What is South Africa’s narrative after 21 years of democracy? This question often pops up in literary discussions all across the country. Who is telling the narrative? What shapes it? The jury is still out on this issue. There is no definitive conclusion. Yet.
But a group of young writers and editors has come together to create more dialogue around these questions through the release of an e-book anthology that features writings – “post-1994 truths” by South Africans including Lebohang “Nova” Masango, Spoek Mathambo, Sindiso Nyoni, Mack Magagane, Thenjiwe Stemela, Sibusiswe Maseko and others.
Entitled Thought We Had Something Going, the anthology hopes to act as an archival folder that reflects on the times through various voices. The writings are a collection salvaged from the online magazine THIIS, also known as That’s How It Is, which closed down in 2014 after its five-year run. The magazine couldn’t sustain itself financially. THIIS and the Thought We Had Something Going anthology were founded by Tlali Taoana, a pan-African strategist and the co-founder of Scurl & Cutt, Molemo Moiloa, an artist and director of Visual Arts Network of South Africa, and Thando Sangqu, an English student at Wits University.
The team’s dream for THIIS was to provide a platform for young South Africans to share their thoughts and opinions on “their own social realities before the time of #RhodesMustFall or #FeesMustFall”. And although some of the pieces were written more than two or three years ago, Sangqu says the narratives are still relevant in 2015 and that the content was ahead of its time.
The anthology launches this week with a three-day programme that kicks off on Thursday November 26 with a debriefing of the year 2015 with The Feminist Stokvel collective: Danielle Bowler, Lebo Mashile, Lebohang ”Nova” Masango, Kavuli-Nyali Binase, Pontsho Pilane and Milisuthando Bongela, as well as Fees Must Fall Student movement leaders Shaeera Kalla, Vuyani Pambo, Anele Nzimande and Natasha Ndlebe.
There will be a discussion with director Teboho Mahlatsi from The Bomb Shelter about the importance of storytelling and the country’s narrative in 2015 on Friday November 27.
A pop-up library – which will run in conjunction with the e-book launch – will be open at Bean There in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, at 111 Smit Street and it will host a selection of youth culture magazines and African literature. According to Taoana, the pop-up library is a tool to shine light on the importance of spaces, such as libraries, that foster creativity and learning.
All the events will take place at Bean There.
The Mail & Guardian spoke to one of the Thought We Had Something Going project founders, Sangqu, ahead of the book launch.
What is the story behind the title Thought We Had Something Going?
The title Thought We Had Something Going was inspired by the fact that we thought, when we started the online magazine THIIS or That How It Is as young ambitious writers and creatives, we had something going. The title expresses our sentiment when we had to close the magazine and how we “thought we had something going”. If we look at our own experiences, things tend to make sense in retrospect no matter how great or dull they may be. If we relate this to our country’s narrative of 21 years, I think a lot of us “thought we had something going”.
What inspired the project?
The project was inspired by the online magazine THIIS or That’s How It Is. We, as a team, thought that stories and content needed to be archived. The project is a thought-stream that hopes to act as a thought-stream for young people to reflect, create and shape their position in retrospect to what they thought. We think that’s important, it’s too easy to feel brand-affiliated and to create caricatures of ourselves on social media. The concept hopes to inspire young people to account for the own present-future and what they thought they had going, in honest forms of expression such as conversations.
Why did your team go the e-book route? Did you approach any publishers?
Tlali Taona, Molemo Moiloa and myself did approach publishers. Many of them turned down the book as they thought it was too risqué and some thought it was not relevant enough. We thought an e-book was the best way to engage our youthful audience as this now ensures that everyone, no matter your economic or social position, can access the book. The publishing model in itself is exclusionary and most young people would rather torrent their favourite book and print copies, then buy it. We’ve produced a visually pleasing e-anthology that we hope readers will enjoy – a book young people from Mdantsane to Sandhurst can read and enjoy.
What are some of the issues addressed in the book?
The writers in the book write about a variety of issues from the politics of attending private schools and their issues of race, drugs and sex. One writer in the book tells his story about his struggle to find a job in South African as a Princeton graduate. There is also a piece written in Xhosa on the importance of culture to young people. The online magazine had a variety of different writers and we’ve selected some of the pieces that are are most relevant to our goals as a team. We owe this e-anthology to each of writers and contributors for their sometimes candidly written narratives.
Why did you include The Feminist Stokvel in your programme?
We included The Feminist Stokvel collective as we felt issues of patriarchy and misogyny were strongly evident during the #FeesMustFall movement. We felt the collective would be able to engage in our attempt to debrief #FeesMustFall and the issues of patriarchy and the role of women during this period.
How do you feel about the way the older generation reacted to the #FeesMustFall movement?
I think how the “older generation” has responded to movement has been problematic. At times, as young people, we didn’t know if our parents were for the movement or not. As we saw with the lack of credible reporting in the media. The role of our parents needs to be scrutinised going forward. It almost felt to me that we were fighting for them but with no moral support. I think perhaps because they, and most older people, didn’t understand the seriousness of the agenda and role of young people, which is why they didn’t engage as much. However, it’s certainly brought to light that the older generation will only get it when it’s too late already.
How do you plan to continue the conversation after the three-day book launch?
In early 2016 we will transform twh.sg and the content in the e-anthology and will create an app or platform framed on medium.com and Whatsapp that will allow people to write their own content. We hope writing content and engaging with content in a similar fashion to instant messaging will allow people to rethink the way they write and read literature.