For over a decade, previous ICORN guest writer Chenjerai Hove has lived a nomadic life in exile in Europe and the Americas in fear of the consequences of returning to his beloved homeland Zimbabwe. A poet, author, playwright and lecturer, Hove has made it his life’s work to write and educate about his country and bring to light the corruption and abuse of the government of his country. Returning home would be a dangerous move for Mr. Hove.
In a country where the expectations of its citizens are dictated by the state, where the leadership holds the absolute truth and makes the rules of how people should think and lead their lives, one must choose one’s words with care, or pay. Because words easily and deliberately unveil the differences of human minds.
A voice to the voiceless of Zimbabwe
Born in 1956, Chenjerai grew up acutely conscious of the injustice meted out to Africa during the colonial era. Injustices that continued after the war of independence ended in 1979 and Robert Mugabe became president. A fearless champion of resistance to the kinds of injustices and abuses that precipitate wars and conflicts, Hove’s works provide a voice to the voiceless in his cherished homeland, and is not shy in his critique of the ruling powers.
The government of Zimbabwe first noticed Hove for his political novel Masimba Avanhu? (Is This the People’s Power?) and for his play Sister, Sing Again Someday, which both address the situation of women in Zimbabwe. In his novel Bones (1988), where he tells the story about a poor farm mother who loses her son in the Zimbabwean war of liberation, he captures the ambivalence and conflicts of loyalties in the attitude of the peasants towards the guerillas, and underscores the state's indifference to the lives of ordinary people.
As his success was growing in Zimbabwe his popularity with President Mugabe was getting fatally dangerous. After his home, offices and works had been regularly plundered and his family received numerous threats to their lives, Chenjerai Hove went into exile in 2001. He has since been living in France, Norway and the US, where he was hosted under the Stavanger and Miami City of Refuge programme.
Award winning author and activist
In exile, Hove has catapulted into one of Africa’s leading socially conscious literary minds. Writing in both Shona and English, Up in the Arms (1982) was his first lyric poetry volume, followed by Swimming in Floods of Tears (1983) and Red Hills of Home (1985). These two books attracted the attention of the literary critics, but it was Bones, his first novel in English, which brought him to win in 1988, the Zimbabwe Literary Award, and in 1989 the prestigious Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. In 2001 Hove was awarded the German-Africa Prize for Freedom of Expression and Social Justice for his overall contribution to democracy and human rights in Africa through his writing in literature and journalism.
The upcoming Zimbabwe election
Chenjerai Hove continues his writings and fight for justice in exile. With the Zimbabwe election coming up, Chenjerai is offered a unique position to freely use his word to campaign against the existing rule. Hove says:
“The nearer the horizon of the 2013 elections comes, the more President Robert Mugabe’s language drenches the nation with blood and violence. Elections in my country are no longer an event to celebrate the power of ‘choice’. They are a tragic event to choose, not your leaders, but your form of death. In the eyes of the aged dictator, intimidation, torture, murder and disappearances are the only tools to retain his dictatorship till death.
But my undying cry will always be: no more corpses to the ballot box, no more nameless graves in our valleys and mountains, no more orphans, no more mutilated bodies of raped women, no more corpses floating on our rivers and lakes.”
(See opinion articles in www.mg.co.za)
A last farewell
Even if it might just be for a last farewell to his beloved, alive or buried, Hove has not given up the hope of once returning home to the country he never thought he would leave:
“Anyway, I will return, just to touch your grave, but not anytime soon”, I say to her (ed. his mother), as if my country deserves to be reduced to a place where exiled citizens only return to die, to touch old graves, a country reduced to a cemetery by those who wield power without conscience.”
By Chenjerai Hove (2006)
Far away from home,
and joys of the land of my birth,
the songs of the birds whose names I know,
the sounds of the rivers whose names I grew up naming
with rhythm and dance,
the shapes of the hills and mountains,
how they told us they looked like a man dancing,
a woman smoking a pipe,
a crazy woman dancing to several lovers,
the colours of the sky
as it changed its many tempers
to invoke the voice of thunder and lightning,
all those colours of butterflies and nameless things,
all these will always remind me
that I am part of that geographical
space where I grew up.
It is my traveller’s luggage,
in my soul and heart,
while I travel and reach out to other lands
which might welcome me
with their voices.