Sunday, November 7.
The heat, the terrible pall at the start of the rainy season, lies over Harare like wet cotton. I’ve already sweat through my shirt when Tanya arrives to meet me on the steps of the National Gallery. She is bedecked with necklaces and bangles; her hair is knotted up in a rasta hat; her belly and small, braless breasts are outlined in a green Abercrombie t-shirt. We greet with little fist-bumps and an awkward hug. She is taking me to Epworth, to her home, to meet her young rasta son and see how the place where she lives. Already the sky is hazy, threatening rain. I hope we can make it to Epworth before the clouds erupt.
Tanya starts at the beginning, again, telling me about her life. She is 24, born in a place called Kadoma; she came to Harare when she was only 14, after her parents both died of AIDS. She spent the next eight years living on the streets, hustling, selling hand-made jewelry. On the streets she found a surrogate family: other homeless kids, Harare’s orphans, looking after each other. Two years ago she got pregnant; after the birth of her son she moved to Epworth, one of the poorest communities ringing Harare. She tells me about her struggles and misfortunes with heaviness, but not with regret or self-pity. “I believe He is up there, the man above,” she says. “He is watching over me.”
On the quiet, Sunday-morning streets, Tanya is a celebrity: the homeless, the barefoot street kids, driven from the city center during the week, are sitting on the curbs and huddled in the doorways, calling out to her: “Tanya! Tanya!” or, “Rasta! Rasta!” She gives out fist-bumps and one-loves like a rasta politician. Outside the New Life Church, a house of worship in a small auditorium, like a Knights of Columbus, a group of men are idling in the street. I ask why they’re not in church and they jerk their thumbs toward a few cars parked by the curb: they are getting paid to look after them. The sound of music lilts toward us from the church. It’s like killing two birds with one stone. Turning the corner we see a group of youths, lean, grinning, jogging past us with dozens of pairs of cheap sunglasses. They are being chased by a few policemen, pedaling their bicycles lazily, close together. Walking past the empty shopping centers, more young rastas call out to Tanya. They exchange greetings in Shona. “When someone says, ‘Ndaipi’” – What’s up? – “you will not hear them say, ‘Cool,’” she says. “They will say, ‘Hapana.’ ‘Nothing.’” For the city’s street kids – beaten, harassed, hustling for food – “nothing,” an uneventful day, is a good day.
Tanya tells me that on Friday night – the night we met at Book Café – she never made it back to Epworth. She slept with some friends on the street – the way she says it, it’s like she crashed on a friend’s sofa. There were always problems with the police, she says. There was one cop on a motorcycle who drove past their group with a truncheon. He swung it and caught one of her friends on the side of the head. Then he came back and started beating him on the legs. “I cried so much when I saw that,” she says. She has had run-ins with the police in the past, was arrested once for reciting a provocative poem. “I was saying some things opposing” – she makes quotation marks in the air, too cautious, on the street, to say the words “Mugabe” or “ZANU-PF.” She was hauled down to the station, bullied, questioned. “I am just a poet,” she told them. “I am talking for those people who can’t say.” She spent the night sleeping on the floor of the cell. Everywhere we walk, in what to me looks like a placid, green city on a Sunday morning, there is something to trigger a bitter memory. The parking marshals guarding the cars in their bright reflective vests, she says, are being paid by the city. “It was a job we used to do on the street, something to survive,” she says. Now her friends are being robbed of even that meager income. She sighs. Nothing is the same. “We used to call it Sunshine City, but not anymore,” she says. “Now it is dirty, the lights don’t work.”
We reach the Road Port station, crowded, even on a Sunday morning, with people shuttling back and forth: to churches, to funerals, to an aunt’s house in the village. The place is packed with combis, most blasting reggae. It is like a Friday night in Kingston. Tanya, well-known, much-loved, is greeted like an icon. I imagine a young girl, a rasta, who survived close to a decade on the streets has earned the respect of Harare’s youths. We get into a small, crowded combi, the stuffing poking from the seats. It quickly fills: a youth with short, tightly coiled dreads; a father and his young son in an oversized Sunday suit; a neatly dressed young man playing solitaire on a Toshiba netbook. The smell of body odor is strong – a sharp smell, an African smell, that I’ve encountered nowhere else. What do the bodies smell like, packed into a crowded bus in China, or Bolivia, I wonder. We drive from the city; on the outskirts we pass a sign, “Safe Journey,” and below that: “Thank You Call Again.” It bears the Harare coat of arms and, beside it, the Coca-Cola logo. Further still, approaching Epworth, we see the famous balancing rocks in the distance – the peculiar geological formations that look like some adolescent game played by giants. As we get closer, I can see election slogans – “VOTE MDC” – written on curbs and painted onto the rocks. Carpenters are sawing, hammering, building furniture on the side of the road. Three men crouch under a small tree, repairing bicycles. Raggedy houses are built everywhere, mud and brick shacks with tin roofs weighted down by stones. Some are in open fields and others are thrust against the sides of the balancing rocks – a precarious place to put a home, I think, as if a strong wind might flatten the living room.
We get out and walk along the road’s shoulder, admiring the rocks, looking out across the valley toward the control tower of Harare International. Epworth is one of the poorest communities ringing the city limits; many of the houses belong to second- and third-generation Zimbabweans, the children of Malawian and Zambian and Mozambican immigrants. During the 2008 elections, says Tanya, the place was like a tinderbox. “When there is violence in Harare, it starts in Epworth,” she says. We walk back to a junction to catch another combi to her home. It is just a few kilometers, she says, but the road passes through a dangerous area that she’s afraid to walk through. After getting into a combi and driving a kilometer down the road, she points out the window to a quarry that was abandoned when the diggers struck water. It looks like a placid little manmade lake; Tanya says it’s where the killers in Epworth dump the bodies of their victims.
Just as we’ve pulled up to her bus stop the clouds break; fat, cold raindrops begin to fall, dimpling the dirt road that leads toward her home. We jog through the gathering storm, the air smelling sweet, the neighbors watching us from their doorways, the sound of children’s voices everywhere. After a few minutes we duck into a friend’s house – it is a small, musty room, a storage shed, crowded with old furniture, foam mattresses, blankets, cookery, bottles of cooking oil. We shake the rain from our limbs. A young girl races in behind us, laughing, holding a chicken. The rain thunders on the zinc rooftop. We stand in the doorway, watching the sky, waiting, until Tanya takes me by the wrist and says, “Come.” It is a short jog to her place, past her neighbors’ small, shambling houses: one- and two-room shacks, the roofs weighed down with stones, the walls cracked, little vegetable plots on the side. Rainwater is running in torrents through the corrugated channels of the roofs, gathering in puddles, racing through the gullies. We make it to her house, soaked, laughing, shaking our arms and wringing our shirts. Her room is attached to the back of the landlady’s house. Another girl, Tanya’s roommate, greets us at the door. She is tall, square-shouldered, solidly built, her feet big and shapeless; she could be any village girl anywhere in Africa, pulling up vegetables in a field, carrying wood, stoking a cooking fire in the dark interior of a mud-walled hut, scrubbing her children’s dirty faces. Before Epworth they lived together on the streets. Now they share this single, dark, damp room with Junior, Tanya’s son, a sulking two-year-old with dreadlocks; and Brandon, a grinning eight-year-old, the son of her elder sister who died earlier this year. There is a single, sagging bed which takes up most of the room; the others sleep on it, says Tanya, while she sleeps on the floor, because it can’t hold the weight of the four of them. One of the walls is dark with water stains and on another hangs a collage, faded pictures of Bob Marley, Sizzla, Gregory Isaacs. There is a wall calendar and some framed Bible verses and a clutter of pots and enamel crockery. In this small, cramped room, Tanya has built her life. There is an amp beside the door, and Brandon lugs it outside for me to sit on, as the guest of honor. He squats on the floor beside Tanya and Junior, the four of us sitting there in the narrow entryway beneath the rusted awning, the mother stroking the son’s face, the rain pounding the roof and pooling in the muddied yard.
It is twenty minutes before we’re able to venture back outside. The yard is washed out, rivers and tributaries flowing in every direction. The sky is still heavy and gray. We had planned an excursion for the afternoon – a group of local Malawians gather every Sunday to perform traditional dances some kilometers away – but now that looks unlikely. Tanya takes me next door, to introduce me to the landlady, a tall, vigorous Malawian woman, who runs a small shebeen out of her living room. With a slight nudge from Tanya I greet her in Chichewa: “Mulibanje,” I say. She claps her big, muscular hands, erupts with laughter. “Mulibanje!” she says, in ecstacies. “Mulibanje!” Much Chichewa (hers) and puzzled head-nodding (mine) commences. She disappears into the kitchen, works at some mysterious potions, then returns, still smiling broadly, her head big, her jaw solid, her toes short and thick, like cocktail franks. The room is small and, like the kitchen I glimpse through the doorway, littered with brewing apparatus: pots of all shapes and sizes, large vats, dozens of chipped enamel mugs on a table in the corner, empty flasks and wine bottles. There are plastic floral arrangements on the coffee table, and floral prints on the stiff armchairs and loveseats, and a Philips TV at the front of the room. Some of the neighbors are sitting with us: an athletic young man in track pants and a red Diesel t-shirt; a young woman in a skimpy dress, the straps slipping from her bony shoulders, her carnal posture and explicit eyes suggesting she is a hit with the locals. They are both taking long slugs from plastic flasks filled with the landlady’s signature hooch. Their offers to give it a try are politely, then more firmly, rebuffed. Tanya forks over a few coins – the equivalent of 50 cents – for a small flask: about 300ml of what is no doubt an 80% a.b.v. concoction. She pours a small shot into an enamel mug, knocks it back, and grimaces with great, heart-stopping effect. You can imagine some medieval martyr, roasting over pagan flames, grimacing thusly. Before long word of my presence has rippled out into the surrounding houses. More villagers gather: men in soiled dress slacks and overalls, in blue jeans and baseball caps, handing the landlady some dull, dirty coins, receiving their bottles and flasks like communion wine, and proceeding to get shit-faced on the sofa. The landlady is in high spirits. It is good business, so far, for 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning.
We are talking the usual talk now, about Zimbabwe, about America. My life in South Africa is brought up, dissected. Chris Banda, the young man in the track pants sitting across from me, is, like most of his countrymen, wary of his southern neighbor. He has heard about the guns and the violence on the news. “Why can’t they be peaceful like Zimbabwe?” he asks. He is a fine, genial man, 32 – “my age-mate,” I tell him, to much approving laughter – a former player on the national soccer team. He wore the number 9 and played upfront alongside So-and-so – a national icon, it seems, now coaching the top team in the Zimbabwean Premier League. Chris’ fortunes had diverged from his former teammate’s. After playing soccer he drifted around, moved between odd jobs. Now he is a parking marshal in Harare: he is paid by the municipal government to wear a neon vest, to help drivers in and out of parking spots, to watch their cars for the opportunistic thieves looking to pull a smash-and-grab from the backseat. He seems genuinely pleased with his lot, knowing how fickle fortune can be in Zimbabwe, no doubt better off than many of his neighbors in Epworth. “Don’t worry about our poorness,” he says. “We are poor, but we are here. We are surviving.”
More men crowd into the room, light cigarettes, swig hooch, laugh, disappear, bicker outside, return with more coins for more hooch. One man, another 30-something, but with a weathered face, yellow eyes swimming in disappointment, is insistent that I buy him a bottle. I more or less give him the impression that there’s nothing I’d like to do less on this Sunday morning, but he persists. He leers at Tanya, leans into her, says some low things in her ear. Her face is blank, her body is rigid; I wonder what sort of indiscretions, what moral comprises, a poor young mother in Zimbabwe has had to make in her life. Soon there is more movement and shuffling energy by the door: someone has brought a generator, the neighbors have scraped together enough money for petrol so we can watch TV. There is a nest of wiring to untangle, many frayed ends being twisted together. They fire up the generator in the front yard and run the wires through a broken window. Someone crouches in front of the Philips TV – you would not see a priest approaching the altar with any more gravity – and pulls out a pair of DVD players. Yes, the landlady has made a nice life for herself here. Word has apparently gotten out about our frustrated plans to see the Malawian dancers, because soon a DVD is produced: a competition of traditional dance troupes, performing somewhere in Malawi some years ago, a great thumping of drums and whirling of dancers in elaborate animal costumes and masks. We are a rapt audience, a dozen village children now in the room, too, sitting barefooted on the floor in their moth-eaten, cast-off clothing. It is a shame we won’t be able to see the dancing in Epworth – they are eight, ten kilometers from here – but this seems like a good enough substitute. Afterward, spent by these wild evocations of the spirits, someone puts in another DVD: a much-watched, greatly scratched collection of Zimbabwean pop videos. The production values are not exactly MTV-caliber: the camerawork wobbly, the colors flushed out, the singers’ lips moving a half-beat behind the lyrics coming from the speakers. They are the usual ballads of broken hearts and boyfriends up to no good. Two lovers walking in a park. A man and woman quarreling. No doubt these videos were shot in a single take, on budgets that would get you change for your $20 bill. The girls in the room sing along, the boys chuckle when the cheating boyfriend is found out. No one has any illusions about what we’re watching – surely they’ve seen videos on Channel O and MTV Base at some bar in Harare. “They are not very good quality,” says Chris, sighing. But they are Zimbabwean videos all the same, and the music is still playing loudly, the lost loves still lamented, as me and Tanya say our goodbyes.
She’s put on a brave face in the landlady’s living room, but I can see Tanya is troubled. “It is not how it seems now, with everybody laughing,” she says. The landlady drinks as much of her African whiskey as she sells. Often she gets loud and belligerent; when she gambles, it’s even worse. “If she loses some money, eish, we will not sleep tonight,” Tanya says. When there is a problem with the rent, the landlady makes a scene in the street: yelling, cursing Tanya, asking the whole neighborhood why she hasn’t paid on time. “She cannot sit down, like we are talking, to discuss things,” she says. Often Tanya struggles to make ends meet – the rent is too high, it was $20 in September, then $25 in October. Now the landlady is demanding $30 for the single room – a price that would include electricity anywhere else in Epworth. “In other ghettos, you could not pay more than $20 for this room,” she says bitterly. But what can she do? If she complains, she’s back out on the street. With Junior and Brandon to look after, that’s not an option.
On our way back to the bus stop, Tanya wants to make a house call – another woman is renting rooms, and she wants to see if there are any available for December. I have a feeling that my presence during the negotiations would come as a recommendation of sorts – with friends like these, she is all but saying, how can I not be trustworthy? The house has a pigeon coop in the yard, and a chicken pen full of month-old puppies. A young guy is washing his jeans in a basin in the yard; another is cleaning his sneakers. Inside we’re greeted by a stout, matronly woman who clasps our hands with great feeling. She wears a yellow blouse with Victorian frills around the neckline, and a purple skirt cinched tight around her wide hips. Her headscarf has a beautiful pattern on it – a nautical motif resembling a Chanel knock-off, the cheap bright colors that bleed with each washing. She looks immensely pleased to welcome us into her home. She leads us into the living room, where the coffee table has been set for afternoon tea: a pewter pot, two plates stacked with slices of white bread, a jar of peanut butter. A man somewhere in his 30s, the landlady’s grandson, is seated in an armchair on the far side of the room. He wears a checkered shirt and olive slacks tucked into his gray dress socks: a neat, good man, a reciter of Psalms and believer in God’s graces. As Tanya unpacks the baggage of her troubled heart at the landlady’s feet, this man takes on a sagacious look. His face suggests a more than passing acquaintance with hardship. “These things will cancel themselves,” he says, spreading peanut butter onto a dry slice of bread. He tells me he is out of work – it is impossible to say how many holes have been punched into his threadbare belt – but his eyes are wide with wonder, thanksgiving, joy. “Even if I am sitting here, I am happy,” he says.
He remembers a trip he took to Malawi in 2002, when the white farmers were leaving Zimbabwe in droves, taking their skills to neighboring countries. He was working for some pet-care clinic and was tasked with escorting a group of St. Bernards to their new Malawian home. He traveled to Lilongwe, and then Zombe, with the rich fertile farmlands that the Zimbabwean whites would now till. Then he drove far to the north, to Nkhata Bay, and went fishing in the lake. He laughs now in his grandmother’s house in Epworth, remembering the fish he caught eight years ago in Lake Malawi. He wanted to stay – the cost of living was cheap, he remembers buying tea and bread and eggs for breakfast for less than $2 – but he had a job in Zimbabwe to come back to. He returned, but the life was no better for him here. He realized he was going nowhere looking after the animals of the whites. He would work all day and go to the bank and only have five hundred Zim dollars to show for it. “You have this money, and it is already spent,” he says. So he quit – how rarely have I heard such a thing in Africa, a man quitting his job. The decision was a good one, it gave him time to think about the future. “You have to keep cool, be settled, and you will find the decisions,” he says. “Your mind will find the bright things.”
Now he is looking for work again: he can handle a cash register, and he hopes that some shopkeeper will hire him as a cashier. He doesn’t know how to use the new computerized tills, he says, but he is sure he’ll learn quickly. “I believe that good things will come,” he says, folding another slice of white bread and peanut butter into his mouth and carefully wiping the crumbs from the coffee table.
On our way back to the road, Tanya is in good spirits. The landlady has told her a room will be free at the end of the month; something bright has come of this soggy day. Along the way an old, shambling man in a drooping gray suit calls out to us. It is Tanya’s uncle – not her actual uncle, she says, but she uses the term out of respect. They exchange elaborate greetings, and the man, in a fine Sunday mood, pulls a plastic bottle of bright red hooch from the inside pocket of his coat. He takes a long swig and offers it to me. The label says Tentacão Finest Whiskey; the logo is an image of a woman’s puckered red lips. I decline, clapping my hands together in the Shona sign of thanks. Undaunted, he takes another long swig. He has ears like dinner plates, great pouches of skin under his eyes, a nose the size of my fist. Pity these ravaged, old, misshapen bodies! Only his eyes are alive, alert. How many mischievous stories, I wonder, might we share under the mango tree? He tucks the bottle back into his coat, straightens his hat, and creaks off to his afternoon appointments. Tanya is laughing; she is a different person after hearing the encouraging news about the room. The sun is out, the air is fresh. A group of children is playing hopscotch nearby, their bare feet leaving prints in the dirt.
We’re stopped one last time before reaching the road – how much of these African days are spent on greetings and formalities? A group of teens, drunk, some friends of hers, are sitting outside someone’s home, knocking back cans of Castle and pouring shots of something bright and viscous. Two giant speakers are propped up in the dirt. The music is loud, full of bass; a girl in very tight jeans is shaking her hips suggestively. One of the guys, Brian, a muscular rasta in a yellow tanktop, gives me a few fist-bumps and says some rasta things. “You remind me of when I was a tour guide in Vic Falls,” he says, by which he means that I am white. He remembers taking tourists to Mana Pools, and Matopos; he camped on the shores of Lake Kariba and went whitewater rafting on the Zambezi. But all that was over now. The tourism industry has barely begun to recover from its decade-long freefall. Brian hasn’t worked as a tour guide since 2006. What was he doing now? He shrugs. What does anybody do? More fist-bumps and rasta farewells. At the side of the road two men with axes are dismantling a tree trunk, chopping it into bundles of firewood. Tanya leaves me as a crowded combi pulls over, the door awkwardly bumping along its track. The conductor leans far outside, waving his arm like a carnival barker. On the drive back to town the road is busy with women in church hats and men in Sunday suits, little boys muddying their smart shoes in the puddles.
After a busy week I’m ready for a quiet night with my writing, but the phone rings as soon as I’m back in town: it is Saki Mafundikwa, a local filmmaker, a friend of a friend from Joburg. He’s invited me over for dinner tonight, and I realize the writing will have to wait for tomorrow. An hour after saying goodbye to Tanya in Epworth, I’m grocery shopping with Saki, struggling to find a decent head of lettuce, having our patience tested by the math-challenged cashier at Spar. It takes close to ten minutes for us to get our change. (Small bills are hard to come by in Zimbabwe; most of the weathered singles you find changing hands in Harare would get turned down by all but the most hard-up U.S. merchants. American coins, too, are almost nonexistent. If your bill comes out five cents shy of the dollar, the balance will be paid out in a piece of chewing gum; for ten cents, a lollipop.) Saki, a tall, soulful rasta with towering dreads and a salt-and-pepper beard, shakes his head. Zimbabwe-born, educated in the States, having given up a successful career as a graphic designer in New York to return to his country in 1998, he is still, at times, a New Yorker at heart. The change debacle has almost given him a fit; he has high blood pressure, he says, and shouldn’t get worked up so easily. At his apartment complex – a high-rise just steps away from State House: perhaps the safest address in Harare – he is almost comically distressed: someone has decided to drill a borehole in the parking lot. The water came gushing up all afternoon, he says. The ground is still slick, puddles everywhere. The owner of erstwhile parking space 36 will no doubt have some words for management in the morning. Saki sighs: this is Africa. Hell, this is Zimbabwe. “Who puts a motherfucking borehole in a parking lot?” he says, laughing, grimacing, showing the sort of tortured black humor it takes to survive a Zimbabwean day.
The apartment is urban, stylish: it would not look at all out of place at his former address in Crown Heights. The coffee tables and bookshelves are cluttered with design magazines, African histories, biographies of Bob Marley and Fela Kuti; stacked atop the stereo are box sets of Otis Redding, Earth, Wind & Fire, Curtis Mayfield. The floors are hardwood, and the place is cluttered with objets d’art he has collected during his travels in Africa: a portrait of King Mswati III, masks from Cameroon, Shona stone sculptures, an mbira, carvings of hippos and giraffes, a ceremonial drum. An old turntable – yet another objet: urban America, circa 2010 – sits proudly next to the TV. It is a beautiful pad. Saki hands me some reading material – a brilliant piece by Joshua Hammer, in Fast Company, on the Marange diamond fields – while he prepares the fish in the kitchen. Thomas Mapfumo sings soulfully on the stereo – another Zimbabwean exile; unlike Saki, there is no coming back for him – and I sit there on the sofa, taking in exactly the sort of place I’d like to inhabit if I ever grow up.
I was put in touch with Saki because of his 2009 film, Shungu, an acclaimed documentary that he shot in 2008, during the run-up to Zimbabwe’s controversial presidential elections. I am writing a piece about Saki and Shungu for Variety, but an interview in his Harare apartment doesn’t come without a certain irony: Shungu is contraband in Zimbabwe, and copies of the film are almost impossible to come by. Saki admits, as he digs into his grilled bream (“from Lake Kariba” – proudly Zimbabwean), that filming Shungu came with a heavy price tag. “We’ll never make a movie like that again,” he says, referring to his wife and co-producer, Karen, a Jamaican born filmmaker living in New York. “Too much stress.”
The film focuses on a cast of ordinary Zimbabweans whose lives are drawn into the election-year turmoil: a poor opposition supporter trying to survive in the face of political violence; a doctor struggling to cope with the country’s collapsing health care system; a middle-aged widow who was given a farm by the government during its controversial land seizures from white farmers. Much of the filming as Saki traveled around the country had to be done covertly. At a police checkpoint, accused of filming for the BBC, he told the suspicious officers, “I’m a storyteller. This is for my children.” (They let him through.) Now, with Shungu racking up awards at film festivals across the globe, he realizes there’s a security dossier somewhere in Harare with his name on it. So far, he says, he’s been left alone. “They are waiting for me to do something stupid, like screening it in Zimbabwe,” he says. But he doesn’t plan on provoking them – not while Shungu is doing well enough abroad. “I have kids that I really love,” he says. “I don’t want to leave them for some foolishness.”
Reliving the period when he was filming is difficult, even two years later. “Shungu was so stressful that I can’t pick up my camera and go into the streets of Harare and start shooting,” he says. “It brings back the memories of how stressful that time was.” He says in 2008 he would come home at the end of a day of filming and look at the footage and cry. Post-production was hectic: the editing spanned two continents, with Karen working through the footage in New York. The schedule was tight; the pair wanted to make the deadline for Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival, where Shungu was eventually named an official selection. At times, Saki seems amazed that he ever pulled it off. “I had a lot of shungu” – the Shona word for “resilience” – “to get Shungu done,” he says.
After dinner he shows me a trailer for his next film, Basilwizi, about the indigenous Tonga of the Zambezi River valley. Tens of thousands of Tonga were displaced by the building of the Kariba dam in the 1950s – a traumatic uprooting for which the people were never compensated. In the half-century since, the Tonga have been all but ignored by the Zimbabwean government. Yet when he visited, Saki found that the people were proud, determined; they didn’t want to be seen as victims. They had found ingenious ways to survive. (In one clip, a woman devises a scheme to burn plastic bags and turn them into kerosene, which she sold at the village market.) Saki has been inspired by his visits to the Tonga communities. “Because they’ve been left alone for 50 years, going back to Binga” – a small urban center on the eastern end of Lake Kariba – “is like going back in time,” he says. “It’s like a place of magic. You don’t know what’s real and what’s made up when you’re there.”
Since returning to Zimbabwe, Saki has spent most of his time running the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts – “vigital,” a word he coined, meaning to train students in the visual arts using digital tools. (The institute’s acronym, ZIVA, is also the Shona word for “knowledge.”) He has been happy in his native land, despite the difficulties and frustrations. When he visited South Africa around the time of the reggae singer Lucky Dube’s murder in 2007, he knew that he could never make a home for himself south of the Limpopo. (“I thought, if they’re even killing rastas, I can’t be there,” he says – rastas, it seems, enjoying a sort of diplomatic immunity.) In a few months, his wife will be coming out to Harare to join him. His eldest son, Ticha, is already here. Filmmaking – a new venture for him – has helped him to explore a new talent, a new voice. Despite the stress, it’s offered its own form of therapy, too.
“At that time, if I hadn’t made Shungu,” he says, “I would’ve gone crazy.”