I was honored to be invited to participate in the 17th Time of the Writer Festival in Durban from the 17th – 22nd of March.
The Festival is run by the folks at the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of Kwazulu- Natal.
They also run a poetry and film festival as well. I have attended my share of literary festivals, but I have never attended such a well run event.
It was coordinated like a military operation from the moment I got the invitation letter until I arrived back home in Mahalapye. I was seriously impressed.
We had a diverse group of writers including South African writers: Zukiswa Wanner, Niq Mhlongo, Kgebetli Moele, Sarah Britten, and Angela Makholwa.
Liberian (and at one point a resident of Botswana) Hawa Jande Golakai, Nigerian Chibundu Onuzo, Kenyan storyteller Mshai Mwangola, Francophone writers Tierno Monenembo (Guinea) and Sami Tchak (Togo), and Indian writers Prajwal Parajuly and Satyajit Sarna, among others.
The main programme took place each evening at the Sneddon Theatre at the University.
Each night had two panel discussions, each panel made up of two writers. The topics were interesting and varied.
Some of the topics included: New Voices from India, Telling the African Story, New African Women Rising, Writing the Policy Debate, and Finding the South African Funny Bone.
My panel discussion was on Friday and was titled “From the Mouths of Babes” and was on children’s literature with my co-panellist being Khulekani Magubane, a prolific young writer from KwaZulu- Natal.
During the day, each writer visited various places to talk about writing or to teach writing workshops.
My first day trip was to the Chatsworth Education Centre with South African writer Praba Moodley where many schools attended from primary up to senior secondary.
I spoke a bit about what I do and then they asked questions, all sorts of fun interesting questions.
My next trip was to Westville Prison where I was with male juvenile offenders who are part of a writing group.
They had written stories which they read out to me and I gave them advice about how the story might be improved.
It was an interesting experience for me. As we went along, I forgot that I was dealing with boys described as criminals, they were just boys in a classroom and I was just a teacher.
It made quite an impression on me.
I think writing groups in prisons are a very good idea. I was quite surprised about the things they chose to write about.
The last place I went for the day trips was to Adams College. I was very excited when I heard I’d be going to Adams College, a school with so many distinguished alumni, including Sir Seretse Khama.
Chief Albert Lutuli attended the school and was a teacher there, he went on to head the African National Congress and to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is also the former school for the current African Union Chairperson, Dr. Dlamini Zuma.
I felt as if I was entering hallowed ground when I entered the school’s gates.
It is a government school and yet last year it received a 98% pass rate with a large proportion of their students going on to university.
This year they’re shooting for 100%. Once again I was reminded that for a school to be successful all you really need are motivated teachers.
It is not a highly resourced school from what I saw, but I doubt I’ve met a group of teachers with more commitment.
The teachers I met there were such an inspiration to me.
They were so keen to meet me and hear about writing and reading.
One of the English teachers attended every single one of the evening panel discussions at the University even though the Sneddon Theatre is more than an hour’s drive from Adams College.
She was that interested in writing and reading.
That level of enthusiasm will ignite children and it was very obvious from the students I met there that they were keen about reading and writing.
I really enjoyed my time away in Durban, I only wish sometimes that schools here in Botswana would be as keen about getting their learners interested in reading and writing.
I can only be involved in that in a country that is not my own.