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tales to fund essential healthcare
for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR)
(Africa Reports: Zimbabwe Elections No 28, 11-Apr-05)
By Alison Freebairn in London
April 11, 2005
read "Battling HIV/AIDS and poverty"
with AIDS in one of Zimbabwe’s poorest regions are about to benefit
from the worldwide success of best-selling Scottish author Alexander
writer, whose "No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency" series
of novels about Botswana has sold more than six million copies worldwide,
is donating all the royalties from his latest book to Murambinda
hospital, in the Buhera district, which is in the grip of famine
and a runaway HIV/AIDS epidemic.
estimates are not yet available, McCall Smith’s new title, "The
Girl Who Married a Lion", is expected to raise more than 100,000
pounds (around 193,000 US dollars) to help the three doctors and
30 nurses who serve the 300,000 poverty-stricken people of Buhera.
hospital, some 250 kilometres southeast of Harare, the Zimbabwe
capital, is one of the few in the country administering free anti-retroviral
drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women as a way of preventing mother-to-child
transmission of the virus, and also to other categories of people
who are HIV-positive.
has employed Miss Precious Ramotswe, the fictional heroine of the
detective series he set in Botswana, to write the introduction to
the new book, a collection of 40 African folk tales that he gathered
mainly among the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe.
said he got involved with Murambinda in February 2004 after he met
one of the hospital’s fundraisers at a charity event in Edinburgh,
he was playing the bassoon in the amateur orchestra of which he
is a member. Called "The Really Terrible Orchestra", it
is in great demand for charity events.
agreed to do the charity event that evening with the Scottish Zimbabwean
Association, and part of the money was going to the Friends of Murambinda
charity," he told IWPR. "They [the charity] were present,
and I decided then to make them the beneficiaries of ‘The Girl Who
Married a Lion’."
He said the
hospital desperately needs every kind of resource – drugs, above
all; supplementary nutrition for the chronically ill; basics such
as bandages and dressings, theatre gloves and surgical equipment;
salaries for local outreach officers working with the orphans of
people who have died from AIDS; and top-ups to the salaries of low
paid doctors and nurses.
Who Married a Lion" draws on the rich oral traditions of the
Ndebele and other southern African peoples. But although he was
born in Zimbabwe, McCall Smith’s interest in African folk tradition
did not develop until long afterwards.
"I was working at the University of Swaziland [as a law lecturer]
when I became interested in the African traditional stories. It
must have been sparked by something I read or heard at the time
– so it doesn’t come from boyhood, but from much later on.
"So I went
out into the bush and spoke to the grandmothers and people like
that who pass the stories on. I also went to schools and got stories
from the children, which was wonderful. I then re-told them in a
way I hoped would be more accessible to outside readers."
abound with examples of the Ndebele people’s traditional respect
for their environment and the other living creatures they share
it with, with particular care for sustainable farming and the communal
sharing of food and resources during times of drought.
Smith will not be drawn on Africa’s fraught politics, he describes
the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a disaster that is draining the resources
of already poor nations at a pivotal stage in their development.
More than one
in four of Zimbabwe’s people aged 15 to 49 are HIV-positive and
therefore susceptible to early death in the absence of anti-retroviral
conservative estimates by UNAIDS, the Geneva-based Joint United
Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, an estimated 170,000 Zimbabweans
died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2003 alone, the most recent
period for which figures are available. That works out at 3,270
deaths a week.
It is now commonplace
in Zimbabwe for grandmothers, from the same generation as those
who told McCall Smith their folk tales, to care for ten or more
orphaned grandchildren after sons and daughters have died from AIDS-related
decision to ensure that his literary work steers clear of Africa’s
grimmer problems, such as AIDS, is a deliberate choice. "The
impression that people normally get of Africa is one of total bleakness,
and I feel that possibly encourages people in the West to just disengage
and choose not to help," he said.
I am writing about African people in a fictitious way and the picture
I present lets people see that ordinary life and people in Africa
have many great and very attractive qualities."
He said his
book presents one particular slice of African life in a positive
way that he hopes will persuade people to care more about the continent
and its people.
was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, in 1948. He went to
school there before moving to Scotland to study law. Later, he returned
to Africa and eventually settled in Botswana, where he helped found
the law school at the University of Botswana.
to Scotland, he became Professor of Medical Ethics at the University
of Edinburgh, which has one of the most prestigious medical schools
in the world. He also served as vice-chair of Britain’s Human Genetics
Commission and chair of the British Medical Ethics Committee.
stepped down to take a three-year sabbatical to concentrate on writing,
film and book promotion, and charity work, mostly with HIV/AIDS
Smith’s "The Girl Who Married A Lion" is published by
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