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Sunday, 25 October 2015

Budding Zambian writer’s sexual violence story bags global award

By Andrew Mulenga

No doubt story telling is a rare ability, of which few individuals are gifted, and to be able to harness this gift and put it down on paper with proficiency for others to appreciate is an even scarcer talent.

Saili - Girls in homes where they can't trust the
people supposed to protect them inspired me to
write a story - Picture by Kwitu Group
It turns out 23 year old, Kasempa-born Nancy Saili, is one of them and her short story The Enemy Within, which was entered in the Global Dialogue young writers competition, recently earned her the number one slot winning the “Grand Prize”, which comprises prize money and the story’s adaptation for the screen to be shown worldwide.

What is perhaps even more interesting is not only the fact that she is based in the off-the-grid town of Solwezi where she has lived most her life, but that Zambia does not necessarily have sufficient support structures to encourage creative writing. Saili scoops the award hot on the heels of Namwali Serpell who also did Zambia proud by winning the prestigious 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing, an honour now considered Africa’s leading literary award, this goes to show that the country’s literary arsenal is not short of talent, an exciting development indeed.

“My story took first place worldwide. Over 250,000 young people from 80 different countries took part in the contest. 20 winners then selected by international juries. The best three of the 20 stories are awarded 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize. This year grand prize was my winning story from Zambia, 2nd went to Mexico and 3rd to the UK,” says the justifiably excited winner.

Nancy Saili of Solwezi, winner of the 2015
Global Dialogues contest took 1st place, 2nd went to
Mexico and 3rd to the UK – Picture by Kwitu Group
 “It is a masterfully told story about sexual violence – a young girl raped by her father – and about coping, healing and the complex relationship between justice and forgiveness. Nancy’s story compels us to ask difficult questions that many of us typically shy away from. It calls upon us to set aside our desire for simple, speedy solutions and to respect in a non-judgmental way the diverse and evolving needs of survivors of sexual violence. As parents, as brothers and sisters and as members of our communities, we thank you, Nancy,” reads a statement from the international panel of judges at Global Dialogues, an international none-profit organisation.

“I have met a few victims and read a number of stories on the same issue. The thought of a young girl growing up in a home where they can't trust the people that are supposed to protect them inspired me to write a story on incest,” explains Saili concerning her inspiration for the short story.

“Sadly for many girls out there, ‘the enemies within’ are a reality. An everyday horror and most times these stories go unreported and the crimes unpunished which is very unfair for the victims. Home should be the safest place on earth. It's not something that should be taken lightly.”

Indeed, Saili reminds us that sexual crimes against children are often perpetrated by people who know and have access to them, such as trusted uncles, aunts, cousins, teachers, house help or even friendly neighbours. By telling stories such as The Enemy Within – although it is fiction – may help bring awareness to the problem and also encourage the victims to instead become survivors when their perpetrators have been brought to book.

Saili pitching an idea during the
Young Cinema in Zambia workshop
Nevertheless, regarding her creative process, she says when she comes across an idea; she will keep it in in her head for a while and then later begin to scribble parts of it in a notebook. When she has enough for a narrative she starts to type and fill it up with more ideas hoping to end up with a story. However, Saili believes there are many stories to be told besides those of imparting awareness on various issues locally and abroad.

“I believe there are a lot of untold stories in Zambia. I think this is a great opportunity for Zambians to tell great stories about our country, the people, culture, especially in a generation where TV has so much influence on people,” says Saili who in her last year of high school was editor-in-chief of the school press club and president of the Young Writers Association of Zambia (YOWAZ).

She also points out that she has dabbled in a bit of poetry now and then and has also written on the environment and that, one of her stories provided the first experience of being published when it passed for publication in the Times of Zambia. Her concern for the environment may come as no surprize considering her professional field of study.
“I had always wanted to study a number of things, Agriculture/Environment studies being one of them. I applied for different programs and institutions and later settled on a Bachelor's Degree in Land And Water Resources Management under the school of agriculture at Mulungushi University in Kabwe … for various reasons… after four crazy years, I earned my degree,” says Saili who graduated last year but has yet to put her papers to use. With no employment prospects, she headed back to her parents’ home where she occupies herself with writing.

She also enjoys taking photographs which
sometimes help inform her writing
“But I would really love to see schools that offer courses in creative writing as well as workshops, contests and school clubs that encourage and develop good reading and writing skills among Zambians,” she says.

Last year, she attended Young Cinema in Zambia, a filmmaking workshop organized by 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow Jessie Chisi, founder and director of the Zambia Short Film Festival. Chisi, organised the workshop in collaboration with the Finnish Cultural Association Euphoria Borealis. Saili describes the experience as inspiring, it was an opportunity for her to mingle with fellow young creatives such as Chisi herself; but she also got the opportunity to interact with media professionals like the ZNBC crew that was in attendance, as well as the likes of innovative young film makers such as Mark Mwanamwalye whose short film created alongside Mosten Mutale and Carla Greiber, “Condomise Zambia” that advocates against HIV infections through condoms won two awards when submitted to ActionAid and Politikens Film Competition in Denmark.
Nevertheless, with her continued interest in writing and film, we are obviously yet to see the best of what. Global Dialogues’ competition is an annual event, if you are up for the challenge you can enter by visiting their website at Global Dialogues films reach over 200,000,000 people online and on TV every year, they can be watched free on the Global Dialogues YouTube channel.

Meanwhile, the 25th BBC/British Council International Radio Playwriting Competition is now open, once again, in partnership with Commonwealth Writers and the Open University (UK). The winners get the chance to visit the UK and get involved in the recording of their play for broadcast on the BBC World Service. 

In 2014 she graduated with a BA in Land And 
Water Resources Management 
from Mulungushi University in Kabwe, Zambia
There are separate prizes for (1) best play by a writer with English as a first language and (2) best play by a writer with English as a second language. A third award – the Georgi Markov prize – celebrates the most promising script from the competition’s shortlist in honour of BBC World Service journalist and writer Georgi Markov (1929-1978). The competition is open to new and established writers living outside the UK. Previous winners of the past two competitions have come from Zimbabwe, Australia, Mexico, Uganda and Jamaica. Visit their website for more details or send you a hard copy of a script, please forward to Theatre and Dance Department, 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN.

Excerpt from Saili’s winning story:

“Over the years the emotions have changed from confusion to sadness, the guilt led to shame, the fear led to stressing, stressing led to anger and anger to depression and depression to hopelessness. The traumatic event in which I was violated in the most intimate way possible by my very own father left me with an unexplained fear and attitude toward all men.” …

“The only person I had to forgive was me: forgive myself for not fighting back; forgive myself for always being angry; forgive myself for trusting more than I should have; forgive myself for not knowing what to do in that situation; forgive myself for not wanting to report him. Maybe one day I will forgive him. But I have learnt to heal even though I have not forgiven him. I have forgiven me and can finally smile.” 


  1. Congratulations Nancy. . THIS IS amazing am happy to say I no u may da lord JESUS keep on blessing u ...

  2. Has Nancy's story been published? How does one get a copy of this?