up to find that
Some fool has hung Zimbabwe,
Dirty as she is, on the laundry line
For all to see our pee stains.
Never mind the stains and shame,
She hangs precariously, foolishly
And we, the people, shall sleep no more . . .

For, if she doesn't fall on us
Like an over-ripe rotting tomato,
Then we, the people, will fall
As we stampede from her.

We the people, will fall
Not gently like life-giving rain,
But like a bird's dropping
Fast, blind, gooey and stupid.
Or tired, like grey dead ashes
From a smouldering cigarette.

If we don't slump, like a felled baobab,
We will never fall again
Until Christ's kingdom comes.
For when he comes
There shall not be left one stone upon another,
That shall not be thrown down.


Visit the fact sheet

Audio File

  • What does writing mean
    Language: English
    Duration: 24sec
    Date: March 18, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 380KB

  • Storytelling
    Language: English
    Duration: 58sec
    Date: March 18, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 913KB

  • Role of language in development
    Language: English
    Duration: 30sec
    Date: March 18, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 469KB

  • Nyika yadonha
    Language: Shona
    Duration: 1min 16sec
    Date: March 18, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.16MB

  • Anxious land
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 14sec
    Date: March 18, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.12MB

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.