Home » General » Reply to Dr Nzenza – Creativity Still Exists [opinion]

I write in response to sentiments expressed by Dr Sekai Nzenza in an op-ed you published on March 11, 2014. In the said article, Dr Nzenza reminisces about her childhood and the creativity she witnessed both as a passive and active participant.

From my reading of her op-ed piece, I am left with the impression that she is bemoaning the evaporation of this childhood creativity.

If I am correct in my assumption, I have to say she makes a valid point but stops before reaching the final step.

Like her, I grew up in an era in which the luxury of toys manufactured out of plastic and then imported into our part of the country was a rarity. I was brought up in rural Rhodesia.

As part of the peasantry, luxuries like plastic toys were not even worth dreaming about let alone affordable.

The little resources our peasant mothers eked out of the barren soil or the paltry money our factory-worker fathers received as tokens in exchange of their blood and sweat were spent on essentials like school fees, school uniforms, accommodation, rental fees, cooking oil, seeds, fertiliser, dog taxes, etc.

Be that as it was, we, the children of the peasants, vegetable vendors and the factory workers, found a way to make our childhood worth each and every day we were blessed to get from God and the ancestors.

Poverty and hardship did not break us down or grind our tender brains into a worthless mash. We made our own toys. Out of chinamwa, we fashioned mud cattle. When we saw the rare car owned by a relatively affluent relative visiting the village from the city, our young minds captured as much of the details of the exotic spectacle after which we acquired rolls of wire, both hard and soft.

With the wire procured by all means necessary, we made replicas of the car using the memory or knowledge stored in our young brains. This we did almost every time we saw city items of luxury and symbols of wealth that could be fashioned out of wire, wood or clay.

I vividly recall fashioning Rhodesian military vehicles that we saw rumbling through the dusty roads that snaked in and out of villages in rural Rhodesia. The war had finally encroached into the rural area in which I was raised.

Soon we understood the reason behind the appearance of the curiously shaped and often frightening military personnel carriers. The Rhodesian military was hunting magandanga, the derogatory description the Rhodesian establishment of vakomana vehondo, the Liberation War Heroes.

As soon as we made contact with the Liberation War fighters, and ultimately became familiar with their guns and how they used to carry the rifles, not to mention how they danced to Kanindo music while brandishing their guns, we sought to emulate the novel spectacle, too.

In spite of dire warnings of danger and threats from our parents and the prowling Rhodesian military, we started making our own toys fashioned after the sub-machine guns, bazookas and rapid machine guns. We did not stop there, oh no. Like our newly discovered heroes, we imitated the way they danced during the pungwe gatherings.

I bring this up to remind ourselves that children learn through observation and then imitation.

Scientists will tell you that humanity stands way above all the other creatures created by God but at the very core of our instincts for survival and self-perpetuation, we are animals in the manner we acquire the habits that shape our lives. We learn our habits from our elders, a fact that was immortalised in a proverb created by our ancestors in an epoch now covered by the fog of time. So goes the proverb the kid of a goat that chews the leaves of the mufenje tree does so in imitation of its mother.

Now that those of us who were war-time children are now men and woman, we have a special charge, nay, a social contract, to act in a way that we want our children to observe and imitate so they can become fruitful and productive members of the community.

Thus far I have simply echoed the sentiments of Dr Nzenza. However, it is at this point that I seek to somewhat part ways with her expressed sentiments. The creativity that was part of our childhood has not evaporated. Contrary to Dr Nzenza’s position, there is no dearth of creativity. Yes, it might be latent but that, by no means, translates to its complete absence. The same creativity we exhibited in our youth, and against very tough odds, is evident if one bothers to look for it.

This generation, my generation, is as creative today as it was in childhood. Rather than cite an abstract example to argue for the particular position I am staking, I will mention a case study to which I am intimately close.

I am trained as a scientist, which simply means that I earn my keep through creativity in the laboratory. This creativity has its genesis in my upbringing in rural Rhodesia. With luck as well as support at the family level all the way to the national and international level, I have been very, very fortunate to find myself under conditions and circumstances that have enabled me to turn this creativity into consumable materials. It can be argued that this creativity has been monetised.

Beyond our professional obligations, a friend, a scientist of Zimbabwean ancestry, and I have found a way to harness the skill sets, education and experience. All this harkens back to the same creativity that was the hallmark of our days of youth. I will give an example of the boerewors sausage, yes, that famous braai sausage, and how it marked the confluence of the skill sets, education and experience.

This sausage is originally Dutch. It was brought to Southern Africa by the Afrikaners after which its popularity rapidly spread across Southern Africa. Since it was meant to have a longer storage life than its European variant, the ingredients in the seasonings had to be changed. The innovative Afrikaner farmers used local spices to minimise spoilage. That made the sausage different from what they had been making and consuming in the colder climes of Europe. The most obvious modification was the addition of piripirimhiripiri, an indigenous Southern African pepper that may be hotter than the world-famous habanero pepper.

A sausage is what it is because of the seasoning used. To my knowledge, there are only two companies that make boerewors seasonings at a commercial scale.

Unfortunately for the Southern Africans in Europe or North America, getting the seasonings is a pain in the flesh and expensive. These seasonings have to be imported from South Africa. Even the brands we purchased in Zimbabwe are produced in South Africa.

In lieu of purchasing our supplies from South Africa, we decided to make our own boerewors seasonings starting with ingredients commonly found in North America. It took more than a year of trial and error until we nailed it. We immediately registered a company once we had invented our own boerewors seasonings from scratch.

Moreover, we had to cater to some clients who do not eat pork. This was a challenge because pork fat is added to sausage so that it keeps intact on the braai grill. We were able to tinker around until we finally came up with an all-beef boerewors brand.

All this goes back to what is known within the community of Southern Africa’s intellectual community in the diaspora. We knew the popularity of boerewors sausages, which was a glorious way to use our creativity. There is more to the example.

During my sojourn in the UK, I befriended a man who owns a thriving and highly lucrative sausage company. It was this friend who taught me how to make sausages.

Once every two weeks, I went to his plant as an assistant. I helped him for a year thus gaining very useful skill sets and invaluable experience, not to mention the sheer thrill of making popular food from scratch.

On relocating to North America, I decided to use this knowledge from two continents to start a potentially lucrative business. All the supplies are inexpensively available in the USA, all except the vital but expensive seasonings. One can import the seasonings but the price is so prohibitive one cannot use them to keep a company moving forward. Obviously the importation of the boerewors seasonings was a stumbling block in our path.

It was at this point that the acquired knowledge, experience and creativity spontaneously converged. You see, my friend and business partner has a Master’s in Business Administration degree as well as vast experience in marketing. With such a high concentration of knowledge, we successfully converted an idea into a popular product.

Again this is the same creativity that helped us make our own toys but we are now turning that creativity into useful and products but doing so at a different level that is so lofty this creativity is called innovation in the professional world of science and technology.

This is one of many prototypes in which experience, skill sets and knowledge can be converted to business enterprises. In Africa some people are beginning to do this but more can be done if the African governments provide the incentives, akin to what we have witnessed in Europe and North America.

Knowledge is power, the kind that can be used to put in place economic engines that will hum day and night, every week, and every month of the year. It is the indigenisation phase that foregoes the acrimonious smash-and-grab approach that has gained us a lot of unwanted notoriety.

The potential to establish a knowledge-based economy in Zimbabwe, and the rest of Africa, is phenomenal. It all boils down to formally tapping into the ingenuity that we are bemoaning as having disappeared.

We need to stop all this hand-wringing so that we can make the most out of the skills sets, knowledge, education and underutilised creativity to move forward and towards genuine economic independence.

This is the proverbial low-hanging fruit that is within our grasp. We must pick it before it rots and fall to the ground to be consumed by the worms.

Food for the stomach and food for thought I’m Bvumavaranda BTech Moyo.

Bvumavaranda BTechno Moyo, is petrochemical scientist based in Texas (USA) and a history enthusiast.

Source : The Herald