Literature

Celebrating 8 of the Most Influential Black South African Women Writers

These phenomenal black women changed South Africa's literary game.

We’re just a few days away from Women’s Month in South Africa—a time to reflect on the strong, courageous and brilliant women of South Africa’s past and present. With regard to literature, Kopano Matlwa, Panashe Chigumadzi and Lebo Mashile are dominating the country’s writing scene. But it’s also important to remember and celebrate the black women writers that paved the way. Below, we take a look at just a few of the many influential black women writers, young and old alike, whose work changed South Africa’s literary game.


Miriam Tlali

It’s only right to start this list with Miriam Tlali, the first black woman in South Africa to publish a novel, "Muriel at Metropolitan", in 1975. The Apartheid government banned the semi-autobiographical work in 1979, though it went on to be published internationally under the title "Between Two Worlds". Tlali's second novel, "Amandla", was also banned.

A pioneer of South African literature in the most heroic sense, Tlali’s work documents the trying times of black South Africans under the oppressive apartheid regime. Tlali, 82, has been honoured with some of the country's highest accolades in writing and the arts, including the Literary Lifetime Achievement Award and the presidential order of the Ikhamanga in Silver.

Sindiwe Magona

The work of Umtata-born, Gugulethu-raised literary legend Sindiwe Magona reflects experiences of impoverishment, femininity, resisting oppression and domestic work in the days of apartheid. It speaks to the hardships of black South African women back then—a painful yet necessary history. Her works include "Mother to Mother", "To my Children's Children" and "Please, Take Photographs". Magona's most recent novel, "Beauty's Gift" (2008), is an earnest interrogation of the stigma around HIV/AIDS in South African society as well as the role of patriarchy entrenched in African culture.

In an interview with Elaine Salo, of the African Gender Institute, Magona attributes her passion for writing to having observed how few black female writers there were—five to be exact—during her time as a student, as well as having identified the need for black voices during the tumultuous period of Apartheid South Africa. Magona, 72, has also been awarded the order of the Ikhamanga in Bronze in recognition of her contribution to literature.

Angelina Sithebe

Photo by Imani K Tsotetsi.

Soweto-born geologist-turned-novelist Angelina Sithebe is perhaps best known for her 2007 debut novel, "Holy Hill", and the humorous short story collection, "Target Life". "Holy Hill" is an evocative work which highlights the way in which children are raised in South African society and delves, at times uncomfortably, into issues of religion, xenophobia and crime. Sithebe was shortlisted for the world's richest literary prize for a single work, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Angela Makholwa

Photo courtesy of Angela Makholwa.

Angela Makholwa is regarded as the first black author to write crime fiction in South Africa. Her debut novel, "Red Ink", is a psychological thriller that tells the story of fictional public relations consultant and ex-journalist, Lucy Khambule, as she investigates a horrifying series of rapes and murders in Johannesburg. Makholwa followed this up with "The 30th Candle", an exploration into the sexuality of women in modern times. "The Black Widow Society" followed shortly afterwards and is set around a secret organisation established by three black businesswomen in an effort to liberate women from abusive relationships by carrying out hits on their abusive partners. Makholwa was recently shortlisted for both the Alan Paton Award as well as the Barry Ronge Fiction prize.

Lebogang Mashile

Photo by Andile Buka.

American-born Lebogang Mashile is probably the first name that comes to mind when thinking about a female writer making colossal waves in the poetry space. Her unique hip-hop style delivery has earned her award after award, including the prestigious Noma for her first anthology, In a Ribbon of Rhythm. The panel of judges described the work as having a “distinct oral flavour, developing oral poetry and performance beyond the boundaries of the poetry of the era of resistance.” Mashile went on to publish her second anthology, Flying Above the Sky, with most of the work centreing on the dynamic of the "rainbow nation" post-Apartheid and the status of women in South Africa.

Panashe Chigumadzi

Photo by Tarryn Hatchett.

Zimbabwean-born Panashe Chigumadzi is the founder and editor of Vanguard, an online magazine that offers young, aspiring writers the space to tackle themes central to black people free from censorship. Her recently-published debut novel, "Sweet Medicine", is set in Harare, and explores the journey undertaken by a young black Catholic girl in an effort to find romance and financial security through worldly means. It further explores feminism, patriarchy, political freedom and poverty in the post-colonial era.

Zukiswa Wanner

Photo by Lisa Skinner.

A journalist and novelist, Zukiswa Wanner is perhaps best known for "Men of the South", "The Madams" and "Behind Every Successful Man". In her books she explores issues affecting black men and women in contemporary South Africa, including the relationship between white and black people, affirmative action, homosexuality, gender norms and the pressures of city life. Wanner, who was born in Lusaka to a South African father and a Zimbabwean mother, has an uncanny ability to offer insight into life in new South Africa in both a humorous and light-hearted manner.

Kopano Matlwa

Source: Kopano Matlwa's Twitter

Kopano Matlwa, a medical graduate, received the European Literary Award for her 2007 debut novel, "Coconut." It centres on the lives of two black female characters born and raised in white suburbs and explores their journey as young women in a new South Africa. In her 2010 novel, "Spilt Milk", she provocatively explores African cultural dynamics in the face of an interracial love affair between an upright school principal and a disgraced former priest.

Rufaro Samanga is an intellectual, aspiring literary great, feminist and most importantly, a fiercely passionate African.

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Photo via TONL

'Suffering and Smiling': Is Nigeria Driving Its People Mad?

Reckoning with Nigeria's struggle for better mental health.

I have just come off a good high from the marijuana joint I had smoked previously to help with the anxiety that greets me every time I remember amongst other things that my mandatory year of National Youth Service is coming to a close. The NYSC has been a refuge for me and many other graduates in Nigeria. The fact that it was almost the only way I could stay busy while earning a meagre but steady income was consolation enough.

Welcome to Nigeria where one of our most popular phrases "Many are mad, but few are roaming" carries more weight than the promises of politicians in campaign season. A country with a population estimated to be over two hundred million and growing rapidly with a youthful majority. Like other developing nations, the statistics on mental health is either overestimated to fit a certain narrative or underwhelming owing to factors like poor access to data, impregnable cultural boundaries and a host of other issues. Nigerians have rapidly moved from being one of the happiest people to being some of the most depressed.

Last week, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal ministry of health, Abdulaziz Abdullahi, announced that around 60 million people, or 20 to 30 percent of the population suffers one form of mental disorder. This news coming from a ministry that has failed to resolve issues of ill-equipped public hospitals and fails to curb the brain drain in its sector for over a decade raises questions as to what parameters were employed to reach such conclusions. However, if this estimate is anything to go by, there is cause for alarm.

As I write this, I remember reading on my Twitter timeline a phrase "post graduate depression" which is one of the most popular mental health challenges facing the educated populace. The uncertainties of the Nigerian economy can be daunting, as if the pressures endured to be excellent at university wasn't bad enough. The most popular way out is to leave for greener pastures in faraway lands.

While it is a struggle to make ends meet in a country that was just recently annointed the poorest nation in the world, Nigerians are also faced with an image problem. Besides the few but potent citizens involved in various illegal activities both home and abroad, our poor image has been further compounded by our president in his unwavering brash remarks about the youth and the citizens of Nigeria. Being Nigerian has never been harder than it is at the moment.

Photo via TONL

Like with any other nation, use of narcotics has always been a go-to activity for the many that suffer from the various forms of mental illnesses. From alcohol to codeine use to even prescription overdose, people that suffer mental illnesses have embraced drugs as a coping mechanism rather than face the shame that comes with their struggles in a society ridden with religious and cultural fanaticism. We live in a society where almost every constraint is seen as a spiritual attack from unseen enemies or demons that must be prayed away or in extreme cases require "deliverance." This has driven a lot of the youth to keep their mental illnesses a secret. They would rather just keep "suffering and smiling" a phrase popularized by Afrobeat legend, Fela Kuti to describe the coping mechanism of the majority of Nigerians.

I remember talking to a friend and she asked me "How do I tell my mother that I'm depressed?" I was as confused as she was because I didn't even know how to tell her about my anxiety and suicidal thoughts either and we are really good friends. In as much as my parents may love me, every time I've tried to make them understand how I feel, I'm met with a brick wall and all I ever get is "You're a man, you can't be lazy about things."

Over time, I've come to understand that it is in no way their fault because until I got older and got exposed to better information on the internet and personal research, I wasn't able to fully grasp what depression or anxiety was. The reality is that even some of our parents suffer these mental illnesses but they mask it with a strong demeanor. They have become so accustomed to this practice owing to years of so-called practice.

Recent celebrity deaths have further exposed people to the fact that a lot of people suffer in silence. From Avicii to Mac Miller to the recent passing of South African rapper, HHP, users of various internet platforms have been exposed to the realities of mental illnesses. Social media and the information on the internet has, for Nigerians, popularized professional psychiatrists and psychotherapists. And while access to the service of professionals has been simplified over time, it is still an expensive indulgence as proper treatment can take hundreds of hours in therapy sessions. In the new poverty capital of the world, only a few people can afford such luxuries.

It is the hope however that the next administration would give attention to the health sector in the country to augment the efforts of the non-governmental organizations and charity groups that have taken up the drive to help the less privileged manage mental health in their small ways. There is need for safe spaces where people can discuss and reassure themselves that they are not alone in the struggle for better mental health.

Oladimeji Adewale is a freelance music and culture writer who runs an Independent music label—Mokanla 11—in his free time. He resides in Lagos, Nigeria. You can reach him via Twitter.

Music
Seun Kuti at Felabration. Photo: OkayAfrica.

The 10 Best African Music Festivals

Here are ten of the best music festivals to experience across the African continent, including both established stages and newer productions.

African music, in all its genres and forms, has one of the largest congregations in the world, with millions of people both on the continent and in the diaspora celebrating their love and connection to their culture through sound. Despite the rapid digitization of our music consumption through the internet and streaming services, nothing will ever beat the experience of live music.

Music festivals have become a great inlet into the arts and cultures of the societies that host them, while offering great potential to local economies and countless business opportunities for African artists to grown their brands. Yet this pivotal part of the music experience on the continent is never really prioritized, despite the vast number of festival with diverse genres available all year round, all over Africa.

Therefore, in no particular order, here are ten African music festivals to bookmark.

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Arts + Culture

This Stunning Series of Self-Portraits Explores Love And The Concept of Letting Go

Cape Town photographer Meet The Internet shares a few images from her exhibition.

Cape Town photographer Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana, who is known online as "Meet The Internet," does not take the topic of love lightly. "Most of us rushed into it," she says, "and we started dating without understanding what love is."

Her latest photography series, Love Through My Eyes is, is a reflection on how people around her deal with love, from staying in toxic relationships because they fear being alone, to those who build walls around themselves in fear of heartbreak and are hence unlovable.

"We come from broken families," says Ngqoyiyana. "Some with no fathers at all, so we go out yearning to be loved by a man and pray for better experiences than what we see our mothers go through. We get our fair share of hurt, we watch people come to our lives, we share our bodies with them and when it's enough for them they leave. We even start understanding and forgiving the cycle."

This cycle is reflected in the photos. In most of them, the color red is prevalent, symbolic for love. And the main subject, which is the photographer herself, is elusive, hiding her face either with a mask or red ropes, which could symbolize the blinding effect of love and how it can suffocate you.

Ngqoyiyana wants the images to focus on both sides of love. "I like the concept of balloons," she says, "because from a young age it kinda teaches us the concept of holding on to something and letting go. Obviously letting go is never fun, hence we cried when we would see our balloons fly away."

Ngqoyiyana got into photography by taking behind the scenes photos in music video sets. Her first gig as a photographer was a matric ball, and she recently started directing music videos.

The photos for Love Through My Eyes took "roughly three weeks" to make, and are all self-portraits. A confessed shy person, for a long time Ngqoyiyana wasn't happy with her appearance. "I can be whoever I want to be with self-portraits, and I am not so conscious about the way I look," she says.

"When I started taking pictures I was at a stage in my life where I was depressed and anxious, because I didn't have a career, and with no tertiary education," says Ngqoyiyana. "I felt I was "wasting away," she says. "Self-portraits were more of an escape, or a 'pretend like I am doing more than I actually am.' But after seeing the reception on the Internet, I did more."

Love Through My Eyes ran for a day on the 10th of November in Observatory, Cape Town. As a result of the amazing reception, says Ngqoyiyana, more prints of her work are on the way.

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana


Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Follow Meet The Internet on Instagram and Facebook.

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