Time of the Writer: The importance of reading and writing in indigenous languages


Sindiwe Magona, who recently released the book Chasing the Tails of My Father’s Cattle. Photo: Supplied

CELEBRATED author, Sindiwe Magona, has urged young African people to honour their heritage by continuing to speak their mother tongues.

Speaking at the opening of the 19th Time of the Writer Festival at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Monday, she said: “It is to my shame and sadness that now that we are free, we, Africans with the richest languages, are doing something that not even apartheid did to us.
“We are de-tonguing ourselves … we cannot be human beings without a mother tongue. We have children who look like me, who go to school and choose to learn their mother tongue. How do you choose mother tongue, it is like skin colour?
“What I see in the theme of this conference – Decolonising The Book – is a wake-up call to reassess our position of who we are. We need to learn, and to force ourselves if need be, to love ourselves. You are not Xhosa if you do not have iXhosa as your mother tongue, or Zulu, Swazi, Tswana, Ndebele, whatever.
“I applaud the Afrikaner for sticking to his guns; his language and his culture. Most of the writers in this country who can live from their writing are those who write in Afrikaans. Those who write in Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, cannot. We will not eat if we depend on those books because the people who speak those languages hate themselves so much they don’t buy those books.
“I write in English, but I don’t fool myself that I am an English speaker. I have written more than 120 children’s books in isiXhosa, but if I depended on those books to pay the rent I would be in big trouble … I write in English so that I can live.”
Playwright and actor, Welcome Msomi, who gave the world uMabatha (the Zulu Macbeth) agrees with Magona (author of Push-Push and Other Stories, To My Children’s Children and Beauty’s Gift)  that writers need to celebrate the country’s indigenous languages.
Speaking about his famous work, which adapts Shakespeare’s tragedy into the Zulu culture of the early 19th century, he said: “We ended up doing uMabatha more outside South Africa than inside, which means we are still so conditioned that we are afraid of ourselves, we are afraid of our own languages.
“So, young writers I tell you it is exciting when you create your own things. We, as Living Legends, can help you stand on your own and we can tell you that we love you and love what you do, because it is amazing, but ultimately it is up to you.”
For more details about this years’ Time of the Writer, visit http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za  or call 031 260 2506.

Gcina Mhlope

Time of the Wriiter Programme

Thursday, March 17
• 11 am to 12 noon: UKZN English Department – Writing and Scholarship with Niq Mhlongo and Eusebius McKaiser.
• 11 am to 3 pm: Umkhumbane Library, 120 Dunbar Road, Durban. Conversations that Matter: The Book and Readership featuring Sinenhlanhla Buthelezi (Goethe Library), Mignon Hardie (FunDza), Fortescue Helepi (African Flavour Books), Frankie Murrey (Open Book), Tebogo Mzizi (eThekwini Municipal Libraries), Jennifer Platt (Sunday Times Awards), Cedric Sissing (Adams Books), Benjamin Trisk (Exclusive Books), Dr Maria van Driel (Jozi Book Fair).
• 7 pm: Umkhumbane Hall, Bromcote Road, Cator Manor. Hosted by Mitchell Harper, the evening session will feature music by Dr Salim Washington. There will also be discussions titled They Write What They Like featuring Niq Mhlongo (SA) and Davina Kawuma (Uganda), facilitated by Daniela Demir, and The Book and Readership.
Friday, March 18
• 11am to 3 pm: Umlazi W Library. Conversations That Matter: The Book and Language featuring Prof Nobuhle Hlongwa, Dean of teaching African languages at UKZN, Dr Pamella Maseko from the School of Languages at Rhodes University, Dr Gugu Mazibuko from the isiZulu department at UKZN, Mpho Monareng (CEO of PanSALB), writer Eric Ngcobo and Dr Wangui Wa Goro from SIDENSI.
• 7 pm: Umlazi Cinema, Zwe Madlala Drive. Hosted by Thula Mdladla, there will be music by Sphephelo Mbhele and a book launch for Nikhil Singh’s Taty Went West. There will also be discussions, Tuning in… featuring Christa Biyela and Mandla Ndlovu, facilitated by Eric Ngcobo, and The Book and Language.
Saturday, March 19
• 10 am to 12 noon: Alliance Francaise, 22 Sutton Crescent, Morningside. Children’s storytelling with Anny Grondin, Sully Andoche, Gcina Mhlope, Hlobisile Mkhize and Nolulamo Maquthu.
• 11 am to 3 pm: Qashana Khuzwayo Library. Conversations That Matter: The Book and Intersectionality featuring writers Mbali Matandela, Eusebuis McKaiser, Nakhane Toure and Milisuthando Bongela, poet Mputlane Wa Bolefo, Zethu Matabeni from the Institute for Humanities in Africa at UCT and Lindokuhle Nkosi, contributing editor of Chimurenga.
• 7 pm: Clermont Hall, 1106 Zazi Road, Clermont. Hosted by Sakhile Gumede, the evening session will feature music by Dr Salim Washington and a book launch for Niq Mhlongo’s Affluenza. There will also be discussions, The Alchemy of Fiction featuring Nakhane Toure and Nikhil Singh, facilitated by Alan Muller, and The Book and Intersectionality.

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