Over 40 years ago when I was at Ilboru Secondary School, teachers encouraged learning in various ways. Take Mr Hopland from Norway. During my Form Two year, he offered weekly prizes for those who read the highest number of books.
Share of glory
I recall getting my share of glory. It has since helped me in the pursuit of knowledge. Or the beloved Zimbabwean Literature teacher, Mama Victoria Chitepo. She used to sit in front of our Form Three class, shouting sternly:“Boys! I want you all to look at my face! Boys! Come on!”
It was slightly intimidating to keep a steady stare. Think. We averaged 16 and 17 years and uneasy about females. The age of broken innocence – when you begin viewing women other than your respectful mothers, aunties, sisters and grandmothers.
But Mama Chitepo had a peculiar manner of teaching. She was also foreign. Around that time, Ilboru Secondary School – late 1960s to early 1970s… was a “palace” of international teachers. We had Scandinavians, Americans, British, West, East and South Africans, not to mention Tanzanians. Years of serious, very serious education.
If you skim through the leadership of Tanzania right now, you won’t miss ex-Ilboru students in high ranking and powerful positions. Examples: Captain (rtd) George Mkuchika, current minister of State in President’s Office for Good Governance, CCM and war hero of the anti-Idi Amin efforts by Tanzania in 1979. Or, former PM Frederick Sumaye. Or Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service (TISS) chief Rashid Othman who, apart from writing one of the best theatre plays ever shown at Ilboru, also won a poetry contest and was whisked to the State House to meet President Nyerere where he was personally congratulated in 1971 – to celebrate 10 years of Uhuru.
Anyway, Mama Chitepo was the wife of the then Zimbabwe (ZANU) leader, Herbert Chitepo – assassinated in 1975. Was she amazing? Listen.
In the said classroom we were studying a book by South African anti-racist writer, Alan Paton, Cry my Beloved Country. We learnt how ugly the apartheid system was. It would slightly parallel the horrors of Syria’s killings today.
When Mama Chitepo told us to sit straight and look at her – she was subtly guiding us to concentrate and learn the use of words. Which is what literature is all about…
In my school days, I studied under many teachers, some of whom have since died (Mr John Mdakie comes to mind). Some are still alive, like Mr Nizar Visram who taught me at Mzumbe. They all taught us world affairs through books, stories and literature. No wonder, I ended up in the newsroom of the national Swahili daily, Uhuru.
And therein I came upon famous writers who were once reporters, e.g. Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez (pictured). For many years the novelist and journalist who died last week in Mexico interested me, chiefly because he started out as a reporter.
Mmmh. But why celebrate Colombia’s Marquez from so far away? After all he wrote in Spanish, not in English or Kiswahili…
To start with, the man was a survivor. Just like Nelson Mandela or the recently deceased –
London writer Doris Lessing – Marquez (affectionately known as “Gabo”) experienced the ups and downs of living in a struggling third world or developing country.
No wonder, his 2003 autobiography, has the ironic title: Living to Tell the Tale. On page 63, while recalling his childhood, he has this remarkable sentence. “Real life did me justice…”
Alas! This is the theme he carries throughout his work. He considered himself first and foremost a reporter of life. Although the 1927-born writer was given many awards, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 (for One Hundred Years of Solitude), in his unique way of telling stories, known as “magic realism”— the major thing Marquez contributed to our world was information.
What else do you expect from a writer? The things he wrote about were not far from our own Africa. Take the idea of instant justice whereby a thief is stoned and killed on the spot. Marquez writes in his autobiography:
“He was the first dead person I had seen…When I passed by at seven in the morning on my way to school, the body was still lying on the sidewalk in a patch of dried blood, the face destroyed by the lead that had shattered his nose and come out one ear.” (Page 23)
We are used to piga mwizi scenarios in the streets all across African. Such stories litter the Marquez’s world in Latin America.
Continues to struggle
A continent that has struggled and continues to struggle along similar lines as Africa, five novels, seven collections of articles, six short story collections and four novellas (long short stories) – is what he left for us. Not to mention other articles and poems in numerous periodicals.
Since he had to live in dangerous Columbia where drug lords and political heavyweights ruled, Marquez hid his tales in metaphors but was unafraid to speak out. No wonder he became friends with many figures including ex-presidents Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro.