Stories for life

Chenjerai Hove on The Power of Writing



By Chenjerai Hove


The word ‘power’ always makes me jittery, nervous. All sorts of connotations flood my mind and heart. Witch power? Whose power? Power for what purpose? Who are the victims and the victimizers in this power? For, in my works, I perceive my characters as either victims of power or victimizer, or even those who are unsure of what they are.


In a succinct analysis of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s portrayal of power in ‘autumn of the Patriarch’ Indian critic, Alok Bhalla, describes «power as a desolating pestilence”. Indeed, power can be a disease, an aliment that devours the tissue around it as it engulfs the whole body, body social and body politic and body cultural.


As I looked at the topic, I immediately remembered a confrontation I had many years ago as a young, 30-year old President of the Zimbabwe Writers Union, The Minister of Culture had mad a speech on public television in which he ordered writers to write socialist novels, poems and plays. When I challenged him to write a model «socialist novel»or poem, he was furious with me.


‘How dare you challenge me in public like that? I was elected by voters, thousands of them. Who elected you?’ he fumed at me.


I was initially cowed down by it all, but eventually I regenerated my courage. ‘Sir, how long is your mandate?’ I asked.


‘Of course, five years, and I have to deliver,’ he swore at me.


I quickly reminded him that my electorate was my conscience, and my conscience elected me for life, not five years. And from then on, his officials were instructed to find the means and reasons for which I could be arrested.


We were talking about different shades of power. He was talking about ‘power as a desolating pestilence’. Political power as quantified in numbers. He wanted to impose his definition of culture on me as a writer, to force me and other writers to receive literary recipes from him despite the fact that he is incapable of writing his own speeches.


We were already deep into the unfathomable game of constituencies. His was the constituency of physical things; mine was the constituency of the human imagination, the many landscapes, which make us much more than the number of roads or schools, or bridges the minister could build.


For, in his realm of power, the politician can insist on building a bridge where there is not even a river.


Armed with political power, the politician strives to attain the ultimate, the hearts and minds of the people. But when he tries to get there, he/she discovers the writer, the artist, has been there for a long time. The constituency of the mind and human feelings and beautiful emotions was never the province of political power.


To write is to fight the burden of silence. Communication or death by silence, the writer seems to say.


Language is essentially inherited from others, from society, from family and friends. And the writer borrows it from his/her times, freshens it up and gives it back to society as if to say: ‘Here, receive a new language I have created from the one you gave me’.


Stories for Life is an open space in which writers from all over the world can connect and release their stories. Over the next five years of the Shahrazad project, these narratives will be created and disseminated by poets, journalists, novelists, editors, cartoonists, translators and essayists throughout Europe and beyond. They will be introduced to European children and young people in schools and local communities and they too will be invited to respond.

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