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New ground, old creative terrain

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It is not clear what happens for the value attached to an arts’ association to shift shape, or lose value, once described in regional, or ‘chapter’, terms.

What is clear, though, is that a regional chapter is always dwarfed by the vastness of the national association’s wings.

This is something newly-elected general secretary for Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) Northern Chapter, Mashallo Samilo, is aware of.

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In fact, it is not just Samilo who understands this. Chairperson Padiwa Kasho and treasurer Herbert Nyirenda, who were elected on September 10 this year, understand this quite well.

For some time, the Northern Chapter has been living in a world of obscurity. It sounds ironical that when the Mawu national body seems to be in full flower, the regional chapter was non-existent under the mother body’s giant shadow.

“It’s high time the chapter has to be active and vibrant,” Samilo acknowledges.

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For some time, the writers who keep the channels of creativity open in the region have been the same faces. It is a situation the new elected members seem to be aware of. They even seem to understand the root of such a problem.

Samilo says, unlike arts associations that have Northern Region chapters, Mawu has never had a chapter in the region, hence the new chapter is bracing itself for a rough ride.

“Being the first time in history to form the Mawu Northern Chapter, we want to help the regional chapter mitigate bureaucracy and it will help writers to pull up their socks at regional level,” Samilo says.

It will not be easy, though, and Samilo understands this.

“We anticipate to face the obvious challenge of insufficient funds to run the chapter but we have devised a strategy to monetise the writing profession by publishing magazines and anthologies. In so doing, we will bring life to the chapter,” Samilo points out.

It may not be difficult for the chapter to set the ball rolling. To begin with, the region has well-known writers who include Pious Nyondo, Grace Gondwe [secretary of Mawu], Kagwa Dzonzi [President of Mzuzu University Writers Forum), Samilo, Gloria Mwandira [the winner of the writing competition of junior secondary school students) and Wesley Macheso.

However, regional chapter chairperson, Kasho, observes that they are not targeting established authors, stressing that, “we want to sharpen budding writers by conducting workshops and unearthing local writers”.

“One of our goals is to re-activate inactive writers and nurture new writers in Northern Region schools. We want them to start writing and publishing their works,” Kasho says.

Leaf-picking

At least the Mawu Northern Chapter may pick a leaf from the Central Region chapter of yet another association, the Musicians Union of Malawi (Mum) Central Region Chapter.

Mum Central Region chairperson, Farai Chazima Soko, in the past months showed that it is possible to push matters from a mere regional base with desired results.

For example, Chazima Soko has been fighting hard to convince public officials to help some “of our members get opportunities to perform during state functions”.

Chazima Soko has also been in the forefront fighting piracy.

She does not want “pirates to get away with penalties and sentences that are light”.

Actually, she is still fighting for the rights of musicians on the issue of music sales. She wants musicians to be given the opportunity to sell their own music without any technical hindrances.

“We are denied the opportunity to sell our products by ourselves. Musicians who want to sell their own music are told that stickers – which help determine how much, in royalties, an individual gets in monetary terms— are sold to only those who are licenced. As it were, not every musician is licenced and this means pirates continue to benefit more than the artist,” she says.

Her battles, either as a musician or chapter chairperson, never end and she maintains that this is for the betterment of musicians.

Rough road

However, the Mawu Northern Chapter leaders would do well to remember that some challenges are unique to one industry.

For example, while musicians are reeling under the challenge of piracy, writers face their own unique version of hard life.

Mawu president, Sambalikagwa Mvona, quickly points at dwindling manuscript markets for authors of non-textbook material.

“Authors who specialise in general issues are failing to get the opportunity to sell their books simply because publishers have developed a preference for textbooks. All of a sudden, the bookshelves are dominated by textbooks.

“Books authored by those who cater for the general public are being ignored. This means writers are being denied the right to eke out a living, and readers are being deprived of the chance to read general books. General books are being stocked at the back of book shelves in book stores,” Mvona laments.

As Mvona puts it, this practice has brought the reading culture to a new low in the country.

This is so because, as he puts it, Malawian youth have developed the culture of “reading in order to pass examinations; instead of reading and studying books in a bid to widen their knowledge horizon. This is a disaster in the making”.

More so because, once students have achieved their purpose of passing examinations, they forget about books altogether, thereby fermenting that shameful culture of book-phobia in the country.

And Kasho, Samilo, Nyirenda, and others, could do well to learn from these tough lessons.

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