Links to Online News Stories written for Voice of the Cape Website:
By Rafieka Williams for Genevieve Magazine
For it’s fifth edition The Ake Arts and Book Festival focused on “This F-Word” as a theme. The festival highlighted female authors, artists, academics and performers working to forward the Feminist movement. Speaking to some of the guests at the festival, we asked what “This F-Word” means to them.
As a veteran poet, novelist and playwright, Ama Ata Aidoo has been writing for over sixty years. She is the author of The Dilemma of A Ghost; Anowa; Our Sister Killjoy; No Sweetness Here; Someone Talking to Sometime; Changes; An Angry Letter in January; The Girl Who Can and Other Stories; Diplomatic Pounds; and After the Ceremonies: New and Selected Poems.
Feminism is an ideology that upholds the notion that all societies on this earth should make it possible for women to have shelter, the best education that their society can offer, should have nourishment, should have clothes to keep them warm and covered and give them the best opportunities for their development. If you care for human beings, you would be a feminist.”
One of South Africa’s most influential public intellectuals, Pumla Gqola is a feminist author and Professor. Gqola was recently appointed as the Dean of Research at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa. Her published titles include: A Renegade called Simphiwe; Rape: A South African Nightmare and her most recent book is Reflecting Rogue: Inside the mind of a feminist (2017), a collection of experimental autobiographical essays.
When we say the “F” word, we don’t mean the feminist word, we mean the word that cannot be spoken the swear word, the difficult word and I think feminism is difficult but it’s worth saying. It’s powerful because we know those things that we don’t speak about, we give power to, so it’s about taking that power back. It’s about profiling women’s lives and women’s production and women’s creativity, and the focus on women – imaginatively, intellectually, organisationally and across the board. It’s the power of being able to say it, it’s being unapologetically loving and celebratory, paying attention and being critical when we need to be, so not romantic about what feminism means or what women’s lives mean or how gender works in the world.”
Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American Author of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism for both children and adults. Her works include Who Fears Death, the Binti trilogy, The Book of Phoenix, the Akata books and Lagoon. Okorafor is also a Professor at University at Buffalo, New York.
I think it’s further opening up a conversation that needs to be had here in Nigeria and around the world but here in Nigeria, especially. I think that some who aren’t as open to ideas from feminists are here at the festival and got to listen. The speakers would be on stage and all you can do in the audience is listen which I think is really nurturing for those who hold opposing views. Those views could be so strong that they don’t want to listen, so I think that a lot of individuals got to hear a side or view that they may not have known about up until now, so the festival has been really useful.”
Nigerian-German writer, speaker and performer, Olumide Popoola has a PhD in Creative Writing and has taught Creative Writing at various universities. She is the Author of When We Speak of Nothing published by Cassava Republic Press in July 2017 in the UK and in September 2017 in Nigeria.
Feminism is at the forefront of everything I do – it is essential. We don’t have equality and we are not considered equal. From my view as an academic, I have a PhD but if somebody finds me in a lecture theatre, they always think I’m a student, or possibly the cleaner. There is a perception that we’re not quite as intelligent. I noticed that when I was studying, I had a feeling from some of the guys saying “ahh good for her she had an intelligent thought” but no, not really good for me. I am intelligent, that’s it, period! I think that it’s fantastic that Ake is putting Feminism at the forefront because we (women) are all doing our work, small small and we have been for a while so it’s time for the men now to step up and also do their work.”
Award winning columnist and international public speaker Mona Eltahawy is known for her contribution in discussing Arab issues, Muslim issues and global feminism. She is the Author of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution.
The “F” word represents two very important things for me. Primarily ‘feminism’ because I believe in feminism and the equality and liberation of women but I’m also very fond of the word f*ck. The “F” word for me represents ‘f*ck’, specifically – f*ck the patriarchy. That’s exactly what feminism has to do, it has to dismantle patriarchy. If there is one thing that we’ve learnt from the latest exposés of sexual harassment and worse – all these men are being exposed as sexual predators whether it’s the President of the USA or a Muslim scholar like Tariq Ramadan or Kevin Spacey, all of that is a reminder that all industries are dominated by men. Patriarchy enables and benefits men everywhere and patriarchy protects men, even from the crimes they commit against women. If we’re not seeing enough women creatives or artists, that’s because patriarchy has left all those spaces for men, specifically. Feminism – f*ck the patriarchy and get more women in these industries of every kind because that is the best way to dismantle patriarchy and to ensure equality and liberation for women.”
By Rafieka Williams for Genevieve Magazine
Described as being “subversively confident” by one of the guests at Ake Arts and Book Festival this year, Ama Ata Aidoo is one of the few female African writers who is both fierce in her stance on African feminism and gentle in her love for writing. Now, at the age of 75, her work still resonates with younger generations of writers who believe in the power of the pen. This year she was honored at the festival as a pioneer of African literature – recognition that has been long overdue. During her interview, we were able to learn some lessons from one of the greatest African writers of all time.
Africans are lovers
In trying to change the view of Africans and simultaneously debunking the myths about African people as strange and inhumane, Ama edited “African Love Stories” – which is a classic. She told the audience that she’s proud to have edited the book – one that has rocked the continent and educated the rest of the globe about love in Africa.“We also have love stories because we are human,” she said simply. Politics, war and strife has always been a point of departure when it comes to literature on the African continent The idea that people in Africa are capable of love seemed almost strange at the time, making it a radical body of work.
You don’t have to be a professor to write
Being an academic at several universities and a professor at Brown University is a designation that Ama is reluctant to being acknowledged for. She shared with the audience of mostly young writers her fears of being lauded for these achievements openly. Ama believes that this could potentially plant the idea that a degree is a pre-requisite to writing a novel or a story. She assured the audience that it isn’t and implored them to challenge this notion.
We are always an afterthought
During her talk, a question was posed about how she felt being an African writer always seen in the shadow of her male peers (Ayi Kwei Armah, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and the like) to which she responded, “The problem isn’t the attention they received but the attention we were denied.” She continued by speaking passionately about the erasure of African women’s literature and them always being compared to their male counterparts. That African women are always an afterthought, is something that Ama is unapologetic and unashamed of revealing.
Patriarchy has to be resisted, always
As an education minister under the Jerry Rawlings administration in Ghana, Ama said she experienced blatant sexism. She recalled going to cabinet meetings where everyone would be silent when the men spoke – an obvious sign of respect – however when she took to the mic, they would drown out the sound of her voice. She added, “I was made to feel like a women in a man’s world.” Ama testified to some of the most important, intelligent and crucial studies on her work were done by women, because men simply didn’t acknowledge it because of her gender.
For an established writer, who has earned a living from her passion for writing, Ama is superstitious about discussing work-in-progress. She did however give a teaser on her latest project – a dystopian novel set in Africa. Her advice to young writers in the audience was to “Keep Writing”, that they shouldn’t wonder whether people will like their writing or not, adding that writers ought to make time for writing. This includes, “sitting down and saying ‘no’ to all the problems you should be solving in your life.” In other words, just write.
Getting insights into her mind, her work, and her passion for women was strengthening and affirming. To borrow from the words of Jessica Horn, who presented Ama with a gift at the end of the talk, we thank Ama Ata Aidoo “For keeping us cool, keeping us young, keeping us African and for keeping us militant.”
By Rafieka Williams for Genevieve Magazine
As a leading name in African Science Fiction, Nnedi Okorafor is making her mark in literature by creating worlds that we as Africans never knew could exist for us. Her work combines the subtlety of African Storytelling with the technicality of Science Fiction, breathing life into our vague understanding of Afro-Futurism. She has written award winning titles such as Who Fears Death, the Binti trilogy, Shadow Speaker and more. One of the headlining guests at the 2017 Feminism-themed edition of the Ake Arts and Book Festival, I stalked her for a five minute chat about being a Black Female African Science Fiction Writer.
This isn’t your first Ake experience as a guest but what are your sentiments towards this year’s feminist themed edition?
It’s been great, It’s been wonderful. Never have I felt so loved for what I do. I’m going home, feeling energised from all of this. It’s an energy that I realise I needed and once you feel it, you realise okay, I needed that , so yeah it’s been really positive.
As a black woman writing science fiction, what is the reaction to your work in an industry where there are so few black women?
I haven’t received so much of a push-back in terms of me writing science fiction on the racial front, as much as a woman. This idea of science fiction that women are writing is too “soft”, it should be hard science fiction, based in science or based in analysing technology and the influence of technology as opposed to gender. I’ve heard that before, which is nonsense which is a very short sighted, very tunnel vision kind of view of what science fiction can be. I’ve seen issues with the point of view of female characters in viewing technological advances and viewing the futuristic being less than, being not as important, being distracted by their own personal issues. But it’s not something that I worry about at all, I know that there are very few black women writing science fiction, I know that but it’s not something that has ever felt like an obstacle to me. I write what I want to write and I’ll write it from the point of view that I want to write it from and I have never felt afraid to do it, even if I know those problems exist in our society, they don’t scare me.
You’re considered as someone who has opened the doors for more black women to write science fiction. Who opened the doors for you and what do you think the future holds for writers of the genre?
I certainly feel like I’ve played a pivotal role in opening it up, just as Octavia Butler played a pivotal role in opening it up for me. I did initially start reading Octavia Butler because I saw a book with a black woman on the cover and that was why I bought it. I discovered her late but once I started reading her writing, it’s not just the content, it’s the way she writes, it’s clean, it’s crisp and she writes accessible science fiction. I think slowly but surely you get writers coming in, doing it and like one writer comes in – does it – opens a door – and then more come in and its going to be like exponential door opening and I think that’s really important.
What place inside yourself, would you say your writing comes from?
A lot of it has to with who I am, Nigerian- American. Which is a big part of the way that I write – I have the American side which gave me access to science fiction and the Nigerian side which gave me access to stories . I’m the type of Nigerian-American who interacts with both sides, actively, with interest, with eyes open. I also have the culture clashes and the cultural fusions which lends itself very nicely to science fiction. And then just me being a very observant person and also extremely imaginative. I was that kid who would just see things, I would see more than what was there. All of those things, put together is very clear of how I was able to write or how I write.
Lastly, any words of advice for young black women who view themselves in a similar way that you do, who are interested in writing science/speculative fiction?
Have no fear. Write and create the types of stories that come from within, don’t try to align yourself with what is out there, with what is popular, with what is trendy. Write what comes from you, even if what you write doesn’t seem like it’s useful to others. Every story is universal. Put the time in, tell your story.
Watch Nnedi Okorafor’s TEDxTalk, where she unpacks the role of sci-fi in Africa.
Online feature length stories and opinion pieces compiled for Voice of the Cape Website
Short radio news inserts that I compiled for Voice of the Cape radio.
[Originally aired 31 March 2017 on the Breakfast show]
Social Justice Coalition members staged a silent protest during the City of Cape Town’s (CoCT’s) budget where SJC members put on masks of Mayor Patricia de Lille’s face and held up posters that indicated what the CoCT’s budget really says. The posters included statements such as “Cape Town is not for poor people” and “My budgets are always anti-poor”.
Rafieka Williams spoke to SJC’s Axolile Notywala who said their actions during the Mayor’s draft budget speech were motivated by the City’s exclusion of poor communities from the budget process.
[Originally aired on 24 March 2017 on the Breakfast show]
The Worcester community of Riverview and Avian park has recently made headlines from a video where a young male was documented being shot and killed in a gang related incident. Police say they are investigating two cases of murder, four of attempted murder and others of public violence and malicious damage to property.
Rafieka Williams spoke to residents to understand what effect this violence has had on the community…
[Originally aired 17 February 2017 on the Breakfast show]
The Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) picketed in the CBD for the protection of natural water sources and the end to selling of land to developers and big businesses. Rafieka Williams was there and filed this report…
[Originally aired on 8 February 2017 on the Breakfast Show]
The State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered by the President focuses on current political and socio-economic state of the nation based on government assessments. But, we cannot assume that the address fully incorporates the views of the ordinary people of South Africa.
Rafieka Williams was at the briefing of The PSONA report which looks at the public opinion perceptions of ordinary South Africans, who were surveyed by the (IJR) through the South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) and the Afrobarometer.
[Originally aired 27 October 2016 on the Breakfast show]
Several thousand students marched through Cape Town to demand “free decolonised education”. Just as the march was set to end and disperse, violence broke out, bringing chaos to the CBD. VOC’s Rafieka Williams was on the ground and filed this report.
[Originally aired 30 September 2016 on the Breakfast show]
Now tensions are still high at Universities across the country with the #feesmustfall movement refusing to budge on their mission for free education and it seems disruptions might be continue if their call is ignored. Whilst students are gearing up to intensify their campaign, vice Chancellors from some of the top universities got together earlier this week to discuss the national issue. VOC Rafieka Williams filed this special report on the Private security measures at University campuses across the country.
Features for Voice of the Cape radio, written, produced and narrated by Rafieka Williams
[Originally aired 17 March 2017 on the Breakfast show]
President Jacob Zuma and Social Development minister may have assured that 17 million grant beneficiaries will be paid out next month but fears of non-payment are brimming among those who most affected. VOC news spoke to some of the people to understand their thoughts and fears about the only income they receive not being paid on April 1st…
[Originally Aired on 9 February 2017 on the Breakfast show]
While the state of the Nation Address will be focusing on government’s policy, there are also many organisations that assist government and civil society in achieving development. These organisations make vital contributions when it comes to ground work where government lack’s in service delivery.
VOC’s Rafieka Williams spoke to The Development Action Group to understand the areas where the state can improve in terms of achieving adequate housing.
[Originally aired 16 December 2016 on the Drive Time show]
Despite progress since 1994, South African society remains divided. The privilege attached to race, class, space and gender has not yet been fully reversed. There have been rapid improvements in access to basic services, but their quality continues to be affected by who you are and where you live.
Rafieka Williams speaks to Benjamin Roberts from the Human Science Research Council to find out why racist attitudes continue to exist in South Africa.
[Originally aired on 8 December 2016 on Breakfast Beat show]
As part of our 16 Days of Activism coverage. Rafieka Williams looked at how male dominance, masculinity and patriarchy is considered contributing factors to the issues of gender and sexual violence.
The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, hosted a public dialogue on the Identity and Being Coloured in a Black and White South Africa. VOC news reporter Rafieka William was at the event and filed this report.
The call for free decolonised education is one of the hallmarks of the current Fees must fall movement. What was last year, a movement to bring an awareness to the outcry of non-privileged students at universities across the country has now transformed to a broader agenda that speaks to the experiences of the non-privileged student, rather than just accessibility but what that accessibility entails. Rafieka Williams has more on this story…
The advent of the “rainbow nation” was an idea coined by Desmond Tutu to ensure stability and cohesion among the diverse people in South Africa. With the advent of democracy, there was a promise from the newly elected ANC government to correct the imbalances of Apartheid and create an inclusive society where all citizens had equal opportunities and freedom. But 22 years later the promise of freedom has been lost. Rafieka Williams, interrogates the idea of a rainbow nation.
A list of interviews I did with writers discussing literature and the arts.
Khadija Tracey Carmelita Heeger was born Cape Town. She was raised on the Cape Flats in the township of Hanover Park. She started performing when she was nine years old, her dream was to be an actress, but at 15, she started writing seriously and this is how she expresses herself now. She is a well-known and popular performance poet. Rafieka Williams spoke to her on the significance of poetry.
Yolisa Qunta is an associate editor at Jucyafrica.com and a columnist at allforwomen.co.za. She spent her formative years in Zimbabwe and Botswana as a child to political exiles and returned to South Africa with her family in 1993. She is the first time author of the book “Writing What We Like”, a compilation of essays which includes the voices of Shaka Sisulu, Ilhaam Rawoot, Nama Xam, Lwandile Fikeni, Sibusiso Tsabalala among others. Released last month her book is already on the top ten seller’s at Exclusive books. We chat to her today about the what has been described as a snapshot of what smart, young South Africans think about… Guest: Yolisa Qunta
Covering a wide range of topics, including politics, history, current events and celebrity gossip, this compilation of recent and new writings contains Fred Khumalo’s trademark blend of humour and shrewd analysis, as well as his treatment of everyday issues from a uniquely South African perspective. An entertaining collection of thoughts from one of the country’s most seasoned journalists, offering many questions, and tongue-in-cheek answers, on who we are as a nation, where we are going, and how we compare to the rest of the world. Rafieka Williams spoke to Fred Khumalo on his latest book.
Questions of race and colonial structures of literature brought to the fore at the Jacana Media discussion about decolonising the literary landscape.
This year the Franschoek Literary Festival (FLF) opened up a whole can of worms about the dominance of white privilege in the literary space when Author Thando Mqgolozana said that he was fed up with attending festivals like FLF where most people in attendance are white.
“Is anger Underated?” was the topic of discussion that caused what was considered an honest reaction from Mqgolozana. An article posted in the Daily Maverick, noted the literary festival as a place “where a lot was said but much more remained unsaid.”
The discussion at Wits raised important questions about decolonising the literary space in South Africa and urged those in the room to take a hard look at differences in the culture of reading that black and white people experience.
Eusebius McKaiser led the discussion along with authors Thando Mgqolozana and Siphiwo Mahala, as well as Ben Williams, Sunday Times books editor and founder of Books LIVE, and Corina van der Spoel, Franschoek literary festival organiser.
McKaiser made sure that the ground rules were set by elaborating and expanding on the reasons why Mqgolozana said he wouldn’t go to literary festivals of FLF’s nature. He explained that he was “sick and tired” of being the black writer who is only invited to make the audience understand race.
“The white South African authors, book editors, publisher’s are highly unaware of the un-erred privileges that come with being a white author,” said Mckaiser. He reiterated that this was ultimately something that they had to confront themselves with because it is no accident that only certain books are successful and punted.
These books are usually books that maintain a certain level of black people as ‘anthropological subjects’ and serve white people with a sense of satisfaction when they read it, thinking that when they’ve read a book about black people, they understand them. “That is something that white liberals have to confront themselves with and failure to do so puts you on a continuum with Steve Hofmeyr,” said McKaiser.
This set the tone for the conversation that at one point had an Englishman Ben Williams saying, “There is no opportunity for black literature” and then apologising for his exercise of capitalist systems that limit black literature as a book editor and publisher in South Africa.
The man in government stuck to diplomatic obedience and stated that he indeed knows what the problem is – lack of accessibility to books in places like townships – telling the audience that he can’t even find his own book in the community where he grew up. “We need an integrated approach and try to work together as a collective,” he added.
The discussion however moved to a question that sparked an immediate and emotional reaction from the audience when Corina Van de Spoel asked, “Are black parents buying books and reading for their children?” followed by a “Go find your audience,” and “Where is the black bourgeoisie?”
When Mqgolozana finally spoke he turned towards Van de Spoel and bluntly stated, “This is why Rhodes must fall.”
His statement was followed by comments that further explained the ways in which barriers of entry into a culture of reading are so high for black people in South Africa and in the end, white ownership and overt racist execution of white dominance was the answer.
No doubt the audience had their say with regards to Van De Spoel’s commentary and the discussion was helpful to those who didn’t understand the black writer’s struggle.
The outcome of the discussion (as important as it was, and those in attendance all play a major role in the ways in which the literary landscape can change for the better,) was that there is a level of self determination that is required with invigorating a culture of reading among black South Africans because the way in which it is set up, decolonisation is not happening any time soon.