By Loe Schout, with thanks to Ireen Dubel
Zimbabwe’s best-known writer, Chenjerai Hove, passed away on 12 July 2015 in exile in Norway at the age of 59. Chenjerai Hove was a many-sided man, being a novelist, storyteller, poet and playwright. His novel Bones, published in 1988, is among Hove’s best-known works. Set after independence on a white-owned farm, the book asks what difference the end of colonial rule in 1980 really made. Hove won several awards for his work and was a leading figure in post-colonial literature in Zimbabwe.
Hove was also a renowned human rights and cultural activist. This led him into a permanent struggle with the Mugabe regime in his home country. Although he had friends and allies in international cultural circles who supported him, Hove was nevertheless forced into self-imposed exile in 2001 after constant harassment from the authorities against him and his family. The problem with Zimbabwe – as he used to say – is that it has some form of freedom of expression, but no freedom after expression. “’You can disappear anytime we want’ is the slogan that I have had to confront for many years, from the men in dark glasses and suits”, Hove wrote in Freedom after expression, an article he wrote in 2005.
Hove was one of the artists who inspired Hivos to proclaim arts and culture as one of its priority areas of work. He became a good friend and real partner of Hivos. In 1994, Hove brought together a multi-disciplinary group of artists from East and Southern Africa to inspire Hivos’ Arts and Culture policy, which was being crafted at the time. In subsequent years, he continued to play a key role as advisor and critic of Hivos’ cultural programmes. Along with his soulmate, South African author and poet Breyten Breytenbach, Hove participated in many major events in the Netherlands to uphold the arts and culture sector, such as the Poetry International and Africa in the Picture festivals. They were prominent guests at the fifth and tenth year anniversaries of the Hivos Culture Fund in 2000 and 2005. Hove and Breytenbach also jointly organised the Poetry Caravan that travelled from the Island of Gorée in Senegal to Timbuktu in Mali.
Why is a cultural policy necessary? In Hove’s own words, “Without a cultural component, development is only material and the human soul and spirit are being left out. Not to mention the human ambitions and aspirations, which are expressed through music, dance and literature.” (Hivos! 1968-2008, Frans Bieckmann, 2009).
Hove was a soulmate to many colleagues, partners and friends. He was one of the godfathers of the Hivos cultural programme. His death is a great loss for his family, friends and the arts and culture sector in his country and abroad. His involvement in so many international and regional literary events also brought him close to writers throughout the world. Chenjerai Hove’s visionary ideas deserve to be celebrated by Hivos, now and in the future.