‘Dear Samantha’ was a letter from Dambudzo Marechera to his lover, Samantha, has often gone viral on social media. Only that, it wasn’t from Marechera. It was, in fact, written by Austin Kaluba, a Zambia writer, as a sort of ode to Marechera.
Here, writer Memory Chirere chats with Kaluba regarding the letter, which is included at the end of the interview.
Very few people know that the so-called Dambudzo Marechera’s letter to Samantha, which went viral on many websites, was not written by Marechera himself! It is actually a work of art by Zambian writer, Austin Kaluba. Kaluba wrote it as part of a 2011 project in Marechera’s memory. That is the fact! Often you see it written in many places that the letter was written by Marechera “to his white ex-girlfriend, Samantha, after Marechera had been expelled from Oxford University.” Many ordinary readers and scholars have taken the bait.
Austin Kaluba was born in northern Zambia in 1966 and studied journalism at the prestigious Africa Literature Centre in Kitwe-Zambia. He then joined the national newspaper The Times of Zambia as a features writer. He studied creative writing at different institutions in the UK. Kaluba’s poetry has appeared in the black UK newspaper The Voice and his short stories have been published in magazines in Europe.
Memory Chirere: Austin, is it true that you wrote the so called Marechera’s letter to Samantha? Yes or No.
Austin Kaluba: Yes.
Chirere: When did you write this letter exactly?
Kaluba: It was in 2011 when I was living in Oxford in England. I did write the piece which is in epistolary form. At that time, I was living in Oxford where I was studying Creative Writing at a Diploma level at Oxford University (Department for continuing education). I was frequenting several pubs where Dambudzo used to hang out when he lived in the university city. The pub is City Arms along Crowley Road. It is a real place. One old guy who knew Dambudzo likened my character with that of the Zimbabwean writer. I used to hit the bottle quite hard, was argumentative, anti-social and writing as my spirit dictated.
Chirere: Why and under what circumstances did you write the letter?
Kaluba: Ivor Hartmann, a white Zimbabwean writer, came up with an idea of cerebrating Dambudzo’s posthumous 59th birthday in 2011 and thought of putting together an e-book anthology entitled “Remembering Marechera,” consisting of essays, reviews, short stories and poems to be published by StoryTime Publishing. He invited submissions until the 6th of April 2011. If my memory serves me well, I think American-based Zimbabwean writer, Emmanuel Sigauke, was to write some poetry while another Zimbabwean writer, Tinashe Mushakavanhu, who had studied Marechera at Phd level, was to do an essay. The Nigerian literary critic, Ikhide Ikheloa, offered to do some reviews on the late writer while Ivor Hartmann was to do some short stories. The project was aborted, and I thought of posting my piece online.
KwaChirere: Do you by any chance know how and why the letter went viral?
Kaluba: Not at all. I was just surprised to read about the avalanche of positive response the story generated in Zimbabwe and among Zimbabweans in the diaspora. Many believed it was written by Dambudzo. The response even crossed to academicians who thought the letter was written by Dambudzo himself. I had read works by the late Zimbabwean writer and tried through extensive reading on his life to understand his troubled upbringing in colonial Zimbabwe, his years in England and his bohemian lifestyle that could have qualified him to be some kind of black Oscar Wilde.
Chirere: This is a very close imitation of what has been known as Marecherean language. Do you write your own works using this kind of language?
Kaluba: Sure, I identified with his anger and indignation at the corrupt world. I would say the Dambudzo in the letter has some characteristics that are purely mine. I agree with him at so many levels though I didn’t experience what he went through in life.
Chirere: When one looks at your letter, it comes close to real details in Marechera’s life, his expulsion from Oxford, his having had relations with white girls, his constant fear of being deportation back to Rhodesia etc. What is your comment?
Kaluba: Yeah, I had to get it right by not leaving any detail that summed up the life of the shamanic writer he was. His vulgar language and mistrust of any other person who did not share his views about the crooked world had to be crammed into the story. Dambudzo thrived on shocking people using sexual symbolism and other unconventional ways of driving his point home. I had to get all this right. I also ensured the story worked at two levels; Dambudzo representing Africa, explaining himself to his white girlfriend who is representing Europe. In short the story is about the damage Europe has done to its former colonies.
Chirere: What do you think you have achieved through this?
Kaluba: I though writing about Dambudzo was daunting. I had to go out of my way by getting into his character. I had to act like a method actor who sheds his self to enter into the character he is depicting. The success of the story to me lies in the reaction from people who knew Dambudzo personally and the other group that read his works. If the two groups can see him in the letter, then that is an achievement for me.
Chirere: May you please speak briefly about your own individual life and life as a writer.
Kaluba: I am an introvert who is highly opinionated and bohemian. I write poetry, short stories and do translations. One of my translations Frown of the Great in English was previously published as Pano Calo in ci-Bemba (the commonest language in Zambia) It has been re-published in Zimbabwe by Mwanaka Media and Publishers as a bilingual collection. Tendai Mwanaka, the publisher has published a number of my poems in his anthologies promoting African languages. I am also working on a collection of short stories Mensah’s London Blues and Other Stories, to be published in England. The collection has two stories with Zimbabwean characters A Dream Deferred and Maria’s Vision. The latter has been made into a movie by Tendai Mudhliwa, a UK-based Zimbabwean film-maker. The movie stars Memory Savanhu and a cast of UK-based Zimbabwean actors like Goodwin Ngulube, Lydia Nakwakilo, Ashley Majaya, Belinda Majego and Kudzai Manyeku. So you see Memory, my love of Zimbabwe has not ended with writing about Dambudzo but contributing a movie to Zollywood.
I have also translated John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress into ci-Bemba.
I think by now you have heard what happened when those hypocrites in administration chased me from their white university giving me an option between being sectioned or expelled. I chose the latter, a decision which shocked them out of their warped wits. I have forgiven them because together with you they thought as an African student from some remote Southern African country I was privileged for receiving tertiary education at Oxford, a learning institution they have overrated as a citadel of knowledge just like Cambridge or Harvard. It is such academic mad houses that keep on churning out arrogant, snobbish, hypocritical and pea-minded bastards who enter the world with the superior airs of holier-than-thou, we and them attitude calling themselves Doctors, Professors or any stupid titles to distance themselves from other ordinary folks whom they look down on as dunces.
These idiots have done little in changing the world for a better place. If anything, they have contributed in making it worse by joining their counterparts in the right-wing maggoty camp influencing policies that worsen this Babylon called earth. They wear gowns and mortar boards receiving degrees from pink-faced old blokes who shake their hands and congratulate them for entering the world of knowledge.
I am glad I never graduated to attend the graduation ceremony which I find nauseating. If I had, I vow I would have dressed in my blue jeans with a T-shirt or overall, just to show how stupid the whole fucking thing is.
I had the same experience at the University of Rhodesia which was normally attended by middle class white boys when those white buffoons in administration kept telling us black students how lucky we were to receive education at the institution of higher learning.
You always accused me of being strange, eccentric, bohemian or even mad. I can assure you that I am as sane as any bloke right-thinking people consider as being normal whatever that means.
Do you remember the night you took me out on Valentine’s Day or some other stupid celebration at City Arms along Cowley road in Oxford and you kept on hanging on me and kissing me like we were movie stars. You were hysterical that I was not returning your love as you expected. I am always annoyed when a white person starts showering too much love on me. I am less angry when you people are hostile against my race or even blatantly racist to the extent of calling me Nigger, Kaffir or even monkey. I wouldn’t fight back or take much offence as some blacks would do. A white person fawning over me never fails to arouse sleeping demons in me that are hypersensitive to hypocrisy which I have been encountering since my childhood in Rusape shortly after my father died.
I have had so much of this sympathising from my school days at the mission school and university back home when those hypocrites felt they were doing us a favour by civilising our cursed lot. I am almost paranoid when it comes to racism masquerading as colour blindness.
Remember how mad you became when I even rubbished the idea of marriage as another form of societal hypocrisy. I see no difference between marriage and fornication, whether one is sanctioned by some holy man claiming to represent God, here on earth or two, horny fools deciding to copulate in the back of a car, on top of an office table or in some dark alley. Whenever I tried to explain to you things that have shaped my life, my childhood problem of stuttering nearly came back scaring the shit out of me.
I have elected to write you this letter long after we have parted just to explain some of my views on life. I know I am anti-social, but I feel most people who readily classify me to be equally anti-freedom of an individual or even mad. I live outside their narrow and provincial world just as I consider them outsiders in my world that is hinged on freedom of an individual.
My physical and mental insecurity that have dogged me since my father died have made me a stranger in a world where hypocrisy, lying and dishonesty reign supreme making anybody calling the perpetrators of these vices broods of vipers, an odd one out or a dissident.
Since coming over here, I have gone through several stages of identity crisis, self-hatred, self re-examination, excessive Afro-optimism, excessive Afro-pessimism, reversal racism, escapism and alienation. Maybe it is a manifestation of these conflicting mental feelings which made the authorities think of sectioning me.
After living rough in Oxford where I pitched a tent near the Uni shortly after being expelled, I am hanging a lot with my good Rasta friends in London. I am somehow in tune with these rootless, ganja-smoking pseudo-ideologists. We agree on many issues like the world being Babylon-the western influenced materialistic, oppressive, manipulative, and capitalistic. There is too much ganja and reggae music which I find soothing. I don’t however agree with some far-fetched ideologies of my Rasta brothers of revering Haile Sellasie, that dictatorial midget in Ethiopia as God. I also don’t agree with their excessive promotion of blackness which I find hypocritical and escapist.
Samantha, they say writers are show businessmen trying to interpret the world on paper unlike their counterparts in music who use music. There are two musicians I find interesting. It is Bob Marley and Jim Morrison. I connect with both of them in my lifestyle and telepathically. Both were shamans who died young and only received recognition when they were six feet under.
I have a premonition that I will die violently or young. I don’t care because I don’t feel I belong to this world. I am like an Abiku child in Yoruba mythology, a spirit child who is fated to a cycle of early death and rebirth to the same mother. Sometimes I dream of living in another age where I was a griot who was burnt at a stake for lambasting some tyrannical chief. At other times, I dream that I lived in another era as a poet who was drowned by the chief’s henchmen for refusing to apologise for an insulting poem he had read in a village arena against injustice.
Do you remember how Mrs. Brown reacted when I wrote a short story on how I worked in a chief’s palace as a pussy shaver shaving the pubic hair of the women in a harem? I still remember the opening of the story. It read: ‘My job in chief Molokolo’s palace, who, all along thought I had been castrated, was to shave the pubic hair of his wives at the palace. The story ended with me bedding some of his wives and paying the ultimate price of death. You remember how white Mrs Brown turned when I read the story? She screamed that I was mad. Well, the morality of the story is that many leaders in power think their subjects are blind to their excesses in urinating on people’s rights. They think we are castrated until we rise up and unmask their hypocrisy or demand for justice.
I might go back to Zimbabwe because I can’t continue living like a tramp. I have already seen the inside of British Police cells twice or thrice. I have to finish the book I am writing first. It is called House of Hunger. I have destroyed several manuscripts of other books that I have attempted to write because I don’t feel they capture the message I am trying to communicate.
However, as a citizen of the world, a polyglot, I feel going back home won’t calm the demons in me that cry for a just society where the freedom of the individual is paramount. What I am reading in the Papers on Zimbabwe seems to be miles away from that ideal world which, both the repressive white regime of Smith or the popular nationalist black government of Mugabe, are miles away in realising a society I dream of.
Many African societies which benefited from the wind of change in the sixties have already failed to cut the umbilical cords of colonialism that connects them to their former masters both economically and socially. Nationalism might even be a guise of deep envy of the lives colonialists live. Many African leaders just introduce follow-fashion-monkey societies that emulate the system they replace.
You see Samantha, this thing called colonial mentality eats at the core of your heart or soul like a cancer. Many nationalists, and even academics, are both irredeemable victims of colonialism whether consciously or unconsciously. They don’t realise how entrenched the problem is in their makeup like DNA. They achieve what they call independence ( from what?) and change flags and national anthems but fail to establish new home-grown societies based on their cultures, values and norms.
Many erroneously think it is getting independence that is the most difficult stage in the freedom attaining process. I feel to the contrary that what is difficult is establishing a nation that is compatible with modernity. It is like having a baby. Every fool who has a healthy dick can impregnant a woman with no intention of having a baby. It is raising a baby that is the trickier part since you have to nurture the baby to young adulthood.
I know a number of my African intellectual friends who reject everything European in favour of everything African or black. These idiots need psychoanalysing by God himself since this is an extreme manifestation of self-hatred highly masked as race pride. Though I abhor most western things, I am equally nauseated by most things African. The Nigger who sang Say It Loud, I am Black and Proud was in actual sense saying Say It Fucking Loud, I am Black and Ashamed. Oh, yes isn’t it Louis Armstrong, hailing from the same shabby background who honestly complained in song that the colour of his skin was a sin?
Apart from my name Dambudzo, I don’t think Samantha you remember me revering Africanness or blackness. Most whites are racists, including you and several so called liberals, who shower us poor souls with love when they are consciously or unconsciously pitying us for being black. As I said earlier Samantha, a white person expressing excessive love for a black person is simply saying you are also a human being which is worse than any racist insult.
I remember my English teachers both at St Augustine’s Mission School and the University of Rhodesia praising me for getting good results by saying ‘well done Charles. You are such a brilliant black boy’. A brilliant black boy? Fuck! I could have killed those sons of bitches for not praising me because I was a brilliant pupil, and not a brilliant black boy. I know you would argue, Samantha, that I was being oversensitive, but what do you expect from someone whose race has received numerous insults since blacks and whites came into contact?
That’s why even now as I strive to establish myself as a writer, I don’t want the title to go with the adjective ‘black writer’. Fuck even other demeaning terms like black, Negro, coloured or African. A writer is just that, a fucking writer! Period.
Knowing how condescending you are, just like many of your kind, you will quickly find a word in your language to define me. Strange, bizarre, eccentric, bohemian, unconventional, odd or even mad. It is your language. I wish I could describe whites in Shona – that is deep Shona with idioms and proverbs that would elude even the most educated white linguist in my language. However, I associate the language with backwardness, provincialism and even the squalor.
I might link up with you when I come back to Oxford. Meanwhile, I am still squatting with several friends.
Charles William Tambudzai Dambudzo Marechera.
Chirere’s interview was originally published on the writer’s blog, Munyori Literary Journal.