Nick Wood – April/May 2007

Stories come in many forms and I heard one recently in Cape Town, all the more impressive for its basis in reality. Having organised with the South African Environment Project (SAEP) - - to go into a township school again, I ended up spending two mornings at Sophumelela Secondary (High) school near Phillipi in Cape Town. This was for the purpose of running a creative writing workshop with students – or 'learners' as they are now referred to in South Africa. It being the Easter holidays I was impressed four students (15 to 19 years of age) turned up to attend.

One of the standard issues addressed in many writing workshops - and I speak from the perspective of having attended a few - is the notion of establishing a regular writing routine. I asked about this with some hesitance, as I could tell from the area – with a predominance of self-built corrugated shacks - that space and writing comfort would be a major issue. One of the learners - Sinathemba - proudly announced that he had built his own room and hung up posters of Tupac, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, so that it was his own space where he could write in private.

Now that's seriously establishing your own writing routine.

I asked about their reading – as an often helpful source of knowledge and inspiration for one's own writing. Sinathemba said he saw Maya Angelou on the Oprah show once and would love to read her work, but it turns out the school has no library. From my experience with Oscar Mpetha High in 2004 I was not surprised to find no computers or Internet access there, but I had hoped there might be at least a rudimentary library. Speaking to the organising teacher there, it turns out they had received a donation from a municipal library, but they were all broken/rejected stock and not fit to read. They were all expressing a hunger to find something to read - and were very impressed with the book by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

Zahrah the Windseeker

So if any of you reading this have books that you may want to donate to teenagers with English as second language in Cape Town, South Africa, please contact me and I will send you the address of the teacher at Sophumelela Secondary School who is co-ordinating literary resources.

Thanks are due already to Carole McDonnell, a Jamaican-American writer, who has responded quickly and generously:

The learners in the writing workshop agreed to have their pictures taken - with both a 'serious' and a 'humorous' pose.

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With regard to my own reading, I finished Michael Cope's Spiral of Fire with its genesis in the 1986 State of Emergency in Cape Town. The metafictional novel has a developing science-fiction story running parallel inside it - meeting and trying to understand from an alien civilisation a kinder more integrated way of living - perhaps Black as Other, perhaps not. An interesting read nontheless, from a fraught time.

I have asked a colleague to write a perspective on Afrikaans fiction for the SF in SA section - some of which may be obtainable in English translation. The genres used may be variable - even at times labelled 'magical realist' (e.g. Andre Brink), but all of it no doubt engaged with issues of living and identity in Africa. I thus aim to update this section in the next month – Part IV to be added.

May many more inspiring stories flow from the schools in Africa and beyond - raising hope for hearing different voices, towards a better future. Till next time. Uhambe kakuhle l (Stay well – isiXhosa)

Nick Wood - April/May 2007.