Political correctness curtails the bounteous world of words

Years ago, when the world came to the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) in Harare, I introduced a noted poet-novelist as Chenjerai Hunzvi.

Years ago, when the world came to the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) in Harare, I introduced a noted poet-novelist as Chenjerai Hunzvi.

Chenjerai Hove was visibly upset at this faux pas. We had known each other since 1980.

Everybody with even a slight interest in Zimbabwean literature knows Hove as the author of the collection of poems Up In Arms and his first novel, Bone, among others.

Chenjerai Hunzvi was the war veterans' leader who terrorised President Robert Mugabe into giving in to the ex-combatants' outrageous demands for gratuities and allowances in the 1990s.

The result was Black Friday: the previously robust Zim dollar was terminally enfeebled from that day.

At the ZIBF, Hove graciously accepted my apologies and addressed the workshop I was chairing without rancour.

Hunzvi, a Polish-trained doctor, died after a long illness and is buried at the Heroes Acre in Harare.

Hove is in exile - having left the country after what he alleged was suspicious tampering with his computer.

The ZIBF was once one of the premier book fairs in the region. One honoured guest was Ali Mazrui, the Kenyan intellectual and author. Other luminaries felt honoured to be invited to this glittering rendezvous with the region's literati.

This year, I wasn't even aware that the fair was being held, until it was closing. On state television I saw an anonymous man being interviewed on the fair's future plans.

The fair's most controversial period was initiated by Mugabe's astonishing attack on gays and lesbians. The president's homophobia haunts the fair to this day.

There remains a crisis in Zimbabwe relating to the absence of a solid reading culture, which many publishers, authors and book sellers have always believed could be tackled through the ZIBF.

Today, books promoted for literature in schools are likely to be "politically correct" novels, extravagantly glorifying the struggle, with nary a word on post-independence disasters.

Still in the 1990s, I chaired another workshop featuring the outspoken feminist-journalist, Lupi Mushayakarara. She died a few years ago in the US.

Mushayakarara famously edited the most radical feminist magazine published in Zimbabwe so far. One issue carried a survey of women's views on the romance between Mugabe and Grace Marufu, now the First Lady.

I was editor of The Sunday Gazette then. I decided her story deserved more exposure and I had a reporter interview her on the story, portions of which were used in our story.

I ended up without a job.

The ZIBF gave literature and writers a huge platform from which to vent their alarm at the mounting official campaign against freedom of expression.

I was involved with the Zimbabwe Writers Union for a while, being a published author. I missed my chance at fame and fortune when two people who intended to publish my first novel, The Hanging, backed off, for reasons that were not explained to me.

One of them was the Angolan filmmaker, Orlando Fortunato, who met me in Harare to discuss a movie project based on the book.

The other was Masautso Phiri, a Zambian playwright with a penchant for stirring up things. He too had a film project in mind, again based on the novel, published in Zambia in 1978.

In Zimbabwe, I have published novels, but with the atmosphere of intolerance embedded in The Establishment today, I doubt literature has an authentic future. You probably need a revolution to save literature in Zimbabwe.

The end of the ZIBF's independence, apparently in exchange for politically correctness, could signal the end of Zimbabwean literature as we know it.