Tuesday, 5 January 2016


By Christine Mautjana

A brand new year (2016) has just started and what about African women and literature? Here I will like to reproduce a previous article of mine in this wise…

It is rather exciting that many young South African Black women interested in arts and culture now regard me as something of a role model after I published my first book – which is actually a series of interviews with writers. Many are putting me on a pedestal, which I do not deserve.

The truth is I am just like everybody else – largely ignorant, but willing to learn. I must confess that I used to be very intimidated too as regards literature in particular until I mixed with academics, even professors, and discovered that even they were very ignorant in certain spheres. How much more myself? As a woman the scope and 
breadth of literature, in Africa specifically is breathtaking.

I am happy to have contributed my small quota in this wise but it is just a humble beginning. The first obstacle is that I am quite young and I have to do my research about the literary past but even this can only be tentative. Also, should one focus on South Africa alone (narrow-minded, really) or Africa? I prefer our continent when it comes to our writers.

But let us start with female writers. Perhaps black female writers. As a South African woman I know now that our icons include illustrious names like Miriam Tlali, Lauretta Ngcobo (who died in 2015), Sindiwe Magona. I have tried to at least read samples of their work. Mama Ngcobo is very polished and suave; Magona strikes me as a woman who has performed miracles – somehow overcoming great poverty during apartheid (including three young kids) to travel overseas and become one of our great writers. Read her early works and how she struggled to feed her kids and you burst into tears; not to talk of the lot of “domestics” over the years… 

Then there are other great black African female writers, including those living overseas. From neighbouring Zimabawe the late Yvonne Vera, and Tsitsi Dangarembga have gone down in history. What about Buchi Emecheta and (the young) Helen Oyeyemi – both based in London – who are already part of English literary canon? As women there is also this “impediment” of feminism. Women these days are expected to be beating the drum of women’s rights and all that goes with it; but unfortunately this can be counter-productive.

Feminism is a complex series of ideas that can be confusing. Let us not confuse this with a fringe male minority doing terrible things to women (eg rape) What do women want? True lasting love; or just exploiting men? This brings Nadine Gordimer to my mind, the first African (and South African woman) to win the Nobel Award for Literature. She has over the years been criticized for allegedly not supporting women’s rights or feminism which is absurd. Her literary achievements speak for themselves. It seems to me that the great lady is being attacked for nothing.

What do women really want? Are we losing or gaining from this so-called feminism? I mean I am proud to be a black woman. In South Africa women continue to perform wonders, including very young and young women. We see how we work so hard to develop ourselves, take care of our loved ones. Yes there are some obstacles but should we exaggerate them? Can we in all honesty say that our sex counts against us?

Are there not so many outstanding women doing great things in their field, including literature? Like Angela Makholwa a relatively new outstanding black female writer. Very recently Futhi Ntshingila has impressed me too – very much. In my book (Interviews), there are many black Free State writers featured. They include Nthabiseng jah Rose Jafta who is now making waves (with two female poets) after putting together the book, Free State of mind. Three bright black young ladies. Can we accuse them of not grabbing opportunities open to them? No.
- Christine Mautjana is the editor of the book, Interviews with Effervescent Writers. Mbali Press.

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