Interview: Tagwira Valerie by Bertha Shoko

Bertha Shoko interviews Valerie Tagwira
The Standard, Zimbabwe
13th May, 2007

BS: Please give us a brief biography of yourself, occupation, level of education, current studies and family life and history.

VT: I am a thirty-three year old married woman. I was born in Gweru, but I lived in Rutendo (Redcliff) for the greater part of my childhood. I was educated at Monte Cassino Secondary School (Macheke) and St James High School (Nyamandlovu). I graduated from the University of Zimbabwe's Medical School in 1997 and I am currently working in London as a medical doctor, while doing some post-graduate training.

BS: I know from the brief introduction to the book that you undertook studies related to public health nothing in the arts or literature, and I was left wondering what made you set aside the challenging world of medicine and inspired you to write this really compelling novel? Have you always wanted to write, perhaps?

VT: O-level Literature is my only claim to 'studies in the arts and literature'. No, I wouldn't say I undertook studies in Public Health – I would love to, though. My post-graduate training is in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. I wrote the book while working and studying. Writing came out of a desire to do something different – something creative. But then I realised that in the process I could concurrently explore health-related and developmental issues that affect women. – areas I have always been interested in. Part of my inspiration developed out of these interests, as well as the fact that I am a woman.

BS: Before this novel have you published anything else that is not prose?

VT: Before this novel, I hadn't published anything at all.

BS: Your vivid description of Mbare township and Mbare Musika are very interesting and fascinating. For example, the "unwritten road regulations" – as a driver in Mbare one has to drive slowly and actually wait for people to get out of the road at their own pace, etc.  Do you have a connection with the suburb or did you live there at some point in your life?

VT: I’m quite familiar with Mbare, especially the market place and the bus terminus. During my secondary schooldays, it was the place where I used to catch the school bus to Macheke. The market was a great place to stock up on roasted nuts, maputi, etc (as boarders do), and at the end of each school term, it was the place where the school bus dropped us so that we could get transport on to our various destinations. Later, when I lived in Harare, I frequently drove to the market to buy fruit and vegetables. Besides this, I’m no stranger to high-density life as I was raised in a township. Mbare was the perfect setting for my novel because of its complexity and vibrancy.

BS:Some of the themes in your book are controversial: foreign currency dealing, Murambatsvina, corruption in the police force, the state of the economy, nobody can ignore the controversy in your book. Are you afraid of prosecution because of some of the things that you wrote in book and if so, why? (Why I ask, I hear you were unhappy about the casting of the headline in the review we wrote. While it was really not my doing, I also didn't see the problem with this.)

VT: No, I’m not afraid of being prosecuted because anyone who has read the book and understood it will acknowledge that even as a work of fiction, it has a very balanced approach, and looks at life from various perspectives. I am also confident that the novel is not worthy of police attention as there is nothing illegal about it.

As to your headline, ‘Novel Revisits Murambatsvina’ well, I think Irene Staunton and I were both disappointed. The headline did seem both somewhat sensational and reductionist. The Uncertainty of Hope is about so much more – the many challenges that women have to contend with – than just Murambatsvina. In addition, my own family was quite concerned about the implications of such a headline. And as I am sure you understand, people in England worry when they see such headlines because of the news we hear about home, and various friends did feel that it was neither responsible nor sensitive and they communicated this to me.

While The Uncertainty of Hope is a work of fiction, with imaginary characters and situations, taking pains to avoid the controversies that are so much a part of our lives would have diminished the efforts of having written the novel in the first place, possibly making it too illusory. The novels that I admire, while also fictional, deal with truth in a manner that allows for its complexity, and its multi-faceted nature. Thus, while Faith may feel passionately that Murambatsvina was wrong, her boyfriend Tom feels equally strongly that it served its purpose: it cleaned up the streets and reduced crime. The reader is thus left to make up their own mind. Similarly, while Nzou is certainly corrupt, in the end, he is prosecuted for wrong-doing and a fellow policeman makes the point that not everyone in the police force is corrupt or want a force that is so tarnished. Good fiction is not didactic nor does it provide any one particular point of view.

BS: When can we expect your next novel or was this novel just a once off thing?

VT: Because I enjoyed writing The Uncertainty of Hope so much, I look forward to putting pen to paper again, and hopefully getting published some time in the future.

BS: Did you always want to be writer? Who is your inspiration?

VT: I did dream of becoming a writer one day but it took me a long time to settle down and commit myself to writing. My inspiration came from my late parents. They were both teachers who loved reading, and they encouraged me to do the same. Thinking of becoming a writer was a natural next step.

BS: What do you think of the Zimbabwean women writers. Is there a place for them in Zimbabwean literature?

VT: I certainly believe that there is a place for women writers in Zimbabwean literature. The arts are a medium for looking at social issues, and a balanced approach involves both men and women. We have women writers who have done extremely well, women we can look up to, such as the late Yvonne Vera, and Tsitsi Dangarembga. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to make a living out of writing. Until that changes, very few, if any, women will take up writing as a full-time career. Sadly, this is at the expense of skills’ development as one has to keep writing in order to get better at it.

BS: What is your ultimate goal in relation to writing and literature?

VT: My limitation is that as a doctor, I have a totally different career, which is quite demanding in its own way. So for an ultimate goal in relation to writing, I will be very pleased if I manage to have a few more books published.

BS: Are you coming back to Zimbabwe after your studies in the UK?
VT: Of course. It’s not just a cliché that home is best place to be.