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"I have to write it as I feel it, at once, and as it needs to flow" - Interview with Innocent Bhasani Ncube
Marko Phiri,
May 2011

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Innocent Bhasani NcubeInnocent Bhasani Ncube is a Bulawayo poet. He has performed in and outside Zimbabwe and prefers to call himself a creative thinker and his craft "social commentary poetry." Originally trained as a teacher, Ncube finds himself at the centre of the Zimbabwe conversation as a poet and director of a youth-initiative called Contemporary Affairs Foundation [CAF] that, he says, seeks to groom the country's future leaders through debate located in the country's centres of higher learning. He spoke with me about his poetry and his approach to contemporary socio-political issues.

You have performed extensively in and outside of Zimbabwe. What are the issues that concern you, and are reflected in your art?
I see myself as a creative thinker and my poetry stems from that creative thinking. As a social commentary poet and a firm believer in the socialisation of beings I am influence by the things that happen around me in society. The things that I see during my travels inspire me. Listen

For me, poetry must mirror society and paint what the world looks like. Any poet who seeks relevance to what they do will write about what they see, and for me, my worldview. As a firm believer in the socialisation of beings, I see my work as a reflection of society. It points in the direction of where we are going as a people.

Do you find it easy to perform your poetry without any creative barriers as you attempt to fashion your commentary on contemporary Zimbabwe affairs?
For me I do not have inhibitions about my poetry because it comes naturally. When you are a poet or creative thinker, the moment you start putting sanctions on yourself and say this is what I will say, and this is what I will not say, then it destroys the whole creative streak. When I write my poetry, it has long stanzas and is all written at once. I cannot write something, and then come back later; otherwise I lose what inspired the poem. I have to write it as I feel it at once and as it needs to flow. So when artists put barriers on themselves because of the political environment, then they cease to be a reflection of society.

So you are not concerned about issues of self-censorship?
I am not worried at all. There is a difference between real social commentary poetry, which is what we do, and insults. If you go out there and insult people and call it poetry you will obviously get into trouble. But if you do commentary poetry properly, you are simply saying what it is that's happening around you. I will give you an example of one of my poems called B-O-B "Bob the Boss" that has been well received. If you look at that poem, what it simply says is things like "I am Bob the Boss, I am the Commander-in-chief, I am Chancellor-in-chief, I am the war veteran-in-chief. In Zambia there was Kaunda, then came Chiluba, then Mwanawasa, then Banda, I am Bob the Boss." This is reality, isn't it? I am commentating on reality. I am not insulting anyone. Listen

So if you start to insult you get into trouble. When you are poet you cannot be the judge of your work, you let the audience judge. If you judge your own work you will be trouble.

Does Bulawayo present a unique blend of poetry when juxtaposed with the other centres of creativity in the country?
The challenge we have in this country is not about the theatre, Styx [Mhlanga], or the paintings Owen [Maseko] does. I think the challenge we have in this part of the country is to interrogate, with the rest of the country, whether all of us are Zimbabweans or not. I believe all of us are Zimbabweans. I see a continuation of persecution that has remnants from the 80s era. It is no longer about Zanu PF and the police only. It is about the psyche of Zimbabweans as a whole. Is it OK to talk about the 2008 run-off violence but not Gukurahundi? You find people who support you when talk about the political violence cringing when you talk about Gukurahindi as if it's something we should not talk about. Listen

As an artist I feel Gukurahundi should be mirrored in our work as Owen Maseko was doing. Even with the bones being exhumed in Mouth Darwin, it's a sad period indeed, but it is being celebrated. So why does it become different when it is coming from the poetry and art of Bulawayo? This intolerance we are seeing is a symptom of worse things about this country.

Some tend to break down Bulawayo art as protest art because its narratives rub the authorities the wrong way, do you agree?
My poetry is not protest because I am not protesting against anything. Mine is social commentary poetry. My social commentary is not limited to mirroring society, but also coming with a kind of picture of what society should look like.

One challenge I have as a poet, and also in a small way, a philosopher, is that we are still to interrogate issues on what we are placing on the table as an alternative to bad governance. In other countries we see politics is about policy issues not just getting rid of someone, otherwise people lose the focus of the struggle for democracy. Like what is happening here. We need to look at the bigger picture and that is exactly what my poetry represents.

Do poets like you feel your work is being appreciated? And what is the future of the craft in Bulawayo?
There is still very little regard for the arts in Bulawayo. When there are poetry festivals in the city you see low crowds. Consumers for art are not there and you see it even when Owen Maseko was taken to court. There was no one to show support. There is also a lack of respect for artists as some view our art as a confrontational tool and that is why sometimes we get arrested. Others see it as more on the lighter side of things. You see it when there is workshop or gathering and someone asks, "can you give us a piece" in a disdainful way. Some artists tend to put themselves in straitjackets and seek themes that really are not from the heart. There are poets and artists who decide to pursue a kind of art that seeks to draw donors. Then the artists start insulting others, and obviously you will get into trouble. But I think generally poets need originality. They must shake off any stereotypes that emerge about Bulawayo so that our poetry has relevance in contemporary Zimbabwe.

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