The drive to Hartebeespoordam was not an easy one. With the effects of being friends with Bongani Hlatswayo keeping me hidden behind my cheap ray ban glasses, I had to endure the almost three and a half hour drive feeling like the contents of the previous nights festivities might resurface and cause me the biggest embarrassment of my life.
The drive might have been uncomfortable but the journey danced on the edge of being nothing but magical. Rustenburg, with its many small towns and villages, welcomed us like a parent welcoming home a prodigal child. With its mountainous landscape and kilometers of green vegetation, Rustenburg, besides Ramadimetja Rami Makgeru, Charity Sekonyela, Nthabiseng Nooe, Immaculate Lefifi, and Katlego Motsoeneng, must be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
The drive to our destination was probably the same as any other drive I have ever taken to all the new and unknown destinations I have found myself privileged enough to explore. But filled with hours of uncomfortable silence and unnecessary small talk, the trip might have actually been the most uncomfortable one I have ever taken.
Our destination was the Eagle Waters Guest House, and for almost 20 minutes of the trip we were burdened with the task of finding this place. With our small car filled with five very proud writers, none of its passengers – including the very well spoken driver – felt the need to ask for directions from the local residents, which would have saved us almost 20 minutes of the trip. But once we all swallowed our pride and finally asked for directions we finally made it to the venue.
We arrived at the venue ten minutes before the program started and I used up all that time to take in the majesty of the place. The guest house is located next to dam with a mountainous backdrop. On the other side of the dam were properties that looked very expensive and added their fair amount of beauty to the location. Welcomed by the blistering heat of the African sun, I decided to go sit under a tree so I can properly experience the breathtaking mixture between mother nature and man’s hard work.
The program was scheduled to start at 11:00am under a tent where we would be served breakfast. We sat in the heat ridden half metal half plastic erection where we were welcomed by the program director. ‘Welcome to all those attending,’ he said in very deep Setswana, ‘we would like to welcome all the artists and writers attending, the CIPSA leadership, my colleagues from CATA and the Hon. MEC.’ This continued with everyone present introducing themselves and the President of CIPSA giving a speech about who they are and what they have to offer to all the artists present.
Attending the event was a small group of youth writers (who made up less than 10% of the total group which was a big concern for me) a group of dancers, a singer, some old academics from NWU, a large group of old people in their sixties and seventies, and some poets. Despite the forever increasing heat in the tent and sweat dripping from the faces off all its occupants, everything seemed to be going according to plan and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, until the question and answer session.
The question and answer session was a chance for us to get clarity on a couple of issues – like why there weren’t more young people at the event – but it turned into a dictatorial act of superiority by the program director and the rest of the CATA(Culture Arts and Traditional Affairs) employees. We sat there listening to the program director make cheeky comments about some of the questions asked, saying things like ‘this is not the platform to ask such questions’ when asked why CIPSA, which is a Presidentially tasked body to help get the arts industry united, had a predetermined National Executive Committee when there are no provincial structures and how can we expect them to work for the artists if they are paid by politicians. Other offensive things done by the program director included two of us – myself and a young lady who is a brand specialist – being made fun of by him for asking our questions in English, even though were went through twelve years of school and some years of university being taught how to articulate ourselves in this colonial language.
After being made fun of and having people laugh at me at an event I was invited to attend, we were told to move to a different and bigger tent for the address by the MEC and the launch of the publishing house. To my short lived delight, after making our way to the new tent we found a different program director who made me regret thanking my ancestors for the change of the person who would carry forth the task of giving direction to the program without being bias as soon as he opened his mouth and made his first awkward joke. Trying very hard to ignore this mans awkward and sometimes offensive jokes, I focused on preparing myself to get information from the launch, which was the main reason I came to this event in the first place.
Our ANC led government has adopted a very non-secular practice of beginning all their events, well at least all those I have attended, with a Christian led prayer, which is sort of oppressive to everyone who is not a Christian attending the events. Sticking to this practice, the event began with a mini sermon by one of the CATA employees which was followed by a prayer – which we were all asked to participate in – and later about 3 speeches before our MEC took the stand. She spent over 80% of her speech talking about how she is going to help the attending old people to get the equipment they need to get their groups exercising and thanking them for attending. She then thanked the artists attending for their hard work and asked us to find ways to work together with government to preserve the cultures of the province.
Then, to my later disappointment, the event I was looking forward to was finally about to begin. The so called “launch” of the so called “publishing house” began with 4 self published writers – emphasis on self published – exhibiting their books and discussing them with us. They were then congratulated for their successful publishing and got a chance to take pictures with the MEC. A long speech about the importance of writers was made by the program director and, without naming any of them, asked the ‘board of the publishing house’ to come take pictures with the MEC. The HOD then signed an MOU with CIFSA to get a provincial structure of the organization erected before the end of the year and that was it.
We were not given any contact details for the “publishing house,” we were not given any website to visit, we were not given information about what sort of services the publishing house will offer to writers and how much they were going to charge us, we were not given the targets they were planning to reach and what type of books they were going to publish and why. I felt disappointed because it seemed to me like I was basically invited to a politically motivated event that had nothing to do with developing writers in the province.
From the books being exhibited only two were written in English and only one was non-fiction. With myself and most of the people I work with being English non-fiction writers I asked why it was that there weren’t as many non-fiction and English books and I was told blatantly that ‘for now we are only focusing on Setswana fiction writers, others will come later,’ by one of the CATA employees.
During our silent three hour drive back home I could not help but worry about the future of literature in this country if it is left in the hand of people like the ones I had just been unfortunately privileged to be in the presence of that day. Looking at the beautiful landscape and the smiling people of the towns we passed through I felt an intense sense of pain thinking about how, if we continue at this rate, we are not going to have people to write about any of them. I was invited to attend something that was supposed to be a life line for literature in the province but I instead found myself witnessing its political demise.