Soweto set to stage new literary festival in August

HOWICK-based author and literary festival organiser, Darryl David (above left), is the man behind the first ever Soweto Literary Festival, which will take place from August 19 to 21 at the Soweto Theatre. Niq Mhlongo (above right), author of Affluenza, will be co-curating the festival with him.

“It’s taken me five years to get a Soweto Literary Festival off the ground,” says David, who works as a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg campus. “But come August 2016, Booktown Richmond will bring a literary festival to Soweto.

Funding for the event has come from the Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging (ATKV), who have previously helped him get a Festival of Children’s Literature off the ground in KwaZulu-Natal.

David admits that the festival is likely to be his most challenging to-date, referencing the controversy which surrounded the decision by Thando Mgqolozana to quit what he called the white literary system in South Africa at the 2015 Franschhoek Literary Festival.

“Thando’s response was not only to withdraw from so-called white literary festivals,” said David. “He then went on to partner festivals like Time of the Writer at my university (UKZN), with a Decolonisation of the Book project. My response is somewhat different: I say start a literary festival in one of the most famous places on the planet – Soweto.

“I have the soul of a writer and I believe in the power of literature to unite. This is why I am starting the Soweto Literary Festival. To create a truly non-racial literary festival in a black township, something that has never ever been done before.

“A start has been made in Khayelitsha. But that was more a book fair, not a literary festival. I have always maintained Soweto looms large in the literary imagination of South Africa. It is the home of two Nobel Laureates revered throughout the world: Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. And there are enough books on Tutu and Mandela to form the supporting pillars for the biggest bookshop in South Africa.

“But Soweto is so much more than Mandela and Tutu. Soweto is the cradle of black literature. It was home to the canon of black literature in South Africa – Mongane Wally Serote, Sipho Sephamla Njabulo Ndebele, Miriam Tlali, Ellen Kuzwayo and Benedict Vilakazi. These are writers from the golden era of black writing in South Africa.

The list becomes more extensive if one considers figures like Winnie Mandela, Miriam Makeba, and countless others who were the subject of great literary output. Not to mention the likes of photographer Peter Magubane.

“It is also home to some of the household names in present-day South African literature, most notably Niq Mhlongo. Make no mistake, Soweto is as close as you are going to come to a literary capital of South Africa,” David said.

The line-up for the inaugural festival includes:

  • Mongane Wally Serote (poetry readings);
  • Karina Brink (Flame in the Snow and tribute to Andre Brink);
  • Pamela Power (MS Conception);
  • Arthur Sithole (Landslide);
  • Mandla Langa (The texture of shadows);
  • Mohale Carol Mashigo (The Yearning);
  • Ranjit Kally in conversation with Kalim Rajab (Memory Against Forgetting);
  • Grizelda Grootboom (Exit!);
  • Hein Willemse – A Tribute to Adam Small;
  • Ashwin Desai (Gandhi – Stretcher Bearer for Empire);
  • Darryl David (A Platterland Pilgrimage);
  • Clinton du Plessis (Woorde Roes in die Water);
  • Julian Brown (Road to Soweto);
  • Mpho Tshukudu and Anna Trapido (Eat-Ing);
  • Mzilikazi wa Afrika (Nothing Left to Steal); V
  • erne Harris (8115: A Prisoner’s Home – A Tribute to Alf Khumalo and Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s Soweto Home);
  • Lerato Tshabalala (The Way I See It);
  • Rehana Rossouw (What Will People Say);
  • Irene Fischer (I Am Still Here);
  • Craig Higginson (The Dream House);
  • Anna Trapido (Hunger for Freedom – Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela);
  • Deon Potgieter (Rose of Soweto – The Dingaan Thobela Story); and
  • PJ Powers (Here I Am).

David also hopes that the City of Johannesburg and the National Department of Arts and Culture will come to the party and support the event.

“It is a sad indictment that after 21 years of democracy no black township have a literary festival,” he added. “It is a sad indictment that there is no statue to the likes of Miriam Tlali. To Mongane Wally Serote. To Alex la Guma. To Herbert Dhlomo and to his brother RRR Dhlomo.

“So I am taking a leap of faith and hoping that ordinary people – black, brown, white and all shades in between – will attend Soweto’s first literary festival, because every talk, every performance will be free to the public, like we do in Booktown Richmond.

“But even if all else fails, we will do this the Booktown Richmond way. No more meetings. No more workshops. We will just do it. One book at a time!”

People who would like to get involved in the festival can contact Darryl at or


  • Darryl Earl David was the only Indian lecturer of Afrikaans in South Africa for over two decades. At the beginning of 2016 he was redeployed to the English Department at UKZN after Afrikaans was discontinued there.
  • He is the founder of Booktown Richmond in the Karoo town of Richmond, the Zulu Literary Museum at the University of KZN and of the SA Independent Publishers Awards for Best Self-Published Books.

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