There was a limited literary tradition among the white population of Rhodesia. Of the authors who have roots in the country, Doris Lessing is by far the most significant. Since independence, Zimbabwe has developed a lively literary environment, which is reflected not least by Africa’s most important book fair, the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, held annually in Harare.
The country also has a number of publishers with ambitious publishing programs. But even before independence, Zimbabwean writers published in English as well as in Shona and Ndebele. In this process, the Catholic publisher Mambo Press played an important role. Both before and after independence, racial conflict and the liberation war have played an important role as a theme for literature.
The first novels of Black Zimbabweans came out in the 1950s. The first written on the shona was Feso (1956) by Solomon Mutsvairo (1924–2005), and it marked the beginning of a flourishing in the shona literature that has continued ever since. Hundreds of novels have been published on shona, and there is also a rich poetic tradition. Elements from the traditional poetry are continued, while at the same time a modern poetry has emerged that encompasses works in all genres. The same is true to a lesser extent the literature on ndebele, where the drama in particular has had a strong position, among other things related to the many free theater groups in Bulawayo. The most famous of these is Amakhosi, under the direction of the playwright and novelist Cont Mhlanga.
Many of the writers who write on shona and ndebele also write in English. One can divide modern Zimbabwean literature into three generations. The first consists of authors who began publishing books in the 1950s and include names such as Mutsvairo, Lawrence Vambe (b. 1917), Stanlake Samkange and Ndabezinhle Sigogo (b. 1932), and politicians such as Bernard Chidzero (b. 1927). ) and Ndabaningi Sithole (b. 1920).
The second generation debuted in the late 1960s and 1970s, and their works have been significantly influenced by conditions in the country under Ian Smith’s regime. Many authors were in exile, and several of their books were banned. Foremost among this group is Stanley Nyamfukudza (b. 1951), who has written a fine novel about the existential dilemmas of the guerrilla war, The Non-Believer’s Journey (1980); moreover, Barbara Makhalisa (b. 1949), Dambudzo Marechera, Charles Mungoshi and Wilson Katiyo.
The third generation consists of writers who emerged after Zimbabwe’s independence, including Chenjerai Hove, who is Zimbabwe’s foremost author and who, like many other intellectuals, has lived in exile after the country’s regime developed in a very authoritarian direction since 2000. He has Among other things, he was a freelance writer in Stavanger. From the same generation come Musaemura Zimunya, Shimmer Chinodya (b. 1957), Alex Kanegoni (b. 1951), Tsitsi Dangarembga, Yvonne Vera, who during his short life managed to become a very significant writer in the African and international context, and Nozipo Maraire (b. 1964). Thematically, the books of these authors often revolve around what the war of liberation entailed, but they also address the background of problems and conflicts in New Zimbabwe, not least in relation to the relationship between man and woman and between tradition and modernity.
The country’s intellectual and literary life has been put to the test after the political and economic crisis from 2000 onwards, and many authors are either in exile or have major problems publishing their books. The Harare Book Fair at the beginning of August each year was for many years the center of African literary exchange and debate. Among other things, it was based on the fair that initiatives were taken to select Africa’s hundred most prominent books in the 20th century. However, the importance of the book fair has been greatly diminished since 2004.
The capital of Zimbabwe, Harare was called Salisbury during colonial times, and with its more than one and a half million inhabitants, is the country’s largest city. Here’s a picture from 2003.