It never rains but pours for Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) president Mike Sambalikagwa Mvona, whose anthology was kicked out of the secondary school curriculum last week.
Barely days after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology withdrew Kusintha Maganizo ndi Nkhani Zina because it contains a short story deemed anti-Catholic, some of the writers anthologised in the book say their short stories were translated from English to Chichewa without permission.
The writers say they were never consulted by Mvona when he translated and included their short stories in the book.
They claim they only knew about the book when it was out—and they only went away with a free copy each. No word. No penny. No contract. No consent.
Such is the due process Mvona stands accused of not following though he heads a body which is supposed to represent the professional interests and intellectual rights of creative writers.
Said one author Aubrey Chinguwo: “My story, Si Ndeu Ya Mai Okha, was translated from my original English short story Not Just My Mother’s Fight. I made it into the top 10 of 2013 Mawu short story awards. The next thing I saw the book with my story translated into Chichewa during another Mawu short story awards presentations and that time the book was selling.”
Chinguwo added Mvona told him that his entry was one of almost 30 winning short stories from previous competitions that had been translated and included in the anthology.
“I realised that he had translated them without the authors’ permission. No one signed a contract. Many of us were surprised,” he said.
This year, it debuted as a compulsory, examinable text for Form Three students studying literature for Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE).
“Actually, it was a student who told me that there was my name in a Chichewa anthology. But I received no penny from the sales of this book,” said Chinguwo.
He said he finds it unfair that “one or two bad stories” have led to the exclusion of the book from syllabus.
Chinguwo is a short story award-winning author who has published in local newspapers and magazines. He is also the founder of the Tiwerenge Malawi website www.tiwerenge.com.
Another contributor, Robert Chirambo, said he too was not consulted about publishing his short story in the book.
“I submitted my story as part of the competition and I won a consolation prize. I was given novels. There was no agreement as regards the inclusion of my story in the book and I did not receive any monetary rewards,” he said.
Chirambo added that when he heard that his story was part of the book he wanted to get hold of a copy and confront Mawu as to why they translated and published his story without consent.
“I was also hoping we could formalise things but then I am hearing now that the book has been removed from the secondary school syllabus,” he said.
Chirambo added that it could have been better to just remove the stories that are deemed inappropriate than withdrawing the whole book.
To him, the Mawu president still has to explain his unilateral decision to the authors.
Kumbukani Chikomo, another contributor wrote on his Facebook page: “My story would have been taught in Malawi secondary schools had it not been for the banning of a Chichewa anthology Kusintha Maganizo ndi Nkhani zina. My short story Kubisala pa Chisa cha Mbalame is on page 157 of the book.”
He too said he never signed a contract with Mawu before the stories were published and offered to government to be part of the literature syllabus.
Chikomo added: “Now that the book has been withdrawn, let Mvona learn to respect property of others and rectify all the problems hovering above this issue before getting the book back into the school system.”
The ministry, in its statement, said it is looking for a replacement—not correction—of the book.
Nelson Nyirenda said he has no problems with his story being in the book, saying he was consulted and told in advance about the arrangement.
“My story Siufiti was written in Chichewa and submitted for the purpose of being part of the book. But yes there was no contract and I have not received any money from its sales,” said Nyirenda.
But a charged Mvona, who edited the book, refused to comment on the matter.
He accused The Nation of influencing government to withdraw the book from the secondary school syllabus.
“You always write unbalanced stories. You are the ones who have influenced government to withdraw the book. I have nothing to say to you,” he said before hanging up.
However, he told Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) that he is consulting his lawyers to challenge the recall.
MoEST announced last week that it was withdrawing Kusintha Maganizo ndi Nkhani Zina from the MSCE syllabus because it contained a story Mdalitso Wabodza which is immoral in nature and portrays a damaging image of the Catholic Church.
Malawi Institute of Education (MIE) executive director William Susuwele Banda said on Friday as an institution, they are equally surprised that such content passed through a rigorous vetting process.
“We have a team of four people who are tasked to vet and evaluate the book before it gets certified fit for our syllabus. We are meeting next week to get to the bottom of the matter,” he said.