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Rural schools and communities working together for literacy

Working to strengthen the natural partnerships between schools and communities, close to 3 000 parents, caregivers, and representatives from community organisations such as churches and libraries attended special community trainings at the rural schools that form part of Nal’ibali’s Story Powered Schools network in Ugu and Uthukela in KwaZulu-Natal and Maluti and Mbizana in the Eastern Cape.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” says Story Powered Schools programme manager, Michael Cekiso, explaining the valuable role that parents and other adults can play in the upbringing and literacy learning of all our children.

Gathered at Umsikazi Primary School to receive training on reading for enjoyment practices with children, community members are invited to revisit the songs and stories of their childhood.

Children are learning all the time: in the home and in the community. Learning doesn’t only happen at school. Children are learning whether they are playing, listening to a story or simply observing the adults around them going about their daily lives. This type of informal learning is powerful because it means that all adults, no matter their experience or education level, can act as role models and teachers for their children, simply by telling or sharing a story with them in their mother tongue.

Story Powered Schools Story Sparker, Nqobile Cele, emphasises the importance of reading and sharing stories in mother tongue languages.

The ability to read is the foundation of all learning and when adults read or share stories with children in relaxed and engaging ways – and in languages they understand, they are inspired to learn to read and write themselves. Using the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign’s proven approach to literacy development, the Story Powered Schools project has been helping school staff and volunteers in select schools make use of reading-for-enjoyment practices before, during and after school since the start of the year. Now, it is encouraging the support of the wider community to ensure that these children are given every possible chance to fulfil their potential.

Rural communities in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal face some of the biggest challenges when it comes to education; battling a significant lack of resources and materials but community members were urged to act, rather than despair.

Access to books and literacy materials are some of the biggest challenge faced by schools in rural areas. Adults are encouraged to get to know the books and stories now available in their schools.

Emphasising what can be achieved when schools and communities work together, the trainings covered the importance of early-childhood development – or what parents and caregivers can do at home before their children start school to jump-start their learning; the benefits of using home languages or more than one language; and how libraries, churches and other organisations as well as individuals can support the work of schools by setting up and running reading clubs their own reading clubs or supporting those of the schools.

Exploring a story. Good quality stories are intergenerational and have the power to captivate a wide audience.

In addition to the training provided, community members were directed towards the Story Powered Schools web- and mobisites ( and where they can find free stories in home languages as well as tips, ideas and guides on how to share these with children or set up their own reading clubs. Members of the public interested in making use of these approaches and free resources are encouraged to do so.

Story Powered Schools is a Nal’ibali initiative endorsed by the Department of Basic Education and made possible by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Story Powered Schools aims to spark learners’ potential and unlock their school success through reading and storytelling by placing stories at the heart of classrooms and schools. For more information about the project or the power of reading and storytelling, visit: or You can also find them on Facebook: @StoryPoweredSchools.

Michelle Hattingh’s I’m the Girl Who Was Raped will be available on 4 continents

I'm the Girl Who Was RapedI’m the Girl Who Was Raped SpinifexI’m the Girl Who Was Raped Canada

We’ve sold rights to Michelle Hattingh’s brave, powerful, lucid memoir, I’m the Girl Who Was Raped to Inanna in Canada and to Spinifex in Australia – who have bought World English rights (apart from North America and Africa). Here are the new covers. Michelle’s book has been something of a publishing sensation for us, she’s been invited all over the country to various literary festivals, as the key speaker at Wordfest in Grahamstown last year, and we sold rights within the first year of publishing.

Well done Michelle! We know that this past year was very intense, you are incredibly brave.

I'm the Girl Who Was Raped

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Book Bites: four reads to look out for this week

Book Bites: 28 May 2017 – Published in the Sunday Times

American War
American War
Omar El Akkad (Picador)
Book buff
It is 2075, climate change has gripped the planet and the United States has declared war on itself. Sarat, with her twin sister, older brother and widowed mother are taken to a refugee camp where the young are groomed for the Southern resistance known as the Reds. In raw, matter-of-fact prose, readers are swept along the systematic downfall of an empire through the eyes of Sarat. During her lifetime she rises, falls and seeks her vengeance for unspeakable cruelty. American War is an epic read, answering the question: “How do you make a terrorist?” The most chilling aspect of the novel is realising that while the tale is set in the future, this story is happening now. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie
Rory Clements (Zaffre)
Book thrill
1936: Cambridge Professor Thomas Wilde is something of an expert in spy craft, although his speciality is the Elizabethan secret service: when his neighbour Lydia, poet and publisher, tells him about the so-called suicide of her friend Nancy, with whom she attended the Berlin Olympics, and the murders of others in their set, Wilde starts to investigate. Set against the background of the allegedly Nazi-loving King Edward VIII and his bid to have twice-divorced Wallis Simpson as his queen, and the rise of Fascism in England, Corpus encapsulates the events leading WW2; from Stalin’s Great Terror in Russia, the Spanish Civil War, the rise of European Fascism, to the conflicting ideologies of good men in England. Excellent! – Aubrey Paton
Syd Kitchen - Scars That ShineSyd Kitchen: Scars That Shine
Donvé Lee (Tracey McDonald Publishers)
Book real
Few people can truly be described as legends; Syd Kitchen was one of them. The Durban singer-songwriter was famously mad, bad and dangerous to know: a roaring alcoholic and druggie, he came from the wrong side of the tracks and stayed there, never quite earning the fame and success he deserved. In this biography Donvé Lee has done well by her old friend. She manages to capture the appeal of this skraal boy-man, his depression and demons, his constant self-sabotaging, but also his sheer brilliance. Acutely clever – he was awarded an Honours degree in Musicology cum laude – Kitchen was a great raconteur and mordant wit. Women loved him and so did other musicians. He sang and played guitar like a fallen angel, but died before the big break ever came. Splashy Fen would never be the same again. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood
City of the LostCity of the Lost
Kelley Armstrong (Sphere)
Book thrill
Rockton is a small, off-the-grid town hidden in the wilds of Yukon. It’s a haven for hundreds of fundamentally decent people who are on the run from their pasts, in need of a place where they can disappear for a few years. Detective Casey Duncan is haunted by a violent incident during which she killed a man. Her best friend Diana is harried by an abusive ex. When given the chance to escape to Rockton, they embrace the opportunity. The town, however, is run by an autocratic sheriff with his own explosive secrets. When residents start being murdered, savage passions are unleashed. While the fundamental concept of City of the Lost may stretch credulity, Armstrong, a dexterous storyteller, carries it off with aplomb, fashioning a modern thriller with a dash of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies to it. – William Saunderson-Meyer @TheJaundicedEye

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Alan Paton Award shortlist: Steven Robins talks about his book Letters of Stone

Published in the Sunday Times

Letters of StoneLetters of Stone: From Nazi Germany to South Africa
Steven Robins (Penguin Books)

Describe the photograph in your home that was the impetus for your research into your family.
Growing up in Port Elizabeth in the 60s and 70s, I was always aware of a black-and-white postcard-size photograph of three women that stood on a wooden table in our dining room. I had no idea who these women were other than a vague sense that they were my father’s family and that they had lived and died in Germany during the WW2. I didn’t even know their names or how they were related to me. It was only later that I discovered they were my father’s mother and sisters, photographed in Berlin in 1937, soon after my father had escaped to South Africa, and that they were killed in the Holocaust. And yet he never spoke about them. After he died in 1990, I decided to find out about the lives of the women in the photograph, and that is what Letters of Stone is all about.

Why do you think your father was silent about his parents and siblings left behind in Berlin?
I can only speculate about his silence. Perhaps he wanted to protect my brother and I from his traumatic family past. Perhaps it was too difficult for him to speak about it because the memories were too painful. Perhaps he felt guilty that he was unable to rescue them. It is also likely that he repressed these memories in order to get on with the daunting task of rebuilding his life after having fled Nazi Germany. These are all questions I explore in the book.

You came across 100 letters written to your father by his mother and sisters in Berlin. What was your response to reading them?
My cousins, David Robins and Cecilia Singer, found the letters in their late mother’s flat in Sea Point in 2012. It was as if the ancestors had presented me with a gift, and it was now my obligation to reciprocate by responding to the letters. Once I started to read and reread the letters, I was finally able to get a sense of the lives of the women in the photograph, their desires, hopes, and fears. Prior to this, all I had were a couple of photographs and the bare bureaucratic facts of his family’s deportation.

One gets a moving picture of your grandmother with her determined optimism and insistence on day to day niceties like coffee and cake and card games in the face of vicious anti-Semitism. Do you think she was trying to protect your father and uncle from worry?
The detailed reports on family celebrations and domestic details might have reassured them that somehow the family seemed to be holding together despite everything they were going through. But their own experiences in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, as well as newspaper and radio reports, must have made them desperately worried about the fate of the family trapped in Berlin. I believe that my grandmother’s family rituals were an attempt to transform her home into a sanctuary, a safe space where there was some semblance of normality amidst the violence and terror on the streets and public spaces.

The book has a strong resonance with refugees and migrants today, of hopes of escape to a better, safer land. Would you agree?
Yes, I think my grandmother’s responses to everyday bureaucratic violence in Berlin in the 1930s and early 1940s, mirrors the experiences of countless women in war zones and refugee camps throughout the world today. Like my stoic, ever-hopeful and resilient grandmother, these women usually carry the burden of trying to hold the family together under shattering conditions of daily violence and social fragmentation.

You uncovered a chilling link between Southern Africa and the eugenics research of the Nazi doctor Eugen Fischer. Can you expand on that?
It is widely believed that the Holocaust was a uniquely European affair. But scholars such as Hannah Arendt have identified numerous links between imperialism, colonialism and Nazism. While researching this book, it became clear that racial science and eugenics studies in the colonies contributed directly to the emergence of these Nazi policies. Dr Eugen Fischer, a German physical anthropologist, did his postdoctoral research project on ‘racial mixing’ in 1908 amongst the Rehoboth Basters in German South West Africa, and by the early 1930s he applied these ideas to European Jews. Clearly, the colonies were the laboratories for ideas that later boomeranged back to the heartland of Europe.

The process of researching and writing the book must have been emotionally devastating. Do you feel more at peace now with the ghosts of your family?
There is a Xhosa ritual called ukubuyisa, which involves bringing the dead home. Writing this book has been my way of bring my ancestors home. The Nazis tried to erase all traces of their lives but then the letters came, allowing me to make sure that traces of their voices and lives can now circulate in the world of the living. Commemorative plaques (Stolpersteine) have also been set in the paved stone outside their places of residence in Berlin. It feels like the burden of repressed memories and stony silences have lifted for me and for my family.

Book details

Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist: Mark Winkler discusses the origins of his novel The Safest Place You Know

Published in the Sunday Times

The Safest Place You KnowThe Safest Place You Know
Mark Winkler (Umuzi)

Shortly after my first book was published in 2013, I was on the red-eye from Cape Town to Johannesburg when the pilot pointed out that we were flying over Kimberley. It was winter and the farmlands beneath us were a uniform shade of brown. This sad scene invoked the character of Hennie – a young man, son of a drunken and destitute Free State farmer, struggling to hold the derelict family farm together. I wrote down what I thought would be the opening lines of my next book.

The kind people who had published my first novel were gentle but firm in their rejection of my first attempt at his story. So I began to wonder what to do with Hennie when I was swept up by a different idea, one that resulted in a strange little novel called Wasted, which I wrote in a few obsessive months, even though the problem of Hennie was far from solved.

In the early iterations of its second life, the story of Hennie consisted of fragments rather than a coherent narrative. I’d decided to set it in the early 80s, a period of such turmoil in South Africa that it’s surprising it’s been more or less forgotten by contemporary SA fiction. Hennie’s father Hendrik, and the character of Antoinette’s father Oliver, came to represent the oppressively patriarchal Nationalist government, and allowed me to tell a story that I felt was authentic to the South Africa of the time, without having to address the socio-political situation directly, something that, to my mind, had been well travelled – and far better expressed – by writing during the dying years of apartheid. The converging stories of Hennie and poor little rich girl Antoinette came to mirror, in their own ways, the kind of naïve and often dangerous ignorance and isolation of South Africans.

The challenge I set myself was to find a voice and a style of writing that would set The Safest Place You Know apart from Wasted, which itself was so different to my first book in its narrative, characters, and its clipped and staccato prose. Safest Place allowed me to explore and develop a far more lyrical voice that, I hoped, would lend itself naturally to the gentle nugget at the core of the novel – that we, each of us, carry within us the means of forgiving and healing ourselves, even though we might be totally oblivious to its presence.


In the permanent dusk of the kitchen Hennie opened jars and found in them only beetle carapaces and the husks of spiders with their legs neatly curled up beneath them. He took some cans of baked beans and spaghetti and meatballs and condensed milk from the pantry and the cans left behind them round footprints in the dust.

Hennie picked up his spoils and his suitcase and went out onto the stoep. The sky that had been dusted red with the topsoil of a hundred a thousand dying farms had in less than an hour thickened with clouds of deep rich purple, and the sharp heat of the morning was softened by a rare humidity.

On Hendrik’s head and bloodrivered neck a black wig of flies had settled. The flies made of the corpse a Hendrik who was young and strong again, flaunting his long hair in the face of Free State conservatism. The cans fell from Hennie’s arms and the whipcrack as they hit the floor set the flies rising into a sudden Afro from his father’s head. The dark halo buzzed furiously for a moment and then settled again. Hennie retreated into the house and found another bag and filled it with the remaining beers and the cans of food.

In the moments he had been inside the clouds had darkened to a nighttime violet and the wind pulled fleeting screws of dust from the land towards the sky and dropped them back into the dirt. Hennie stepped off the stoep and turned towards the house. He looked at its broken paint and spidered glass and once-silver roof that decades of sun had turned a dull and powdery white. The wind sucked curtains from windows left open and panes left broken and the tatters waved at the dead land for long silent moments. Hennie wondered whether he should close the doors and windows against the coming storm and then he smiled at the old sense of duty so deep and unshakeable. Let the elements descend on the house, he decided. Let them raze the roof and bury the floors. Let the walls crack like dry skin before the rising wind and the neverending dust. Let the house fall in on itself and be crushed to biscuit-powder, to beetle-dust, to wood-ash. Let it be driven back into the spiteful soil by the will of the wind and the weight of the coming rain.

Follow Mark Winkler @giantblackdog

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Farah Ahamed and Sarah Waiswa joint winners of Gerald Kraak 2017 Award

Gerald Kraak


Sarah Waiswa and Farah Ahamed

The Other Foundation and the Jacana Literary Foundation recently hosted the presentation of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Prize and the launch of Pride and Prejudice: the Gerald Kraak Anthology of African Perspectives on Gender, Social Justice, and Sexuality, at Hyde Park’s Exclusive Books’ Social Kitchen and Bar.

The MC for the evening, Kojo Baffoe, proclaimed that “tonight is about celebrating Gerald Kraak’s legacy.”

Pride and Prejudice is a collection of the short-listed entries to the inaugural award, named after Gerald Kraak (1956–2014), who was a passionate champion of social justice and an anti-apartheid activist.

“This book is a shelter, a place where slums are not art, they are simply where we live. It’s a place where albinos are not unicorns, they are only beautiful and ordinary. And it’s a place where gays are pained and also completely conventional. In this book, strange choppers fly and Africa is a landscape not simply for the past but for projections of the future,” says Sisonke Msimang, Editor in Chief and Head Judge.

The Gerald Kraak Award is a joint initiative between The Other Foundation and the Jacana Literary Foundation.

A judging panel made up of distinguished gender activist Sisonke Msimang, prominent social and political analyst Eusebius McKaiser and leading African feminist Sylvia Tamale selected thirteen finalists.

“The stories in the anthology fight for what is just and right,” Baffoe asserted.

Research co-coordinator for The Other Foundation, Samuel Shapiro, announced that Pride and Prejudice is the first of five anthologies to come about celebrating the LGBTQI community in Africa.

After the attendees were treated to a performance by Danielle Bowler, Msimang delivered a televised message to all the entrants, lauding them for their creativity and “bad-ass” approach to discussing gender and sexuality in Africa.

Matele announced the joint winners for the anthology: Farah Ahamed (Fiction, Kenya) for her short story “Poached Eggs” and Sarah Waisman (Photography, Kenya) for her photo series “Stranger in a Familiar Land.”

“Poached Eggs” is described as a subtle, slow and careful rendering of the everyday rhythms of domestic terror that pays homage to the long history of women’s resistance; yet with wit and humour and grit, the story also sings of freedom, of resistance and the desire to be unbound.

“Stranger in a Familiar Land” showcases the best of African storytelling. The images take risks, and speak to danger and subversion. At the same time they are deeply rooted in places that are familiar to urban Africans. The woman in this collection is a stand-in for all of us.

All 13 entries which were shortlisted will be published in the anthology. The overall winner will receive a cash prize of R25 000.