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Abantu Book Festival 2017

Now that the little matter of black people and their curious relationship with books has been laid to rest, maybe the second installment of the Abantu Book Festival can move with speed to address more salient points, like putting books in more hands.

“One of the things that Abantu Book Festival hopes to challenge is this notion that black people don’t read, that they aren’t imaginative, and that they’re not interested in the creative arts,” said Pumla Dineo Gqola around this time last year.

Gqola, a Wits University professor and author of such books as Rape: A South African Nightmare and A Renegade Called Simphiwe, can perhaps rest easy knowing that her books have been flying off the shelves - especially Rape.

She’s also better placed to know how fictional the narrative that blacks don’t read is as natives packed such Festival venues as the Soweto Theatre to the rafters.

This year’s Festival kicks off this Thursday until Sunday 10 December. It is not the purpose of this write-up to encourage you to diarise the dates - you’d just be tempted to follow the crowds!

The book talks proper begin on Friday morning at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre with a discussion of It’s Me, Marah, the autobiography of songstress/actress Marah Louw.

It is the held view of this reporter that the said book ranks among the best gifts to the genre of biography. It is a no-holds barred account of a subject who wrote as if she wanted to slay the holy cows.

It is the account of a life lived to the full - warts and all.

Marah will be in conversation with radio personality Masechaba Mtolo, who comes with a pedigree of great talk radio hosting.

Perhaps the highlight of the day will be the launch of the book Justify the Enemy by the highly decorated Zakes Mda.  

Judging by the unceasing ringing of the tills last year, Mda’s book - and countless others, are bound to feature high on the purchase lists of the bookworms in attendance.

Among the workshops lined up is one aimed at tackling the topic: Turning the Library into a truly African Library.


The Soweto Theatre will host at some point during the four-day Festival the launch of the book The Heart Knows by Florence Masebe.

All reviews so far point to the promise that the actress has poured her heart out into the pages of this book, where she writes about the parental nightmare of losing a child in a [home] swimming incident.

One doesn’t need statisticians to convince one how well these books about tragedy and catharsis sell.

Kopano Matlwa is the embodiment of how well mothers - and fathers, would like to see their girl-children do.

She’s a medical doctor and, at 32, already has three books to her name. She wrote Coconut, Spilt Milk and Period Pain.

On Saturday she will feature in a discussion - Medicine is my wife and writing my mistress; I love them both.

Another topical subject would be: Selling Books While Back, moderated by Kojo Baffoe. It will feature booksellers Nokuthula Helepi from African Flavour Books and Kays Mnguni who co-owns Xarra Books.

It is difficult to single out writers here but everyone from Angela Makholwa, Sihle Khumalo, Nthikeng Mohlele, Sindiwe Magona, Sisonke Msimang, Zukiswa Wanner to … will be in attendance.

Over and above Jacques Pauw’s runaway literary success The President’s Keepers, Those Keeping Zuma In Power And Out Of Prison, this year has also been good to writers of a darker hue.

Mandla Langa recently completed Nelson Mandela’s unfinished memoirs and came up with a title called Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years.     

Langa says: "I’m proud to participate in the Second ABF for the simple reason that this is a homegrown literary festival, which seeks to harness the creativity of local writers together with talent from other jurisdictions. Its very location in Soweto ensures its accessibility to a constituency that’s always been forced to migrate to far-flung venues to listen to authors who, paradoxically, are writing about their lives. This effort to repatriate literary work to the black community is a welcome step and should be emulated and staged in various parts of the country.”  

One other event sure to draw crowds will be the discussion of the book Khwezi by Redi Tlhabi.

She’ll be alongside another female novelist, Mmatshilo Motsei, who wrote on Khwezi and her rape ordeal at the hands of President jacob Zuma.

Motsei’s book The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court marks 10 years since its release.  

Fezekile Ntsukela Kuwayo is bound to come alive during this session that promises feminist fireworks.

But while the adults will be talking all things books and watching films and doccies, the kids are not left out of the Festival. There’s fun aplenty, including art workshops and storytelling.  

Among the performers for the kiddies is the revered story-teller Gcina Mhlophe herself.

Zakes Mda will also read to the kids.  

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