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Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho is Sharing His Tshivenda Novel, A Thi Nga Tendi, on Facebook – and the Likes Are Pouring In

Tshifhiwa Given MukwevhoA Traumatic RevengeThe Violent Gestures of LifeTshifhiwa Given Mukwevho, author of A Traumatic Revenge and The Violent Gestures of Life, has started serialising his Tshivenda novel, A Thi Nga Tendi, on Facebook – and the response from readers has been overwhelming.

Mukwevho shares an excerpt on the A Thi Nga Tendi Facebook page every morning, and has amassed over 1 300 fans in quite a short period of time. Initially he posted extracts of 600 words, but had to increase them to 1 000 words, by popular demand.

The Limpopo-born author is an inspiration; a former streetkid and ex-prisoner who has turned his life around through writing. Books LIVE’s Jennifer Malec chatted to him about his new project, ‪#‎LetsReadOurOwnBooks‬.

Books LIVE: What prompted you to start a Facebook novel? Was it the ease of publishing the story, or is it an experiment in how free literature could work? Or was there a different reason?

Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho: As a writer, the whisperings and chief voice follow me wherever I go. At times I may try to ignore the voice or else postpone writing due to some pressing work but the voice keeps singing in the backroom of my mind. And when I can no longer contain the loudness of the voice, all other matters have to stop and I sit down to write.

So the novel was prompted by the urgency I felt to share the story with hundreds or even thousands of Tshivenda readers, who would not have accessed and enjoyed this novel had we had to wait for publishers to accept the manuscript, print it and make it available to prospective readers.

At some stage I was made to believe that no young people like me could write literary matters in Tshivenda because it is not easy to do. I received discouragement such as only the old could write; youths lacked the knowledge and writing tools to produce passable, publishable writings.

And I say that has been proved wrong. When I was awarded second prize at the Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards 2014 in November last year, I knew then that I was moving on the right track. Making a novel available to Tshivenda readers on the platform of Facebook is another way of testing the readership.

So, with the page A Thi Nga Tendi, well, I knew both teenagers and adults needed to read the story and so after writing the full-length novel, I decided to share it with readers on Facebook. I have never published anything in Tshivenda before, I mean the kind of work which received any honest criticism.

For non-Tshivenda speakers, can you explain what the story is about?

A Thi Nga Tendi tells the story of a 17-year-old girl named Portia who gives birth to a baby boy and throws him into a pit toilet. Unfortunately the child dies, Portia gets arrested and sentenced to jail for some time. Her reason for committing such a dastardly sin is that her boyfriend had denied paternity. Portia’s mother, who had seven children from seven different fathers and never killed any of her paternally rejected kids, is disappointed at Portia. She rejects her for life, reminding her that she had supported and advised her throughout her pregnancy to be a good mother.

In this novel, I am by no means trying to paint men as monsters who reject their children. But I’m looking at questions such as what happens to children born from extra-marital affairs? Do the fathers, in all cases, properly get involved in raising the kids – don’t some of them run away and seek pleasure in other women?

Was the novel inspired by any real event?

I am a freelance journalism on the community level. The novel was inspired by endless, disturbing incidents of “murders” of babies by mothers who throw them in the dustbins, drop them by the roadside or throw them into pit toilets. This is heartlessness – and it’s happening among us …

Maybe this is another The Violent Gestures of Life from a woman’s side, because Portia also meets other women in jail who have committed serious, disturbing crimes …

Did you plan the plot before starting the Facebook page or are you creating the story as you go along?

The novel is about 93 percent complete, if that makes sense. And the pressure is seemingly on me to continue writing and posting a chapter or half a chapter each morning, as if it were a soapie series. And that in itself is not going to happen. This novel will eventually come to an end like when you read any hardcopy novel. And this is going to anger a lot of A Thi Nga Tendi followers.

What kind of reaction/messages have you had from readers?

Readers love literature that speaks directly to and with them in their language. They give honest praise, criticism and comment on the plot and some events within the storyline. Their comments taught me that writers need not underestimate readers.

Do you have a lot of experience writing in Tshivenda? How is it different, for you, from writing in English?

I had written some work in Tshivenda before, but had not published anything. However, readers comment that my Tshivenda is excellent and accessible. So, today I am confident to say that I am becoming more of a writer the more I continue to write in Tshivenda. I am not sure about the difference or quality parity between my Tshivenda writings and English writings … only time will tell.

Is writing in Tshivenda technically different from English?

It’s not that much different. But then if you have ever published something in English before, like I have, you may find it hard to deal with Tshivenda editors who will be mixing up your dialogue with prose in a way that messes up your work.

What are your favourite Tshivenda novels?

There are a number of contemporary novels and plays I have enjoyed so far: U Nembelela Ha Shamba by ET Mudau, Vhuanzwo by Rudzani Tshianane, and many more. Somehow I am deeply intrigued by Xitsonga literature; there’s hardly euphemism in their writing.

Have you had any contact from publishers or the media (apart from us) about the project?

Nope. But then my aim in creating the A Thi Nga Tendi page was not to make my voice heard by publishers or the media out there. I am writing for my people. And the fact of the matter is that after the novel has reached its end on Facebook, I will consider all comments and criticism from my readers and further develop the manuscript with the aim of publishing and making it available in print format. And I am, again, confident that the very people who read A Thi Nga Tendi on Facebook will also buy and read the hardcopy …

The writing continues …

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