The Zimbabwean duo, Chris Mlalazi and Raisedon Baya were among the six poets, journalists and writers recently awarded the Oxfam Novib Pen Awards at the Crossing Border Festival at The Hague. The awards were given in recognition of the privations suffered by writers in the course of their work. The Zimbabweans were honoured for their jointly-authored play, The Crocodile on the Zambezi, which was first produced in Bulawayo earlier this year. An account of the disruption of the play, and an extract from the play, was published in the current edition of African Writing.
The Zimbabweans were in worthy company. Among the other writers honoured was the Serbian journalist, Dejan Anastasijevic, who was on hand to receive his award personally. Dejan was the first journalist to testify against Slobodan Milosevic. Recently, he and his wife narrowly escaped an assassination by grenade in their Belgrade apartment.
Other awardees include Cameroonian writer, Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo (Lapiro de Mbanga) who wrote a song, Constipated Constitution, critical about constitutional change that could make Paul Biya, who has been president for 26 years, a life president. He is currently serving a three-year prison term on trumped-up charges.
Outspoken Burmese poet, Maung Thura, was arrested last June for being too forthcoming about the scale of the suffering in the aftermath of the natural disaster.
His fellow poet and compatriot, Saw Wei, was arrested and detained incomunicado for a writing a Valentine poem with teeth. A courageous subtext was formed by the first letters of the lines of the poem “General Than Shwe is crazy with power”. It slipped past the censors and was unwittingly published in Rangoon.
A quiet toast to these and others who refuse to stay silent, even at grave risk to life and limb.