Literature

African Sci-Fi Takes Off With Reissue of Zimbabwean Novel

Masimba Musodza's Shona-language work blurs the line between science-fiction and fantasy and is based firmly in local mythologies.

Masimba Musodza is a refreshingly unique writer from Zimbabwe. His small but eclectic body of work, so far, redefines many aspects of Zimbabwean literature. He infuses most of his writing with the spirit and ideals of Rastafarianism and from book to book experiments with style and genre.


In 2011, he published what is possibly the first sci-fi novel in Shona, Muna Hacha Maive Nei. The book is being re-issued after growing interest in speculative fiction written by African writers. It is a genre beleaguered by a lack of diversity which is a problem that exists throughout the spectrum of speculative fiction. Mainstream culture tends to codify speculative fiction fandom as a white phenomenon.

The most speculative element of this book is in its language. Not that this novel will be universally appealing, it’s a little too esoteric, a little too culture specific. The Shona peoples, for whom the book is targeted, are mostly found in southern Africa.

Still, it’s mere existence is significant. Musodza prefaces the book with an introductory essay in Shona that provides historical precedents in speculative fiction in the Shona culture which is firmly rooted in intricate mythologies. It’s debatable whether Musodza’s book qualifies as speculative fiction or fantasy, not that it matters very much.

Musodza’s book straddles the liminal space between the otherworldly and ordinary village drama. This is a familiar trope in Shona fiction. The science aspect of the book is suggested in the bio hazards that threaten a village river, for centuries a symbol of the village’s livelihood and existence. Indeed, the link between black struggle and the resilience of the black imagination is evident in early Shona writings published in the 60s.

Independent filmmaker M. Asli Dukan whose documentary Invisible Universe about the contributions black people have made to speculative fiction throughout history right up to the present day explains:

The interesting thing about mainstream speculative fiction is that it really kicked off around the same time that Europe started imperialising the world, especially Africa. You can read these stories set in past versions of the future and notice parallels between the way some of these books talked about aliens and the way that colonisers at that time would talk about Africans. In my mind the origins of the genre go hand in hand with the origins of white imperialism and white supremacy. It's hard to separate the two. It's carried on to this day, because it's embedded within the genre.

There is no doubt that Musodza demonstrates a remarkable flair for Shona and overturns the notion that it is not possible to write “complicated stuff” in vernacular African languages. He credits Ngugi’s seminal text Decolonising the Mind for deepening his affinity to his mother tongue, Shona. Ngugi himself recently had a story, The Upright Revolution, he originally published in Gikuyu translated into more than 30 African languages by a collective known as Jalada Africa.

Under strongman Robert Mugabe, 92, Zimbabwe’s future remains so uncertain that speculative fiction can, to some extent, help explore the multiple futures/pasts of a country still in flux. Speculative fiction provides an imaginative distance that could help cut through the political cringe that blights Zimbabwe’s tiny local fiction readership. Historically, Zimbabwean literature is largely grim, weighty and too serious to offer pleasure or entertainment. Musodza’s novel still acknowledges and engages with the country’s troubling history and the grotesque inequality, but it does so without holding on to the past.

News Brief

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The film is due to hit U.S. theaters October 19.

The trailer for Nigerian filmmaker Faraday Okoro's debut feature Nigerian Prince is here, Shadow and Act reports.

We're a month away from the film landing in U.S. theaters and On-Demand since the film got acquired by Vertical Entertainment.

Revisit the synopsis below.

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(From left to right) Stéphane Bak and Marc Zinga in 'The Mercy of the Jungle.' Photo courtesy of TIFF.

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We catch up with the actor after the film made its North American premiere at TIFF.

When actor Stéphane Bak first got the script for The Mercy of the Jungle (La Miséricorde de la Jungle), he knew there was one person he had to consult: his father. "My dad did school me about this," he says. While Bak was born and raised in France, his parents had emigrated from what was then Zaire in the 1980s—before the events of the movie, and not exactly in the same area, but close enough to be able to pass on firsthand knowledge of the simmering ethnic tensions that underpin the action.

The story takes place in 1998, just after the outbreak of the Second Congo War—which came hot on the heels of the First Congo War. Two Rwandan soldiers find themselves separated from their company and have to make a harrowing trek through the jungle to link back up with their regiment. Bak plays Private Faustin, the young recruit hunting Hutu rebels to avenge his murdered family, a foil to Marc Zinga's seasoned Sergeant Xavier. As a Congolese militia swarms the area, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell enemies from friends, the two are forced off the road and into the thick vegetation.

Their journey is physically difficult, but the jungle also nurtures them, providing food, water, and shelter. "The title is very explicit in a way," says Bak. It is the human beings they encounter, from rival soldiers and militiamen to the hostile security forces guarding illegal gold mining operations, who bring sudden danger and violence. The challenges are conveyed as much through the actors' physicality as through the minimal dialogue. As for the strain on his face, Bak says it was all real. "To be honest, it was very difficult," he says of the shoot, which took him 25 days. "I had to learn my accent in two weeks." Prior to commencing, there was training with the Ugandan army for realism. Due to the ongoing conflicts in the DRC, the movie itself was shot in Uganda.

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Brazil Has Made Yoruba an Official Language

The language will also be incorporated into primary and secondary school curriculum in the country, says the Minister of Culture.

Yoruba history and culture has an undeniably strong presence in Brazilian society, due of course, to the Transatlantic slave trade which brought millions of enslaved West Africans to the Americas. Despite the inhumanity they faced, many managed to keep their ancestral culture and traditions alive.

Centuries have passed, and Yoruba influences still continue to thrive in various regions of the country, as many Brazilians maintain a strong relationship with the language and religion. Its influence can be seen through the music, food and spiritual practices of various communities. Last month the Ooni of Ife—the spiritual leader of the Yoruba people—visited the country, where he was met by crowds of Black Brazilians who turned up to pay their respects.

This connection will likely remain strong for future generations, as the language has now become an official foreign language in the country.

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Brazil's Minister of Culture, Dr. Sérgio Sá Leitão, has said that the language will now be incorporated into primary and secondary school curriculum, reports the Nigerian Voice.

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