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CityPress - - News - CHARL BLIGNAUT charl.blignaut@city­

It was the most goose­bump-in­duc­ing so­cial of the year and eas­ily the most lit book event I’ve at­tended. A who’s who of black writ­ers, po­ets and sto­ry­tellers trav­elled from all over the coun­try and con­ti­nent to Soweto this week for the in­au­gu­ral Abantu Book Fes­ti­val to dis­cuss de­coloni­sa­tion and black life in the lit­er­ary sphere.

With tick­ets free dur­ing the day and cost­ing only R20 at night and free hot food at the ses­sions, vis­i­tors ar­riv­ing at the of­fi­cial open­ing on Thurs­day night at the Soweto The­atre in Jab­u­lani were met by a truly fes­tive at­mos­phere.

Spo­ken-word artist and em­cee Lebo Mashile an­nounced that, in the spirit of trans­for­ma­tion, only women would per­form at the open­ing. Dry book read­ings, th­ese were not.

Peo­ple were on their feet with fists in the air from the mo­ment the first song was per­formed by po­lit­i­cal, jazzy out­fit Zuko Col­lec­tive, whose ver­sion of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika be­came an an­them of the #FeesMustFall protests. Koleka Pu­tuma, whose dev­as­tat­ing poem Wa­ter, about black peo­ple’s re­la­tion­ship with the beach and the sea, went as vi­ral as a poem can go dur­ing the Penny Spar­row saga, had au­di­ence mem­bers groan­ing and amen-ing. Po­lit­i­cal writ­ers Euse­bius McKaiser and Fred Khu­malo, fal­list Si­mamkele Dlakavu, and nov­el­ists Thando Mgqolozana and Zuk­iswa Wan­ner cheered from the stands. But the star of the show was sto­ry­teller “Doc­tor Sis” Gcina Mh­lope, who sang, stomped, ul­u­lated, joked and spoke from the heart in one of the most un­con­ven­tional key­note ad­dresses ever heard in the book world. With the au­di­ence en­thralled, Mh­lope re­counted her life story – from the free­dom to per­form be­hind the wa­ter­fall near the home in which she was born, to meet­ing Maya An­gelou in the USA – all the while weav­ing tales of for­got­ten South African women. Her lec­ture cul­mi­nated in the au­di­ence bond­ing while declar­ing: “I am bea-uuu-ti­ful”. Or­gan­iser Panashe Chigu­madzi had to keep painfully shy founder and co-or­gan­iser Thando Mgqolozana from flee­ing the stage while clos­ing the open­ing event. “Are we al­lowed to be this free? Is it even le­gal?” asked Mashile at the cul­mi­na­tion of the event, prompt­ing joy­ful tears and pump­ing fists.


CAINE PRIZE WIN­NER AND COM­PANY Bril­liant young writer Lidudu­mali ngani Mqom­bothi and Jen­nifer Malec at Mo­folo in Soweto ear­lier in the day BLACK LIKE ME Abantu Book Fes­ti­val cu­ra­tor Panashe Chigu­madzi with writ­ers Sabelo Mcinz­iba and Malaika wa Aza­nia BEAU­TI­FUL MINDS Abantu Book Fes­ti­val founder and nov­el­ist Thando Mgqolozana and au­thor Bon­gani Madondo THREE GEN­ER­A­TIONS The stars of the of­fi­cial open­ing of the Abantu Book Fes­ti­val: poet Koleka Pu­tuma, spo­ken-word artist Lebo Mashile and sto­ry­teller Gcina Mh­lope ARE WE EVEN AL­LOWED TO BE THIS FREE? Spo­ken-word artist and em­cee of the of­fi­cial open­ing of the Abantu Book Fes­ti­val, Lebo Mashile TAKE A BOW Or­gan­is­ers of the Abantu Book Fes­ti­val Thando Mgqolozana and Panashe Chigu­madzi at the Soweto The­atre

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