Author Profile - Jabulani Mzinyathi


Jabulani Mzinyathi was born on 01.09.65 in Ascot high density suburb, Gwelo, Rhodesia (now Gweru, Zimbabwe), to working class parents. He is a qualified primary school teacher turned magistrate, and he holds a diploma in personnel management. In 1997 he was awarded a diploma for excellence by the panel of judges of the Scottish international open poetry contest. He has had several poems and short stories published by magazines in Zimbabwe and abroad. He also once wrote humour pieces for some newspapers in Zimbabwe, and was a columnist for Moto magazine, Gweru. He has served both as the vice-chairman of the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe, and as chairman of the Zimbabwe Poetry Society.

Jabulani has a blog at: Some of his poems are featured in the upcoming Mensa Press anthology Whispers in the Whirlwind: A collection of Poems about Socio-Economic Challenges in Africa.

Five Questions with Jabulani Mzinyathi:

1. You took the photo of the drum that is featured with your poem. Can you tell us the story behind the drum in the photo and its connection, if any, to the poem?

the drum in the photo is found at great zimbabwe hotel, masvingo. it is used to alert guests about meal times. it is a traditional african drum (zimbabwe style). african drums are of different types depending on location. the one in the picture is the one type used among the karanga speaking people. it is one type of the many kinds they play. the drum in african societies was used to pass on messages of war, death, peace, joy, etcetera.

the drum in the picture is connected to the poem in that it is meant to establish a visual connection with the poem. it is also meant to contrast it with the western drums that phil collins, for example, plays very well.

2. How are your personal drumming skills?

am not very proficient but am keen to play the congas and bongos as accompaniment for my poetry and reggae lyrics.

3. What do you think is the role of poetry, and literature in general, in the politics of Africa?

poetry brings a different kind of aesthetics than other literary genres. it also is used to painting pictures in words about the various physical and metaphysical worlds of human beings. hey, i hope readers are not bamboozled! in poetry we try to capture human emotions in words. a difficult task as my compatriot and poet par excellence, the late dambudzo marechera, said. the poet per my view is a thinker, a philosopher, a prophet... ah... an explosion and an implosion too. expressing feelings in words is a mammoth task.

in africa we have not really reached that level where we can just marvel at the sunsets and beautiful flora and fauna we have. largely our poetry is poetry with a message. some have said at times it borders on propaganda - the thin line between art and propaganda. i do not think we have art for art's sake, the poetry carries messages. this is organic in the sense that we continue to grapple with issues around slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and recolonisation. i have read the works of jack mapanje, frank chipasula, chenjerai hove, taban lo liyong. these are some african poets, all of whom have taken up an unmistakeable engagement with political issues. many poets have ended up in detention without trial or in exile for singing the "wrong" songs!

4. You seem to enjoy symmetry in your stanza lengths - each stanza of a given poem having the same number of lines. Do you do this intentionally, or does it come naturally? Do you manipulate or shorten lines to make them fit the form?

it seems to me that the style you refer to comes naturally. the poems assume their own shape as i grapple with poetic devices like imagery, assonance and alliteration. my writing style is that i compose in my mind, discard what i do not need the put the final product on paper. at times i just get my laptop and "think in ink and explain the text afterwards" (marechera style spontaneity). the editing happens in the mind!

5. How did you like sharing your name with the "demonised" ball from the World Cup?

the jabulani ball was demonised by those who were not able to do
well! a bad work man blames his tools. my grade three teacher taught
me that. there was nothing wrong with jabulani. there is nothing wrong
with this jabulani. blame him not for these messages. do not shoot the
messenger. i am not anti- this or pro- that largely. i keep an open
mind. i do not sing praises where dirges are appropriate!

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