Peter Molife was born in 1951 in Msengezi, near Zvimba, in Zimbabwe and raised on his
parents’ farm with his three brothers, five sisters and numerous cousins.

He studied history at Leeds University, England, graduating in 1975, then went on to live with his wife and two daughters in Guyana, Jamaica and The Bahamas over a 15-year period. Whilst in Jamaica, he obtained an MA in Education from The University of the West Indies and worked as a teacher. He moved back to England in the early ‘90s and continued to teach, taking time out to study law, gaining an LLB (1998) and LLM (1999) from Essex University, before he retired in 2014. Eriza is his first book.

Godwin Chireka

What’s Eriza about?

It’s a story of a young Zimbabwean girl in colonial Rhodesia who dreamt of a better future for her family and her country, but ironically had to prepare for that future in Britain, the seat of colonial rule in Rhodesia. It’s a story of her becoming a young woman against the changing political backdrop of Rhodesia transforming into Zimbabwe.

The inspiration behind the story is…

…The desire that daughters at the time had to alleviate their parents’ hardship in the colonial environment.

What were the unique circumstances of daughters of that time?

Daughters in Eriza’s day were expected to marry. The bride prize was their final contribution to the family fortunes. Some parents didn’t see any point in spending money on educating a daughter who would spend her life with another family. Then it dawned on some fathers that the bride price would be substantive if the daughter was educated. If the
marriage failed she would come back to her family and not be a burden on them as she could look after herself and her children. In the book, Eriza’s father, Baba Mukwesa, had been enlightened beyond this point and wanted Eriza to go beyond what men could
achieve and become a doctor. Back then, medicine was a distinguished professional even more than it is today.

Being a girl and being ambitious were two competing qualities back in the day. What are your lived experiences of this?

Being a father of two daughters I became quite convinced that girls could do better than boys. I never raised them to have children and wait for a husband’s paycheck. Growing up, I’d seen the frustration this could cause especially when it was clear that the woman was smarter than the husband. I was very much encouraged by my father’s attitude on this issue. He wanted all his children to get a good education.

Have things changed much?

Yes they have. The equal opportunity bell is ringing throughout the world and girls themselves are confident about anything they want to do. Gender equality has been decisively embraced and more importantly young men treat young women with respect.

How long did it take you to write the book?

About 17 months.

The most rewarding thing about writing the book was…

The reconnection with some aspects of my youth.

And the most challenging part…

…The emotions I felt when I wrote about Mbuya Mukwesa’s life.

Tell us a little bit more about Mbuya Mukwesa.

Mbuya Mukwesa is Eriza’s grandmother in the book and her tale is one of anguish of having been evicted from her ancestral home in Kuwadzana by the white settlers. That anguish can be likened to the Palestinian Nakba (The Catastrophe) which has engulfed the Arabs ever since the Jews took over their land. She was the first generation of the Zimbabwean Nakba which we can say ended in 1980. For her it was not just the family land that was taken away but a whole way of life. Most Zimbabweans in the 70+ age range would be
very familiar with her plight. One key issue was the loss of the family burial place. This was so important together with the preparation of the dead person’s spirit to join the ancestors. Because of the eviction, her father’s body did not undergo the expected burial rites. She carried the burden of knowing that these rites were not carried out and as far as she was
concerned, things could only be made right when she and her family moved back to Kuwadzana.

The political organisation in the 1950s and 1960s didn’t sit well with her; as far as she was concerned, things had to be settled in the battlefield. That is why she mused about the secrets of the war in the 1890s being the key to winning the liberation struggle.
Revenge against the white settlers was always at the back of her mind.

What was the first thing you ever wrote?

I’ve been writing bits and pieces which are in boxes in the attic.

What inspires you to write?

When words, phrases and paragraphs I write start speaking back to me as if they’re telling me who I am.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I go for a run or a long walk and when I get back home, I’m ready to do nothing other than write. If it’s a Saturday or a Sunday I even forget about washing and eating.

Your three top tips on getting and staying in the writing zone are…

Speak to your characters, they answer back in what you write. Think about your favourite relative and communicate with him or her in spirit. If they’ve long died, the poignancy of the special moments you had together will ignite something in you.

What are you reading now?

The Legendary Past: World of Myths by Felipe Fernan-dez-Armesto

A book…or two…that had an impact on you.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

When’s the next book coming?

I don’t know but it will come.

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