We Need New Names Characters Return in NoViolet Bulawayo’s Story “Happy Birthday Africa President”
The day before Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe turned 90, the Munyori Literary Journal published a short story by NoViolet Bulawayo titled “Happy Birthday Africa President”, featuring characters from her debut novel We Need New Names.
The day after the story was published, Bulawayo was announced the winner of the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature. She won the Caine Prize in 2011 and last year We Need New Names was shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award.
In “Happy Birthday Africa President”, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Stina discuss the posters of their president that have popped up all over the place, announcing his 90th birthday. The narrator, who is possibly Darling, thinks to herself that her grandfather, who isn’t even close to 90, looks far older than this man with his “fresh and finely polished” skin: “if you could buy skin, his would be expensive none of us would afford it.”
Bulawayo introduces a new character, Brother Nkululeko, who gets into an argument with Stina over their differing views of government officials:
We get to Number 10 to find the president raising fists all over. On the big wall around the power station that caught fire last Sunday, on the tall gates of the blue Zioja church, on the fat pole where we sometimes play spin, on the shed where Clifford cuts hair, on the durawall that surrounds the tuck-shops where old ladies sit selling all sorts of stuff, on the sides of the shed where people wait for combis to town, on the trees along the main road—the posters are everywhere. We stand in a huddle by the power station wall and tilt our heads and look at the posters one by one even though they are exactly the same.
- We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
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Image courtesy The Chronicle Herald