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Thando Mgqolozana on how Abantu Book Festival is getting kids excited about reading

It’s the second year of the ground-breaking Abantu Book Festival, and it is bigger, better and even more relevant to the African context. The Daily Vox spoke to Abantu founder and celebrated author Thando Mgqolozana on the success of Abantu and why this year it was especially important that the festival focuses on children reading.

Gcina Mhlope and Marah Louw posing with a fan

The consciousness and desire for literature is there, we are just catalysts. The buzz and excitement for Abantu is vibrant this year. To be honest with you I’m not sure I’m entirely responsible for this – I think I’m just a catalyst. We as black people have been ready, and waiting, for an event like Abantu to arise. We may plan and facilitate, but something like this is as a result of the wave of consciousness we see spreading nationwide. I mean we know this from #RhodesMustFall. So this is the kind of feeling I have about Abantu Book Festival – that people feel it belongs to them, and they’re making it happen themselves, which is so exciting.

Zukiswa Wanner and Nthikeng Mohlele giving a creative writing masterclass

Last year we got a lot of feedback saying we needed a bigger venue. So we got this huge marquee that takes up to 300 people; I don’t think we’re going to have a space issue. We also now have a children’s programme. Last year you had parents coming here and they didn’t know what to do with their kids and they couldn’t attend panel discussions. So we thought we would have failed if we didn’t have a children’s programme. Also politically I think it’s very important that we had a children’s programme.

Thenjiwe Mswane, author of Uyesaba uZulu, with her siblings

Right now they’re packing books that every child will take home. So basically every child that’s here is going to go home with a book in their mother-tongue. This is why we’re doing Abantu in the first place: I would like to see a situation where black children go to libraries and find books that resonate with them. You’ve got all these beautiful libraries that have been put up over the years, but they don’t have the literature that speaks to people. There is no emotional or intellectual engagement with the libraries – because why should people be interested in books which don’t speak to them?

Gcina Mhlope signing an autograph for a young fan

I honestly believe that when you have relevant literature, you don’t need to motivate people to read. So the kind of intervention I’m trying to make is to say that, let the children have access to books in their mother-tongues. We’ve gotten Liberty to buy several different titles of Sindiwe Magona’s fairytales, which we have available in numerous African languages, for them to take home. So instead of relying on their parents or their schools, they can just come to Abantu Book Festival. And I’m hoping to continue this, and increase the titles available, as the years go on.

Gcina Mhlope at the Kids’ Zone where children at the festival have their own programme

The Abantu Book Festival is on from 7-10 December 2017 at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre and Soweto Theatre. Check out the programme here.

1 Comment
  1. Henry Author Price Jr. says

    comrades it is most likely needless to acknowledge bur I will. People of books should read much of what they like plus little of what they do not like. It comes with being people of books. Read read. Very much sincere, Henry Author (people of books) Price Jr. aka Obediah Buntu IL-Khan aka Kankan aka Gue.

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