It is a story about a girl, Forgiveness, who is raped by her father. The lockdown on her social life is characterised with stigma here and beyond.
Her home is Pawale, in Lilongwee. The neighbourhood thinks she gave green lights to him. She can’t escape the ridicule in the township.
Even when her mother Abiti decides to send her to her sister Che Nasigala in Mangochi, Chimwala Village, the stares and whispers don’t die down. Even there, some men, like Magedo who was the richest man in the village, wanted to get her into love solely for her innocent beauty.
She finds relief when she goes to Cape Town, South Africa where she wells up riches. Riches that her father doesn’t even come to terms with when he is released from prison. Having repented of his sins, Forgiveness is stuck between a hard rock and deep sea to let it all sink.
The novel titled Forgiveness is a story of abuse, betrayal, perseverance, social activism and economic empowerment. So much more, even religious and cultural conflicts are evident.
The initial text won the Malawi National Book Prize in 2018, before the author Nixon Mateulah polished it up into a book form it takes today.
But why Pawale not Kawale? Why Lilongwee not Lilongwe?
“I was influenced by Nurrudin Farah, a writer I look up to. He fictionalised Mogadishu to Mogadisco. I thought why can’t I do the same with Lilongwe to Lilongwee, since now Lilongwe is the fastest-growing city in Malawi. Kawale I changed to Pawale: let the place glow,” says the 46-year old author.
The story opens with the release of her father, Sintekeseka, from Mwaula Prison. (Aye, not Maula!). That is, after serving 20 years in jail for the rape of his daughter and murder.
That release opens the man to a grim reality that his daughter has moved from being the ridicule of young and old in Pawale ghetto to a splendid life in the plush Area 47. Of course, she had to go through a cleansing in her mother’s original Mangochi home to escape the glares following the ordeal she nearly committed suicide for.
It was only after years in South Africa that Forgiveness brought herself together to become one of the top businesswomen in the capital.
For Mateulah, who is in the country from his Cape Tonian base following the Covid-19 lockdown there, the story brings to the fore the core of abuse in the townships.
“This is where truth meets fiction. It’s an account of true life stories of Kawale [Pawale] and other residents. I saw this repeated thread here in Malawi and SA where I’m based and thought of immortalising the scenes in a book,” says the multi-award winning writer.
That cannot be far from the truth as it is evident in his true life story. From Kawale where he grew up, to Mangochi where he schooled at Lisumbwi Secondary School in the 90’s to South Africa where he trekked for greener pastures.
The scenes and characters come to life through and through as he immortalises Forgiveness’ life journey. Their could be no better way to paint a life of the gossiping life in the Pawale ghetto; there could be no better telling of the survival story of the fishermen in Mangochi and the hard-knock life of the Tsotsi in South Africa.
The weaving is that of one who knows what brush he holds to paint that life. Apart from publishing in such international outlets like Kalahari Review, Jungle Jim, Tuck Magazine, Stanzas Magazine, Storymoja and others, Mateulah has short stories and poems to his name in the local publications.
Forgiveness is on the line of his other works, including the Mystery Child fantasy book series, among other works.
The book comes amid a backdrop of Malawian authors not finding it easy to publish in a country the reading culture is a little more than zero, save for social media.
“It was not easy. I first entered Forgiveness in the inaugural Malawi National Book Award in 2018 and won a prize. Thereafter, I polished it up and sent it to Kwela Books in Cape Town. Kwela Books praised it and requested me to make it long, as it is over only 40 000 words long. They said they publish from 60 000 up. Then I decided to self-publish it,” Mateulah who studied creative writing and journalism via correspondence said.
He self-published via lulu.com and Amazon.com in e-book and paperback forms. The reason?
“People who could find it inconvenient to buy it online asked me to print out the copies so that they can buy from me. Then I printed on Print On Demand and people buy from me,” he affirms.
Locally, he is influenced by the flag-bearing poet Jack Mapanje, creative writers Stanley Onjezani Kenani and Shadreck Chikoti, the figures behind the Lilongwe Story Club.
In Africa, the usual authors Nurrudin Farah, JM Coetzee, Chimamanda Adichie and Ngugi wa Thiong’o whose unpublished but popular poem on social media on the Covid-19 pandemic, Behind the Darkness, are his favourites.
However, it is to John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Hardy, Kirani Desai, Ronald H. Balson, George Eliot that he owes his love for literature from days of old.
These are authors he read when he first trekked to South Africa, books he bought from second-hand bookstores in the rainbow country.
Since then, he has not looked back, in spite of hardships he faced there to put food on the table; clothes to hang on his frame, while at the same time supporting his family back home. For that matter, in 1999 he felt the hardships of the infamous Lindela Repatriation Centre where illegal immigrants are kept.
Only in March this year, he won a fellowship and was invited to attend a week long Mentoring and Training workshop by African Writers Trust in Ndejje, Uganda.