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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

Garden tomes: Bridget Hilton-Barber on gardening books and happiness

Think of them as self-help books — they inform and inspire, and set you on the right garden path, writes Bridget Hilton-Barber for the Sunday Times

In the chaotic pile of books that lives next to my bed, at least three will be gardening books. Bedtime gardening is one of my favourite things, and about once a week I fall asleep alongside Bold Romantic Gardens or Jane’s Delicious Garden or How to Propagate, depending on whether I’m concerned about my aubergines, needing an escape or just playing part scientist, part philosopher. I have a thing for gardening books, and am lucky to have inherited a fine collection from my grandmother and mother, to which I keep adding. I’m happy to lend them out as long as they get returned. If not – as we gardeners say, with fronds like you, who needs anemones?

In my grandmother’s day, gardening books were illustrated with exquisite line drawings; these days they use full-colour photography and enormous imagery, Lord help us and our credit cards. It was Cicero who said that if you have a garden and a library you have everything you need. I’ll raise the game and say that if you have a garden and a library full of garden books you have more than your heart could desire.

Just what is it about gardening books that makes us happy?

Well they aren’t just about gardening, they’re about life, history, drama, travel, passion, escape and autobiography. One can pick a gardening book according to mood and genre. If I’m inclined towards local travel for example, I may take to bed Remarkable Gardens of South Africa (Nini Bairnsfather Cloete, Quivertree Publications, 2012) – and have an imaginary twirl around some of the most beautiful private gardens in the country, from the amazing food gardens of Babylonstoren in the Western Cape to the moody farm gardens of the misty KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

For the reassurance of the value of beauty, I will go for something like The Classic Italian Garden (Judith Chatfield, Rizzoli Books, 1991); if it’s history I’m after, perhaps I’ll meander through Great Gardens of the World (Ronald King, Peerage Books 1985), taking in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the nymph-haunted gardens of classical Greece and Rome.

In a crime-solving mood? I’ll try What Rose is That? (Mary Moody, Weldon Publishing, 1992). After personal inspiration – hand me Pippa’s Organic Kitchen Garden (Pippa Greenwood, Dorling Kindersley, 2000) in which she transforms a patch of weeds into a glorious kitchen garden. And if I’m into a little eroticism, I’ll dip into Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening (Louise Riotte, Storey Communications, 1975). There’s something deliciously racy in the slow unfurling of fronds, the skyward thrusting of velvety nosed shoots, the tangle of tendrils… As British author Sam Llewelyn wrote, in vegetable gardens beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death.

Garden books fulfil a variety of needs. You can read the real-life stories of those whose gardens were a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself. You can lose yourself in the micro world of composting and mulch, or soar heavenward with a book on remarkable trees around the world, from the giant sequoias of Canada to the ancient baobabs of Madagascar.

There is an increasing and healthy trend towards indigenous and water-wise gardening and these books can be invaluable, covering everything from how to grow an urban edible garden to recycling water. Change is part and parcel of gardening history – which is why gardening books are so important. Not only do they offer inspiration, but they provide a record.

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Nal’ibali launched their third annual Story Bosso contest with Gcina Mhlophe and Marc Lottering

In commemoration of National Literacy Month, Nal’ibali – the national reading-for-enjoyment campaign – is encouraging a wave of storytelling nationwide with their third annual multilingual Story Bosso contest. The contest, which places an emphasis on folktales, was launched on August 31st at the Soweto Theatre and featured a programme which skriks for niks:

Storyteller par excellence, Bongani Madondo, entertained the two groups of school children who attended the launch. Fingers were clicked, hands were clapped, and feet were stamped as the children repeated the catchy phrases uttered (with gusto!) by Bongani.

Gcina Mhlophe, one of the country’s most beloved storytellers, kept the audience enthralled with her passionate, dramatic, and humorous performance of her favourite folktales:

Storytelling goddess Gcina Mhlophe doing what she does best
© Daniel Born


Did you know? By tapping your fingers on your wrist you can recreate the sound of raindrops falling. Ngiyabonga for the fun audience interaction, Gcina!
© Daniel Born


The nation’s future storytellers paying rapt attention to Gogo Gcina…
© Daniel Born


© Daniel Born


The magnificent Ms Mhlophe
© Daniel Born

To help children and adults remember these special stories, Nal’ibali has created a set of storytelling playing cards featuring common folktale characters, settings and objects.

And who better to demonstrate the creative use of one of these cards than one of South Africa’s favourite comedians, Marc Lottering?

And oh-my-’fro, did he have a jol

A storytelling playing card depicting a shaker. (A magic one, at that. It’s magical properties? The ability to transport the lucky person who shakes it to Cape Town. That’s Marc Lottering for you…)
© Daniel Born

Marc’s other card featured two young children; this story ended on a twist! The twist being “…and then he realised it was all a dream.” Hehe ;)
© Daniel Born

Nee, kyk. That’s one riveted audience…
© Daniel Born

Ain’t nothing bothering Mr Lottering!
© Daniel Born

Gcina and Marc even teamed up for a lively rendition of a song consisting of only six words (“Praat / praat u taal met liefde!”) but sjoe, they managed to get the audience to join in:

Gcina and Marc demonstrating how you should praat the taal with liefde
© Daniel Born


Big shout out to photographer Daniel Born who managed to capture this singular day beautifully. From children enjoying the performances, to perusing the books available in their home languages, to admiring the storytelling cards, and – ultimately – having the opportunity to tell their own stories…

All South Africans are invited to submit their entries between 1 and 30 September as audio or video clips online on the campaign’s website (, mobisite (, Facebook page (NalibaliSA), to or via Nal’ibali’s WhatsApp line: 076 920 6413.

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“I wrote it for all women of colour who have felt silenced” – a Q&A with author, activist, storyteller and actress Buhle Ngaba

Carla Lever recently interviewed Buhle Ngaba, activist, storyteller, actress and the author of The Girl Without a Sound, for the Nal’ibali reading campaign’s sixth column, as published in the Daily Dispatch and Herald. Buhle discussed the importance of children having access to stories in their own language, empowering young girls in collaboration with KaMatla Productions, and the absence of African literature written by women.

Buhle Ngaba, author of The Girl Without a Sound


Your book, The Girl Without a Sound, is about a silent young girl who meets a mysterious red-winged woman and begins to discover her own voice. What was your inspiration for the story?

My aunt handed me my first book when I was six and I don’t believe I would have been the same person without that introduction to stories. So the little girl in my book is me, but I wrote it for all women of colour who have felt silenced.

A page from Buhle’s remarkable The Girl Without a Sound

Why did you decide to start tackling community storytelling?

It felt like a natural extension of my job as an actress: to share stories as far and wide as I can and to teach others to do the same. Stories can and do change how we see the world, so we have to learn how to tell our own.

Can you tell us a little about the work you do with KaMatla Productions?

A group of us started KaMatla to aid the development of the arts and storytelling amongst young people. At the moment, we are collaborating with Nal’ibali in honour of Women’s Month, meaning Girl Without A Sound will now be freely available for download in English, Setswana, isiXhosa and isiZulu. Because internet access is not evenly distributed, we will also be taking printed copies of the book to schools across the country. Starting in September, KaMatla will be running free workshops at high schools across the country, bringing the empowering teachings of Girl Without A Sound to life. We’re aiming to provide young girls with a lifelong tool kit that can be used to own their unique voices.

Is there any particular moment or piece of feedback that made all your work worthwhile?

The reading club visit with Nal’ibali to Sea View Primary in Mitchells Plain last week was spectacular – to see the book in the hands that it was written for was so special.

Why is diverse representation – in featured characters, in written languages – so important, particularly in South Africa today?

It’s important so that children can see themselves and hear the potential for magic in their own languages. That way, they discover how they can be anything they want to be. The industry doesn’t publish enough women writers and even our sections on African literature no longer reprint books by women that are vital reading. I think that the only way forward is by women writers to actively saturate the industry with our stories. If you are a writer, write! The internet gives people a platform to be what they always wanted and, though it may be imperfect, it should be something we use. I use it to share as much of my work as I can, across borders, waters and skies.

Where to for you from here?

We will keep trying to get the book into as many hands as possible. As for me, I am going to perform a short season of my one-woman show “The Swan Song” in Joburg and Cape Town early next year then I am looking towards film!

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to enter its national multilingual storytelling competition, ‘Story Bosso’, running this September, visit

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Austen Power

An earlier version of this column was published in the Sunday Times in 2013.

Jane Austen died 200 years ago, but she wrote some groovy letters, baby. By Sue de Groot

JANE Austen lived from 1775 to 1817 and was a writer of prolific output. Apart from her six published novels and a trunk full of unpublished work, she sent friends, family and assorted others an astonishing number of letters, all written in the same spirit of playful irony that infuses her novels.

What joy these missives must have given their recipients. They probably read them over and over and entertained their visitors by quoting bits from them.

Austen had the ability to make the most mundane subject sound riveting, a rare skill. She never took anything too seriously, another rare skill, yet her gentle sending-up of human silliness never descended to outright bitchiness, nor was she flippant.

We know her correspondence was prized because many of her letters were kept and preserved. One of the sad things about e-mail communication is that most of it – unless your surname is Gupta – disappears into the cloud once read, denying future generations the opportunity to enjoy intimate letters from long ago.

There are unquestionable advantages to electronic communication. I’m not going to climb on that dreary Luddite bandwagon and start bemoaning the loss of quills, ink and postmen, or get all choked up about the sentimental smell of parchment. One thing we have lost that pains me, however, is the art of letter writing.

You can’t blame it all on the keyboard. It’s the message that counts, not the medium. If we wanted to, we could type thoughtful, grammatical letters and e-mail them, yet hardly anyone does. Perhaps a resurgence of interest in Austen will inspire us.

If she had owned a smartphone, perhaps Jane would have written a thousand more letters, but I suspect that such a device would have dulled her sparkle and stunted her compositions. Nor would they have been saved. And how much poorer our lives would be without observations like these:

On weather

“We have been exceedingly busy ever since you went away. In the first place we have had to rejoice two or three times every day at your having such very delightful weather for the whole of your journey…” (October 25 1800)

“How do you like this cold weather? I hope you have all been earnestly praying for it as a salutary relief from the dreadful mild and unhealthy season preceding it, fancying yourself half putrefied from the want of it, and that now you all draw into the fire, complain that you never felt such bitterness of cold before, that you are half starved, quite frozen, and wish the mild weather back again with all your hearts.” (January 25 1801)

On fashion

“I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit.” (June 11 1799)

On children

“Poor woman! How can she honestly be breeding again?” (October 1 1808)

“I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it.” (April 25 1811)

“I would recommend to her and Mr D the simple regimen of separate rooms.” (February 20 1817)

On having a good time

“I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand today.” (November 20 1800)

“Mrs B thought herself obliged to leave them to run round the room after her drunken husband. His avoidance, and her pursuit, with the probable intoxication of both, was an amusing scene.” (May 12 1801)

“As I must leave off being young, I find many douceurs [today this means a bribe, in the 1800s it was a more innocent “sweetener”] in being a sort of chaperon, for I am put on the sofa near the fire and can drink as much wine as I like.” (November 6 1813)

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Lees ons redakteur se Taalgenoot-artikel oor die toekoms van wetenskapsfiksie in die Afrikaanse skryfkuns

Die Herfs-uitgawe van die kwartaallikse tydskrif Taalgenoot is onlangs met die vergunning van PEN Afrikaans op LitNet se webblad gedeel.

Die oorhoofse tema vir dié uitgawe was futurisme/ ‘n toekomsblik en bevat artikels wat wissel van onderwerpe oor post-waarheid en vals nuus tot tegnologie in klaskamers tot die daling in e-boek aankope.

BooksLive se redakteur, Mila de Villiers, se bydra oor die toekoms van wetenskapsfiksie in die Afrikaanse skryfkuns en die gewildheid van hierdie genre, met ‘n klem op speculative fiction kan hier gelees word:

Om die toekoms oop te skryf

Wetenskapsfiksie. Die woord roep beelde op van ruimteskepe, lasers, seinborde en vuurpyle. En name soos Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein en Frank Herbert. Stories van bo-aardse antagoniste; ‘n onvoorspelbare toekomsblik – óf distopies óf utopies, afhangende van die mens se vermoë om dit wat die toekoms bied, te omarm.

Tog is wetenskapsfiksie nie tot een veld beperk nie, sê Tertius Kapp, dramaturg en uitgewer by Tafelberg. Wetenkapsfiksie word al hoe meer gesog onder Afrikaanse uitgewers en Tertius skryf dit aan groeiende belangstellings onder jonger lesers toe.

Volgens Simone Hough, ‘n redakteur by Human & Rousseau, is ‘n groter belangstelling in fantasie- en wetenskapsfiksietitels vir jong volwassenes die laaste paar jaar “beslis ‘n merkbare tendens internasionaal en ook in die plaaslike mark”.

Skrywers soos Beth Revis, Marissa Meyer, Veronica Roth, Lois Lowry, Suzanne Collins en Rick Yancey maak die genre baie gewild, en aangesien van hierdie boeke ook in flieks verwerk word, het dit ‘n groot aanhang.

“Hoewel daar min Afrikaanse skrywers was wat fantasie- en wetenskapsfiksie vir jonger lesers in die verlede geskryf het, is daar wel meer voorleggings vir hierdie soort verhale,” sê Simone.

“Dit is vir ons wonderlik om plaaslik ook wêreldklas-jeugfiksie in hierdie genre te kan publiseer, in Afrikaans én Engels, met skrywers soos Nelia Engelbrecht (Die poort-reeks, Tafelberg), Elizabeth Wasserman (Anna Atoom-reeks), Edyth Bulbring (The Mark), Helen Brain (Elevation-reeks) en dies meer.”

Veral Engelbrecht se Die poort-vierluik, waarvan die eerste twee aflewerings, Bewakers en Reisigers, net ‘n paar maande uit mekaar gepubliseer is (onderskeidelik in Julie en Oktober 2016), dui op die gewildheid van wetenskapsfiksie onder ‘n jonger Afrikaanse gehoor.

Michelle Cooper, ‘n uitgewer en redakteur by Tafelberg, meen Afrikaanse lesers wil uit dieselfde verskeidenheid genres as Engelse lesers kan kies. Brain se Elevation-trilogie, wat in ‘n futuristiese, distopiese Kaapstad afspeel, word deur Engelse tieners opgeraap.

“Goeie wetenskapsfiksiemanuskripte wat oor my lessenaar kom, sal beslis my aandag trek, aangesien daar nie baie daarvan in Afrikaans is nie,” sê Michelle.

Volgens Tertius bied wetenskapsfiksie moontlikhede om van ‘n leefwêreld sin te maak wat al hoe meer deur tegnologie gevorm en bepaal word. Jonger lesers kan aanklank vind daarby, aangesien sci-fi “die verbeelding baie vrye teuels gee; dit is minder ingebed in die idee van ‘n nasionale letterkunde, met die negatiewe assosiasies wat daarmee saamkom, en nog baie ander”.

Klik hier om verder te lees.

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“Johannesburg is Africa without some of the prejudice of other parts of the continent” – Binyavanga Wainaina on Johannesburg, clumsiness, and dancing

The acclaimed Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina, whose memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place was published in 2011, recently moved to Johannesburg. Hugo kaCanham, a lecturer at Wits University’s Psychology department, sat down with Waianaina at Melville’s Lucky Bean Cafe during which the two discussed Wainaiana’s clumsiness, his love for dancing, thoughts on Johannesburg’s gay scene, and traditional healers:

I am afraid of Binyavanga. When the invitation to meet him arrives, I accept without thinking. It is Binyavanga Wainaina after all. And then the anxiety comes. The dinner is tomorrow. When I get home I reach out for his book — One day I will write about this place. The cover has a curry stain. After reading it, I had passed it on to my brother. He had passed it along to my sister. It came back to me with other stains. I decide that I will ask for his autograph. I want to read the book again so I can ask Binyavanga important questions. But I don’t. I am from Lusikisiki and I know the Mthatha of which he writes about his student days. The texture of the book is as familiar as the caress of my favourite jacket. He weaves yarns to describe worlds that I know. I come to see them in new ways. I want to visit the worlds that I do not know.

I didn’t know that Binyavanga is in South Africa. My friend Grieve invited me to join them for dinner. I would also get to meet Grieve’s wife Mnwasa. Grieve calls him Binya. I follow his cue. Binya does not fill my mouth the way that Binyavanga does. When Binya arrives, he is tall. He has a striking face that I recognise from online images. A strong and steady stare. His mouth is not prone to smiling. There is a fine green line dyed into his hair and running across to the back of his head. His colourful jacket does not hide a gentle protrusion of his stomach. I immediately think of his father’s stomach in the essay - I am homosexual, mom. He greets Mnwasa by taking her hands in his. “You are beautiful,” he says. Mnwasa glows. I hear the slur in his voice and recall that he was very ill a while back. His voice is a bit too loud and the people at neighbouring tables hear him. I see their looks. But they stop hearing him after a while. Later, he explains that he had a stroke and that it will take a few more months to recover his speech. I had read his essay about how a major stroke killed his father. I hope he recovers soon. He looks vulnerable but he is upbeat.

I am ashamed of South Africa, but Binya believes it is the place to be. He has elected to stay in Johannesburg for about five years. It is a feeling he has about the city. He places high value in his sense of place. He is spiritual and talks a lot about the traditional healers that he knows. Johannesburg has many. He laments how traditional healers have been wiped out of Kenya’s public life. He could be a sangoma. Illness forces many to confront the realm of the ancestors. Johannesburg feels right to him. “I danced all night when I got here a few months ago. I love my large apartment in Yeoville. I wish it had wifi though. Johannesburg is Africa without some of the prejudice of other parts of the continent. Nigerian men date other men here.” He gestures to a black male couple at the neighbouring table. One of the men meets his eyes. “I don’t hang out with middle class homosexual men. I love hustling gay people. They don’t have all of these pretences of trying to be something. They just are.” He likes the word homosexual. He chose it above the more familiar gay in the title of the ‘lost’ chapter of his memoir — I am homosexual, mom. He is working on three projects. The two book projects already have publishers but he loves one project more than the other. He is writing furiously. He has been doing so since he arrived in South Africa.

Continue reading Hugo’s piece here.

One Day I Will Write about This Place

Book details

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Harold the ceramicist and the Melon’s gallstone – Sue de Groot on the (many) comical translations of Harry Potter

Everyone loves JK Rowling, except perhaps those who cursed her when translating Harry Potter

By Sue de Groot

SPARE a thought for those who translate English texts. Mastering English is a Sisyphean task for those who speak it from birth; learning it as a second language is, to put it mildly, a bastard. Now imagine what it must be like to transform the infinitely complex twists and turns of an idiomatic, idiosyncratic English sentence into something that makes sense in another language.

As if that weren’t difficult enough, imagine trying to translate words that do not exist in any dictionary, English or otherwise. You might think everyone in the world worships and adores JK Rowling, but I suspect those who had to translate the Harry Potter books occasionally cursed her.

How do you translate quidditch, horcruxes, wrackspurt and crumple-horned snorkacks into other-language words of similar bounce and gravitas? And what about those quibbilicious character names? These are the things that kept translators awake at night.

One solution would have been to leave Rowling’s words alone, but translators are a brave bunch and besides, English wordplay only works if you understand English. To be effective in other languages, names and places would have to be rewritten, and some of the interpretations of Potterverse are almost as entertaining as the books themselves.

Take the “pensieve”, a bowl containing someone’s memories. Rowling’s word combines the properties of a colander and deep thought. The Germans turned it into the lovely Denkarium, a made-up word that married thinking with an aquarium. The Norwegians, if you ask me, fell a little short of the mark. They call it a tanketank, literally a “thought-tank”, which sounds more like a gathering of business executives than a magical device.

Chinese translations are inscrutable unless one can read Chinese characters, but if you ever get a chance to watch the dubbed Harry Potter films with English subtitles, do treat yourself. For some reason the Chinese word for “Muggle” (a non-magical person) translates back into English as “melon”.

As any Pottermaniac knows, Muggles are spread thickly throughout the seven books. Turning them into Melons results in a giant fruit basket. To pick just a few random sentences: “Melons have garden gnomes too, you know”; “You should take Melon studies next year”; “I was merely reading the Melon magazines”; “Melon women wear them, Archie; not the men”; “Even Melons like yourself should be celebrating”; “My parents are Melons, mate”; “How come the Melons don’t hear the bus?” And so on.

As for the character names, Harry, Ron and Hermione have escaped intact, as has Voldemort, but the key plot point involving an anagram presented a huge translation challenge. He-who-should-not-really-be-named made up his own creepy label by jumbling up the letters of his given Melon name, Tom Marvolo Riddle — the anagram is “I am Lord Voldemort”. The French got around this by changing Voldemort’s original name to Tom Elvis Jedusor, which yielded the anagram “Je suis Voldemort”. But how can one take a supervillain called Elvis seriously?

The French have also had fun with the names of animals. Hermione’s cat Crookshanks is known as Pattenrond in France. Ron’s rat Scabbers is Croûtard, and Dumbledore’s phoenix Fawkes has become Fumseck — which sounds like a thumbsuck to me.

The Mentalfloss website has investigated foreign names for the Hogwarts houses. In Spanish, Swedish, German, Polish, and Hebrew they remain Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, but in other countries they have been reinterpreted in some mystifying ways. The French, for instance, changed Hufflepuff to Poufsouffle, which sounds like a cross between something you eat for breakfast and something you rest your feet on. They changed Slytherin to Serpentard — Harry’s Gryffindor mates would no doubt have howled with joy at the implied insult.

Hufflepuff seems to have given translators the most trouble. In Brazilian Portuguese it is Lufa-lufa, like something one might use in the shower. In Italian it is Tassorosso (“red badger” for the house’s mascot) and in Welsh it is Wfftiwff, which apparently is not an acronym. In Czechoslovakia they settled for Mrzimor.
There’s much more to this than Mrzimor and Melons. I recommend this rabbit hole whenever you need a mood lift.

*This is an extended version of the Pedant Class column published in Sunday Times Lifestyle Magazine on March 26 2017

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Book details


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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Jacket Notes: Pamela Power chats about writing her book Things Unseen and what she’s working on next

Published in the Sunday Times

Things UnseenThings Unseen
Pamela Power (Clockwork Books)

I started writing Things Unseen in 2010 during the Soccer World Cup, when I was in a dark place in my life. My mother-in-law had died of cancer in December 2008, my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and died a year later. Six weeks after my mother died, my nephew contracted cerebral malaria. He spent nine days in a coma with multi-organ failure and recovered, but only after having nine of his toes amputated.

I remember sitting in the carpark of Milpark Hospital and weeping uncontrollably about his toes. It was stressful and there wasn’t time to mourn my mother properly. So I did what I always do in times of crisis, I wrote about it. About how losing your mother – no matter how difficult your relationship was – is always profound.

After everything we had been through, I didn’t feel like writing something light. But I had a panic attack because my first novel, Ms Conception, published in 2012, was such a different genre – light, racy, funny and about suburban life. I kept dilly-dallying over whether I should be writing something in the same style. I whined about it to anyone who would listen until my bossy eldest brother said, “For Pete’s sake, just write both novels!”

So I did. I started writing another novel in 2013 which was grip lit (what author Marian Keyes calls thrillers so engrossing that you can’t put them down) and I wrote the psychological thriller Things Unseen.

Just as well, as my publisher, Penguin Random House South Africa, did not like Things Unseen, which was devastating at the time. Luckily, my husband loved it (probably because he was ecstatic I had stopped writing about our lives) and my independent publisher, Sarah McGregor, loved it as well. Well, obviously not that much, as she made me rewrite about 50 per cent of it.

It was such a labour of love – I had doctor and lawyer friends reading it, Karina Brink gave me notes and a wonderful shout for the front cover, and my husband did a final proofread (my knowledge of golf clubs is sadly lacking). The book’s also been getting great reviews, which came as a complete surprise. I always think everything I write is rubbish and I’m amazed that people might want to read it.

In terms of what’s next for me, the grip lit is called Delilah Now Trending and will be published by Penguin Random House South Africa in April 2017.

Book details

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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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‘A kaleidoscope of contemporary African literature’ – Read Thando Mgqolozana’s introduction to the Abantu Book Festival

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The inaugural Abantu Book Festival is taking place this week at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Soweto.

The festival is the brainchild of Thando Mgqolozana, who imagined it on Facebook. After a year of planning it has become a reality.

This year’s event is curated by Panashe Chigumadzi, who recently won the K Sello Duiker Award for her debut novel Sweet Medicine, and the inspirational African Flavour Books is the official bookseller.

In his introduction to the programme, Mgqolozana says it is the organisers’ wish that “when the festival ends, the bookseller has no books to take back – they’ll all have been adopted by readers”.



Read Mgqolozana’s introduction:

Dear Reader

It gives us great pleasure to bring you the inaugural Abantu Book Festival. We can hardly believe that this dream, longheld by writers and readers alike, is finally coming true.

Through the lens of literature and the arts, the festival creates a platform to celebrate Our Stories, and amplify brave voices that grapple with social phenomena – this being the end of 2016, the year of rebellion and hard questions, marking with certainty the end of an era, there’s no shortage of said social phenomena to grapple with.

This first edition is ably curated by Panashe Chigumadzi, author of Sweet Medicine, a Fallist as well as a vociferous campaigner for a Global Black Literary Network.

We’re hosting over 50 superbly accomplished poets, novelists, essayists, playwrights, literary scholars, screenwriters, performing artists, and children’s writers from Soweto, South Africa, Africa and the diaspora. The line-up is a kaleidoscope of contemporary African literature, illustrating a sense of continuity in our narrative.

The traveling writers arrive on the 6-7 December 2016. In these two days the authors will visit schools and cultural centres in and around Soweto, as well take part in the media launch.

From 8-10 December 2016, the Abantu Book Festival programme spans 32 unmissable panel discussions, in-conversations, hands-on masterclasses, poetry slams and film screenings, many of which are free.

The day events are held at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Mofolo, 09:30-16:00, and the evening sessions at the Soweto Theatre at 18:00-21:30.

The people’s bookseller, African Flavour Books, which specialises in African Literature, has all your favourite titles on sale at both venues throughout the festival. It is our wish that when the festival ends, the bookseller has no books to take back – they’ll all have been adopted by readers.

We hope to create a festival that truly speaks to our pan-Africanist ideals wherein we have more writers from the continent represented, not just within Anglophone Africa, but to include Francophone and Lusophone Africans. The black experience is global, so we need to be hosts to Black British, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and African-American writers.

Even as we use the languages of our (former) colonial masters to reach each other across regions, we must work to ensure indigenous languages are prominently featured.

We also need to have a greater contingency of young writers. We’re learning that many of our writers are self-published, so we will work to include more of them.

We invite you to peruse the schedule of events, take note of where you need to be, at what time. Some of the events will be running concurrently, so you’re bound to have several dilemmas to solve.

Welcome to Abantu Book Festival. We wish you a fine week of bibliotherapy.

My best regards,
Thando Mgqolozana
Festival Director

Have a look at the programme:

2016 Abantu Book Festival programme by Books LIVE on Scribd


The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesMemoirs of a Born FreeRumoursEat, Drink and Blame the AncestorsAffluenzaWe Need New NamesHappiness is a Four-Letter Word
The Everyday WifeRapeEndings and BeginningsWhat Will People SayGa ke ModisaAlmost Sleeping My Way to TimbuktuWhen a Man Cries
Ukuba MtshaThe Woman Next DoorLondon – Cape Town – JoburgSweet MedicineNwelezelanga

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Related news:

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