Friday, July 31, 2009

[Interview] Ambrose Musiyiwa

By Kaye Axon*

Ambrose Musiyiwa has worked as a freelance journalist and teacher. One of his short stories was featured in Writing Now (Weaver Press, 2005), an anthology of contemporary Zimbabwean writing.

Currently, he is working on another story.

In this interview, Ambrose Musiyiwa talks about his concerns as a writer:

Did you write in Zimbabwe?

I've always been writing.

In primary school, I was writing short stories and other narratives. When I moved to high school, I was writing short stories, poems, letters and opinion articles for national newspapers and magazines. After high school, I stopped writing poems altogether and concentrated on short stories and feature articles for newspapers and magazines.

When I went to teacher training college, I was concentrating more on feature articles and book reviews than on short stories or other narratives.

The list of newspapers and magazines I've written for includes The Sunday Times, The Zimbabwe Independent, the High Density Mirror, The Daily News, The Financial Gazette, The Sunday Mail, The Herald and the women's magazine, Mahogany.

How have your personal experiences helped to shape the direction of your work?

In the short stories that I write, I tend to concentrate on those things that I find difficult to deal with, personally. Things I wouldn't know how to deal with otherwise. For example, one of my short stories explores the effects of suicide on a family while "Living on Promises and Credit", which was featured in Writing Now, is about a teacher who is trying to come to terms with a death threat he's received for doing his job, as he understood it.

How do you balance the different aspects of your writing, such as short stories, journalistic work and book reviews?

I don't think I've ever made a conscious effort to balance the different aspects of the writing that I'm doing. I tend to write those stories that want to be written the way they want to be written. (Which, I'm told, isn't really the right way of approaching the job of writing.) This is also probably why I tend to write more journalism and book reviews than short stories.

I find the book reviews more demanding in terms of the time I've got to give to a book before I can even start drafting the review itself.

Many of your factual articles focus on human rights issues, is this area of your work something that you have decided to concentrate on?

I write on human rights issues because I feel strongly about what people as individuals, groups and governments are doing to others.

In the UK, for instance, there's the way government is actively criminalizing asylum seekers and pushing them into destitution and poverty. The British government is currently electronically tagging asylum seekers and in that way further reinforcing the popular image of the asylum seeker as a criminal. There's the way government is denying asylum seekers access to education, housing, legal representation and medical care. There's the way government is threatening to snatch the children of asylum seekers from their families and force them to live in care homes. There's also the way government is encouraging white Britain to view the Muslim as a foreigner and a terrorist and the black man as a foreigner, a drug dealer and a criminal.

On the other hand, there's a very active group of people, working as individuals or as organizations or groups, who are working very hard and against great odds to reaffirm the humanity of asylum seekers and refugees. These include people like the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu and other church leaders; the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns; the ASSIST Service in Leicester; the parliamentarian Kate Hoey and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe ...

Do you feel that by publishing human rights abuses that it is possible to reduce their frequency and severity?

This is my hope. This is what I hope for.

With human rights defenders, one of the ways of keeping them alive is by writing and talking about them. In that way you tell governments that you are watching and can see how they are detaining the activists, how they are torturing them and how they are killing them. For example, in Zimbabwe, security agents have been known to detain, harass and torture human rights defenders and opposition party members. Some human rights defenders have died in accidents that can be traced back to the hand of security agents. Chris Giwa, a student leader, died in a traffic accident involving an army vehicle. And, recently, the women's rights activist Jenni Williams was told by a senior police officer in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, that she will end up losing her life if she continues organizing demonstrations and protest marches against government policy.

If you could write a few paragraphs that would influence UK policy on asylum seekers what would it be?

I am concerned that the British government, and the Home Office, in its efforts to reduce the number of asylum seekers in the UK, has stopped seeing asylum seekers as people, as human beings. What it is saying over and over again is that asylum seekers are numbers to be kept down. It is becoming increasingly inhumane and punitive. It is subjecting those asylum seekers who are in the UK to lives of extreme insecurity, hardship and poverty and is then sending them back to famines, dictatorships and war zones.

In May 2005, for example, the British government rejected Muhammad Osama Sayes' asylum application and sent him back to Syria.

Muhammad Osama Sayes was a known member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was arrested on arrival at Damascus Airport and is now serving a 12-year prison term in Syria (after being convicted of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.) The Muslim Brotherhood is banned in Syria and membership to that organization carries a maximum penalty of death.

What do you find are the major hindrances to your work and how do you overcome them?

I write all my notes in long-hand. This means when interviewing a source, he or she has to speak slowly. To overcome this, I am increasingly having to rely on tape recorders and I am learning short-hand. I am also increasingly relying on email as a tool for conducting interviews because it is sometimes impossible to travel to meet sources physically.

Given that all those hindrances disappeared and you could write about anything what would you write?

I'd most likely carry on doing what I'm doing now: writing on human rights issues, writing about human rights defenders, writing about writers and other artists and writing the occasional short story.

On a lighter note, how is the latest short story progressing?

A few years back, I collaboratated with a civil rights activist on a narrative about what she was seeing and the detainees she was meeting when she visited immigration detention centres. It was not a short story in the popular sense of a short story -- every detail in it is fact and is verifiable. The places are real and the people are real. It was a short story in the sense that it is short and can be read like a short story.

At the moment, I'm working on what I'm hoping will turn into a novel. The story is currently accessible on the blog, Diary of an Asylum Seeker but because of work and study commitments, I spend more time thinking about the story than I do updating it. It's making very, very slow progress.

An earlier version of this article was first published on OhmyNews International.

About the author

*Kaye Axon, has had several hundred poems published or self-published worldwide. She is a long-term vegan and travel addict. In 2005, her short story, "Kamikaze Black Moor" was short-listed in the Leicester and Leicestershire Short Story Contest. The story explores the role fish played in her childhood.

Possibly related books:

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1 comment:

Muriel Anaphiri Russell said...

There you are... A talented human being!