columnBy Beaven Tapureta
The late novelist and poet Prof Solomon Mangwiro Mutsvairo is one of well-known early African writers born in the month of April.
The African Arts Institute (AFAI) has a birthday calendar featuring some of the earliest writers and artists from across the continent and those born in April include Joe Coleman De Graft (Ghana) a film director, producer and writer born in 1924, Pauline Smith (SA) a novelist and short story writer born in 1882, Kole Omotoso (Nigeria) a novelist, and playwright born in 1943 and many others.
Mangwiro, born on April 26 in 1924, is featured in this AFAI birthday calendar for writing the first novel in Shona language titled “Feso” published in 1956. The novel was published at a time when Africans were rising up against colonialism.
Coincidentally, April is also the month when Zimbabwe celebrates its Independence Day and looking at Mutsvairo’s legacy it is undoubtedly worthwhile to also remember him for fighting the war against colonialism through the pen. Mutsvairo’s novel, according to Professor George Kahari, was ‘republished in translation in 1974’. Its leit motif of Africans rising up against the white settlers confirms that the war was also fought through the pen.
It also contains the unforgettable poem which is a touching plea to the legendary medium and spiritual beacon of the liberation struggle “Nehanda Nyakasikana” to intervene in Zimbabwe’s fight against colonial oppression.
The poem would become the trademark “song” of the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda which he performed at most of public gatherings he attended. Today, we celebrate the writer and his love for his country.
Mangwiro chose the pen to express his anti-colonialism voice and wrote from an internal source which a younger writer Dambudzo Marechera would later re-invoke in one of his poems. Marechera’s poem has the following lines:
Write the poem, the song the anthem, from what within you
Fused goals with guns and created citizens instead of slaves
Apart from this magnificent novel Mustvairo also wrote other books such as “Mapondera: Soldier of Zimbabwe”, “Ambuya Muderere” (1967), “Mweya waNehanda” (1988), “Hamandishe” (1991), “Chaminuka, Prophet of Zimbabwe”, “Murambiwa Goredema” (1959) and not forgetting what one writer Memory Chirere called Mangwiro’s ‘smallest and forgotten’ book “Tagutapadare: Poems for Children” (1982). He also contributed poems in the anthologies of “Shona poetry: Madetembedzo Akare naMatsva” (1959) and “Nduri DzeZimbabwe”.
Professor George Kahari in his book “The Rise of the Shona Novel” captures Mutsvairo’s academic biography which rings with patriotism and reflects a man who was passionate about the liberation and enlightenment of his fellow African people.
Born in Mazowe District, Mutsvairo went to Howard Institution in Chiweshe Reserve for his primary and teacher training before proceeding to Adams College in South Africa for his secondary education. Afterwards, his scholarship widened as he moved from one university to the other, earning diplomas and degrees. In 1953, he read for a Bachelor of Science Degree at Forte Hare University in South Africa and in 1958 he got his university education diploma.
From South Africa he came back home and had a stint as a teacher at Goromonzi Secondary School and as teacher-headmaster at Sanyati Baptist Mission School saw him getting involved in the organisation of the African Language Development Association, a forerunner of the Southern Rhodesian Government Literature Bureau.
The Literature Bureau, although running under the colonial bias, was undoubtedly a vital literary institution which helped develop Zimbabwean literature before and after Independence.
In 1960, Mutsvairo travelled to America on a Fulbright Scholarship and four years later, he was awarded an MA Degree in Geography from the University of Ottawa.
At independence in 1980, Kahari writes that Mutsvairo became “the first man to occupy the position of Writer-in-Residence in the Faculty of Arts, University of Zimbabwe”, a position he held for a stretch of three years before he took up a full-time lecturing post in the Department of African Languages and Literature at the same university in 1986.
Mutsvairo is a hero whose deeds are worth emulation. Even years after the attainment of Independence, he didn’t stop to inspire. He proved his versatility when he composed the lyrics to Zimbabwe’s national anthem “Simudzai Mureza weZimbabwe”. He died in 2005. May his soul rest in eternal peace.