Natalia Molebatsi is a writer, performance poet, workshop facilitator and programme director who has presented shows such as An Evening with Alice Walker, Urban Voices International Spoken Word Festival, and an evening with the father of Ehio-jazz, Mulatu Astatke.
The Tembisa-born and raised Natalia has performed in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Holland, Italy, Nigeria, Senegal, Arzerbaijan and England. She is founding member of the South African/Italian band Soul Making.
GeosiReads: You were born and raised in Tembisa, a place I lived briefly while working in Irene. Has anything changed about Tembisa since the end of apartheid?
Natalia Molebatsi: A few things have changed but a whole lot of other things have gotten worse. We never had to deal with the scourge of HIV and AIDS as we are now. The promises were not fulfilled. There are however more spaces as compared to the past for black people and women. We understand though that we have to still decolonize the mind, and make hard work the ethic for everything we do. The fact that South African wordsmiths can still speak their mind and spit truth to power, means that an element of our very perfect constitution is in our favour. And we need to stand guard to ensure that it stays that way. Poetry (and art in general) allows us to shift the status quo, and to open up dialgue.
GeosiReads: Growing up in Tembisa, were there any poets around the place that sparkled your interest to write poetry?
Natalia Molebatsi: Not really, but I remember seeing at a rally in the late 80s Mzwakhe Mbuli who recited protest poetry. He really envoked some fire in my little brain. It was the voice, the agency that was there. I was however captivated by literature as a whole. My contemporaries, the Feela Sistah Collective sparked a lot in my heart and mind with regards to how I wanted to express myself. The collective was cofounded by 4 friends, Myesha Jenkins, Lebo Mashile, Napo Masheane and Ntsiki Mazwai, who all gave voice to the words and dreams of black girls from Townships. At home, my grandmother was my muse, she was more of a praise poet who didn’t write her words but spoke them with the most amazing eloquence.
GeosiReads: You are founding member of the South African/Italian band ‘Soul Making’. What is it about Soul Making?
Natalia Molebatsi: Soul Making is the fusion of traditions in music and in artistic genre. We use poetry and different types of music to bring enjoyment to poetry. We are from different continents and backgrounds but thanks to art we can bring our synergies together.
GeosiReads: How would you distinguish between your poetry works and that of your Soul Making band?
Natalia Molebatsi: i do solo work but when it is with the band the musicality and rhythm are escalated, and also in poetry I write about random things and experiences that just cant escape memory and attention, but with the band, I also write to their music, which brings a different layer to the experience of writing and speaking words, where meaning is negotiated between the two genres.
GeosiReads: Does ‘form’ play an integral part of your poems?
Natalia Molebatsi: No! poems come, and then I do try to work a variety of ways to bring them into life. Obviously I pay attention to form and structure for example, but no restrictions. I just ensure that the existence of each word and line are defendable.
GeosiReads: I am wondering if you could share your actual habits of writing? What do you consider the best time to write?
Natalia Molebatsi: I write in the wee hurs of the morning. I write when all else is still. But because I have a rough schedule, I am greatful for any moment that presents itself. Some ideas come up when I am on the road driving for example, and if I don’t have a recorder to speak into, then I stop my car (where it is safe) and start writing… Many ideas come up when my mind is about to switch off, so I always try to have a journal, or piece of paper and pen next to the bed. I ensure that each and every room in my home has a pen and journal, the bathroom, the kitchen, even out in the garden. That way I have a ready space that can keep my ideas and thoughts. Like many writers I also write while reading inspirational writers who craft their writing so well, such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Lola Shoyenin and James Baldwin.
GeosiReads: You’ve presented a number of shows including An Evening with Alice Walker, Urban Voices International Spoken Word Festival and a host of others. Do you have a favorite and why?
Natalia Molebatsi: Hosting the Evening with Alice Walker was the highlight of my career. I was so excited to bring this daughter of the soil to the people, and also because throughout the years I had read and was captivated by the way in which Alice uses language, and her high ability to tell stories, our stories, especially as women.
GeosiReads: Your poetry book, Sardo Dance was published by Ge’ko Publishing, 2009. Can you recall how you got your first book published?
Natalia Molebatsi: I was ready to share my work with the world. I was travelling into different compartments of life and the world. I was seeing people in their little centers and corners. I was inspired by the colours of life and of the people and their languages. The poems are a collection of stories as experienced on the woman’s body and mind, not only where I was raised but everywhere I had the opportunity to go into….
GeosiReads: One of my favorite line in you poem the mute also speak is today silence is louder. Under what circumstance(s) did you write this poem?
Natalia Molebatsi: The poem was written after watching the South African Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which was about opening up about apartheid – the perpetrators and the victims were placed in one space in order to face the truth, as well as apologise, and find peace… In all this superficial spectacle, I watched how some of these women who had lost their loved ones through the evils of apartheid. They said no word. But their silence would scream and break the walls. Some women’s response to the perpetrators was to faint, or just rivers of tears. In their tears and silence, one thing was clear: they were angry, and they would not forget. It is this silence when the commissioners asked the victims to respond to something, that kept me awake at night, the silent stares were so large. Have you ever seen/heard silence become to overwhelmingly loud, and long and unavoidable? Their silence was speaking truth to power these women, who were mainly illiterate, their silence was in many ways, in protest.
GeosiReads: Many writers in South Africa have complained about the slow patronage of books by African writers. Is it the same situation for poetry books?
Natalia Molebatsi: I think everything has its own beginnings. And when it comes to poetry, I can say that poets are publishing their work, more than they are in novels as in the rest of the continent. I think that poetry happens within the euphoria of “new freedom”, because it is immediate, and urgent… I think that most writers start writing poems before they move into fiction and prose, which is what I think is happening in South Africa currently.
GeosiReads: Permit me to put you on the spotlight. You are an acclaimed performance poet. Would you one day turn to write fiction or novels?
Natalia Molebatsi: I would love to. I actually have some work that I was compiling for the past two years, but the computer in which this work was kept was stolen before I could even explore it. Such is the world we live in. That would not stop me though, it would just teach me to have back up files.