The second edition of the Abantu Book Festival took place this past weekend in Soweto, South Africa. The creation of novelist Thando Mqolozana (Not a Man, Hear me Alone), Abantu is the result of the author’s prior dissatisfaction at feeling, and being, marginalized at the mostly-white literary festivals onto whose panels he’d been invited. Panashe Chigumadzi, whose debut novel Sweet Medicine was released two years ago, is co-founder.
I attended two out of the three days (bar from Thursday’s opening night, making it four days in total), and got to experience a feeling which had crept in at the inaugural event: The festival is for black people, but perhaps my type of black isn’t welcome.
It’s a literary festival, granted, which for the large part means books.
However, in a country and continent where the majority of people writing aren’t publishing their work in books, Abantu has thus far failed to engage, through their panels, technologies being utilized by said writers to record their existence; the stories of collective blackness, all individual, yet bound by the shared vision of a future where we cease explaining ourselves.
There was, for instance, no panel looking at how pop culture is being written about not only in South Africa, but in other regions of the continent as well. Or how blogs are periodic records and notes of love to self; at-hand tools helping numerous folk, young and old, to come to terms with our continued suppression, and to also be afforded Internet real estate to write what they like, how they want it to be written.
So amidst all the I feel at home among black people tweets that flooded my timeline, the two days spent at Abantu, in Soweto’s Mofolo Central where Eyethu Gallery is located, were perhaps some of the most out-of-place I’ve felt in a place devoid of the white gaze.
The people were beautiful though; we are, black people. Additionally, every panel discussion and poetry recital I attended had a South African Sign Language interpreter.
Here are some moments from Friday and Saturday.