African Writer Profile: Neshani Andreas
Neshani Andreas was born in 1964 in Walvis Bay, Namibia’s most important port city. At this time in Namibia’s history, it was a colony of South Africa, subject to discriminatory aparteid laws. Neshani’s parents worked in a fish factory and raised eight children. Neshani trained as a teacher at Ongwediva Training College and taught English, history, and business economics from 1988 to 1992 in a school in rural northern Namibia, where her first novel The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is set. Neshani completed this novel soon after her move to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, where she went to take a post-graduate degree in education at the newly established University of Namibia While working part-time with the American Peace Corps, Neshani met a Peace Corps volunteer, Reed Dickson, who read her early writing and encouraged her to continue. Neshani said: “This was one of the most treasured moments in my life. I had met the first person in my life who showed interest and understanding in my writing.’
The Purple Violet of Oshaantu was a direct result of Reed Dickson’s encouragement. The novel is inspired by Neshani’s work in the rural communities of Namibia’s north, where women are often left on there own to run small farms as their husbands work far away in mines or in the cities. The story is narrated by Mee Ali, who tells us about her friendship with Mee Kauna. Mee Ali is happily married to Michael but Mee Kauna faces constantly physical abuse from her husband Shange, who also cheats on her. Unlike most other Namibian novels which focus on Namibia’s resistance movement to South African occuptation and aparteid, Neshani’s novel focuses on issues related to women’s rights, domestic violence, friendship, marriage, romantic love, AIDS, crop growing, African Christianity, and traditional customs as they relate to widowhood.
Neshani completed the manuscript for the novel in 1999 and presented it to Namibian publisher, Jane Katjavivi, who presented it to the African Writers Series. The novel was published in 2001 in the Heinemann African Writers Series. Neshani is the first Namibian to be included in this series and this novel is the only Namibian novel that is widely available internationally. The novel has been included in the English Literature curriculum for secondary schools in Zimbabwe.
Neshani currently works as a programme officer for the Forum of African Women Educationalists in Namibia (FAWENA), an organization that creates educational opportunities for girls and women. Neshani continues to write, despite the obstacles faced by Namibian writers, writing in a country where the literary culture is still in its infancy. She has recently finished her second novel.
Neshani on writing:
Writing is a lonely business. You write alone, and you never know if anybody will ever read what you write. I could never stop writing. It is with me every day, I never forget it. I edit in my mind whatever I hear or read. I pick up what people say, how they say it, I pick up words, expressions …
Neshani on writing in Namibia:
Namibia was a new country, people were still talking about the struggle, about exile and returning home. Writers were expected to write about great events, to glorify the past and the present, to glorify people. My struggle was different. I was not involved in high-profile political activities. I had to write about other things: travelling in overcrowded minibuses, selling and buying at markets, about sickness, witchcraft and church, about ordinary things.
Writing is still not encouraged by Namibian society, it is not regarded as a respectable job, as something that has any benefit.
Excerpt from The Purple Violet of Oshaantu:
Men who beat women are the ones who cannot stand up against other men,’ Mukwankala concluded. She made us think. Shange was feared in the village, but he had never beaten anybody except his wife. His brothers beat people all the time, but Shange, no. Why was he feared if he had never beaten anybody? Any man? The curious customers stood there, holding their breaths in anticipation of the unthinkable. Her age must have saved her. Shange could have humiliated her there and then in front of everybody. But this time Shange was humiliated. He wished the earth would part below him so he could disappear. Nobody made any attempt to stop Mukwankala from insulting him. Some were even quietly happy that he had been told to stop abusing his wife.
When I heard that Mukwankala had confronted Shange at the cuca shop, in public, I was scared to death. Although I admired her act of bravery, I thought it might cause more trouble than good. I thought that once Kauna came home, Shange would kill her.
Neshani Andreas: A Passion for Writing, Interview 2004 available online
As Honest and Realistic as Possible: The Namibian Writer, Neshani Andreas by Helen Fallon available online