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.

Read:Black people imagining themselves into existence

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.

Author Sindiwe Magona embraces African Flavour Books owner Fortiscue Helepi

 

The African Flavour Books stall had the dopest selection of books.

 

Beautiful people pt. 1

 

The first two stages of buying a book: Indecision

 

Beautiful people pt. 2 (that’s Eyethu Cinema in the background. Soweto-born artist Senzo Nhlapho (@senzart911) painted the mural a few months ago as part of a hood-wide campaign to decorate iconic spaces with his colorful motifs).

 

Acclaimed poet and newly-appointed editor of the on-line and (quarterly print) Poetry Collection, Quaz Roodt, took time off of sharing a strawberry-flavored slush with his son to pose for the picture.

 

Celebrated author and actor Sindiwe Magona listens in while bra Willie Kgositsile, poet laureate and one of the most incisive cat you’ll meet this side of the Dashiki Poets and post-’76 activist work, reads from a poetry collection during the cheekily-titled Not The Youth League panel, moderated by the very cool and calm bra Mandla Langa, whose Madiba memoirs, Dare Not Linger, is on my Christmas shopping list.

 

South African Sign Language interpreter during Redi Tlhabi and Mmatshilo Motsei’s discussion.

 

Redi Tlhabi signs copies of her book Khwezi: The Remarkable Story Of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo following a conversation between her and Mmatshilo Motsei, who herself wrote The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court: Reflections on the Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma which was published 10 years prior. The conversation, moderated by the awesome Lebo Mashile, poet, discussed among other things the very sudden re-emergence of Khwezi in the South African sphere. Specifically, ANC presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent claims that he believes Khwezi was raped were brought into question, and rightly so, for he along with a host of others kept quiet when Zuma was being tried for rape (he’s since been acquitted) more than a decade ago.

 

Bra Zakes Mda exchanges pleasantries with an acquaintance.