There is an African story to be told, the story of a continent that is as thriving as it is challenged, a story that is too often told by others who reduce the narrative to a tale of a billion people holding a begging bowl. Just who should tell that story is a matter of constant contention. The danger of contention of course, is that some stories may never be told at all, because whilst we fuff about, time simply whisks away the storyteller and everything else that could have been.
Farai Sevenzo is a renowned leading Zimbabwean journalist, he has a thing for Africa, cameras, pens and lessens with a track record of covering knife edging stories. In a continent that oozes colours, rhythm, flavours, dust and conflict, Farai has captured stories from the Ebola crisis, to elections in Gabon, the plight of child soldiers in Uganda, to the every day lives of an ever resilient people. He understands the context and sphere in which film directorship and journalism operate. He explores difficult and complex issues and balances the truth of the story with exposure and forecast.
Farai Sevenzo speaks to Dorcas Gwata, Director of Tribal Sands:
Farai you are a leading journalist, writer and film maker, take us through your career path and why the focus on Africa?
I wanted to make films, mainly films for the cinema, since I was ten. I went to a boarding school in Makumbe Mission, in the early evenings the Catholic priests would screen old Hollywood westerns on a white sheet with a projector on the roof of a Land Rover. My studies – English and Drama at the University of Zimbabwe, Film and Media at Stirling University and a Masters from the National Film and Television School in the UK, were all about helping me reach this goal. I focused on Africa because Africa needs its own storytellers.
The African story and narrative is invariably told through western lenses, what do you think needs to shift?
A shift is needed but it’s a difficult proposition. It’s very odd how ‘foreign correspondents’ are never foreign to the people who read and watch their stories, and that has been the nature of that post throughout history. It would be great if every China correspondent was Chinese and all Africa correspondents were African but that rarely happens in the top echelons of the world’s media. On the other hand, African governments are reluctant to tell the African story without tampering with the independence of the storyteller for their own political messages. We must rely on individuals rather than governments.
Journalism is increasingly hazardous, how can it be better viewed synonymously with freedom of speech, art and creativity?
Journalism occupies its own space, which is closer to freedom of speech than art and creativity I think. There is no doubt that it is a hazardous profession especially in the so called ‘Third World’ where writers have been killed and jailed in increasing numbers for doing their jobs. There is a fundamental misconception in some African states, that frown on questioning and investigative reportage as an act of treason and that is a gross distortion of the profession’s function.
Technology and social media has changed the way we capture our stories, we have all become overnight journalists and judges, how are you observing this trend?
It is more than a trend, I think it’s changed the landscape forever. Revolutions are tweeted, citizen activism can be Facebooked and presidents can turn back the violent tide of a coup with a FaceTime phone call. But just because you can tweet a picture of a riot does not make you a journalist – without doubt what has suffered is context, quality and accuracy. Real journalists have to now go deeper into the story – and write more books.
Globalisation comes with huge benefits and challenges, how did you observe and document the Afro-phobia or xenophobia attacks and conflicts in South Africa?
South African xenophobia pisses me off. I’m old enough to have seen the ANC living in exile in London, Zambia and Tanzania. My best friends in Harare before the end of apartheid were PAC cadres. African nations were bombed because they were harbouring South African refugees and politicians. Communicating this deep history to common people has been an abject failure of the Zuma government and while I wrote about the Afrophobia in many articles, I think this shameful episode needs to be documented in books and films so no-one forgets the damage it caused to all Africans.
Some say African journalism is gendered and masculine, why are we not seeing more African women directing films and running their own media houses?
Firstly we mustn’t group journalism, film direction and media ownership in the same space. They’re different disciplines requiring different talents and offering different trials and tribulations. Having said that, I don’t think it’s true that women suffer proportionally from being underrepresented. If you truly seek out African films you’ll find producers and directors who are women and are simply brilliant at their craft, I would even venture to say Africa has more talent in this regard than anywhere else on the globe. And I know next to nothing about creating my own media house, but I hear they’re a few moguls out there of the African persuasion.
If you have something to say, learn how to say it well and say it with all your being. If you make films or write for the money you’ll be wasting your time because the money is rubbish and your work will be rubbish because you’’ll always be chasing a buck instead of the truth of your world.
Three random things we don’t know about you?
I’m a fantastic cook, I can play pool very well, I can’t swim.
Two favourite holiday destinations?
Zanzibar and The Victoria Falls.
Farai thank you for talking to me on Tribal Sands
Dorcas Gwata. Director, Tribal Sands
August 2016. All rights reserved.