I am a writer, researcher and copyeditor and a published author. I was fortunate enough to work with the late South African singer and political activist Miriam Makeba, co-authoring her second biography titled Makeba: The Miriam Makeba Story in 2005. This was followed by co-authoring Township Girls-The Crossover Generation in 2018.
I have a small chapter in a powerful anthology titled The Pan African Pantheon: Poets, Preachers & Philosophers(Jacana Media). It’s rich in history of political and social activism of the continent and African diaspora; edited by Professor Adekeye Adebajo of the Institute of Pan African Thought and Conversations at the University of Johannesburg. It is a ground breaking project that I am honoured to be part of. I also assist other writers and want-to-be-writers edit and develop their own book projects and publications. – I’m always excited to engage, expand, learn and help develop new writers.
Well, I guess I’ve always been a “documentalist”. I’ve always loved history…especially African history, which was for so long distorted and untold. I didn’t learn any African history at school; but my knowledge and curiosity was peaked and enriched from listening to family who would entertain us with snippets of stories about our ancestors.
One story was of how the Humba Makombe’s – our paternal totem – fought and conquered Portuguese settlers – with swarms of bees on our side…no less! We’d often have freedom fighters, liberation leaders, revolutionaries, nationalists from throughout the continent, people in exile – who passed through our home and we soaked up their stories.
There were books, music, dashiki-togged and Afro-bearing aunts and uncles. So, I grew up with an awareness of a history of pride, dignity and activism… of people who fighting for a better world, a more sustainable future, equality, equity and rights for all. That’s where wanting to document stories came from.
No writing was always a little daunting for me, but when I started university, I had amazing access to African literature – Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone authors like Mariama Ba, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Ama Ata Aidoo, Pepetela from Angola… so suddenly it didn’t seem impossible that one could be a reader or a writer…and an African one at that! I loved Sembene Ousmane, and became exposed to the world of television and film production, and learnt there were different ways for stories and histories to documented, told, and shared.
When I started working in the arts, media, or creative industries there was very little respect for these industries. The creative arts were not seen as ‘a real profession’ which were seen as law, medicine or accounting etc. People didn’t believe you could make a living out of the arts – and this was sadly true for 90% of us.
The myth of the struggling artist was real – but now more women and especially black women are making a name on a global stage, winning awards and earning a decent living. A few like Chimamanda Adiche Ngozi, Noviolet Bulawayo, of course others like Tsitsi Dangarembga, shortlisted for the Booker Award, or filmmaker Xoliswa Sithole with a BAFTA and Peabody come to mind… All this was evidence that anything is possible. Technology has also been a driving a force…e-books, digital platforms, e-commerce stores.
I’ve recently been added to a WhatsApp group of writers, publishers and booksellers on the African continent who share stories about how to make our books more accessible. I was given access to the International Black Collective of Filmmakers who have a chat group. I have a sister pushing her organic cosmetic brand and a farm to boot. There are now a few more African-owned publishing houses and broader base of readers interested in learning more about our rich African history, culture, heritage, vast resources on our continent. The younger generation also gives one hope – movements like #Feesmustfall; #Rhodesmustfall really excited me.
We still need to unshackle ourselves from a generation of overgrown, ‘die-in-power’ leaders in some of our countries who have no respect for – “people, planet, our natural resources and sustainable development and or making the world a better place for more of us.” These people need to go!
A friend of mine, said: Covid-19 has been the catalyst for a new world order to take place. It has forced us to realise that it cannot be business as usual.’ It breaks my heart how many lives and livelihoods have been lost. Families are burying their dead each day. The loss of homes, jobs and income across sectors is unimaginable. In our creative industries, we have seen theatres, cinemas and dance-halls plunged into stark darkness, live music events, concerts, public performances, fashion shows, craft-markets, art galleries, exhibitions, and book launches are a thing of the past – many restaurants, hotels, and cafes are gone. The tourism, hospitality, teambuilding industry bust and, the global film industry and schools facing brutal decline. Many artists and creatives, myself included, struggle to make ends meet. We work part-time, with often hard-to-secure contracts or juggling on unconscionable and untenable rates. Informal and cross-border traders in many of our countries are daily risking health or facing ominous fines or confiscation of their wares. Health workers are tired and defeated. How do we wash hands and sanitise when in some of our countries we don’t even have access to clean, running water?
But this is also a time to introspect. “It can’t be business as usual”. From my industry stand point – the creative industries – arts, culture, and craft also have their psychological, spiritual mental health and therapeutic effects, the buzz words – social cohesion, inclusion, innovation and growth. These are real. As if by foresight, the UN General Assembly declared 2021 as the International Year Of Creative Economy For Sustainable Development with a vision that creative sectors could be used to promote “sustained and inclusive economic growth, provide opportunities as tools of empowerment and to engender greater respect for human rights.”
Collaboration and networking (albeit online); encouraging the interaction between creativity and ideas, knowledge and technology, as well as cultural and artistic values; preserving and promoting cultural heritage, our languages and diversity. So, we ask ourselves how do we support entrepreneurship, creativity or encourage the growth of micro, small and medium-sized businesses? How do we reduce poverty amongst our people and open up the digital economy when many of our countries fail to keep their electricity supply on and when clean, green living via solar is possible? How can the arts contribute to human dignity and human development? What aspects can we take from our cultural and traditional heritage to make the world a better place? What can we learn from our practises of Ubuntu, Hunhu, and community spirit to get us through this phase? I don’t know; but as I read, write, learn, explore and engage with more people in the creative and business sectors, thinking of issues such as sustainability, mental, spiritual, nutritional health and well-being, sanitising and masking – not only to protect me but to protect others, I’m looking forward to us all finding better answers and making changes that benefit everyone.
To conclude, please stay safe, stay home, sanitise, be considerate and mask up!
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