Nick Wood – Oscar Mpetha Writing Workshop

A writing workshop was held at Oscar Mpetha High School in Phillip, Cape Town, on 27th July and 3rd August 2004. This was held under the auspices of the South African Environment Project (SAEP).

Oscar Mpetha High School Pupils

There was a good and enthusiastic turnout of around 20 children per workshop, with good continuity of attendance between the first and second week. Although most (if not all) students were native Xhosa speakers, they expressed a preference for the workshop to be run in English. It should be noted that pieces submitted were hand-written and with English used as a second - or possibly even a third - language.

Writing in the first week focused on writing in different styles and genres, such as romance, mystery, political writing and fantasy and science fiction. There was some focus on the speculative fiction being written by writers of ‘colour’ in other countries, such as the two ‘Dark Matter’ anthologies and a ‘postcolonial’ anthology entitled ‘So Long Been Dreaming.’ Students were asked to write a short piece on something that was important to them. (The acknowledgement being that good writing often comes from writing with passionate authenticity about a matter of concern.) Good to excellent pieces were read out by students covering issues around ecology and care of the environment to family relationships and identity/pride issues around skin colour. I would have liked to have been able to collect and comment on more of the pieces written – especially a very good one on ecology – but some students took these with them at the end.

Of note from the first week was an excellent short piece by Thembeka Mnukwa on 'Growing Up Without A Father'. This portrayed a strong emotional ambivalence about the importance of making contact with father. It ended with a neat resolution that it is down to her individual responsibility to work through what she currently has, rather than what might or might not be. This was sensitively written and a strong emotional piece tinged with loss and ideas around moving forward too. Good pieces were also submitted by Lwazi Nkelenjane around issues of black identity and pride and a good description of the importance of family by Ncedo Ketye.

Oscar Mpetha High School Pupils

Week two focused on looking at local writing options available and the importance of conflict in plots to interest readers. A number of long pieces were submitted for a ‘competition’ around the theme ‘How may the future be different’? It was difficult to separate the top two stories, but in the end I decided ‘The Drama of School and Home’ by Noluyanda Roxwana was a worthy winner. Noluyanda wrote an interesting piece based at school where there was conflict with her cousin and this was resolved through a ‘dream’ into the future where people had become the same and it was consequently ‘boring’. An outsider was found who was ‘different’ and eventually accepted as a ‘gift’ to be treasured for her difference – although waking from a ‘dream’ is a well-worn theme, the ‘dream’s’ movement into resolving present life conflict was well handled. This was a well told story with a good use of humour at times. To read ‘The Drama of School and Home’ click here.

A very close second was ‘Small Gift, Big Gift’, by Thembeka Mnukwa, a beautiful little tale about a street child who meets an old man who becomes a secret benefactor of the child. There were some lovely descriptions and use of similes in this piece and it may well have won if it had included a little more focus on conflict and development of the story.

A very good submission that came in a close third to the above stories was Alutha Gonya’s ‘The End Of The Begging’ – a good tale around conflict between a child and her grandmother. This was told in a style similar to drama, with an emphasis on crisp dialogue rather than lengthy descriptions. It ended with a message around the importance of kindness within families if we are to survive positively into the future.

  1. The Drama of School and Home – Noluyanda Roxwana
  2. Small Gift, Big Gift – Thembeka Mnukwa
  3. The End Of The Begging – Alutha Gonya

All attendees wrote and read pieces of work with promise and if possible I would have liked to comment on all of them. However, as a general feedback I can see quite clearly that creative writing is alive and well at Oscar Mpetha High School!

Workshop attendees noted for week two were:

  • Shiela Yabo;
  • Wendy Mpoza;
  • Alutha Gonya;
  • Lwazi Nkelenjane;
  • Ivan Kalifa;
  • Ncedo Ketye;
  • Xolani Miwebi;
  • Tsepang Malgas;
  • Noluyanda Roxwana;
  • Melikaya Nohesi;
  • Babalwa Yobo;
  • Babalwa Ngcofe;
  • Lungile Hill;
  • Sanda Donoblo.

With thanks to Norton Tenille of SAEP and to the staff and learners of Oscar Mpetha High School.

Nick Wood
6th February 2005

Further reading

I have received two stories from ‘learners’ (students) from Sinethemba High School and have uploaded the one, which ends with a wonderful poem. The author, Sinethemba, writes with English as his second or even possibly his third language, and gives some interesting ideas in his story. Although there is some uncertainty about the viewpoint character, I think it was well written overall. It is entitled: Diamond in the Dirt and Blind South Africa.

Nick Wood
January 2008