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Time of the Writer 2018 panels kick off in Durban, South Africa

The Time of the Writer 2018 panels started at Tongaat Public Library and the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on March 13, 2018. Those who would kick us off were Yewande Omotoso, MK Asante, Lindiwe Mabuza, Refiloe Moahloli, Jennifer Zulu, Unathi Slasha, Mohale Mashigo and Ayobami Adebayo.

The bread and butter of a literary festival is the panel where a moderated discussion features artists around a topic of interest in front of an audience. For some of us who follow these kinds of things, we have come to the conclusion that the panel is just a clever ruse to convince those who are at the venue to buy their books. The panels on a specific topic at this festival would run twice with one event happening in the community and another at the evening events at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

The first official panel of the festival would be “Shaping the emerging young minds” featuring Lindiwe Mabuza and Refiloe Moahloli moderated by Nolulamo Maquthu. This panel happened in the Tongaat Library which had students, learners as the South African school system calls them, as well as adults. The second panel was “The World Through Our Pens” and it featured Yewande Omotoso and MK Asante with moderation from Salim Washington. You can watch this second panel below.

In the evening, all roads led to the Elizabeth Sneddon theatre where more writers would feature. The first of the panels would be “can you challenge tradition?” which featured Jennipher Zulu, there’s no typo there it’s Jennipher, and Unathi Slasha with moderation by James Murua. Unathi Slasha had already made his name in the previous day when he cast aspersion on the quality of South African writing today especially where the writing doesn’t follow in the traditions of Amos Tutuola, Taban Lo Liyong and Dambudzo Marechera. So basically everyone. Jennipher Zulu, one of the three writer delegation from Zambia, on the other hand was more chilled out. Those who saw the program and had heard the two artists knew what to expect. They would not be disappointed.

James Murua, Jennipher Zulu and Unathi Slasha
James Murua, Jennipher Zulu and Unathi Slasha

Both writers read from their books with Slasha reading from his debut novel Jah Hills an excerpt that was quite disturbing as it described a zombie like human being running around and messing regular people big time. Zulu read from her book It’s Hard To Keep A Secret an issues book with sexual harassment of a minor at its core.

Unathi Slasha was the star of the show with his opinion, which in broad strokes, was that all South African writing today is shit. The young writer, no doubt inspired by the poster boy for badly behaved writers Dambudzo Marechera, was to keep explaining to the audience that the writing coming out from his country left a lot to be desired. He had even written essays, some available and others in the pipeline, to support this world view.

Zulu spoke about her journey in writing and how she was challenging the tradition with it. She did so with her book which spoke against the “vice” of sexual harassment, defilement and rape. For those who are not up on these terms, she explained that sexual harassment was for all ages, defilement was the legal term used for minors and rape was for adults.

Shubnum Khan, Ayobami Adebayo and Mohale Mashigo
Shubnum Khan, Ayobami Adebayo and Mohale Mashigo

The explosive panel would give way to “The Art of Keeping Secrets” moderated by Shubnum Khan with Mohale Mashigo and Ayobami Adebayo as the discussants. It was a more collegial event we were treated to as a bubbly Shubnum went between the writers and they shared their secrets to keeping big secrets in their prose. The worry for our moderator was that the reader could feel that they had been tricked by the writer who introduces plot devices to keep said reader off the trail of the real big reveal. Both Mashigo and Adebayo explained that it was important to take the reader on the journey because they wouldn’t then feel cheated.

The evening would end with questions being fielded from the audience.

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