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Zimbabwean author Tsungi Chiwara on her 2014 NAMA nomination

Tsungai Brenda Chiwara nee Mupawaenda or simply 'Tsungi' , the shorter version of 'Tsungai', as she prefers to be called has poured out her heart in her very first novel 'Reflections of the heart - A story of Hope.' Her excellent work led her to be a 2014 NAMA nominee. 

2014 NAMA nominee Tsungi Chiwara (Photo: Chiwara)

How is your family's background like?
My name 'Tsungai' means perseverance – and they say what’s in a name? I was born in Zimbabwe’s (then Rhodesia) second-biggest city, Bulawayo and stayed there with my uncle’s family and maternal grandmother, while my mother completed her Sociology degree in Harare (then Salisbury). I’m now 43 and come from a family of two. My brother was born 11 months after me and joined me in Bulawayo. My parents used to come visit us from time to time. When my mother completed her studies, I moved to Harare at the age of three. I have been here ever since. On October 2013, my dad passed away from the Parkinson’s disease. My mum, who is still alive, is a huge support and source of inspiration to many, including myself.

What about your education?
In 1993, I obtained my Bachelor of Pharmacy Honours Degree. A year later, I married my wonderful loving husband Jimiel or Jimi, as most people call him. At that time, I was already working as a pharmacist. Over the years, I had my four children while pursuing more education. I now have a diploma in church leadership, a postgraduate diploma in HIV and AIDS Management as well as a Master’s in HIV and AIDS Management from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. My career has also transitioned over the years.   I went from being a pharmacist to working in the supply chain management of medicines and medical supplies. As a result, I’m also a logistician or supply chain expert. I currently work for an international non-governmental organization as the Logistics Advisor for voluntary male circumcision commodities. At this position, my role is to oversee and to ensure that all supply chain management aspects for these commodities are coordinated well and running smoothly for the national program in Zimbabwe.

Did you do anything 'extra' as a young adult?
Yes. I did a modelling and grooming course in 1994 as a way of boosting my self-confidence. Although I had not planned it, I ended up doing some additional modelling for just over a year, including some adverts and fashion shows. The highlight in my short modelling career was entering The Zimbabwe Super Model of the Year Competition in 1994. I was voted one of twenty finalists by the Zimbabwean public.

Tell us more about more about your country Zimbabwe and its world of literature?
I LOVE my country! I love Zimbabwe and its beautiful people. Like other countries, we have our share of challenges, but I think we’re a resilient and determined people. As Zimbabweans, we have so much to offer to the continent of Africa and the world. We excel in so many areas. Literature is one of them. Zimbabweans are very creative. We have several world-class writers that have come out of our nation. I’m happy to say that women are well represented! Talk about plays, poetry, short stories and fiction – we have writers for all these. 

Chiwara's official NAMA certificate (Photo: Chiwara)

You're not just an author. You also have a family life. How do you combine your professional and personal worlds?
My husband is very supportive. This makes my life easierWe are blessed with three handsome boys aged between 12 and 18 years - Kombo, Kudzo and Anesu, and a gorgeous five-year old princess - Inyasha. To be quite honest, I have learned with time to balance the two worlds. I do my best to use my lunch times and evenings when the kids are in bed, as well as weekends, to do my writing. At times, I can get carried away in my writing. Then, I just make myself stop to attend  home affairs. Similarly, I can get so absorbed in watching a movie with the kids or chatting to my husband or doing something else. Even when the kids are still up -and teenagers really stay up!, I have to excuse myself and go ‘work.’ I always say no matter how successful I become, I will always count my family as my biggest success that can never be matched. I’m so proud of them; it’s truly just the goodness of God.

Your book is currently available online only. Should we expect a hard copy anytime soon?
Actually, I just collected my first consignment of hard copies last Friday 21st of February.  I’m so excited! For now the printed version will only be available in the Zimbabwean market. However, I can make special arrangements for anyone who wants a printed copy of the book but lives outside Zimbabwe.

How did you go about becoming a writer?
What I can say is this: I have  always been a writer at heart. It's true that I was not quite able to articulate my passion years back. At school, I wrote a lot of essays and poems during creative writing lessons. I obtained good grades both in class and in competitions. It didn’t go far though.  Perhaps if I had studied English Literature- which at the time was the only thing remotely related to writing, I may have written formally earlier. Much later in life, in my late 30’s was when I ‘discovered’ that writing was my passion. Around that time, I started penning my current novel  'Reflections of the Heart.' I also started sharing inspiration notes on Facebook and via email to my contacts. I found great satisfaction doing that, and never looked back. Many times I got good feedback, other times I didn’t get any. However, I kept on writing. Writing is something that comes naturally to me and I enjoy it. I can do it all day.

What has motivated you to write this book?
I had so many things on my heart that I wanted too share. So I made the decision to consolidate those thoughts into one book. At first, my plan was to write an inspirational teaching book.  But my heart, and I believe God, kept drawing me to writing a fiction novel instead. I wanted to preach the Gospel in a creative way. In a way that ordinary people could relate to. I also wanted to prove to myself that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to.

Chiwara ready for the NAMA red carpet (Photo: Chiwara)

Which advice will you give to any young woman who may aspire to become a writer?
Believe in yourself and your abilities. Start writing something, anything, but start.  If  you’re passionate about writing, you’ll always find something to write about. It could be your daily journal that you may extend to something else. You’ll eventually discover what kinds of things are easy for you to write about. Be confident to show your work to one or two people you trust, just to test the waters. Remember that talent alone is not enough – so write, persevere, be determined and be disciplined.  Let your passion drive you. Also, when you have corrected what you can, be willing at some stage for others to proof and correct your work because mistakes can spoil a good piece of writing. Don’t be easily discouraged, just continue writing no-matter what.  You will come across some nay-sayers. One of my quotes: “Believe in yourself. Don’t focus on others disbelief in you.”

Congratulations! You're a 2014 NAMA nominee! Could you tell us more about NAMA?
Thank you! The National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA) are awarded by The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, which falls under the Ministry of Sports, Art and Culture. They are held annually to acknowledge and celebrate the masters of arts in Zimbabwe. The NAMA event highlights those who have excelled in their respective areas in the previous year:  music, acting, writing, visual arts or any other type of artwork. It seeks to also promote creativity within our nation. The first NAMA ceremony was held in 2001.

And what does this nomination mean to you?
Winning or being nominated is very prestigious and an honour. The NAMA nomination is the highest award for art in my country, Zimbabwe. Being nominated for ‘Outstanding First Published Work’ means that I have been recognized as one of Zimbabwe’s newest writers who have work of outstanding quality. This means my work has not only received national attention but also, it was taken seriously. There is something special about being acknowledged in your own country by the experts, even if one goes on getting international  awards. Without  a doubt, more doors are going to open for me. This why I have the future to look forward to. I sincerely believe that my 2014 NAMA nomination is the beginning of many achievements related to my book.


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