The 24th edition of the Time of the Writer International Festival hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) in the College of Humanities was presented virtually on its social media channels, with a keynote address by writer, editor, publisher and curator Ms Zukiswa Wanner.
Festival co-curator Ms Siphindile Hlongwa welcomed more than 300 viewers to the festival’s opening. ‘Through our championing spirit, exactly one year ago, we became the first South African festival to venture on an online platform. Our 2nd virtual edition offered a jam-packed programme with over 30 sessions and over 100 participants.’
The festival’s opening also included an introduction to featured writer Mr Fred Khumalo and inaugural festival literature champion Mr Ntokozo Ndlovu. Ndlovu was awarded this title by the festival for his sterling work with the Siyafunda-Donate-A-Book project that makes it possible for children in rural schools to access literature.
Speaking to this year’s festival theme, The writer: witness, canary in the mine or testifier? CCA director Dr Ismail Mahomed said: ‘We believe that these three roles are incredibly important to defend our democracy. The CCA values the support that it receives from University leadership, our partners and particularly the artists we work with, to ensure that we create a platform for dialogue that help us to engage with our democracy so that we can create the systems and the opportunity to endow it to future generations.’
Delivering her keynote address on the Writer’s Voice in a Political, Social and Artistically-Conscious World, Wanner said, ‘While we may want to claim to be canaries in the mine, we probably are not. We are just engaging with our past and knowing how it will shape our future, and we seem prophetic only because our leaders are so anti-intellectual, so anti-literature that they do not read so they too can heed the warnings. I hope this is the case.’
She highlighted the vulnerable position of literature and her dream of what the continent would be like if each country had a literature foundation. ‘Writers would not need to debate whether to take Ngugi’s side or Achebe’s side on the language question. Writers, like painters, would paint in a colour or language of their preference, but be certain that their work, if engaging enough, could be translated into another of our languages. And our universities would not allow anyone to earn a Master’s degree in any language if they have not translated a book from this continent from one language to another.’
Wanner added that to be a writer is to always hope for the better: ‘As writers, we can be witnesses, appear to foretell doom or testify. Unfortunately, as long as no-one reads us and engages with our work, it will not matter. After the end of this 24th Time of the Writer Festival, I can only hope that the narrative is changed.’