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‘Rhodes Must Fall made it possible for us to imagine these things’ – Abantu Book Festival launched in Soweto

Thando Mgqolozana

 
The Abantu Book Festival was officially launched at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Soweto this afternoon.

The festival is the brainchild of Thando Mgqolozana, who explained how and why it came about.

Why Abantu?

I named the festival Abantu because I could not think of any other festival that was focusing on black people – that was created for and by black people – and I wanted to create that.

I was absolutely tired of always begging to be integrated more comfortably into coloniality. I realised that I was ashamed, actually, that we had been begging to be integrated into coloniality. It’s like asking to be put nicely into a fire. It’s not going to end well. You are going to burn.

So I wanted to walk away from the fire. I wanted to create a different kind of fire, for abantu and by abantu.

Thando Mgqolozana

 

Mgqolozana first conceptualised the Abantu Book Festival on Facebook, creating it as a purely imaginary event. One year later, it is a reality.

“I’m a fiction writer, so I know what it means to imagine something into existence, I’ve done it many times,” he said.

“I have written books that were just fleeting ideas, and you write it and you publish it and it affects real people in their real lives.”

Images: Abantu Book Festival on Facebook

 

Mgqolozana also thanked Rhodes Must Fall and the young people of South Africa for creating an environment in which a festival like Abantu can feel possible.

“If we had tried to do something like this five years ago, it would probably not have happened. But Rhodes Must Fall created the context for us, made it possible for us, to imagine these things. Rhodes Must Fall made it possible for us to imagine things that are not framed by coloniality.

“So I want to thank the young people for affording us the opportunity to dream and hope, and be able to deal with our pain in a different way from before.”

Mgqolozana is the author of three novels, A Man Who is Not a Man, Hear Me Alone and Unimportance. He said he finds it unacceptable that the people he has written for and about do not have access to his work.

“I write about the people I was born with, I was raised with, the people in my street. It makes me so angry that these people cannot access this literature. And it is not by accident, it is by design. I cannot accept that. I cannot keep on writing about these people and for these people and not do anything about the fact that they cannot access this literature.

“I would really love to just be a writer and just be in my imagination the whole time. But I think I was born in a time that requires me to do more than just that.

“We have libraries in all black communities now, and if you go to any of them you will find that there is an African fiction section. We shouldn’t have an African fiction section in Africa: that should be the standard. It reminds me of the Homelands Act; the rest of the space belongs to other people.

“So it is my mission to change this thing. I am not going to do it alone. I am going to require all of your support.”

Panashe Chigumadzi

 

Panashe Chigumadzi, the festival curator, explained the thinking behind this year’s theme: Our Stories.

“A key part of our thinking around Abantu Book Festival and how we can remove the alienation that many of us as black people have around literature and books is to try and destabilise the centrality of the book,” she said.

“Yes, it is Abantu Book Festival, but we want to remind ourselves that storytelling is very much a part of what it is to be black people and it’s always been part of our cultures.”

Chigumadzi stressed that Abantu Book Festival should be a safe space for difficult conversations, and emphasised its zero tolerance policy to sexual harrassment and other kinds of prejudice.

“When we are creating these spaces for black people and new visions of futures, it is important that all black people are recognised, all of our humanity is recognised, and it is not only for a particular kind of blackness.

“We are really interested in having important, necessary, uncomfortable, robust but loving conversations amongst us as black people, that really is the important part about this. This is for us. All those things that we haven’t been able to say, we’d like this to be the kind of space that we can talk about them, and be able to challenge each other in the ways that we often can’t.”

* * * * *

Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer) tweeted live from the launch:

Follow @projectjennifer on Twitter for more

 

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