Exiled writer and poet Chenjerai Hove who left Zimbabwe almost a decade ago following threats on his life says political tolerance in the country is still ‘dangerously’ low making it hard for exiles to return even after the formation of the unity government. Hove was forced to abandon his country of birth in 2002 just before the presidential elections. He fled without his family.
In an exclusive interview with Radio Vop this week, Hove shared his thoughts about his country.
“As far as I can see, the conditions that created the multitudes of exiles have not changed at all. People are still being victimized for their political views and differences.The level of political tolerance is still as low as it was, dangerously low,” Hove said.
“The ministers from different political groupings are issuing different and opposing messages every day. The fear implanted in the hearts and minds of citizens is still as fresh as ever, being vigorously cultivated and watered by the speeches of reckless politicians.”
Although the government embarked on the national healing and reconciliation project after the formation of the unity government following the violent June 2008 presidential run-off. Hove feels that national healing is impossible if the perpetrators of violence are still walking scot free.
“The healing task is impossible when the same people who committed crimes are roaming the countryside or are being promoted to more senior positions where they have more power to inflict more harm,”Hove said.
“There has been so much political violence in my country and from this distance; one can only recall the title of South African writer, Alan Paton’s book, ‘Cry, The Beloved Country.’ From far away, it is difficult to completely understand the political deafness which has, like a wild fire, engulfed our country.”
Life in exile
Hove has mainly lived in Europe and currently he is based in Miami in the US where he spends most of his time teaching, and lecturing on creative writing to different universities and workshops. The award winning writer has experienced different challenges whilst living in exile.
Hove says he ‘misses’ his motherland and the most difficult thing that he finds hard in exile is the loss of his beloved ones and failing to attend their funerals.
“The major hurdle of life in exile is that friends and relatives are passing on every day and I cannot be there to say my farewells by their death beds,” Hove told Radio Vop.
“My mother passed away on the morning of my birthday, then came my namesake, Chenjerai Hove Jr and my younger brother, in a short space of time. I was devastated. I felt powerless, completely disabled by the circumstances. That was the deepest end of exile.”
The role of a writer in society
When asked about the role of a writer in society, Hove said: “A writer is a mirror of the society, they write the beauty and the ugliness of society. Writers should celebrate life, death and must protest when the political atmosphere decays.”
A writer should capture the tragic images which are brought about ‘by bad or good political decisions so that politicians can see that they are living in a false glory of self-congratulation and aggrandisement while the people sings songs of pain and suffering every day,’ Hove said.
“Gukurahundi left us so many orphans, widows and destroyed families, and the writer has a duty to trace those ruined lives and show the images to the politicians.”
Zimbabwe’s literature today
Hove believes Zimbabweans are interested in reading but were being affected by the economic hardships in the country over the years reducing their buying power. The economic decay in the last decade has seen some writers going outside the country to publish their works.
However, Hove says he has been inspired by young and upcoming writers. Hove hopes that despite the economic and political problems that have been in the country writers are writing and it is only a matter of time before they start publishing again.
“To a large extent I have been following literary developments back home. Despite the economic dire straits facing publishers, they have been able to publish some refreshing young voices like Memory Chirere, Ignatius Mabasa and others,” Hove said.
“My suspicion is that there are still many manuscripts hidden in some drawers, waiting to be published one day when the climate of fear no longer haunts young writers.”
“I enjoyed tremendously when I read Ignatius Mabasa’s ‘Mapenzi.’ Of course, Charles Mungoshi has always been a lasting inspiration to me with his clear vision of life and its inner sagas and turbulence,” Hove said.
The Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) takes place this year on July 26- 31 at the Harare Gardens. The fair could not be held in 2008 due to the economic hardships as they were few publishers and writers who were willing to exhibit. Hove said Zimbabweans do not have much disposable income to buy books but added that they share books like the way they share newspapers.
“In Europe if a thousand copies of my book are sold, I know I have about five hundred readers or so. They buy books for the book shelf as collections. In Zimbabwe if I sell a hundred copies of one title, I know I will over a thousand readers,” Hove said.
Hove said he has just completed a novel and a poetry anthology titled ‘Love and Other Ghosts’ which will be released soon.
“A poetry anthology titled ‘Love and Other Ghosts’ should hopefully be coming out soon. And a novel whose title I will not divulge is also with a publisher. We will wait and see what is cooking,” he said. Radio VOP