“Mother Africa survived the trauma of clanging chains of captivity during slave trade, shackles of colonialism, and winced from beatings of hard bolt nut clenched fists of apartheid. Children and grandchildren of Mother Africa watched helplessly her sorrowful dance to the acoustics of sufferance. Still, Africa remains resilient … smashing punches from kindred’s of neocolonialism: global village, digital revolution and consumerism. Mama Africa’s groin is ripped apart by her triplets: totalitarian regimes, economic malaise and moral decadence. Today Mother Africa of pyramids, Africa of Nefertiti , Africa of Lumumba, Africa of Mandela, Africa of Kambarage , Africa of Lithium , Africa of diamond and Africa of uranium wallow in murky waters of poverty, chronic civil wars, and deadly epidemics.” Mbizo Chirasha, Editor, Brave Voices Poetry Journal.
When I was a junior in high school (circa 1966), our civics/history teacher said that Africa was a continent of much promise because of its diverse populations, its biodiversity, mineral resources, endless beauty, and its arts and wisdom traditions. She was right, of course. As a consequence, we spent several months of that school year studying the promise of Africa and its peoples.
For years after, Africa haunted me: Mosi-oa-Tunya, birds hitching rides on giraffes, white rhinos, the rhythms of kebero drums and the swing-and-sway of folk dance, the injera, the wat, and the niter kibby. But our teacher’s great vision of Africa’s promise was largely unfulfilled. Blame it on the fall-out from old-and-new waves of colonialism, apartheid, and corporate land-grab and land-rape. What could have been a place of hope and high expectation is rife with turmoil, poverty, and suffering. It is a place where poets who speak out against violent despots and greedy kleptocrats put themselves at great risk in doing so. Today, I have the pleasure of featuring Mbizo Chirasha, one such poet. He is dedicated to gender equity, environmental justice, and human rights and he is on the run . / J.D.
JAMIE: What were the events in your life that lead you to socially engaged poetry?
MBIZO: My father was a storyteller, an African traditionalist, a
singer and a village griot. I grew up listening to the sound of the
wind of the drum. Ritual and ancestral ceremonies were the norm
and usually accompanied by spiritual song, dance, drum and chants. I
was introduced to words at a tender age and more over to
sounds of chirruping birds, syntactic over night hooting of owls,
the rhythmic dove cooos, the dance and the smile of white moon. I am a
grandchild of African proverb.
I am a child of war. I was born during the Zimbabwean struggle for independence.
My ears sedimented to the clap of gun shots and the thunder of death, the
thud of grenades, and heave of the Pungwe River’s songs. I read Achebe, Ngugi,
Marechera, Hamutyineyi, Neto, Senghor, Miriam Ba, Tsodzo, Chiundura Moyo, Makari,
Soyinka and more in my early teens. I became a school griot when I was seven.
JAMIE: Why is your life at risk?
MBIZO: I write the truth to any form of leadership: cultural, social and
political, My literary arts activism and my human rights and arts for
justice activities put me at risk.
I write feature articles that speak against dictatorship, injustice
and tyranny. Political leadership in Zimbabwe does not like the truth.
They want praise, which I think is a bad sign. We have violent goons
among leaders who thrive on silencing writers, artists, activists and
human rights defenders.
I am the Founder of the Zimbabwean We Want Poetry campaign, a global
literary activism campaign that exposed and is exposing political rot, poor
governance and corruption in Zimbabwe specifically and in greater Africa.
That campaign has led to the founding of the Brave Voices POETRY JOURNAL
and the Freedom Voices Poetry Writing competition. This in turn has lead to the
publication of more than 10,000 poems on various social media platforms.
My poetry in books and journals is critical to fighting systems that oppress masses,
systems that violate human rights, systems that loot the economy and subject
masses to abject poverty .
My latest poetry collection, A Letter to the President, the title itself does not sit well with politicians, zealots, and charlatans who survive on political and economic strife, but the collection is a must read.
It never mentions names but it speaks truth against injustice, corruption, violence and expediency and it got me in trouble: death threats, tailing, and haunting after the grand launch.
I don’t hesitate to write the truth. We have suffered under dictatorial leadership in Zimbabwe. We want the new leadership to reform and to refrain
from abductions, corruption, violence and looting. We need the purpose to live, to belong and to love our beautiful country. We want political violence
stopped. The abduction of artists and activists must stop.
JAMIE: What is the status of your situation now?
MBIZO: Exile has never been good but resilience is key. In exile you are both foreign to yourself and foreign to the land. Accommodation, security, resources, communication, and other foundations of personal welfare and trust become first priorities and they are not easy to come by because one is not in his usual haven. The stalking is constant and exhausting. You sleep with an open eye or walk with your eyes above your shoulders.
JAMIE: You put in an application to ICORN* in 2017. What was the response?
MBIZO: I am not happy because the reply was really bad, I don’t know whether
they want you to loose a leg, a hand, or to die for them to accept your application
to be safe.
* International Cities of Refugee Network; ICORN’s mission is “protecting and promoting writers and artists at risk.” I’ve read Mbizo’s paperwork. Responses to Mbizo’s 2017 application for assistance repeatedly indicate that his paperwork is in process but no action has been taken by ICORN on Mbizo’s behalf over the two years since he filed for safe haven.
JAMIE: What organizations have come forward to help you?
MBIZO: The main and major organization that have stood by me since 2017
are the following
a) PEN GERMANY 2017
b) EU-AFRICA DEFEND DEFENDERS FUND
c) ANDREAS WEILAND( WRITER/TRANSLATOR)
d) ELKE LANGE- SPAIN /GERMANY
e) INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ARTS FESTIVAL/THOMAS BLOCK
f) FREEMAN CHARI OF DIASPORA FUNDS
g) TRACY YVONNE BREAZILE
h) HADAA SENDOO FROM MONGOLIA
i) MICHALE DICKEL- WRITER IN ISRAEL
JAMIE: What is your plan now and how can we as part of the greater poetry community assist?
MBIZO: I continue with writing for justice, human rights, the truth, and with activism and literary activism. In this moment of madness, trials and hardships, poets must unite. Help me lobby resources, lobby institutions that offer assistance to writers-at-risk: PEN, UN Human Rights, Writers Centres, and Artists for Justice Centres for safety retreat.
We must all keep writing for truth, justice, and good governance.
Editor’s note: I want to get a letter-writing campaign going for Mbizo to help him attain safe haven. More on that in Part 3 on Monday. Tomorrow (Sunday), you’ll have the opportunity to read four of Mbizo’s poems. Stay with us in solidarity for free-and-open civil discourse, social justice and responsible governance. May all sentient beings find peace.
© 2019, introductory text, Jamie Dedes; photos and interview text, Mbizo Chirasha
- Part 2 of 3: Zimbabwean Poet in Exile: Award-Winning Mbizo Chirasha, Four Poems, The Poet by Day
- Part 3 of 3: Zimbabwean poet in Exile: Award-Winning Mbizo Chirasha, Call for Action – Here’s where the rubber hits the road!, The Poet by Day
- “Nights with Ghosts,” a poem from a child in Zimbabwe, The BeZine, Jamie Dedes
MBIZO CHIRASHA is a recipient of PEN Deutschland Exiled Writer Grant (2017), Literary Arts Projects Curator, Writer in Residence, Blogs Publisher, Arts for Human Rights/Peace Activism Catalyst, Social Media Publicist and Internationally Anthologized Writer, 2017 African Partner of the International Human Rights Arts Festival Exiled in Africa Program in New York. 2017 Grantee of the EU- Horn of Africa Defend Human Rights Defenders Protection Fund. Resident Curator of 100 Thousand Poets for Peace-Zimbabwe, Originator of Zimbabwe We Want Poetry Movement. He has published a collection of poetry, Good Morning President, and co-created another one Whispering Woes of Ganges and Zembezi with Indian poet Sweta Vikram.
Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for permissions, commissions, or assignment
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Recent poems and short stories: How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019
“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton