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Getting to know Tendai Mwanaka, Zimbabwean writer and all round creative talent
Marko Phiri,
June 10, 2013

Go Inside/Out with Tendai Mwanaka

Your new book, Zimbabwe: The Blame Game, has variously been described, among other things, as a "cycle of creative non-fiction pieces, pulling the readers through the politics of modern day Zimbabwe." How did this book come about?

Zimbabwe: The Blame Game, in the beginning, came out as an off-shoot to my earlier manuscript, Mad Bob Republic (most of the stories in Mad Bob Republic were later included in the novel Keys In The River (SAVANT BOOKS, USA) When I was writing Mad Bob Republic, I also wrote some non-fiction pieces, that I thought didn't fit into this manuscript. Mad Bob Republic was a manuscript of short stories, so I had to take out the non-fiction pieces from this collection and added a whole lot new material to create Zimbabwe: The Blame Game. Sometime, in 2009, my brother, Bernard, encouraged me to write a non-fiction book, and helped me with a lot of South African newspapers that had articles that dealt with the Zimbabwean situation, and these helped me a lot, so I should think Bernard seeded the writing of Zimbabwe: The Blame Game.

Tell us why you think your new book should excite audiences

It's a no holds barred attempt. It also deals with many issues that Zimbabweans experienced since independence. I lighted on issues like the history of Zimbabwe, the politics, the brutalities, economic meltdown, election issues, migrations into other cultures, xenophobia and life in exile. I also touched, particularly, on South Africa's problems, and then post GNU Zimbabwe issues. I dealt with these issues in a creative, sometimes funny, sometimes laid-back way. I had to write, I think, most parts in this book, in simple English that would draw in a lot of readership. In the prologue to the book I wrote, "I feel I wanted to interest the general readers more than, say, the academic establishment. With this is mind, I thought to follow the rigours of academic or journalistic type of writing might put off the general readers that I was targeting, and that's why I thought of writing the story of Zimbabwe in this simple, creatively focussed, easy to read, sometimes laid back way. General readers might not want to deal with technical, fact embossed, and stuffy matter you would find in academic or even journalistic writing. Such that, most of the writings in this book, explore the story telling genre to describe or explain what I am trying to achieve in these writings; and I am using these stories to create depth that I should have created with technical or factual analysis of the issues."

Your book cover design . . . tell us more about what inspired the use of this artwork

The suggestion to have a photo of bearer cheques on the front cover of Zimbabwe: The Blame Game, came from my publisher . . . and the photo, as well. She felt we had to touch on one important aspect the book dealt with, which is the hyperinflation and accumulating zeroes of our currency, which I would like to think, was our biggest economic headache, back then. But the book deals with a broader range of issues other than the bearer cheques, or even the economy.

In which genre do you feel most at home: poetry / fiction / non-fiction?

I am comfortable in any of these genres, and many others like life writing, travel writing, photographic essays, and playwriting . . . anything creatively focused. At one time, in 2010, I wrote a song that made the semi-finals of the John Lennon international songwriting competition with Robin Perry.

The tone of 'Voices From Exile' is one of protest; do you agree with that reading?

Yes, it was protest poetry. Things were just too much for me, for everyone, and the only way I could deal with them was through protest. And I made a good go at it in 'Voices From Exile', I should think.

Is writing your full time occupation?


What did you get out of the Caine African writing workshop?

Oh, that was a wonderful workshop, and time we spent there! On top of writing the story, Notes from Mai Mujuru's Breast, I wrote a travel piece, Heaven on Earth: Volmoed, Western Cape, also an essay on how to write a story in a workshop situation, plus a number of photographic essays. We had two fabulous writers to guide us through the workshop, Jamal Mahjoub and Henrietta Rose Innes. Under the workshop situation, I feel you need to have someone who would guide you, not someone who would impose on your writing, on what you should be writing about, and how. I feel these two did a great job in guiding us. It is enriching to spend some time with other writers from different places than yours…you learn a lot from each other and help each other.

Where is your creative space currently? Zimbabwe or the universe?

I think, universe . . . I want to write for the global market, but the stories, a lot of them come from the local situations. I do journal a lot of stuff all over the world, as well. I have over 250 pieces in over 150 journals and anthologies, in over 20 countries. Just this year alone, I have work coming out in over 20 journals, and over 5 anthologies, so I feel I am a global writer. I have a poetry collection, Playing to love's gallery, coming out in a couple or so weeks from, DIPPRESS, USA, first as an ebook, then later on, a print book, and I have also placed a full-length novel, A Dark Energy, with Aignos publishing co, USA, and lately I have completed a short stories novel, Finding a way home, that's being considered by a number of American publishers.

Notebook or iPad?

Notebook . . . a Toshiba . . . iPad, I might sit on it! I have a tendency of leaving small gadgets like phones; etc lying around on sitting places, so I would sit on them without realizing it . . . even my Toshiba has been dealt a blow . . .

What are you working on now?

A play, dairies, poetry . . . and a novel with a Nigerian writer.

Which Zimbabwean writers should we be excited by?

I think young writers like me; Pettinah Gappah, NoViolet Bulawayo, Christopher Mlalazi . . . there are many more. Currently Zimbabwe leads the continent in terms of young writers and writing.

Madora or chicken or . . . ?

Sadza and vegetables (covo), beans, milk, chicken…I like Madora, yes; and many other creatures; crawling, flying, burrowing . . . .

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