The Newton Precinct came alive with the love of books over the weekend, as writers, readers and publishers descended on Museum Africa for the South African Book Fair. The Fair, in association with the Fibre, Processing and Manufacturing (FP&M) SETA offered Africans, young and old, the opportunity to engage books in an intimate, relatable way through the theme #OURSTORIES.
An opening by Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Hon. Ms. Makhotso Sotyu and guest of honour Prof. Zakes Mda set the tone for a revolutionary sentiment to resonate throughout the duration of the event. Both were unequivocal in their support for the development of African publishing, particularly in relation to the importance of writing in indigenous languages. Deputy President, Hon. Cyril Ramaphosa also visited the Fair to read to children in attendance and share his own views on the importance of reading.
The literary programme, which received widespread praise for its relevant and deeply provocative content brought together some of the most important voices in literature from all over the African continent. Speakers weaved in and out of personal narratives which proved once again the pervasiveness of the human experience, however nuanced it may be.
Friday (8 September) brought to light the truly invaluable role African spirituality, philosophy and experience has played in shaping us.
Ahead of the 40th anniversary of his murder, the legacy of Steve Bantu Biko provided an opportunity for deep reflection on the current state of South African Politics. A discussion on racism in schools facilitated through Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was moderated by Athambile Masola, who advocates for the excavation of erased African narratives. Deeply enriching was a discussion on the influence of African spirituality on the writing process.
A discussion between Prof. Zakes Mda and legendary musician Hugh Masekela brought the day to an end with heartwarming nostalgia as they discussed their lives and the experiences that shaped their respective journeys. They also reflected on their humble beginnings where their hunger for knowledge was cultivated by their parents.
Saturday (9 September) attendees considered future scenarios for South Africa in a discussion with Ferial Haffajee, Justice Malala and Brian Kantor. A discussion about academia and shifting the western academic lens, provided an interesting perspective on a way forward through the problems faced in African societies.
A highly anticipated discussion with Somizi Mhlongo about his book Dominoes provided as many laughs as it did lightbulb moments. Mhlongo, who took audiences on a journey through his life, shared profound revelations about dealing with loss and abundance.
Sunday (10 September) Achmat Dangor, Deon Meyer, Sindiwe Magona and Prof. Zakes Mda reflected on their lives spent writing. A fascinating first-hand account by acclaimed authors, amazed and inspired as it conveyed the profound message – “Black child, your dreams are valid and possible.”
A book talk by Ayòbámi Adébáyò, Lidudumaligani Mqombothi and Yewande Omotoso enthralled and captivated the audience as they were lulled by mellifluous voices narrating works in progress.
Gender representation showed up as a highlight in itself with female speakers at the forefront of discussions. Those in attendance included Lola Shoneyin, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Gugu Mhlungu, Khadija Patel, Zimitri Erasmus, Makhosazana Xaba, Pamela Power, Grace Musila, Yewanda Omotoso, Lebo Mashile, Yemisi Aribisala and so many more.
Each day started with a production of James and the Giant Peach for the younger attendees, while three test kitchens, all led by women, also gave expression to the role that food plays in telling #OURSTORIES.
The three day programme of the South African Book Fair transformed Newtown into a think-tank which provided all who were there the opportunity to reflect on themselves and others.
With the first Fair, under the auspices of the South African Book Development Council, done, it is hoped that the coming year will see trans-formative growth in both the sector and the upcoming event: SABF 2018!