Zakes Mda and Hugh Masekela chat about life, arts and everything else

A snapshot of the South African Book Fair 2017

The South African Book Fair 2017 was hosted in Johannesburg from September 8-10. The festival theme was #OURSTORIES.

It was a lit few days as some of the best known authors and others in the literary scene converged on Johannesburg for the South African Book Fair 2017. The list of the people see and interact with at Museum Africa would make any bibliophile weep with joy. Some of the people who were to be espied at this festival were Prof Zakes Mda the festival headliner, Sindiwe Magona, Hugh Masekela, Natalia Molebatsi, Niq Mhlongo, Lebo Mashile, Elinor Sisulu, Unathi Magubeni, Nthikeng Mohlele, Angela Makholwa, and Lidudumalingani Mqombothi. From outside South African borders there were Lola Shoneyin, Mukoma wa Ngugi, Adebayo Ayobami, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, and many more.

The One-on-one interviews with authors were a hugely popular aspect of the book fair. Some of those who were interviewed about their work were Jay Naidoo, Deon Meyer, Somizi Mhlongo, Mukoma wa Ngugi, and Zakes Mda. One of the more memorable ones had to be the festival headliner was Zakes Mda and he delivered.

“The South African Book Fair is a celebration, firstly of a culture of reading, and secondly a culture of writing. The latter can only flow from the former. By a culture of reading I mean an environment where we have embraced the habit of reading in our personal lives and are intensely engaged with the written word in its diverse forms. Reading becomes a culture when it has been internalized into a way of life, and has become a popular form of family entertainment,” said Mda

Stressing the importance of exploring alternative avenues for the survival of the book, he said: “To be a great writer, you have to be a great reader. We need to adapt to the kwaito music distribution system in literature. We cannot rely on book stores alone because they do not reach the masses.”

When the authors were not on doing one on one interviews they were doing discussions amongst themselves. Ayòbámi Adébáyò, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi and Yewande Omotoso for instance gave attendees a view into forthcoming literature being brewed on the continent.

Then there was Deon Meyer, Ayòbámi Adébáyò, Lola Shoneyin, Fiona Melrose and Somizi Mhlongo walking down memory lane to help them reconstruct the stories they have made and that have made them.

“We (black people) are constantly in denial of the sprits that guide us. When you are a spiritual person, you know when things will come to pass I am a perfect example that it is never too late to have your time to shine,” Somizi said.

This is South Africa so you would expect for there to be a discussion on racism and colonialism. The racism hot potato was handled by Gugulethu Mhlungu, Zimitri Erasmus, and Khadija Patel with their session “Racism, the immovable stain” where they discussed racism, its seeming intractability over the ages, and ‘what comes next’.  There was also a panel called “The Long Shadow: Colonialism, corruption and Apartheid” which saw Hennie van Vuuren (author of Apartheid Guns and Money), Mandla Langa and Michael Schmidt in discussion.

Then there was Poetry. The Poetry Café was also a big draw with some of the most loved poetic voices in South Africa and further afield coming together to discuss their craft as well as perform their poems. Some of the poets seen over the days of the fair were Lebo Mashile, Mbali Vilakazi, Natalia Molebatsi, Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Hitman CEO, Lorraine Sithole Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Nick Mulgrew and Koleka.

The academy was also represented by Melvin Kaabwe, Christa Kuljian, Simamkele Dlakavu, and Grace Musila who spoke about why it mattered that we shifted from the Western gaze and how this can be done effectively.

It wasn’t just poetry, prose and academia who were represented at this festival. There was events designated for younger children like the National Book Week Magic Tent, children’s theatre with the play James and the Giant Peach, and more. For young adult readers there was the a workshop on creative writing for teens by Athambile Masola as well as Loyiso Mkize and Clyde Beech the creators of Kwezi, the African superhero, talking about the journey of comic-creation.


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