Children are the foundation of the kind of society we are building because they are being shaped into the leaders of tomorrow. At the Abantu Book Festival no child was left behind. The Kid’s Zone made sure of it, engaging them in educational indigenous games, story telling exercises and musical performances to entertain them as adults debated serious matters including the inclusion of children in spaces such as the festival.

Start them young

When African History is spoken of, we very seldom acknowledge children until they are deemed worthy adults. This also spirals into the way we socialise our children with certain topics being shunned as taboo for children to know about, topics which are integral to them being able to make important decisions later in life.

“The pains our mothers go through are sometimes projected onto the girl child… once I was grown up enough to get this, I understood my mother’s actions. I did not excuse them, but I understood. And that made it easier for me to forgive,” said Nigerian poet and author, Lola Shoneyin.

But we need to break the cycle and talk to our children to share knowledge that will allow them to grow into independent women and men. uMamThuliNhlapo and Rosie Motene took the time to related the tales of their childhoods to which a young lady asked, “What advice would you give to a child who is going through similar experiences?”

These are the spaces we need to pass on tales, lessons and history.

The boy child too

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “We need to include the boy child in our transformation agenda. The boy child needs to learn… equally, the boy child who has grown into a man needs to go through a journey of unlearning,” and there is no way we can do this in silos.

The Abantu Book Festival recognises this and created spaces for the boy child and the grown up boy child to learn, unlearn and relearn together.

From the various discussions and sessions on manhood and fictional history to the children’s area, Abantu is ensuring that we walk this re-imagining journey together.

Playing serious games

While the adults were having cerebral conversations, the Kid’s Zone was abuzz with activities putting into action the desire to teach them young. A contingent of storytellers and performances by Cindy Mkaza, Charmza Mrwebi, Mapule Mohulatsi and Mzwandile Ntombela provided indigenous games and songs including Imilolozelo (isiZulu for lullabies) and izilandelo (songs that go along with games and actions). These participatory activities covered a range of themes including nature, food and household objects that were offered as entertainment with the purpose of teaching morals, history and traditions.

uMam’GcinaMhlophe advocates for children to be included in these spaces. She said: “I really love the nunus, they are very intelligent and need spaces to be expressive, their intellect shaped to believe in their roots and which allow them to sponge in the lessons made available to them”.

Bookstores for the African child

In addition to this, a book stall managed by some of the co-founders of an online book store distributing children’s books that feature protagonists of colour in all South African languages stood on the periphery of the Kid’s Zone.

“Seeing the children’s faces light up when they see characters that look like them, with names that are similar to their names or people they go to school with. That for us is part of helping children discover the joy of reading,” said Khumo Taphumaneyi who heads up the online bookstore, Ethnikids.

After struggling to find material in mainstream bookstores to read to their children, Taphumaneyi and four other partners decided to start the online store. Ethnikids sells over 90% local titles, a feat compared to one of the biggest bookstore chains in South Africa which only holds 34% local titles. She praised Abantu Book Festival for creating a collaborative space that is inclusive of little ones in the township.

Taphumaneyi stressed the importance of introducing children to reading as early as possible because they are the future attendees of festivals such as Abantu and our writers of the future. The bookstore will be doing a ‘Kasi’ tour in 2019 where similar activities to the Kid’s Zone will take place, with magicians and musicians as part of their entourage at book readings to make the space fun for children. They’ve also gone into partnership with children’s hair salons so books are available in places where kids have little do to.

Bala Books, a child-authored book publishing company was also a welcome presence at the festival. Founded by Glad Kaiser, the company publishes books that are authored by South African children and youth from the age of seven right through to age 18.

Bala Books also delivers book-writing courses aimed at schooling the youth in the anthologies of authoring books, on Saturdays. “Parents are welcome to attend a one-day free book-writing workshop,” said Kaiser.

In the spirit of taking books where the children are, Abantu Book Festival has certainly done its part. Musawenkosi Ama Xaba, a seven year old wrote about her experience at Kids Zone, read her article here.

All images courtesy of Mmuso Mafisa and Abantu Book Festival.