Home » Arts & Culture » Nama Judges Don’t Get Rounded Up Like Touts At a Bus Rank [column]

One thing I can share, and which I hope Mazara will be able to ask NACZ to explain to him is the fact that the NAMA are very professional.

I did not have a peaceful and quiet weekend because of a very brief but harmful comment that was made by Garikai Mazara in last week’s issue of The Sunday Mail, which implied that I used my influence as a National Arts Merit Awards judge to make Memory Chirere win the Outstanding Fiction award in the Literary Arts category of NAMA.

I got phone calls and text messages from friends and ordinary people wanting an explanation.

I told them that it is true that I was one of the 24 NAMA judges. It is also true that I edited and published Memory Chirere’s winning book titled Bhuku Risina Basa (Nekuti Rakanyorwa Masikati). But it is not true that I was one of judges for the Literary Arts category of the NAMA. I was responsible for a different category altogether and I leave it to NACZ of Zimbabwe to explain how each adjudication panel works independently.

From the exposeacute, Mazara says he tried to contact the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe to explain to him and the public what seems to be a conflict of interest, and which definitely has implications on Memory Chirere’s, NACZ, NAMA and my personal and professional integrity. Mazara said, “In the literary category, some raised questions how Memory Chirere’s Bhuku Risina Basa (Nekuti Rakanyorwa Masikati) won an award when Ignatius Mabasa, the publisher of the book sat on the adjudication panel.” Mazara went on to explain how he did not get any joy from NACZ when he said, “When contacted for comment on these and other issues, Elvas Mari, the Director of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, referred all questions to Catherine Mthombeni, the communications and marketing manager, who in turn requested written questions. But, by the time of going to print, there were no answers.”

In Shona we say it is a waste of time to remember where you can find shelter when it has rained and you are already wet. This is what the English mean when they say bolting the stable when the horse has escaped.

Mazara made his comment based on a genuine observation, which National Arts Council of Zimbabwe should have quickly responded to because the information or explanation that Mazara needed was very easily accessible and straightforward.

Instead, Mazara did not get the explanation he needed and wrote what he saw as a problem with the National Arts Merit Awards adjudication process. My problem with this ineptitude or inability to quickly respond to questions from the media by NACZ is that it not only becomes a problem for NAMA, but also for its judges, for me as an individual, for Bhabhu Books and for the author I published who went on to win the Outstanding Fiction Book award, Memory Chirere.

I believe in the philosophy that says to know is not enough, but one must try and understand too. NACZ should have seized the opportunity to educate Mazara, as well as to brag about having a very well thought, structured and professional adjudication process.

But I also think that after having been dodged by NACZ, Mazara should have checked with me, or Bhabhu Books or Memory Chirere, just to get our side of the story. I know that Memory Chirere only got to know on the night of the awards that I was one of the NAMA judges.

I know that he would probably not have given Mazara the best answer, but would at least have referred him to me to answer these serious allegations.

Mazara is a colleague and should not have had problems getting my contact details from Kwaedza or The Herald or even my Facebook or Twitter accounts.

The reason why I am writing this is to defend Memory Chirere’s integrity as one of the best and versatile writers we have in Zimbabwe at the moment. Memory did not start writing yesterday — he has come a long way. He was long validated by the writing community for his creative writing prowess, innovation and unique humour, satire and use of language.

Chirere contributed in the following creative writing works: Tipeiwo Dariro, A Roof to Repair, Somewhere in this Country, Toriro and his Goats, Tudikidiki as well as co-editing books like Charles Mungoshi Reader. Besides lecturing at the University of Zimbabwe, Chirere has presented several papers at different forums locally, regionally and internationally. It is insulting to suggest that he was assisted to win an award, and it is very unfortunate for NACZ to fail Memory, to fail NAMA and myself as a judge. I know of many cases where organisations fail to provide information to the media in time, and the results of their inability to speak when they are supposed to speak, go on to hurt innocent people.

Winning an award is supposed to be one of the most gratifying and rewarding things that can happen to an artist.

It is recognition of hard work, of excellence and a vote of confidence.

But when people start questioning whether you deserve the award, it can be so terrible and even affect your worth, your work and your future. Awards are supposed to help us celebrate they are the crowning moment of our lives.

They dignify us and allow our families and our people to understand the importance of the work we do, work which gets national recognition. I really feel sad and angry at the same time on behalf of Memory Chirere because his contribution to Zimbabwean literature cannot be overlooked.

I do not have the mandate to speak for NAMA or for NACZ, but I speak here as a publisher whose writer and friend won an award. I speak here as someone who knows how painful, humiliating and harsh it is when you win an award and people think or accuse you of cheating. Memory Chirere won the Outstanding Fiction Book award, because he deserved to win, according to the judges of the NAMA Literary Awards category. Although I published Chirere’s amazing poetry collection titled Bhuku Risina Basa (Nekuti Rakanyorwa Masikati), I was a judge for a completely different category. If I were going to judge in the NAMA Literary Arts category, I would have recused myself because I had two authors that I published who were contesting and who were nominated. The other writer was Chenjerai Mazambani for his children’s book titled Mombe yamai.

One thing I can share, and which I hope Mazara will be able to ask NACZ to explain to him is the fact that the NAMA are very professional.

The judges do not get rounded up like touts at a bus rank. They are guided by terms of reference and clear criteria. They go through a rigorous process, which they have to explain, clarify and justify why a winner deserves to win. The debates and discussions are intense.

When all is said and done, the adjudicators don’t just present the winners, but they come up with a detailed report.

It is that adjudicators’ report, which defends, validates and substantiates why A is the winner and not B. Highly respected and capable men and women judged the NAMA literary category.

I don’t think those capable judges would want their good names to be tarnished because another NAMA judge who was responsible for judging a separate category influenced them. Overall, I personally enjoyed, benefited and learnt a lot from the great men and women I worked with as a judge.

The other reason why I feel I must explain myself is because I am trying and working hard to run a small book-publishing project called Bhabhu Books. We specialise in publishing books in Shona.

We strive to make sure that local languages are not only recognised, but are promoted, respected and allowed to celebrate their richness, philosophy and beauty.

At Bhabhu Books, we consider what we do as a national project which seeks to tell new compelling stories that will help our indigenous languages remain relevant as part of our heritage.

Although we get about eight book-related inquiries every week, we do not have the capacity to read, assess and publish everything — but whatever we eventually decide to publish should be of high quality, trendsetting and timeless.

We know that Bhuku Risina Basa is one such book, read it and you will understand why it won the award.

Source : The Herald