Courtesy of Lerato Mogoatlhe

Lerato Mogoatlhe on Her New Travel Memoir, 'Vagabond': "I was accused of being a spy."

The South African writer traveled to 21 African countries over the span of 5 years and says that Mali, Rwanda and Sudan were by far her favorite places.

Eleven years ago, Lerato Mogoatlhe decided that it was time to leave South Africa so she quit her job as an entertainment and lifestyle journalist and flew to Senegal to begin what she thought would be a three month trip. She had always dreamed of traveling Africa, and after an earlier work trip to Ghana, she realized she could not put off her dreams any longer. The three month stint would turn into five years. Her new memoir, Vagabond: Travelling Through Africa on Faith is a chronicle of that trip and the 21 African countries she experienced along the way.

But this is no comfortable travel read. When Mogoatlhe first steps off the plane in Senegal, she has made no plans whatsoever, not even accommodation. What she does have is the unshakable certainty that she is home. Mogoatlhe starts her journey with the strong belief that every other African country, flaws and all, will make her feel just as home as she felt in South Africa.

And so she trusts that everything would eventually figure itself out. From sitting on piers and waiting for someone, anyone, to ask if she needed a place to stay, to running out of cash, Mogoatlhe's written account of her spirited country hopping (as well as the characters she met along the way) is filed with numerous "laugh out loud" moments and leaves one with the burning conviction to go to the places that she has gone and truly experience the unimaginable for oneself.

We sat down with Mogoatlhe to discuss her new travel memoir Vagabond: Travelling Through Africa on Faith and found out why she would rather visit Bujumbura than New York or Paris on any given day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to document your travels in Vagabond: Travelling Through Africa on Faith?

Because I wanted to live forever. I find that for me, because I want to live forever, a book is a way to just bring it all in one place, and present my story, the story of us and the story of who Africans are.

I think, one thing that's very important to me about my identity is that being African is something that I thoroughly love and enjoy, and I have no problems with it. I do have a massive problem with the stereotypes associated with Africans. I have a massive problem with acculturation and the fact that it's so easy for everything you consume to be Americanized or westernized.

You were initially only supposed to stay three months and that extended into five years. Tell me how that happened.

In my fifth month I was in Abidjan and I still didn't feel ready to leave. I thought I needed to start over. As I was thinking about starting over, I was listening to my favorite album Afriki by Habib Kioté—I love him. So I was like, "I guess I'm going to Mali because my favorite artist is performing in Timbuktu in a few like 10 days."

That's how I started over. Only after six months did I really start feeling my travels and start connecting.

Celebrating the inevitable birth of South SudanCourtesy of Lerato Mogoatlhe

You started your journey officially in Senegal. What would you say was the highlight of being there?

It was putting the landlord in his place. He was an unfriendly guy which was weird because you know how Africans are, we like to greet and all that. One time he came knocking knocking on my window screaming for me to get out in French. He wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there. I told him I was a South African journalist travelling the continent.

Eventually he reasoned that I must be telling the truth and asked if a man was paying for my stay. There are many things that a person might be confused about me but do not ever reduce my identity to a man. I just took a table, flipped it and threw it across the yard. Then I just asked him, "Are we finished now? You are wasting my time. I have a dance class to go to."

You're in a "foreign land" and your French is decent, at the very most. What was that moment like for you?

It was liberating. I was just like, "If you are not going to respect me, then fear me. You had a choice." But we kissed and made up. The thing I love about West Africans is that they are drama queens, theatrical, I mean, I'm like so home in West Africa. Theatrics no. So that was the next day I'm just like, "Okay, let me buy kola nuts, take it to his house, and just chat."I told him that it wasn't okay to do what he did. And that was that.

Manuscripts from TimbuktuCourtesy of Lerato Mogoatlhe

How did you fund five years of living across 21 African countries?

I was freelancing as a journalist. I think in terms of some tricks and tools, there's a platform called Couchsurfing where people who want to host travelers sign up. You can just put out a notice that you'll be in the area and you need a place to stay or you can just approach people directly, so that helped me out.

I ate street food a lot, lived very cheaply, and also people are very kind and generous. People would just meet me and be like, "Right, do you have a place to stay? Is it a hotel? Oh no, please girl, you are moving in with my family." All those things.

Pyramid of Giza, EgyptCourtesy of Lerato Mogoatlhe

Freelancing is great because you've got so much more freedom of your time. However, how did you travel the continent and navigate not getting your payments on time?

When I was in Senegal I ran out of money because a cheque was late. I couldn't pay my hotel bill so I asked them if I could pay it off when I did finally get paid. I ran out of money a lot. When I was in Ghana going to the Ivory Coast, you had to pay twice even though it was one bus company from Takoradi in Ghana, to the border and then from the border to Abidjan. So I only paid from Takoradi to the border.

From the border to Abidjan I was just like, "So now I don't have cash. Can I leave my passport here, I'll come pay you?" If I say I'm going to come pay you, I'm really going to come pay you. I don't remember there being anyone that I asked for help and they didn't help me. If anything, people always used to say, "Stop worrying, you are home. You'll be taken care of," and it was such a huge affirmation.

Mount Sinai, EgyptCourtesy of Lerato Mogoatlhe

What would you say are your top three favorite African countries?

I really got to settle into my travels in Mali. I got to finally pick up French and that opened up a different world. And then there is Rwanda for different reasons. When I was in Rwanda I went to the Kigali genocide memorial, then I went to memorials in Nyamata and Ntarama as well as just outside of Kigali. Ntarama it was so raw because it was in the church where people were killed and you could see grenade holes or bullet holes wherever and at the back you can go inside the mass grave. You see all of it. And lastly Sudan because it was such a breath of fresh air. Sudanese people are generous.

Lake Tanganyika, BurundiCourtesy of Lerato Mogoatlhe

Are there African countries that you are afraid to go to?

No. I used to be scared of Somalia because of Mogadishu. I used to be scared of Darfur. At the time, it was genuinely scary to think of going to Mogadishu when there's so much conflict. But also using common sense and experience, you only ever hear about the bad stuff, that's the nature of news. If it bleeds, it leads.

If I hear about bomb blast five times a year, what about the rest of the 360 days? I used to be scared of conflict areas and war zones and where there's been turmoil. When I go to the Central African Republic, I don't think it's wise to venture out of the capital city for instance because the capital city is secure to some extent. So I'll just use common sense about these places that I want to explore next.

Grab a copy of Vagabond: Travelling Through Africa on Faith here.

Nnedi Okorafor attends the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Nnedi Okorafor's 'Binti' Is Being Developed Into a TV Series at Hulu

The award-winning novella is coming to a screen near you.

Binti, the acclaimed book by award-winning Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, is being adapted into a TV series, set to premiere on Hulu. The Hollywood Reporter was the first to break the news.

The three-part, science fiction novella will be adapted for screen under the studio Media Res. The script is being written by both Okorafor and writer Stacy Osei-Kuffour, who has previously written for Watchmen and The Morning Show amongst others.

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Here are 10 Recent Books from Black South African Women Writers That You Need to Read

These 10 books have both shifted and unearthed new narratives within South Africa's literary world.

A few years ago, we celebrated the eight most influential Black South African women writers during Women's Month. The list featured the likes of Miriam Tlali, the first Black woman to publish a novel during Apartheid, Sweet Medicine author Panashe Chigumadzi and beloved poet Lebogang Mashile. We now bring you our selection of ten literary gems by various Black South African women writers which have shifted and even unearthed new narratives in the South African body of literature.

This list is in no particular order.

​"Collective Amnesia" by Koleka Putuma, published 2017

It is unprecedented for a poetry book in South Africa to go into a ninth print run and yet, Collective Amnesia has managed to do just that. The collection of poems, which compellingly explores religion, womanhood, Blackness, queerness, traditionalism, trauma and everything in between, has also been translated into Danish, German and Spanish. The winner of the 2018 Luschei Prize for African Poetry, Collective Amnesia has also been adopted as reading material for students at various institutions of higher learning across the country. It is a truly phenomenal and unrivalled first work by Putuma.

"The Ones with Purpose" by Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, published 2018

Jele's book centers themes of loss, grief and trauma. After the main character's (Fikile) sister dies from breast cancer, it is now up to her to ensure that certain rituals are performed before the burial. The Ones with Purpose highlights a lot of what Black people refer to as "drama" following the death of a loved ones. It highlights how often Black people are often not given the opportunity to simply grieve their loss but must instead attend to family politics and fights over property and rights. It also speaks to how, despite the rift that loss inevitably brings to Black families especially, togetherness also results because of it.

"These Bones Will Rise Again" by Panashe Chigumadzi, published 2018

Drawing from Audre Lord's concept of a biomythography in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name as well as Alice Walker's essay In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, Chigumadzi's These Bones Will Rise Again explores the history of Zimbabwe's spirit medium and liberation fighter Mbuya Nehanda during the Chimurenga, Zimbabwe pre- and post-colonization and the Mugabe-regime. The book also pays homage to her late grandmother. Chigumadzi's commitment to retelling lost narratives in Zimbabwe's complex history is a radical act in itself in a world that seeks to tell the country's stories through a lens that centers any and everyone else except Zimbabweans.

"Reclaiming the Soil: A Black Girl's Struggle to Find Her African Self" by Rosie Motene, published 2018

Just as Matlwa's debut novel Coconut explores the cultural confusion and identity crises that result in Black children raised in a White world, so too does Motene's book. In contrast, however, Reclaiming the Soil: A Black Girl's Struggle to Find Her African Self is instead a non-fictional and biographical account set during Apartheid South Africa. As a young Black girl, Motene is taken in by the Jewish family her mother works for. And while she is exposed to more opportunities than she would have had she remained with her Black parents, hers is a story of tremendous sacrifice and learning to rediscover herself in a world not meant for her.

"Period Pain" by Kopano Matlwa, published 2017

Matlwa's third novel Period Pain honestly pulls apart the late Nelson Mandela's idea of a rainbow nation and non-racialism. Through the central character Masechaba, the reader is shown the reality of a country still stuck in the clenches of racism and inequality. Xenophobia, crime and the literal death sentence that is the public health system are all issues Matlwa explores in the novel. It's both a visceral account of the country from the vantage point of a Black person without the privileges and comforts of a White person as well as a heartfelt story about how even the most broken continue to survive. It's the story of almost every Black person in South Africa and that that story is even told to begin with, and told honestly, is important.

"Always Another Country" by Sisonke Msimang, published 2017

Msimang's memoir details her political awakening while abroad as well as her return to a South Africa on the cusp of democracy. Hers is not an ordinary account of Apartheid South Africa and its aftermath but rather a window into yet another side—the lives of South Africans living in exile and more so, what happens when they eventually return home. Admittedly, it's an honest account of class and privilege. Msimang describes the tight-knit sense of community built between families who were in exile and acknowledges that many of them came back to South Africa with an education—something of which South Africans living in the country were systematically deprived. It is an important addition to the multitude of stories of Apartheid-era South Africa, the transition into democracy and the birth of the so-called "born-free" generation.

"Khwezi: The Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo" by Redi Tlhabi, published 2017

Redi Tlhabi's second non-fiction work tells the story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, the woman who accused then President Jacob Zuma of rape back in 2005. "Khwezi" as she became known throughout the very public trial, was a symbol of the many women subjected to the abuse of men in positions of power. Similarly, she was treated as women like her are so often treated—ostracized by the community and forced to leave and start anew elsewhere. Tlhabi's account of Khwezi's life was a courageous one and one that tries to obtain justice despite the court's decisions. Although Khwezi died in October 2016, her memory continues to live on in the hearts of many South African women who refuse to be silenced by the dominant patriarchal structure. For that alone, this work is tremendously important.

"Intruders" by Mohale Mashigo, published 2018

When one thinks of African literature, stories of migration, colonization, loss, trauma, culture and traditions usually come to the fore. As a result, Afrofuturism or speculative fiction is a genre that is often sidelined and the stories therein left untold. Intruders is a collection of short stories by Mohale Mashigo that unearths these stories in a refreshing manner. From mermaids in Soweto, werewolves falling in love with vampires and a woman killing a man with her high-heeled shoes, Mashigo centers the proverbial "nobody" and pushes against the narrative that Africans can only tell certain kinds of stories but not others.

"Miss Behave" by Malebo Sephodi, published 2017

There is a reason why Sephodi's Miss Behave has resonated so strongly among women across the board. Drawing inspiration from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's adage that "well-behaved women seldom make history", Miss Behave documents Sephodi's journey to smashing the stereotypes peddled by society in its relentless prescriptions of what women can and cannot be; can and cannot do. Naturally, she's labeled a "misbehaving" woman and hence the title of the book. Sephodi also explores themes of identity and gender issues while allowing women the opportunity to take charge of their own identities despite societal expectations. A book that wants women to discover their bad-ass selves and exercise agency over their lives? A must read.

"Rape: A South African Nightmare" by Professor Pumla Gqola, published 2015

This book is both brilliant in the way it unpacks the complex relationship that South Africa has with rape and distressing in the way this relationship is seen to unfold in reality. Rape is a scourge that South Africa has not been able to escape for years and the crisis only seems to be worsening. Written almost four years ago, Prof Gqola's profound analysis of rape and rape culture as well as autonomy, entitlement and consent is still as relevant today as it was back then—both a literary feat and a tragedy. There can be no single answer to why South Africa is and remains the rape capital of the world, but Rape: A South African Nightmare is by far one of the best attempts thus far.

Stormzy performs during The BRIT Awards 2020 at The O2 Arena. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage) via Getty Images.

Watch Stormzy's Powerful BRIT Awards Performance Featuring Burna Boy

The night saw the British-Ghanaian star run through a medley of songs from his latest album, Heavy Is the Head.

The BRIT Awards 2020, which went down earlier this week, saw the likes of Stormzy take home the Best Male trophy home and Dave win Best Album.

The night also saw Stormzy deliver a stunning performance that featured a medley of songs from his latest album, Heavy Is the Head. The British-Ghanaian star started things out slow with "Don't Forget to Breathe," before popping things off with "Do Better" then turning up the heat with "Wiley Flow."

Stormzy nodded to J Hus, playing a short bit of "Fortune Teller," before being joined onstage by Nigeria's Burna Boy to perform their hit "Own It." Burna Boy got his own moment and performed an energetic rendition of his African Giant favorite "Anybody."

The night was closed off with a powerful message that read: "A lot of time they tell us 'Black people, we too loud.' Know what I'm sayin'? We need to turn it down a little bit. We seem too arrogant. We a little too much for them to handle. Black is beautiful man." The message flashed on a black screen before a moving performance of "Rainfall" backed by his posse.

Watch the full performance below.

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The ornate gilded copper headgear, which features images of Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles, was unearthed after refugee-turned-Dutch-citizen Sirak Asfaw contacted Dutch 'art detective' Arthur Brand. (Photo by Jan HENNOP/AFP) (Photo by JAN HENNOP/AFP via Getty Images)

A Stolen 18th Century Ethiopian Crown Has Been Returned from The Netherlands

The crown had been hidden in a Dutch apartment for 20 years.

In one of the latest developments around art repatriation, a stolen 18th century Ethiopian crown that was discovered decades ago in the Netherlands, has been sent back home.

Sirak Asfaw, an Ethiopian who fled to The Netherlands in the '70s, first found the relic in the suitcase of a visitor in 1998, reports BBC Africa. He reportedly protected the item for two decades, before informing Dutch "art crime investigator" Arthur Brand and authorities about his discovery last year.

The crown is one of only 20 in existence and features intricate Biblical depictions of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. Historians believe it was given to the church by the warlord Welde Sellase several centuries ago.

Read: Bringing African Artifacts Home

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