Addressing the Past with Tanatsei Gambura
“In a world that is systematically designed to disempower and erase the pleasure, freedom and fulfilment of people like me, my existence is resistance.”
Photograph by Berenika Murray
Tanatsei Gambura may be considered young at 21, but she feels the pain of hundreds of years of oppression. While completing studies at University of Edinburgh, Tanatsei seeks to hold colonising countries accountable for the current injustice of minorities and be a voice for those suffering. She communicates her powerful message through music and the creative 25 May Movement. The advocate first came enlightened of societal imbalances growing up in Harare, Zimbabwe, and her now-residency in Edinburgh is purposeful. Tanatsei shares, “as the former coloniser of my country, the United Kingdom should experience me as an interrogator and excavator of that history.”
Read more about Tanatsei and her efforts for justice below,
MINORICITY BECAME FAMILIAR WITH YOU AFTER WE HEARD YOU DJ’D A PORTION OF MOJXMMA’S FIRST NIGHT. HOW DID THAT GO, AND CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR DJING BACKGROUND?
The Mojxmma night was great – the team is the most pleasant to work with and they were happy for me to play what I wanted to. Although I’ve always been interested in music, I took DJing seriously in Edinburgh. There is a vibrant music and club-culture scene here as compared to my home country. This means that the opportunity for me to explore it further presented itself to me. I serve an eclectic fusion of African sounds, classical and contemporary, from the continent and beyond. As a geographer, this is how I map the African auditory experience. I become a cartographer who reclaims and celebrates black sonic culture.
WHERE CAN YOU GO TO HEAR AFRICAN SOUNDS/AFRO HOUSE IN EDINBURGH?
Needless to say, the black/African community is a staggering minority in Edinburgh. Sometimes it feels as though this city is not made for us. However, there are sporadic appearances of African music at Club Cuba, Shanghai, Bongo, La Belle Angele (weekly), Afrifest, Africa in Motion Film Festival, Edinburgh Multicultural Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Wee Dub Festival (annually) and other diversity events that are supported. Glasgow is definitely more vibrant in this respect. Top tip: come wherever I am!
Photograph by Natasha Ruwona
YOU ARE EXTREMELY PASSIONATE ABOUT DECOLONISATION AND THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE CAUSED BY OUTSIDE FORCES, ESPECIALLY IN ZIMBABWE. CAN YOU EDUCATE US ON WHAT YOUR ACTIVISM CENTRES AROUND, AND HOW THIS IS DONE?
I refer to the utopia I envision as my counter-universe. It is a galaxy that is Afrocentric, femme, and free. It is a creation of the black imagination, the pursuit of a paradigm that is radically different, decolonial and human. In my universe, the values of community and transformative social justice are at the core. In a world that is systematically designed to disempower and erase the pleasure, freedom and fulfilment of people like me, my existence is resistance.
The processes I initiate are representations of this universe. The experiences of people who exist outside the margin - indigenous, femme, black, brown, queer, disabled, low-income, working-class, rural, other - are at the forefront. They are celebrated, documented, and defended. As such, this universe is inherently political. It is dangerous.
My work is interdisciplinary in nature. It has to be, in order to adequately address our intersectional and multifaceted lived experiences. At the core of it is a desire to positively contribute to thought, culture, community, policy - life. As such, the projects I embark on can be viewed through the lenses of academia, intermedia art practice, organising, and culture strategy. My methods include efforts to decentralise education, promote creative problem-solving and foster resilient community.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST GET ENLIGHTENED IN THESE ISSUES? DID YOU HAVE ANY ADVOCATES FOR SOCIAL CHANGE IN YOUR FAMILY GROWING UP?
This is a lived experience. These issues are at the centre of my identity. As a black woman born and raised in a ‘developing nation’ and living in a ‘developed nation’, great geographical (and other) shifts have determined my outlook on the world. I respond to my environment critically and sensitively because the politics of my identity warrants this. I am acutely aware of the ways in which layers including race, class, income, and gender position my lived experience against its antithesis. In each case, the consequences of a white supremacist, patriarchal, and capitalist world order are violent and agitating.
There isn’t a streak of activism in my family, as far as I can trace. However, my sister, Tapiwa - a filmmaker and activist - and I have received tremendous support from our parents in the things that are most important to us.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF DOING AFRICAN ACTIVISM FROM THE UK?
I acknowledge the value in the diversity of people around me. I am challenged by it. As a connector, it is my mission to bring people of ranging geographies and demographics together for the realisation of necessary work. This means that my practice is spatial and must move me to embody the ways of transition, mobility and change. Because of it, I am dynamic, I am a shape-shifter, mover, doer. However, it does come with its obvious tensions. I often ask myself: by naming myself Zimbabwean when outside the country, do I play into the identity politics that force me into the bracket of the "other"? Is it rather an announcement of an experience shaped by a nation? Is it a negotiation of belonging in contexts where my presence is precarious? I stand in one geography and speak from another, juggling nation, identity and spatial politics.
ARE THERE ANY POSITIVES TO WORKING FROM THE UK? HOW DO YOU BEGIN TO EDUCATE PEOPLE - WHO DON’T KNOW THE FIRST THING ABOUT ZIMBABWE - ABOUT THE STRUGGLES THERE?
Certainly. Again, there is a wealth of opportunity and freedom here in comparison to my home country. There is also a culture of celebrating culture and heritage, and organisations/institutions receive public and political support of this. Essentially, I can be a creative artist where there are frameworks for a robust creative industry here. Of course, there are reasons for this (many are to do with the consequences of the British imperialist project on my country and for the mother-country’s benefit). In terms of educating people – it is not my primary purpose. I am a facilitator and provocateur. I would rather work with people who understand my agenda. However, this is not always the case, of course. In fact, it is least often the case. What I do not like doing is psychological and emotional labour for people who are positioned in an oppositional relation to me in terms of power and privilege. People everywhere should do better to learn about those who are unlike them. That is ally-ship.
DO YOU EVER COME ACROSS ANY FRUSTRATIONS IN YOUR ACTIVISM?
I do. It is not sexy work. It comes with labour, again psychological, emotional, physical and other. It is also not a particularly popular vocation – you step on toes, make people uncomfortable, position yourself as a dissident or target. I wish I did not have to fight for the things that I do. I wish that basic human rights were regarded as a given. Where activists envision a utopia, they are surrounded by a dystopia. That is a difficult thing to sit with and act against. It is tiring. That is why I do not call myself an activist. Although it can be described as activism, I personally prefer to be regarded as a “cultural practitioner”. I think the term more accurately communicates my real interests: people, community, personhood. We should all be activists. The same way we should all be feminists. These labels need to become redundant, for it is only then can we be living in a free and equal world.
Photograph by One Point Eight Pictures
THE 25 MAY MOVEMENT IS A TOOL THAT YOU’VE FOUNDED FOR AIDING PROGRESS IN AFRICAN SOCIETIES, BY UTILISING CREATORS AND IDENTIFYING CULTURAL PRACTICES TO JUMP OBSTACLES IN SOCIAL REFORM:
CAN YOU PLEASE EXPAND ON THE PROCESS OF HOW THIS IS DONE?
The 25 May Movement is a creative collective that seeks to promote social change and sustainable development through culture and heritage. It is my attempt to imagine a means of organising is non-conformist and community-based. Through programming, capacity building and community-led initiatives, the organisation is tackling the United Nations’ sustainable development goals through a theory of change model that puts cultural practice and creative expression at the core. The premise of the movement is simple: all communities around the world have, embedded in their ways of life, the creative tools to navigate daily existence. The functions and value of these cannot be overstated; they are a participation in ‘togetherness’, a means by which knowledge can be communicated between generations and a repository of our collective experiences. They govern the decisions of individuals and of groups and inform the choices we make. They are the very essence of our lives and as such, can and must be employed to create and establish a culture of tolerance, unity and ethical behaviour.
The model: 1. We identify, through research, a societal problem in a given community. It can be either an urban or rural challenge; 2. We investigate existing cultural practices, beliefs and creative expressions of this issue, traditional and contemporary; 3. We ideate and execute appropriate programming through a design-thinking model that offers the community culture-specific solutions to address the issue.
WHAT IS THE BEST EXAMPLE OF THIS YOU CAN GIVE US? ANY SUCCESS STORIES? HAVE YOU COME ACROSS ANY DIFFICULTIES?
I don’t believe there is a best example one can give yet. We are an early-stages collective and our approach is iterative. We have a learner-mindest model – answers do not come as instruction from a set of individuals but reflect the collective desires of communities. There are challenges that come with this work. Of course, the task itself – to catalyse social change – is an ambitious and difficult one. We do what we can, and that is what matters to me. Running a collective remotely comes with its set of logistical challenges. Our staff (I included) works part-time because resources (time, financial, and other) are limited and strained. However, to date, we have run a nationwide radio broadcasting series in Zimbabwe, facilitated conversation circles to foster dialogue, facilitated seminal workshops, and commissioned short films. We have twenty-four direct beneficiaries, children under fourteen years who have received free access to programs. With a staff of five women, we have reached an online viewership of over sixty thousand and attracted the attention of organisations such as United Nations Women, the Swedish Embassy in Zimbabwe and Impact Hub. Although I don’t think qualitative impact is always very useful, I would say these are stories of triumph.
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO FIND INDIVIDUALS TO CONNECT WITH AND SUPPORT YOUR CAUSE IN THE CITY?
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 5 YEARS TANA?
I never know how to answer this question. I want to be successful in my work, but my work is not about me. It’s really about where I want to see my country, my continent, my communities, my people, in 5 year’s time. I want to see them continue to defy, continue to be tenacious, continue to seek each other. I want to see excellence and thriving. I want to see dreams being dreamt, fearlessly pursued and achieved. That is glory. That is where I see Tanatsei in 5 years.
Photograph by Berenika Murray