Day Five from the Time of the Writer Festival, South Africa

Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre

Friday, March 23 marked the fifth day of the Time of the Writer Festival. The evening programme as usual took place at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. The programme started with the Bhenga Boyz entertaining the audience with a dramatic dance – Pantsula. Afterwards, there was a presentation of Time of the Writer Schools Short Story Awards to deserving students. Egyptian writer Bahaa Taher was called upon to present the awards. What fascinated me about this award was that prizes were given to entries from both English and other local languages like Zulu and Afrikaans.

Right afterwards, the first panel discussion kicked off. The topic for discussion was ‘Speaking in our own Tongues’. The facilitator between the two writers was Siphiwo Mahala and the two writers were David wa Maahlamela and Dunisani Sibiya both from South Africa. David sat to the right of the facilitator and Dumisani sat to the left. As the topic for discussion explains for itself, both writers appear to write in their local languages. While David writes mainly in Sepedi, Dumisani writes in isiZulu. The facilitator started off by introducing the writers to the audience and then went on to talk about the various languages in South Africa.

The two writers read portions of their books and translated them into English.

The questions asked the two writers ranged from African names given to characters in books to publishing books in the local languages. One of the important questions asked the writers was on why they have decided to write in their mother tongues. David answered by saying that ‘we are indigenous people because we speak in indigenous languages.’ He went on to talk about how their works are marginalised. He also said that he writes in both languages and his wish is to excel in both so that nobody says they are against English.

There was a fifteen minutes break before the second panel discussion began. Ghanaian-Jamaican writer, Kwame Dawes was the facilitator between the two writers: Sefi Atta (Nigeria) and Leila Marouane (Algeria/France). The topic for discussion was ‘Outside Looking In’. Kwame Dawes started off by asking the writers where they would want to be buried. Sefi Atta answered by saying that she would want to be cremated and have her ashes sprinkled in Nigeria. On the part of Leila, she said she had never thought of it but would love to have a grave in Paris, near her best author. The discussion went on and on and then the audience were given the chance to ask questions.

As usual, I enjoyed the evening. It was a great evening indeed!

2 Responses to Day Five from the Time of the Writer Festival, South Africa

  1. Sounds like an interesting evening, Geosi! I am so lucky that I can write in my mother tongue without having to think about it. So many people have to make that terrible choice between writing in their own language and being marginalised, or writing in English to reach a wider audience. It’s very unfair. I admire writers like Ngugi for writing in Gikuyu, but he only did that after he became world-famous – would he have had such success if he’d written in Gikuyu from the start? It’s a very hard choice for a writer to have to make.


    • Geosi says:

      Thanks for letting me know that Ngugi wrote in Gikuyu only when he became a world-famous. I have never known that and if that’s true you making a brilliant point.


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