A strong Gra­ham­stown con­nec­tion


Gra­ham­stown has once again stamped its position as one of the ma­jor play­ers and a lit­er­ary place of note. At the me­dia launch of the in­au­gu­ral Abantu Book Festival in Soweto on Wed­nes­day, the Gra­ham­stown con­nec­tion was the strong­est and most vis­i­ble through the pres­ence of a num­ber of writ­ers, linked es­pe­cially to Rhodes Univer­sity and the Na­tional English Lit­er­ary Mu­seum (Nelm) col­lec­tion.

Le­sego Ram­polo­keng, Vangi Gantsho, Malaika wa Aza­nia, Pro­fes­sor Pamela Maseko, Sim­phiwo Ma­hala and An­drew Martin were some of those who were among a num­ber of writ­ers from all over South Africa and Africa. Eli­nor Sisulu, who runs Puku isiXhosa Sto­ry­telling Festival in Gra­ham­stown ev­ery year in Fe­bru­ary and Gcina Mhlophe who has re­cently been awarded an hon­ourary doc­tor­ate by Rhodes Univer­sity, also fea­tured in the beau­ti­fully de­signed black and gold pro­gramme.

The Abantu Book Festival ran from 8 to 10 De­cem­ber at the Eyethu Life­style Cen­tre dur­ing the day, and the Soweto The­atre in the evenings. It was cu­rated by award-win­ning au­thor of Sweet Medicine, Panashe Chigu­madzi.

The festival, ini­ti­ated by out­stand­ing au­thor Thando Mgqolozana, is a dream come true, go­ing back to 2003. Fed-up with beg­ging to be in­te­grated, Mgqolozana is a festival “for peo­ple by the peo­ple”.

“What makes me an­gry?” Mgqolozana ques­tioned him­self. “It is peo­ple who want to ac­cess our books, like our Makhu­lus (grand­par­ents), but are un­able to.”

Mgqolozana main­tains that in­abil­ity to ac­cess is not by ac­ci­dent, but by de­sign. He also quizzes the African lit­er­a­ture sec­tion in li­braries, in an African coun­try.

“Why? We should not be hav­ing these. These re­mind us of the home­land sys­tem,” con­cludes Mgqolozana who has never been afraid to speak out.

Mgqolozana thanked the num­ber of part­ners who have been coura­geous enough to be­lieve in him, Chigu­madzi and the Abantu Book Festival team that such a festival could be suc­cess­fully hosted in the town­ship.

The part­ners in­clude Mandla Tsha­bal­ala who gra­ciously opened his Eyethu Life­style Cen­tre to be used as a host venue, Trace Africa, Kaya FM has been run­ning pod­casts, the Soweto The­atre, the Depart­ment of Arts and Cul­ture, and African Flavour Books who dis­played and sold books of all the au­thors in the pro­gramme. http://www.aban­tu­book­fes­ti­val.co.za

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