Abantu Festival 2018

A snapshot of the Abantu Book Festival 2018.

The third edition of what is quickly becoming Southern Africa’s premier literary festival, the Abantu Book Festival 2018, was hosted in Soweto, South Africa from December 6-9, 2018.

The Abantu Book Festival was founded in 2016 for black readers, writers, performers, scholars, publishers, booksellers, and abantu interested in literature. It was a revolutionary idea by those who decided to disengage themselves from a colonial literary system that they felt failed to see them as human beings.

The first edition of that festival would become one of the hottest events of that year with artists from all over the continent converging on Soweto. The 2017 edition would continue on this trajectory with a line-up that was just as impressive as the previous year’s.

2018 promised just as much awesomeness as some of the most beloved authors, poets and other literary players were invited to the Southern African nation. The festival would kick off on December 6 at the Soweto Theatre hosted by Lebo Mashile with a keynote address by Bibi Bakare-Yusuf as well as performances of poetry by Mxolisi Mtshali and music by the Zuko Collective.

Bibi Bakare-Yusuf. Photo/Mmuso Mafisa.
Bibi Bakare-Yusuf. Photo/Mmuso Mafisa.

Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, one of the most revolutionary player’s in African literature today, waded into the Nigerian literary community introducing many new names to the African literary lexicon with her Cassava Republic Press. The publisher and academic gave a keynote called “Archival Fever” on something that was close to her heart (and ours) archiving. While many see the archive as something that we refer to from the past, Bakare-Yusuf chooses to see it from a point in the future where those who wanted to see what was happening now. As a publisher, she felt that she was doing important work building the future archive.

“What I am interested in is how we create what I am calling the African archival future which will then form part of a global archive. Publishing for me is therefore essentially the work of archival creation and a potential tool of power and control, a tool that helps to shape how we view ourselves and make sense of the world.”

It was a powerful keynote which you can read in full here. With the festival’s opening night ending, it would be three more days of literary goodness with black people enjoying the best of those who had produced work in the recent past. This would include panels, book and author events, poetry performances, film screenings, events for kids, and workshops at the Soweto Theatre and the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre.


Pumla Dineo Gqola and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Photo/Mmuso Mafisa.
Pumla Dineo Gqola and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Photo/Mmuso Mafisa.

Literary festivals and panels go together like things that go together and there were many this year. The most anticipated was the Friday afternoon conversation between Nigerian author and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, referred by Abantu’s twitter account as the “Beyonce of African writing,” and Prof Pumla Dineo Gqola. Prof Gqola would chat with the Nigerian author on topics like her writing as well as her “cosying” up to Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama as well as her famously controversial statements on the Trans community. You can read about that panel here.

Other panels would include “Self Publishing Success?” which featured Tumelo Moleleki, Dudu Busani-Dube, and Monde Nkasawe moderated by Thabiso Mahalape. Sibongile Fisher would moderate “On Historical Fiction: Broken Rivers and Dance Drills” with panellists Fred Khumalo and Mphuthumi Ntabeni. Nolwazi Tusini would moderate Kgotsi Chikane, Sihle Khumalo, Haji Mohamed Dawjee, and Athi-Nangamso Nkope on a panel titled Breaking The Rainbow.

The Fatuous State of the Sentence: Experimenting With Form would be moderated by Manosa Nthunya with Phumlani Pikoli, Jolyn Philips, Tumelo Buthelezi, and Chwayita Ngamlana as panellists. The Way I Salute You: Celebrating Keorapetse Kgositsile would be a discussion between Lebohang Masango as moderator and Uhuru Phalafala as discussant.

Pushing The Boundaries moderated by Panashe Chigumadzi would have Lola Shoneyin and Novuyo Rosa Tshuma as panellists. Literary scholar Dr Wamui Mbao would moderate The Intimacy of Borders with Sue Nyathi and Ijangolet S Ogwang as panellists. Also discussed was Brown Sense: Molo Mhlaba: Unapologetically Black moderated by Kwezilomso Mbandazayo with Dr Rethabile Mashale Sanibare and Mzuzukile Soni as discussants.

Books and authors.

Noziswe Cynthia Jele with Mmabatho Montsho. Photo/Mmuso Mafisa.
Noziswe Cynthia Jele with Mmabatho Montsho. Photo/Mmuso Mafisa.

It’s a literary do so you can expect conversations featuring authors talking about their books and the themes therein. Grieving While Black, for instance, featured South African writer Nozizwe Cynthia Jele who was returning with a new book The Ones With Purpose moderated by Mmabatho Montsho. Thando Mgqolozana would be moderated by Pumla Dineo Gqola about his seminal work A Man Is Not A Man while Helon Habila moderated House of Stone with Novuyo Rosa Tshuma.

Lesego Semenya would launch his debut cookbook published by Jacana Media Dijo moderated by Phemelo Motene. Motene also moderated the presentation of the book Tjieng Tjang Tjerris by Jolyn Philips. There was The Land Is Ours: Black Lawyers And The Birth of Constitutionalism In South Africa where the author Tembeka Ngcukaitobi was in discussion with Nolundi Luwaya. Penny Lebyane spoke to Esinako Ndabeni and Sihle Mthembu the co-writers of the book Born To Kwaito: Reflections on the Kwaito Generation.

Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun would have the author moderated by Wamui Mbao while Lola Shoneyin would discuss her novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Lives with the Cheeky Natives. Zukiswa Wanner would chat with Tsitsi Dangarembga about her new book This Mournable Body.


Efe Paul Azino. Photo/Mmuso Mafisa.
Efe Paul Azino. Photo/Mmuso Mafisa.

Poetry was a huge part of the Abantu Book Festival like in previous years and festival attendants would see performances by Mxolisi Mtshali, Efe Paul Azino, Jolyn Philips, Diana Ferrus, Busiswe Mahlangu, and Toni Stuart.


The kids segment curated by Gcina Mhlophe would have performances by Cindy Makaza, Charmza Mrwebi, Lebohang Masango, Mapule Mohulatsi, Mzwandile Ntombela, Zanele Ndlovu, and Nompucuko Zakaza.


Fred Khumalo ran a creative writing workshop with a number of emerging writers.

Film Screenings

There were films screened were The Whale Caller based on a novel by South African author Zakes Mda, Zola Maseko’s The Lives and Times of Sarah Baartman, and Simphiwo Mahala’s Can Themba: The Teacher in The Newsroom.


There were performances over the festival period from performers like Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Simphiwe Dana, Ringo Madlingozi, and what could be considered the Abantu house band Zuko Collective.






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