Literature Talk

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.

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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

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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.

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The 15 reasons you shouldn’t be scared of Johannesburg… or should.

People who visit Johannesburg from any other part of the country will always be overwhelmed by the fast pace and hum-drum of it all. This vast space of land with it’s complex social, economic, cultural, political and historic dynamic continues to evolve. However people may have the wrong idea about what exactly the city consists of. Here are a few pointers for the average young South African who doesn’t know Johannesburg very well.

  1. An ever-changing city: Johannesburg was founded on the mining industry. Prospectors traveled here in search of gold before the city was even declared “Johannesburg”. The city has always been at the forefront of innovation and new developments, on par with London and Paris in it’s earlier days. Today Johannesburg continues to gain international recognition as the heart of economic and technological development. The city is growing bigger and faster every day and it stands still for no man.

    THE ORIGINALS: Portraits of the pioneers of Johannesburg. They are on Display at Carlton Centre in Johannesburg CBD.
    THE ORIGINALS: Portraits of the pioneers of Johannesburg. They are on Display at Carlton Centre in Johannesburg CBD.
  1. The rich people: The highest percentage of the wealthiest people in South Africa reside in Johannesburg. According to a report by Business Tech the the wealthiest people of Johannesburg reside in areas such as Sandhurst and Houghton. If you’ve been to those areas, you are met with high walls and 24hr security. Intimidating to say the least. Conversely, the poor live in the open, on the streets – they are accessible.

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    In a park in Johannesburg CBD, one can find groups of homeless people gathering to discuss future prospects of opportunities in the city.
  1. The Gyms: One would think that a gym is a place mainly enjoyed for sweating and looking attractive but scare tactics seem to seep into the most controlled spaces in Johannesburg. Muhammed Desai, a member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was thrown out of his local gym for wearing a t-shirt that showed his solidarity with Palestine. He was the asked to leave because fellow gym members found it offensive.
  1. The job market: Wealth streaming in from all sectors, Johannesburg is the city that people flock to from all over the world to make money. However, Johannesburg is also crawling with scams masquerading as employment opportunities. There are illegitimate companies that use the Internet to lure desperate people in for jobs. In many cases these scams ask their victims for money in order to secure their jobs in other cases the scams advertise jobs falsely and will have you handing out flyers instead of the office you were promised.
  1. Street culture:  It’s no secret that Johannesburg is host to a plethora of cultures all interacting on a daily basis. So much so that cultures are easily appropriated and distorted for the sake of cosmopolitan ideals, alienating people further and further from their roots.120bgr

 

  1. The taxi industry: The air of Downtown Bree and Noord Taxi ranks permeates with strong smells of urine on a hot day and sewage on a rainy one. This does not deter the working class from filling these ranks – jumping in and out of taxi’s, immersed in the hustle and bustle. These taxi ranks are also governed by relentless taxi officials always hovering in between lanes, policing which taxi you get into. If you give either of these officials any type of attitude, you’ll end up not getting a taxi at all.

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    Bree Taxi rank destined for the Western Townships of Johannesburg.
  1. The foreigners: Foreigners are here to make a living. That’s all.

    A group of foreigners at the SANZAF refugee camp in Mayfair watch on as new survivors arrive. Many foreign people have fled from all over Johannesburg to various refugee camps in as xenophobic attacks spiral out of control.
    A group of foreigners at the SANZAF refugee camp in Mayfair watch on as new survivors arrive. Many foreign people have fled from all over Johannesburg to various refugee camps in as xenophobic attacks spiral out of control.
  1. Buildings: Johannesburg is home to the tallest building in Africa – The Carlton, located in the middle of the CBD. The view from the Carlton overlooks the beautiful Johannesburg skyline, a closer look and you will be able to spot the numbers of neglected and abandoned buildings. These buildings, although unfit for human habitation continue to be occupied by residents, endangering their health to get cover from the harsh city streets.listicle-40
  1. The youth: The youth of the Johannesburg have been deemed the drivers of change in the city. Heading their own businesses and movements by utilising social media to brand themselves, young people in Johannesburg are taking their futures into their own hands. Bloggers turned business owners such as Frypan Mfula and twitter personalities turned socialites such as Sadie Wiggles have made it big just by using the Internet to their advantage. Watch the space.
  1. The food: Bloggers will tell you that street food consists of Maboneng food stalls that sell Mexican food and Markets that sell coffee flavoured ice-cream but the only consistent type of food is cheap snacks that go for one rand. Sold by someone with a pop up crate store that you can find in any area of Johannesburg, no matter how far North.
  1. The environment: Johannesburg weather patterns are erratic and hard on your skin. Winters are dry and summers are wet. In addition to that, the city has gone through at least three tremors in the last three years.86-40
  1. Crime: South Africa may be known for its high crime rates and Johannesburg andi you haven’t been a victim to it, you know somebody who has. The city streets may be over-populated but it’s the quiet streets where there are few witnesses one should be equally afraid of.

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    Johannesburg: Alleys in the CBD, sometimes used as shortcuts for people to get around easily because they’re less crowded than the pavement and the streets.
  1. The entertainment: Buzzing with hotspots such as Melville, Rosebank, Braamfontein and not to mention the famous Vilakazi street, one could never be bored in Johannesburg. But beware of the mundane company you may have to endure among these middle to upper class socialites. great dane2 (40 of 1)
  1. The uninvited guests: Once you’ve been in Johannesburg long enough, you’d understand that your racial identity is an important part of who you’re meant to be. Unfortunately if you’re not black or white, your ideas on race do not matter. Racial discussions in Johannesburg exclude any other race that is not black or white. Better pick a side.IMG_3429
  1. Safe Havens: Given all the reasons that Johannesburg is a scary place to be in, there are also spaces of safety that you can enjoy without feeling pressurised or fearful for your life… the malls. Where you won’t lose your life but you will spend all your money buying overpriced goods.

News Inserts

Short radio news inserts that I compiled for Voice of the Cape radio.

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.


30 September 2016 – 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.

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The Open Book Fest 2016 hosted among many other talks on literature and writing, some pertinent discussions on current movements in South Africa. Harry Garuba spoke to Sihphokuhle Mathe and Tabisa Raziya on the Decolonisation of Institutions. Rafieka Williams caught up with Sipokuhle Mathe the most important outcomes of the event.


The Muslim Youth Movement Gender Desk commemorated and celebrated the life of the late Shamima Shaikh, one of South Africa’s most prominent Muslim gender rights’ activists. The Shamima Shaikh Commemorative Lecture was held at the Bo Kaap Musuem, 31 Wale Street, Cape Town on the 17th September 2016. Dr. Fatima Seedat delivered a presentation titled: “Narratives of empowerment: Muslim women and the Gender jihad in South Africa.” at the Shamima Shaikh Lecture.

In-depth Coverage

Features I did for Voice of the Cape radio, written, produced and narrated by me.

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 dream of the common vision for a shared future as described by participants in Sharlene Swartz’s study Another Country. “A South Africa where race no longer dominates; where there is equal access to opportunities; where we have social and geographical integration, knowing people different from us and having them for neighbours; and a country where poverty and inequality are a dim memory.” There is common fight that moves beyond a generational gap that needs to be fleshed out and in addressing these commonalities the time for an inter-generational dialogue, Now 40 years later would be a good way to start. Rafieka Williams spoke to Eleanor Duplooy who is the Project Leader for the Ashley Kriel Youth Leadership Development Project at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation to try to understand this need for an inter-generational dialogue…


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 history of land dispossession in Cape Town in particular is a history that began years before Apartheid. The land Act of 1913 only solidified what was always in place in the Cape Colony. Historian W. J. du Plessis said that “By the time of the advent of the new South Africa, about 17 000 statutory measures had been issued to segregate and control land division, with 14 different land control systems in South Africa. in keeping with the theme of Heritage month, Rafieka Williams explored how land dispossession affects the identity of the marginalised.


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.

Photography – semester 2

Decolonising the Literary landscape

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.

No democracy for Wits EFF

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ILLEGITIMATE DEMOCRACY: Mcebo Dlamini, former SRC president, thinks that the university’s decision to cut the EFF from elections was unfair and undemocratic.

The Economic Freedom Fighters club and society (CSO) was banned after members of the CSO took the stage and disrupted the what was supposed to be a Student Representative Council (SRC) election debate. The election however continued after the CSO was banned but not many people agreed to the fairness of that decision.

When a fight broke out in the great hall after the Project W confronted the EFF for causing a disruption and effectively not allowing the SRC debate to happen, people were shocked that the situation became violent – shouting, shoving and fists being thrown around. And when seven students were suspended for their involvement, there was an of outcry from Witsies who noticed the unequal way disciplinary rules were being enforced by the university.

At the time the university took it a step further and banned the EFF from operating as a CSO and effectively pulling it from the elections. The ban was later lifted but the EFF were not allowed to participate in the elections. For students this limited their options and questions around the legitimacy of the elections was raised.

Dlamini who is studying a Post Graduate LLB said that “Democratic centralism and even democracy have failed, it has collapsed. It’s not fair because we have reduced participation. Even those who will be in office, they will be illegitimate.”

“I don’t think it’s right that they didn’t at least get like a fair chance. As much as they were kicked out there may have been a portion of Wits that wanted them there and that’s why they’re there, is to bring change. So they should’ve at least deserved a chance.” Said Enrico Pespizolo, a 2nd year, Architecture student.

Another student, Brittany Lawton said that, “I don’t think it’s fair because obviously they’re still a party that needs to be voted for and they still need to be part of elections but at the same time considering what they did maybe it was handled right.”

Many students disagreed with the way elections took place and CSO’s who didn’t necessarily support the EFF said that the whole process of campaigning and elections did not go well. A reflection of uneasy times at Wits University.

The Wits Rag society celebrates Women’s month

IMG_0131PETALS OF EMPOWERMENT: The Rag pub was beautifully decorated to welcome the few who attended the Women’s month celebration event. Photo Rafieka Williams

The Wits Rag society hosted a Women’s Month event to highlight the experiences of women in South Africa. One of the few events at Wits to have taken place in the course of the month, it took place on August 6 with just under 30 people in attendance.

Held in the cozy Rag pub, in the basement of the Matrix the organisers set up a free intimate poetry session for students. The poets who performed included Thando Buthelezi and Nobuhle Khanyile both of whom do not take the art of poetry very lightly.

The aim was to bring about an awareness about women’s struggles, and also celebrate and empower women. Although the entrance was free, attendees were encouraged to give donations for the The Diary Of Esther, a charity and education initiative that focuses on the transformation of the girl into a woman and what that process does to young women, especially girls who come from areas where menstruation is a taboo subject.

The inititative donates sanitary pads and towels to needy girls in schools and universities. They also have an education programme where they involve boys in understanding what happens to a girls body when she is on her peiod.

Sibongile Bhebhe, one of the representatives of the Diary of Esther said that “Since time in memorial, periods have been something that we do not want to talk about, something that scares us, something that people are shy about, so what the Diary of Esther has done, we want people to understand – why the period?”

Although the turn-out was low, the response from people who attended the event was that it really struck a chord. Mostly students feel that women are not celebrated enough at Wits.

Zoe Ngwenya said, “I’m a firm believer in the notion of empowering women and as an aspiring feminist I feel that it was really important for me to be here and to stand and to see what other women had to say about women and the experiences.” Ngwenya also thinks that, “We could do with more events like this where more guys actually attend these events. We need to actually also involve men in such things because they are very ignorant to certain things that involve women.”

Another student in attendance Charlie Hadebe said more events like this need to happen “on a large scale, on a huge scale, I mean most of our lecturers aren’t females, academic world, business world, it’s not enough”.

“This was very educating and it opened a lot of eyes, I was opened to a different view of women because I didn’t know a lot and as some of the speakers have said that we guys don’t understand. The people who were speaking and performing, they gave me an insight into what it really is to be a woman” said Mamphofulane Mohale, one of the few male students in attendance. He said that he doesn’t think the university is doing enough to empower woman because the only other event he’d seen was Vow FM, the campus radio station, asking people to write messages on a piece of paper at the library lawns to celebrate women.

“Definitely it’s not enough, women need more recognition in this school and I think the school can do better… People are not being made aware and they’re not being taught the importance of women’s month.” said Mogale.