Green Chat – Maggie Chapman

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Interview by Morvern Rennie, follow Maggie on Twitter @maggie4scotland

MR: What inspired you to move to Scotland from Zimbabwe?

MC: I wanted to study Zoology. I couldn’t do this in Zimbabwe, and so thought about South Africa. But given my extended family pretty much all live(d) in SA and we visited every year, it was like home in many ways. My parents said that, if I was going to leave home, I might as well do it properly and go to the other side of the world (or words to that effect).

So I applied to UK universities and visited them all on what was only my second trip overseas. As an overseas student, fees and accommodation costs were pretty prohibitive, but friends of friends of friends offered me a room in Sighthill in Edinburgh ‘until I found my feet’, so that decided it for me – and I arrived in Edinburgh in late summer 1998.

I thought I’d be in Scotland for three, maybe four years. ๐Ÿ™‚

MR: Do you ever think of going back? (Must be tempting post Brexit!)

MC: Yes. And no.

My Mum still lives there (in the house I was born), and after my Dad died in 2014, I did consider it. And with Mum on her own now, I do often think what the best thing to do might be.

But it’s a complex question. I’ve never lived there as an independent adult (I was 19 when I left). And although I went back ‘home’ at least every year for many years (to see my folks but also for visa reasons!), I have only been there as an adult when visiting family.

My Mum had a mild stroke a few years ago, and I went back for over two months to support her and Dad. I basically took over managing the house and all of my folk’s responsibilities. I remember, very clearly, being in a local shop getting the groceries, and for a moment, I just stopped and listened to what was going on around me. I realised that pretty much every conversation I could hear had some element of racism or sexism in it.

Now that was just a moment – a snapshot – but it really brought home to me how used to living in a (relatively) un-racist and un-sexist society I’d become. Now I know that Scotland has its problems, and fighting for equality is very much a part of who I am. But I thought then that the oppressiveness of it in Harare might get too much. Or worse, I’d stop caring.

So, it’s a question that I do consider. But I’ve made my home, my life, here. And I struggle to imagine living anywhere else.

MR: From your experience how do you (r family & friends) cope & keep hopes up in a country with a government you fundamentally disagree with? How do we keep our hopes up in a post Brexit Britain?

MC: The first thing I’d say is that change is always inevitable. If we stop believing that, I think all hope is lost. So it is about working to make sure the changes happen are for good, not bad.

We (Greens) know that the economic system and political structures we have are unjust. Worse than that, they are destructive. Our economic model has destroyed people’s lives, and devastated our environments. The ways in which these systems present themselves may have changed – Britain in the 1990s was very different to Britain in the 1980s. But, whilst the politics of the 1990s was more polite, more palatable, the underlying flaws in the systems were not tackled. And the monsters we see around us now (xenophobia, victim-blaming, alienation, and so much more) have grown out of the 90s politeness.

So we need to continue to work to change that – to make sure we highlight what is wrong with them, and to present better alternatives. It is not enough just to say what is wrong: presenting meaningful possibilities is important. Indeed, to repeat what I said at our Spring Conference, the job of the radical is to make hope possible. And then to turn those possibilities into realities.

It is not easy. It is hard work. It often feels dispiriting and soul destroying – futile, even.

But we can, we must, get motivation, inspiration and determination from the experiences, successes and failures, from those who have fought battles before us, the Rosa Parks and Mary Barbours of the world.

And we must stand side-by-side our friends who are fighting and struggling alongside us. Solidarity is something that we forget at our peril.

At risk of mangling another quote: at the time of struggle, change often seems impossible. Afterwards, with hindsight, it seems like it was always inevitable.

And it always is.

MR: Aww my wee girl is named after Rosa Parks!

You have a great love of music – what are your favourite genres?

MC: Ooh, that might be the most difficult question you’ve asked me yet!

I grew up with music all around me – my Dad was a musician (a conductor, pianist and bassoonist) and there was often music on at home – and I rarely do not have a tune of some sort in my head. I started piano lessons as a four or five year old, violin lessons a year later and singing lessons at about the same time. So my formative influences were classical (in its broad definition). Indeed, ‘pop music’ (or ‘noise’, as Dad called it) in the house was frowned on.

Within the broad definition of ‘classical’ music, I love the romantic, nationalist and early 20th century composers (Brahms, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bortkiewicz, etc.) and can always listen to Bach and Nyman too. But you can keep your Mozarts and Haydns!

I have played/sung in orchestras, choirs, small ensembles, operas, and as a soloist. I always loved Scottish folk songs, and moving here gave me the opportunity to learn folk music from some of the best. I now play regularly in a folk group.

But I love lots of other music too – although rarely all of one artist’s work, or all of one genre. I have a soft spot for Joan Baez and Bruce Springsteen, and love Wilco and Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue. I will listen to pretty much anything, with my preference at any one time being dependent on my mood, amongst other things.

And then there are the Southern African struggle songs!

And Rosa is an excellent name! ๐Ÿ™‚

MR: Does your classical & folk taste extend to books too? Or do you love a good John LeCarre thriller?

MC: I’ve never read any John LeCarre …

I’m sorry to say that my reading list gets longer much, much more quickly than I seem to be able to find time to read any of it. Much like my approach to music, I will read pretty much anything, but am not a fan of science fiction or fantasy.

I enjoy travel writing (fiction and non-fiction) and current (or recently current!) affairs. Auto/biographies fascinate me: I always wonder what people have left out. And literary fiction probably comprises the subset of my reading list that grows fastest.

I do read quite a lot of poetry, however, and feel that it is often neglected as an important part of literature, of social commentary, of imagination, of thought. I am currently making my way through some of Wisล‚awa Szymborska’s poems published just after her death. Next on my list is ‘Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica’ by Hamish Henderson.

MR: Ooh I’ll add them to my list! I usually read war poetry this time of year as an act if remembrance

Final question! What would you say has been the most life changing moment for you so far?

MC: Oh gosh, that is really tough. I’m not sure I think in those terms …

There are moments that are like ruptures in my life, sometimes good, sometimes not good, that make me think and feel differently, if not at the time, then later on. Like that Saturday morning in that grocery store in Harare. Like the violent car-jacking attempt on me before I left Zimbabwe. Like the re-defining of my emotions about my identity after having watched Kalushi: the story of Solomon Mahlangu. Like the peace I experienced sitting on a rock off the coast of South Uist.

These moments define and redefine me, continuously.

If I had to choose one …

My Mum, Dad, sister and I were in South Africa when Chris Hani was murdered in 1993. The stifled panic and uneasiness that followed was palpable, even if I didn’t really understand the full impact of what had happened at the time. But that time has returned to me in so many different situations since, defining so much of what motivates me. Without that moment, I might not have got so much out of the actions, teachings, and examples of that great person.

I will end with a quote by Hani … it encapsulates what I think we, as Greens, are about. And that is why I do what I do.

โ€œThe perks of a new government are not really appealing to me. Everybody, of course, would like to have a good job, a good salary, and that sort of thing. But for me, that is not the be-all of a struggle. What is important is the continuation of the struggle โ€“ and we must accept that the struggle is always continuing โ€“ under different conditions, whether within parliament or outside parliament, we shall begin to tackle the real problems of the country. And the real problems of the country are not whether one is in cabinet, or a key minister, but what we do for social upliftment of the working masses of our people.โ€

@Maggie4Scotland

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