By: Ayabonga Ngoma
Last Tuesday night was the launch of an important and timely book titled, Amagama Enkululeko (Words of Freedom: Writing Life under Apartheid). The event was held at the very unique and loveable book store, Bridge Books, at the City Central building on 85 Commissioner Street.
Upon arrival I was treated to some snacks and choice in wine, which I can never really say no to – especially at a literature related event. Wine in hand I made my way to the seating area where the proceedings were to take place.
There was quite a strong presence of young scholars which I initially didn’t know why, until I understood the purpose of the book and the group of amazing youths who put it together known aptly as Equal Education (EE).
Once everyone settled down EE Researcher, Daniel Sher introduced the three speakers of the evening which included none other than celebrated South African writer Zakes Mda, who generously contributed the foreword. Zakes Mda was joined by one of EE’s Equalisers, Nana Moloto and Deputy Chairperson Tracey Malawana.
Each speaker on the panel shared a chosen passage, poem or excerpt from the book; starting with Zakes Mda reading the foreword and sharing insights of why he chose to support EE and the power of fiction as a form of education. He took us through the history of how art and writing were used during times of struggle as ‘protest art’ aimed at the oppressor and how it evolved to ‘art of resistance’ which focused more on mobilising the oppressed. This all felt like a great mini lecture from someone who has seen a part of history most of us haven’t and almost drew parallels to what is currently happening in the country with #FeesMustFall.
Nana Moloto took to the mic to share a powerful poem titled ‘Nineteen Seventy-Six’ which looked at the writers feelings towards the Youth Day protests. Equalisers is the term used to describe the young people part of EE’s reading groups and freedom fighters of today.
Finally the soft-spoken, but fierce Tracey Malawana read from her favourite pages in the book as well as give us a background of how the book came about and her amazing work in EE. The questions soon followed and some young guests interrogated the state of literacy in South Africa and what is currently being done particularly by EE, to which Tracey answered with backing from Nana.
The night ended with myself and other guests buying the book and getting it signed by Zakes Mda. My friend and Advocacy Manager for PEN SA, Oratile somehow got Zakes Mda to sign “XOXO” on my book which was pretty cool because who doesn’t like hugs and kisses?
The book will be made available online for students to download and read for free. For those who can afford it please find it at bookstores (check out Bridge Books) or online on the Cover2Cover site.Personally I really wish I’d had a book like this growing up as a scholar to know that such amazing black poets and writers existed and shared these stories and snapshots of the times they lived in a very different country.
Ayabonga is just a small town boy, livin’ in Johustleburg. Governed by music. An extroverted introvert. Curious mind, but never nosy. Engineer who is a wannabe creative. Find him on Twitter: @Ayab0nga