Koffi Addo Non-Fiction 2018 Prize Winner: A Dialogue with Chisanga Mukuka

Originally from Zambia, Chisanga Mukuka was raised in Lesotho before moving to Cape Town, South Africa, where she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Media Theory & Practice at the University of Cape Town. She has always had a love for words and literature and recently took steps towards developing her own writing, both fiction and non-fiction.
This conversation happened between a green bedroom in Gaborone, Botswana and  the slow and scenic Mother City, South Africa.

Gaamangwe: Congratulations on being shortlisted for Writivism Koffi Addo prize. What does being shortlisted for this prize mean to you?

Chisanga: Thank you, I’m very excited about being shortlisted. As much as I’ve always wanted to write, I’ve also been a bit anxious about it, so putting something out there and getting shortlisted has given me a great boost of confidence.

Gaamangwe: That is great. I was deeply moved by your story. What compelled you to write your experience? And how was the process of writing something so personal and later sharing it with the world?

Chisanga: It was a bit of a strange process. I initially wrote the section about my experience in Zambia about 5 years ago, and at that time it was more of a way for me to process what happened – the intention wasn’t to share it with anyone. It wasn’t until much later that I wrote everything else in the piece (growing up outside my country, the experience of having a foreign passport, and the trip that followed). Feeling like an outsider in the country I live in wasn’t anything new, and I think that’s something I would easily have shared with people, but the alienation I felt in Zambia, specifically during that incident, was definitely very unexpected. I think I needed to work through it on my own before I could be open about it, and the passage of time has definitely made sharing it easier.

Gaamangwe: Yes, I can imagine the trauma of what happened. I have passed through Zambia on my way to Kenya once, I know how the bus rank is like, so I imagined that experience from my interaction with Zambia and I was mortified for you. How did you work through the trauma by yourself? I imagine that alienation was even worse because Zambia was where you hoped to feel at home. What meanings did you make about your sense/idea of home?

Chisanga: I think it confirmed the fact that my sense of home isn’t going to be the same as the next person’s, and it doesn’t have to be. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure that wanting to feel at home in a specific place was influenced by being surrounded by many people who can confidently point out home on a map, and find it strange that some people can’t, and sometimes try to do it for me. It’s actually funny how after meeting someone and explaining where/how I grew up, they take it upon themselves to say “well, that means you’re from ….”. I feel at home in the cities and towns that I’ve lived in and formed memories, I feel at home with certain people – like myself, none of these places or people fit neatly in one country, and that’s absolutely fine.

Gaamangwe: I agree. Unfortunately, humans like categories and putting labels to things. I imagine it stems from the fear of the unknown. We feel something must have a name and only then does it belong. I also imagine that it took some time to understand and accept that it’s okay to have a different sense of home. Alienation was something that you experienced a lot. How did you integrate or rise above these feelings of alienation? Or is it an ever constant battle? What shifted for you once you wrote and finished writing Belonging?

Chisanga Mukuka - Writer

Chisanga: I wouldn’t say that it’s a constant battle. For the most part I’m very comfortable with my sense of home and being a third culture kid. I only feel alienated when faced with people, situations, and systems that aren’t accepting of that – I think Belonging was my way of trying to capture some of those instances.

When I initially wrote the section about visiting Zambia, there was definitely some relief since I was using writing as an outlet, but when I revisited the piece years later and added the rest (something I never really planned to do), I was really just documenting my experiences and so there wasn’t necessarily a shift. Having said that, since sharing the piece, I do feel that I should at some point highlight the positive aspects and experiences that I’ve had as a result of moving around – because there are many and the story is incomplete without them.

Gaamangwe: I am of the idea that writers are conduits. That stories comes through us, and that we don’t really direct this conduit-ship. For sure, we can have intention but how the story comes out is something quite ethereal. I say this to say perhaps the story is already complete as it is. That the perspective in the story, something I imagine many understand is one aspect of the experience, is powerful and necessary and complete as is. What do you think? I mean, how do angles/perspectives of stories come to you? What kinds of stories do you find yourself writing? And what is important to you when you write?

Chisanga: I see the story as a “complete” piece of a larger discussion, and I feel the need to continue exploring the idea of belonging, whether this is through personal narratives or those of other people. This may not happen anytime soon, but it does feel necessary. While I’ve always written random bits and pieces, I only started trying to create whole stories in the last few years. These have been fiction and non-fiction, and the motivation has either been wanting to process and document experiences that stood out and the emotions that followed, or coming across something interesting that I’d like to investigate further. I’d like to play around with fiction a bit more, but at the moment I’m fascinated by non-fiction and the idea that there are countless incredible stories around us, it’s just a matter of finding them and telling them. I’m not the most disciplined of writers – my attempts are few and very far between – but when I do write, that is what is most important, finding a good story and telling it well.

Gaamangwe: I definitely agree that larger discussions on the idea of belonging are super necessary. I have been enjoying reading non-fiction this year too. There is something uniquely shifting about the genre! I cannot wait to read more of your stories. Thank you for joining me in this space and all the best of luck with Writivism.

NB: This interview is part of a collective book project with all the incredible and talented shortlisted poets for Writivism Prizes.

Download Writivism Shortlisted Writers in Conversation with Africa in Dialogue

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