by Sofia Silei

One of the most powerful forms of political and social activism is the written word. This is the deep belief of Vanessa Chisakula, who was born in Lusaka, Zambia, where she now lives with her two children.

The poet Vanessa Chisakula (photo from her Facebook profile)

Vanessa’s journey into the world of poetry and art began in childhood, sparked by her fascination with screenplays after seeing the film Titanic. Over time, this fascination developed into a love of writing and harnessing its evocative power. After the birth of her children, Vanessa sought solace in the world of poetry to articulate and document the challenges and changes she was going through.

She began writing in a personal and intimate way, but soon realised that her words could be shared to convey important messages to a wider audience. Her main themes include African identity, mental health and women’s rights. One of her masterpieces, “Her Place”, explores the essence of femininity. She also delves into spoken poetry, adding an expressive and oral dimension to her written words.

Vanessa’s magnum opus is her 2020 book ‘Africana’, a short collection of poems reflecting on the concept of African identity. In her own words, “this is for every black child on the face of the earth who wants to celebrate being black”. Vanessa, who was once reluctant to proclaim her African heritage out loud, now emphasises the pride and power that comes with being African, as the poems in the collection reveal.

A key means by which Vanessa promotes Pan-Africanism is through Word Smash Poetry, a movement for young creative activists from across Southern Africa. Vanessa co-founded this social movement in 2017, which has been officially recognised as a social enterprise since February 2019.

The platform comprises about 100 young poets from Zambia, 40 of whom are women, and about 60 poets from the Southern African Development Community (SADC). SADC is an intergovernmental organisation that promotes socio-economic cooperation and integration, as well as political and security cooperation among 15 southern African States.

The main aim of Word Smash Poetry is to provide a platform for young people in Southern Africa to speak truth to power through their words. Vanessa is a firm believer in democracy and believes that the active participation of young people is crucial to the realisation of true democracy.

The company’s motto is “Poetry is a language”. This language belongs to the youth, who can shape the future and the present with the tools provided by Word Smash Poetry. Vanessa Chisakula’s story and the initiatives she has championed are a compelling example of how writing can be a solid foundation for promoting messages of peace, not only within oneself, but more importantly, with one’s own identity.

On the cover photo, a Red Pin on Zambia of the World Map ©hyotographics/