The first time my talent was noticed and professionally critiqued was in 1987 when I took part in the Eisteddfod, organised by the National Institute for Allied Arts. My short story, Mr Bong, won the Third Prize in the Literature Category for our age group. The certificate must still exist somewhere, as well as the accompanying notes.
In addition to the school magazine, my early work appeared in the now defunct The New Generation, a youth newspaper published by Jamaica-born Ben Hanson. At that time, despite the international acclaim of Zimbabwean authors such as Tsitsi Dangarembga, Shimmer Chinodya, Chenjerai Hove and Yvonne Vera and the domestic success of Mordecai Hamutyinei etc, writing was not considered the sort of profession that anyone would encourage their son to pursue in Zimbabwe. Even now, I still get the strange looks from fellow Zimbabweans and the invariable, "No, I mean, what is your real job?" However, I remained resolute (plus, the fact that I started to grow dreadlocks late in my teenage meant that I was virtually unemployable) and soon got the entire family behind me.
While still at St Mary Magdalene's High School, I submitted a manuscript to Macmillan Publishers of the United Kingdom for their Pacesetters series, a spy thriller about a South African Bantustan that had nuclear weapons. I had started to read James Hadley Chase, and had begun to see myself as a successful writer of pulp fiction. Those stories were easy to churn out, I could fill a notebook with a 10-chapter novel in a day. Science-fiction took a lot longer. Although enthusiastically received and described as a “good, pacey read”, and I was asked to rewrite it, the Pacesetters series was discontinued and The Last Bantustan never saw the light of day.
Two family members encouraged my pulp thrillers; my father and my uncle, William (my father's youngest and now only surviving brother). Both were really into thrillers; it was through my father that I encountered Sheldon etc. They got their secretaries to type my manuscripts, and my father gave valuable criticism. In those days, even middle-class families did not own a computer (or word processer, as they were called then) Two friends who also typed out my manuscripts were Vusa, who had started up the job ladder and Gilbert, whose brother had a laptop. As he upgraded, he passed on the laptops to Gilbert. This is how I learnt to use a computer for writing. As it was only loaned to me for a few hours or at least a weekend, I learnt to type fast.
At this time, I embraced the Rastafari Faith and have been an adherent ever since. I appeared on national TV and radio a few times, explaining to a fascinated audience about different aspects of the Rastafarian culture. Being a Rastafarian in Zimbabwe is not easy, with institutional discrimination and media slander. I was repeatedly stopped and searched on the streets by police. At my first job, as a casual labourer at a soil testing laboratory in Southerton, Harare, I was asked to confine myself to the back of the premises in case my appearance offended visiting clients. Even now, it is not uncommon for a Zimbabwean to use my Rastafarianness as a weapon for an ad hominem attack, as if being Rastafarian is inherently something to be ashamed of or which makes me less than other people. I saw such a hostile environment break into submission and conformity whole communities of Rastafarians, but I resolved that I would rise above it. From such trying experience comes my personal motto: ባየሁዳ አንበሳ ኢነም ኮራናው ("By the Lion of Judah, I too shall prevail).
I enrolled at the now defunct Vision Valley Film Video & Television Institute, majoring in Screenwriting and Directing. My tutors were Kudzai Gamanya, Stephen Chigorimbo and the late Godwin Mawuru. I also honed my skills with Edgar Langeveldt’s Nexus Talent Agency, the African Script Development Fund, where I did a course in Writing Comedy for TV & Radio taught by British comedy writer, Ken Rock, the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (a course on writing for short film, taught by Idit Schechori of the School of Screenwriting, Tel Aviv)
At Nexus Talent Agency, I got a part in Edgar Langeveldt’s play, No News, directed by Dominic Kanaventi, which premiered at the Theatre-in-the-Park, Harare, in 1997. I played Edgar’s racist antagonist, Panganai, replacing Willom Tight, whose music career was taking off. That was my first professional acting gig.
In 1999, I was cast as in Tawanda Gunda (Tanyaradzwa, 2004)'s short film, Vengeance Is Mine. It came out in time for the new 70% local content stipulation by Government, and was flighted several times on ZBC-TV.
My first professional writing gig was a script for a TV series being developed by Media For Development Trust, Africa’s largest production house, Homeboys. I did not actually start writing until the day before the deadline. So, between 10p.m. and 5 a.m., I came up with 60 pages of a well-structured screenplay that I was able to sell. With a growing reputation in what has always been really an elitist, dog-eat-dog industry, there were more writing jobs lined up. Producers were prepared to pay good money to good writers, and I was a good writer. It seemed as if I had finally arrived.
However, a storm was brewing in Zimbabwe. The exalted liberators, who had fought White-settler minority rule and led us to emerge as an enviable showcase for post-colonial Africa no longer had a grasp of the issues at hand. In fact, they were more determined to entrench their grasp on power, and hold the nation ransom. The rest of the nation was about to learn what the people of the southwestern parts already knew firsthand: the regime was not above unthinkable atrocities as a method of cowing the populace into submission. I got my first "official warning" after telling an audience during the "Land Stories Project" that I had footage of soldiers beating up civilians.
In 2002, I took part in the historic elections that we all placed our last desperate hope. And, when that vote was taken from us, I joined millions of Zimbabweans of my generation in voting with my feet. Today, the regime may delude itself as it "wins" subsequent elections, but history will recall that 2002 was the year that many Zimbabweans showed their confidence in their country's future under the continued tenure of Mr Mugabe by leaving Zimbabwe in droves.
On the 7th of July, 2002, my father rang me and asked me if I still had my passport. I said I did. He asked me to pack and meet him at Harare International Airport, as we were going to the United Kingdom. On the 9th, to the sound of The Bangles' Eternal Flame, I took to the sky and into exile. On the 10th, I entered the United Kingdom and have been here ever since.
At Avondale Primary School. It was here that I began to write, penning my first novel-length sci-fi novel in the 6th grade. Jazz singer and actress Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana was in my class. Other interesting people who went to the same school at around the same time with include actor Lucian Msamati (1 year ahead)
At St Mary Magdalene's High School, Nyanga. Outside my uncle, the late Mike Kafesu's house, with Kudzai (I was in Form 2, and he was in 1) on a weekend.
Film School. At the now defunct Vision Valley, Film Video & Television Institute, Harare, where I majored in Screenwriting. At this time, I began to commit myself more to the tenets of the Rastafari Faith.
Entering the world of television. A still from Vengeance is Mine (Tawanda Gunda, 2001) with actress/broadcaster Happiness Pemiwah, now also based in the UK. The short film was broadcast on ZBC-TV