New Journal Celebrates Vibrancy of Modern Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Africa has seen huge changes to its communications and media in the past five years. The rise and rise of mobile phones, the expansion of the Internet and the explosion in African blogging and social media, on top of flourishing print and broadcast media, all bring an increasing range of options for telling African stories and increasing dialogue.

With all this new media creating new communications channels – and all the turmoil and change affecting millions as economies and countries change – people need the ability to make sense of it all. One magazine is trying to play that role.

An entrepreneur and multimedia innovator has created a unique publication that is capturing the spirit, ideas and stories of modern Africa. It is a high-quality product, has gathered together talented writers and photographers and is gaining a growing global audience. Chimurenga Magazine (http://www.chimurenga.co.za/) based in Cape Town, South Africa, calls itself a “pan African publication of writing, art and politics.” Named for the Zimbabwean Shona word for “revolutionary struggle,” it is published three times a year. Editor Ntone Edjabe is from Cameroon and came to Cape Town in the 1990s after the end of South Africa’s racist Apartheid regime.

With more than 100 contributors, the magazine offers insight into contemporary Africa, what occupies people’s thoughts and how their lives are actually lived.

It is involved in a wide range of other activities, including co-curating a Global South Dialogue Series. And its readership is truly diverse.

“We have readers who are long-term prisoners at Pretoria Central Prison, who have subscriptions that they get to us in coins, and readers who are successful businessmen,” Edjabe said to The Financial Times Magazine.

Chimurenga is out to challenge perceptions of Africa. Practicing the art of long-form journalism more associated with established high-end publications like The New Yorker (newyorker.com), the magazine sets out to challenge perceptions about Africa.

“Discourse on Africa is geared towards simplicity,” Edjabe told CNN. “Everything must be simple – ‘he’s a poor black man, he’s a victim’ – like there has to be a simple story, in a way this is what signifies Africa and global consciousness.

“The moment you bring a degree of complexity to it, it kind of throws people off, they just don’t know where to look anymore. It’s like, ‘what’s going on?’ So Chimurenga in a way does not try to maintain the superficiality of this narrative – we engage with life, we try to present life as complex as it really is.”

Stories in the journal include Billy Kahora writing on the decay of a neighbourhood in Nairobi, Kenya, Michael Abrahams writing about his time in the Cape Town mental hospital after a suicide attempt, and Sean O’Toole following a Zimbabwean immigrant on his journey into South Africa.

The magazine’s website carries back issues of the journal, along with a shop selling magazines, books and t-shirts and the “Chimurenga Library,” an archive of pan-African, independent periodicals. There’s also live online streaming of music – “from ancient techno to future roots” – through the Pan African Space Station radio station, there is a biennial publication of urban life it calls “Africa-style,” and the writings of 14 African writers who visited 14 African cities to check-up on life in urban areas.

As an example of the creativity of Chimurenga’s talent, a special issue of the magazine tried to better understand the impact of violence in South Africa in May 2008 that led to the deaths of 62 people. It did this by creating a fictitious newspaper called The Chimurenga Chronic (http://www.chimurenga.co.za/chimurenga-magazine/current-issue) set during the violence.

The writers are a mix of Anglophones and Francophones, all based in Africa. Common subjects focus on the world of lower-middle class Africa. Examples of past issues show the variety of its content: Conversations With Poets Who Refuse To Speak, Futbol, Politricks & Ostentatious Cripples, Conversations in Luanda and Other Graphic Stories, *We’re all Nigerian!

Well-travelled editor Edjabe has studied and lived in Lagos, Nigeria and Johannesburg, South Africa. He has worked as a disc jockey, music writer and basketball coach. He launched Chimurenga in 2002. He told The Financial Times Magazine “I printed 1,000 copies, which I carried around in my bag. I sold it mainly to friends.”

It was supposed to be a one-off publication but became a journal, initially written mostly by his friends.

“I found out later that this is how most journals actually begin,” he said. “At the time I thought it was unique.”

He aspired to get Africans writing about the Africa they saw and lived in. The challenge was changing the dynamic he found of writers only considering something worth writing about if it had been featured in non-African media.

Edjabe had already made his mark with an innovative initiative to show the diversity of what Africa has to offer. Three years after arriving in South Africa he started the Pan African Market (PAM) in Cape Town. An African cultural centre, it began as a craft market with various traders able to run their individual businesses and leasing stall space from the market. PAM became very successful because it brought together Africans from across the continent and offered a vibrant mix of artists, small businesses and food. It now has 33 stores and stalls from 14 countries of Africa. Shoppers can find arts and crafts, hair dressing, tailoring, holistic healing and catering.

Hard copies of Chimurenga are distributed around Africa and sent to Europe, the United States and India.

“There’s a feeling about writing something, sharing something that is beautiful and truthful from one’s perspective,” Edjabe told CNN.

Resources

1) How to Start a Magazine: Simple online advice on starting and running a magazine. Website: http://www.ehow.com/how_16579_start-magazine.html

2) Venture Capital for Africa: VC4Africa is the largest online community of investors, angels and entrepreneurs working to build businesses on the continent. Website: http://vc4africa.biz/landing/?redir_to=%2F

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