Decolonising the Book at the Time of the Writer Festival

31 Mar 2016
Decolonising the Book at the Time of the Writer Festival

Last year PEN SA member Thando Mgqolozana called for a decolonisation of South Africa’s literary scene (read Books LIVE’s article on it here). PEN SA Executive Vice-President Mandla Langa responded to Thando’s call in an article, writing that a better model for the industry is needed here.

This year Mgqolozana co-curated the Time of the Writer Festival held in March in Durban, which was themed “Decolonising the Book”. The festival venues were moved from the usual Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal to different location across Durban, including Umlazi, KwaMashu, Inanda, Clermont and Cato Manor. “In addition, the eThekwini Municipality Libraries Department has purchased two copies of each book by every writer featured at the festival this year, and they are being prominently displayed in 92 municipal libraries around eThekwini,” Books LIVE reports.

Time of the Writer Project Manager Tiny Mungwe spoke to Daily Vox, the media partner of the festival, about what decolonising meant from an organisational perspective: “This is the first time we are doing this and it is a result of us interrogating what decolonisation means and demands from a festival in South Africa right now. For us, it means widening the radius of the city, recognising the townships that form the larger part of the city as communities where audiences live and questioning the definitions of what we define as in- and out-of-reach.”

Mgqolozana also spoke to the Mail & Guardian about the project: “There has never been a deliberate decolonial project. These things of freedom and democracy are not decolonial in nature. So, we inherited a colonial literary system and did nothing about it for the past 20 years. I decided I was going to stop asking whiteness to take me more seriously to accommodate me better in their system because that’s not what we need. We need two things. One being to crush the colonial system completely, because there is no improving colonialism and then imagine new things that are not framed by notions of colonialism.”

“Many people struggle to understand the concept of decolonisation, and you can expect this to be the case when for decades our language has been that of reconciliation. Frantz Fanon found a useful definition in the Gospel According to Mathew, The Parable of the Vineyard Workers, in which it is said: The first shall be last, and the last first … Personally, I would rather be reading, writing, or thinking about it; but I find myself having become what Chinua Achebe might have called a reluctant politician of literature. It is a dangerous thing, but it is a choice that I have made, and I intend to work until the LAST ONES come first.”

– Thando Mgqolozana’s keynote address at the Time of the Writer Festival

Daily Vox spoke to several authors about their thoughts on what decolonising the book means to them. TO Molefe commented that “Decolonisation, in my mind, is not a demand to return to pre-colonial times. Rather, decolonisation a process to do two things: repair the damage European colonialism caused the world over, and establish more egalitarian relations between people.”

“It is a grand vision still in its infancy – but that has made promising steps. At the very least it has also allowed for a level of chaos and contradiction to challenge the idea of a literary festival and notions of the book itself, in an age of multiple digital platforms,” writes Niren Tolsi for Times LIVE.

(Image courtesy of Time of the Writer)