I once had coffee in Cape Town with a Cameroonian named Ntone Edjabe. He ran an English-language journal called Chimurenga, but what I remembered from our chat were his vignettes of Lagos (where he’d studied) and Johannesburg (where he went next). In Lagos, he said, you’d be driving down the highway and suddenly see a guy selling cars on the highway. Lagos was crazy, and yet it felt entirely safe. Whereas Johannesburg seemed sane, but never felt safe.
I sent Edjabe some articles, but otherwise forgot about Chimurenga until a recent issue arrived in the mail. (Declaration of interest: I’m proud to say I have an article in it.) I read it and was staggered. I’d always thought the zenith of journalism was The New Yorker, but in parts, Chimurenga is better.
It’s also more surprising: I love well-off media types from New York or London, but by now we do tend to know how they think. By contrast, reading Chimurenga you keep thinking, “Who knew?” Who knew that (as one article recounts) Bloemfontein has a literary scene of authors and critics writing for no money, guided by a Nigerian immigrant, and headquartered in an Afrikaans literature museum? Chimurenga changes your view of Africa, and of journalism.
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