Back to Index
An interview with Chris Magadza
Kramer, Weaver Press
November 07, 2012
of Weaver Press interviews poet Chris Magadza, "a man whose
life has served as a barometer of Zimbabwe's more recent history".
Your personal and professional background is multi-layered: you
are an academic working at the Department of Biology at UZ, and
you are well known for many environmental studies in zoology and
climatology. What motivated you to write poetry?
CM: First, just
to clarify something people assume again and again, I'm not
a climatologist by profession. It just so happens that I wrote an
invited paper in the 1980s about climate change in Africa, which
was published and then became internationally known, as it was the
first of its kind.
Now to the second
half of your question: I wouldn't say I wrote poetry. I'm
rather lost when it comes to any kind of formal literary structure.
I think I'd rather say I write verses. And I think I write
because there are things that need to be expressed very personally.
The verse ‘In Memory of a Danish Volunteer' is about
a friend who died, and I wanted to write that incident, that experience
I've talked to various other authors about the reading and
writing ‘culture' of Zimbabwe. Why is reading important
for you? Why is it important for your students - do they read
Who reads enough? My students definitely do not read enough. They
only read what I've asked them to read . . . I'm not
sure if they just don't care or just don't make the
opportunity to read more - but I'm not going to lie:
our bookshops are bad! When I went to Uni, I went because I could
and because I was interested in my subject. Today everyone studies
whatever it is to become skilled, get a job and get out.
While reading your poetry, I found again many multifaceted emotions
or themes as well as sources of writing. It was a pleasure to read
positive, negative, critical and admirable verses with particular
attention to your fascination for nature. What do these different
CM: The critical
sources [of my writing] are our politics. In 2008, you know, there
was a great chance for this country to change its direction and
history, but these hopes were dashed within weeks. The poem ‘Killing
an Infant' mirrors this violent period. It stands as a metaphor
for the glimpse of hope for democracy we had then, one that was
killed as soon as it was born.
I was really
hoping back then [that] things would change. There was a great chance
- but now we're being raped by the Chinese and nobody
cares anymore. And they're professionally dishonest to nature
and the environment wherever they go; that I think bugs me the most.
It's tragic, but our greed will lead to the extinction of
this world one day.
I also felt that sense of hope while reading ‘Not far from
here', a poem where everything is dreaming in the future tense.
‘One day . . .' you write. What do you think will happen
to Zimbabwe ‘one day' - one day when?
has to happen. How and what, I don't know. In 1992, I wrote
chapter in the book Beyond Hunger in Africa for the African Academy
of Science, to respond to the World Bank warning that ‘Africa
is going down the drain and the world has to be prepared to feed
it'. In the chapter I outlined a scenario in which Africa
was a fully democratic continent by the middle of this century.
It's very complex, so you have to read the book [he smiles]
but people - especially people in Zimbabwe - have to
think beyond the liberation struggle and its many entitlements.
But this probably won't happen - not in my lifetime
. . .
Last but not least, I would want to ask you about your admiration
for nature, the ‘Old Tree' poem for example. Do you
remember where this admiration for nature comes from?
CM: Well, I
think my times outside, within nature, have been my most fortunate.
In school I was taught by nuns about flowers and I got a connection
to these things. In secondary school we had a biology teacher, Douglas
Sagonda (he wasn't a biologist), who went out in the field
with us, exploring and smelling our surroundings. I really enjoyed
that - and furthermore, I know that my father loved planting
and my grandfather, who has never been to school, loved rocks. I
guess my admiration was more or less inherited.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.