A voice for change

Zim­bab­wean filmmaker and jour­nal­ist Farai Sevenzo will be shar­ing his ex­pe­ri­ences at the up­com­ing NIEW In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FASHION - By REENA GUBKASH

Zim­bab­wean filmmaker and jour­nal­ist Farai Sevenzo will be shar­ing his ex­pe­ri­ences at the up­com­ing NIEW In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence.

GROW­ING up in a war-torn nation does dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Many are over­whelmed by the strife and their lives never re­gain any mea­sure of nor­malcy. Oth­ers find courage in ad­ver­sity and are com­pelled to fight for a bet­ter fu­ture. Zim­bab­wean Farai Sevenzo has cho­sen to in­sti­tute change by telling sto­ries of vi­o­lence and op­pres­sion in his home­land – and through­out Africa – through film and doc­u­men­taries.

He be­lieves that as a filmmaker and jour­nal­ist, his re­spon­si­bil­ity is to cor­rectly point out the is­sues that his coun­try­men face and what he con­sid­ers to be the “de­plorable state’’ of hu­man rights through­out much of Africa. His film, Zim­babwe 2000, was made dur­ing the 2002 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Zim­babwe, a pe­riod that saw many hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in the coun­try.

Sevenzo, who is based in London now, also writes and di­rects film for tele­vi­sion and ra­dio, and is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Bri­tain’s Chan­nel 4 News, CNN and the BBC’s Net­work Africa and African View­point pro­grammes. His re­cent works in­clude In­dian Peace­keep­ers In Liberia and The Chil­dren’s War which looks at the Lords Re­sis­tance Army’s hold on Uganda in what has be­come the re­gion’s long­est run­ning con­flict.

Sevenzo of­fers StarTwo via e-mail, in­sights on real peo­ple caught in con­flict.

What are some of the most com­pelling sto­ries that you have come across in the course of your work?

There isn’t a place I’ve been to or a story I’ve cov­ered which is not ap­par­ent that ev­ery war and hu­man dis­as­ter is more keenly felt by women and chil­dren.

I re­mem­ber a woman called Alice in Blantyre, Malawi, around 2004. We were in the coun­try to make a film on the scarcity of ARV (an­tiretro­vi­ral) drugs and there was no govern­ment plan to help the needy. Alice was a mother of six chil­dren, who had to keep her­self alive to feed her kids and she was giv­ing her en­tire salary to the medics in or­der to pur­chase ARVs. Her hus­band, on the other

‘I walk that tightrope be­tween re­port­ing re­al­ity and cre­at­ing art from it,’ says Farai Sevenzo. hand, had not even been tested.

On the same trip I met an old man who was a fa­ther of nine chil­dren. His two youngest daugh­ters had suc­cumbed to the dis­ease and he had to make the agonising choice – which of them he should save with his mea­gre sav­ings as he could not af­ford medicine for both.

Women con­tinue to suf­fer from rape, which in the east­ern Congo is be­ing used as a weapon of war.

How does be­ing a jour­nal­ist/filmmaker al­low you to present a pic­ture of Africa?

Not many or­gan­i­sa­tions bother to talk to Africans about Africa. The world is full of African ex­perts who are not African, the li­braries are full of their books, and I thought it was im­por­tant to bring an African sen­si­tiv­ity to the job. Jour­nal­ism has al­lowed me to travel around a con­ti­nent I had not yet dis­cov­ered as an adult, help me know other Africans, see other African cities and ap­pre­ci­ate African pol­i­tics be­yond that which I was born into.

What is the dark­est side of the wars in Africa?

In Uganda, the story of that time was the ap­palling num­bers of child sol­diers op­er­at­ing in the north of the coun­try on be­half of The Lord’s Re­sis­tance Army. I trav­elled to Uganda and saw first­hand the killings by chil­dren, and in­ter­viewed some as young as 10 who had mur­dered dozens of peo­ple with guns, ma­chetes and stones.

The group de­lib­er­ately sought out to de­hu­man­ise them, and numb them of all hu­man emo­tion by some­times march­ing them back to the vil­lages from where they had been kid­napped, and forc­ing them to kill their own par­ents.

I made films on po­lio in Nige­ria and Ethiopia, and trav­elled to Sierra Leone at the end of the war to de­bate whether the spe­cial court on Sierra Leone was a mon­u­men­tal waste of money. There, the scars of war are all too ob­vi­ous, with folks walk­ing around Free­town with their hands cut off – a last­ing ex­am­ple of the bru­tal­ity of the rebel forces.

Tell us more about your youth and the events that most in­flu­enced your life.

I was born in Harare dur­ing a time of great up­heaval – the white set­tler com­mu­nity led by Ian Smith had de­clared them­selves in­de­pen­dent of Bri­tain, the colo­nial power, and im­posed a kind of apartheid or colour bar, on the in­dige­nous black African pop­u­la­tion.

This meant that the ma­jor­ity of the coun­try’s peo­ple lived un­der the worst kind of rule, whereby ev­ery­thing in life was de­ter­mined by skin colour, and black peo­ple were largely seen as cheap labour. By my early teens the coun­try, then called Rhode­sia, was in the grip of a vi­cious war be­tween the white set­tlers and black lib­er­a­tion move­ments.

I was lucky to es­cape the worst of this pe­riod be­cause my par­ents val­ued ed­u­ca­tion, and they sent me and my six sib­lings – five sis­ters and a brother – to pri­vate schools where race was not openly an is­sue.

Grow­ing up dur­ing a war that my par­ents and relatives ac­tively sup­ported meant that a kind of po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness was cre­ated in all of us from an early age. It was also a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act – go­ing to school with the chil­dren of white set­tlers who of­ten joined the very army pros­e­cut­ing our peo­ple meant keep­ing our thoughts to our­selves as much as pos­si­ble.

How do you rec­on­cile cov­er­ing wars and vi­o­lence, and the art as­so­ci­ated with film­mak­ing?

Ev­ery two years, I go to Oua­gadougou, the cap­i­tal of Burk­ina Faso in West Africa. It is a tiny coun­try bor­dered by the Ivory Coast and Ghana, and ev­ery two years Africa’s film­mak­ers gather there for the bian­nual pan African film fes­ti­val. It is a chance to see new ideas in doc­u­men­tary and fic­tion emerg­ing from the con­ti­nent, and take time to re­flect on the many is­sues that our con­ti­nent faces. I walk that tightrope be­tween re­port­ing re­al­ity and cre­at­ing art from it. n Sevenzo will share his first­hand ac­counts at the up­com­ing NIEW In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence 2010, or­gan­ised by the NAM In­sti­tute for the Em­pow­er­ment of Women (NIEW). Themed The HealthandWell-Bein­gofWomeninCri­sis, the con­fer­ence will be held at the Man­darin Ori­en­tal, Kuala Lumpur, on Nov 29 and 30.

The con­fer­ence will fo­cus on the health and well-be­ing of dis­placed women, with par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on gen­der-based vi­o­lence. It will bring to­gether field work­ers, women front-lin­ers, in­ter­na­tional and re­gional or­gan­i­sa­tions, govern­ment au­thor­i­ties, aca­demics and other re­source peo­ple com­mit­ted to en­hanc­ing the lives of women who have been af­fected by con­flict, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and so­cial and po­lit­i­cal up­heaval.

Speak­ers in­clude Shreen Ab­dul Sa­roor (Manaar Women’s Foun­da­tion, Sri Lanka), Su­raiya Ka­maruz­za­man (Flower Aceh Foun­da­tion), Elis­a­beth Ras­mus­son (Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil), Sarah Chynoweth (In­ter­na­tional Planned Par­ent­hood Fed­er­a­tion), So­phie De­soulieres (In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group) and Lil­ianne Fan (In­ter-Agency Stand­ing Shel­ter Clus­ter, Haiti). For more de­tails, go to www. niew-wom­enin­cri­sis.org or call 03-7954 7030.

Chang­ing lenscape:

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.