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Jacana

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Six local authors and publishers on decolonising editing in South Africa: a panel discussion

Malebo Sephodi, Sabata-Mpho Mokae, Rehana Rossouw, Helen Moffett, Dudu Busani-Dube, Redi Tlhabi, and Thabiso Mahlape

 
A panel discussion on decolonising South African editing was recently hosted by Jacana Media at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Panelists Sabata-Mpho Mokae, Malebo Sephodi, Rehana Rossouw, Helen Moffett, and Dudu Busani-Dube were in conversation with the author of Endings & Beginnings and radio presenter, Redi Tlhabi.

Redi opened the floor by posing the question what decolonisation means and how it manifests in African literature.

Sabata-Mpho Mokae, who writes in both English and Setswana, responded by stating that one should Africanise African language writing and not allow colonialism to impact upon it. He used the example of the Setswana word for Sunday, “tshipi”, which roughly translates to “the day we attend church”; a clear remnant of colonialism, yet an established word in Setswana which he continues to use in his work. Sabata added that South Africa has its own English and that he writes any form of English he deems fit.

According to Dudu Busani-Dube, the self-published author of the Hlomu The Wife-series, the only way we can decolonise literature is “if we write in our languages.” She spoke out against the rules which box your writing, emphasising an inherent fear of grammatical errors. Helen Moffett, freelance publisher, journalist, and author, spoke from a publisher’s persepctive, adding that aspirant writers still have the distorted idea of the “model of the old school teacher”; a figure which tells you how and what to write. Many young African writers are deterred from pitching their manuscript ideas to publishers as they’re concerned about possible grammatical mistakes which might count in their disfavour, or that their work lacks a certain literary prestige. Helen dismisses this Eurocentric approach to writing, stating that “nobody else can write your story.”

Dudu Busani-Dube

 

Malebo Sephodi, who’s recent memoir Miss Behave has been met with acclaim by critics and bibliophiles alike, spoke of her duty as an academic to write accessible texts which can reach black women without alienating them. Malebo described academia as western-centric and exclusionary, and she intended to write Miss Behave as a book which will include everyone in the conversation around race, sex, and gender roles in South Africa. She also pertinently mentioned that she wanted a black woman to publish the memoir; someone who could relate to her lived experiences, and refrain from editing critical issues addressed in texts. The book was published by Thabiso Mahlape of BlackBird Books, who was also present at the event.

Malebo Sephodi

 

Journalist and author of What Will People Say, Rehana Rossouw, stated that people learn us through our language, and that her decision to include the slang spoken on the Cape Flats (in What Will People Say) and not the “queen’s English” was a deliberate one. She shared an amusing anecdote of a trip to Lagos where a Lagosian described What Will People Say as a “kwaai” book, with a cousin of him exclaiming “no, no, it was lekker!” She asserted that she writes in English because it’s the language she was raised in, and that she’s going to claim it as such.

Rehana Rossouw

 

Helen expanded on Rehana’s comment on reaching a wide audience and how we’re restricting ourselves as we are not giving ourselves permission to write our own stories; that the presence of the legacy of colonialism is prohibiting African writers to create decolonised texts, without preconceived notions of what writing and literature, as taught in schools, ‘ought’ to be. She added that for an African writer to publish in their own language, they should have already attained a level of success in English.

Sabata reaffirmed this statement, saying that one does reach a wider audience by writing in English, yet he criticised the notion of African authors’ work being set as prescribed books for school children, as “those who write for schools, write in English”, thus ignoring the market for African language texts. He added that students are then forced to read in English, which detracts from encouraging a reading culture in their own indigenous languages.

Redi was curious as to whether Malebo experiences a sense of responsibility, writing as a young, black woman. Malebo responded yes, she has a sense of burden and expectation to write about any subject matter whilst destabilising the trope of black women in South Africa.

Here, Redi made the powerful statement that “black writers invariably become activists” which was met with agreeing murmurs and nods from the audience.

She asked Rehana whether she also felt a sense of burden, to which Rehana drily replied “Yes, I’m very burdened.” Attendees and panelists alike enjoyed a hearty laugh…

“It was my life,” Rehana explained, referring to apartheid-era South Africa. “I want to explain things in my way, the way they have been to me … The past plays out every single day in this country.

“We have to explain things to each other, that’s how we learn.”

***

Watch the live streaming of the discussion here.

And take a look at the audience’s reaction to the discussion here:

 
 

Endings and Beginnings

Book details

 
 
Miss Behave

 
 
 
 
What Will People Say

 

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