South­ern African writ­ers use the soft power of the pen so that black women’s voices are not erased

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS -

Writ­ing our strug­gles in in­deli­ble ink

How do you pre­pare a wil­ful black girl for a world de­ter­mined to break her?” Pro­fes­sor Pumla Gqola asked the au­di­ence at the launch of her mem­oir Re­flect­ing Rogue. For this South African fem­i­nist writ­ing is a way to shine a light on in­vis­i­ble sto­ries that to­gether can change the way his­tory is per­ceived. As an ac­tivist Gqola has writ­ten and spo­ken at length about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and the coun­try’s rape cul­ture – notably the dis­missed rape case against Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in 2006. The chap­ter en ti­tled ‘Dis­ap­pear­ing Women’ notes the fre­quency with which South African women are mur­dered, ab­ducted or kid­napped, of­ten by their in­ti­mate part­ners. Across the gen­er­a­tions, lit­er­ary voices have am­pli­fied black women’s sto­ries in the face of ef­forts to erase them. They in­clude vet­er­ans like Toni Mor­ri­son and the late Yvonne Vera, but also the trans­gres­sive works of con­tem­po­rary writ­ers like the South African Koleka Pu­tuma and Malaw­ian Upile Chisala. In their po­etry col­lec­tions, Pu­tuma ( Col­lec­tive Amnesia) and Chisala ( soft magic, Nec­tar) wit­ness women in their in­ti­mate spa­ces where they are most vul­ner­a­ble: the kitchen, the bath­room floor, the bed­room and their in­ner thighs. Their work con­veys in­ter­gen­er­a­tional sto­ries of in­her­ited pain, joy, love and trauma, told by their moth­ers and grand­moth­ers. Pu­tuma, in her poem X-mas Din­ner with Skele­tons, writes: “Mad­ness sits at the din­ner ta­ble, too / say­ing grace with one eye open.” The in­ti­mate na­ture in which Gqola, Chisala and Pu­tuma cap­ture black women and hold them gen­tly in their work cre­ates heal­ing texts. Like those that came be­fore them, th­ese po­ets and writ­ers cen­tre black women by con­tin­u­ously find­ing in­no­va­tive and cre­ative ways to speak to their ex­pe­ri­ences, elo­quently re­mind­ing us that black women are not in­vis­i­ble. Le­bo­hang Mo­japelo in Johannesburg

Gqola, Chisala and Pu­tuma cap­ture black women and hold them gen­tly in their work

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