CityPress - - News - ZAMAYIRHA PETER [email protected]­press.co.za

Af­ter her ap­pear­ance at this week’s Abantu Book Fes­ti­val – held at Eyethu Life­style Cen­tre in Mo­folo, Soweto – Nige­rian au­thor and fem­i­nist Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie has promised to re­turn for more. Adichie, who was one of the event’s most an­tic­i­pated guests, drew an over­flow of at­ten­dees to her ses­sion on Fri­day. She was in con­ver­sa­tion with fem­i­nist, au­thor and aca­demic Pro­fes­sor Pumla Gqola.

The ses­sion be­gan later than ex­pected, thanks to the cur­rent South African re­al­ity of tech­ni­cal glitches brought on by load shed­ding. But the ex­cited au­di­ence waited pa­tiently and re­sponded en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to award-win­ning sto­ry­teller Mama Gcina Mhlophe, who led the room in song and im­promptu lit­er­ary games.

Young black women, men and members of the LGBTQI com­mu­nity, thrilled at the prospect of see­ing the fig­ure who has in­flu­enced their fem­i­nism, cheered as the es­teemed au­thor fi­nally took to the stage. Clicks and laugh­ter punc­tu­ated her con­ver­sa­tion with Gqola as au­di­ence members re­acted to Adichie’s com­ments about her work and ex­pe­ri­ences.

They also used the op­por­tu­nity to ask her about her fem­i­nist views and her opin­ion of trans women. This af­ter an in­ter­view on Bri­tain’s Chan­nel 4 News in which she had said: “When peo­ple talk about, ‘Are trans women women?’, my feel­ing is trans women are trans women.”

Crit­ics said her re­marks im­plied that trans women were not real women – a stereo­type that trans­gen­der peo­ple of­ten have to con­tend with.

So, when asked to clar­ify the above state­ment at the Abantu Book Fes­ti­val, Adichie said: “I think trans women make a fine ar­gu­ment for fem­i­nism. We shouldn’t be lim­ited by the bod­ies we are born with.”

The au­thor also used the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain her ini­tial re­luc­tance to re­turn to South Africa.

“My first visit in South Africa was the rea­son I be­came hes­i­tant to re­turn. I was not get­ting South Africa and I had read so much about it. When I was grow­ing up, it [apartheid] was a thing. My par­ents and aca­demics talked about it, and Man­dela was this icon.

“And then I came here and peo­ple were telling me: ‘Well, now it’s a rain­bow na­tion – blacks, whites and In­di­ans. I went to Robben Is­land and a for­mer prison guard said he is an­gry at the new South Africa … And then I went to Cape Town.

“I’ve been to Ghana, been to Kenya … there’s an Africa in­fra­struc­ture that’s fa­mil­iar.

I got to Cape Town and I was con­fused.

“But my sec­ond visit was much bet­ter. I get ex­cited by things many may view as silly.

For ex­am­ple, the driver who picked me up from the air­port: I learnt he could talk eight of the 11 of­fi­cial lan­guages; he was on the phone and kept us­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and that ex­cited me. On top of this, I now feel like black peo­ple in South Africa are start­ing to em­brace them­selves and own it.”

The in­ter­views that Adichie led with two for­mer US first ladies – Michelle Obama, in Lon­don this week; and Hil­lary Clin­ton, in New York back in April – were also probed.

Gqola asked for Adichie’s re­sponse to her crit­ics, who had slammed her for be­ing “too charm­ing and re­served in hold­ing them [Obama and Clin­ton] ac­count­able”.

A vis­i­bly sur­prised Adichie be­gan by say­ing she was not ex­posed to cri­tiques of her until they gen­er­ated a loud noise, as she is not on so­cial me­dia. She said she was proud to have been seen as charm­ing, re­fer­ring to her two in­ter­vie­wees as women she loves and ad­mires – “un­apolo­get­i­cally so”.

While agree­ing that the two women were flawed, she said this did not change her love and high re­gard for them, ad­ding that she saw no rea­son to hold the wives of con­tro­ver­sial fig­ures re­spon­si­ble for the de­ci­sions of their spouses who were in of­fice.

Adichie also de­scribed how she wanted to craft a fem­i­nism rooted in pre­colo­nial Africa. Rather than be­ing drawn to fem­i­nist the­ory, she said she was a sto­ry­teller more in­ter­ested in peo­ple’s day-to-day lived ex­pe­ri­ences. She also en­cour­aged the in­clu­sion of men and boys in con­ver­sa­tions on fem­i­nism.

As the con­ver­sa­tion neared its end, she warned au­di­ences against idol­is­ing pub­lic fig­ures and not giv­ing them space to evolve or have faults.


LIT­ER­ARY ICON Nov­el­ist and fem­i­nist Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie at the Abantu Book Fes­ti­val in Soweto Book lovers lis­ten in­tently to a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie and Pumla Gqola

CLASS ACT Singer Lira belts out her set

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