Last night, 6 December 2018, marked the beginning of the much anticipated Abantu Book Festival at Soweto Theatre. The literary festival has been running for three years and was founded by Thando Mgqolozana, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar who was one of the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans in 2010. The festival is an all-black initiative aimed at giving African authors, storytellers, poets and performers an opportunity to interact with one another and their readers. It has become a prime example of decolonising the South African literary space bringing together literary giants from across the continent for panels, performances, readings and screening.

Soweto Theatre was packed with festival goers, hundreds of audience members squeezed into the main theatre, where legendary poet and master of ceremonies Lebo Mashile welcomed the crowd. Attendees were entertained by a musical performance by Zuko Collective and a poetry performance by Kwa-Zulu Natal based Mxolisi Mtshali, who has become well known as a love poet.

The keynote address was delivered by the Nigerian writer and publisher Dr Bibi Bakare Yusuf. She started one of Africa’s leading publishing houses, Cassava Republic Press, in 2006 and focuses on publishing quality African writing at an affordable price. Her speech on the opening night of the literary festival was called “Why she publishes” and was centered around her inspiration for starting a publishing house. She was often shocked at the lack of books in the homes of her friends and family, especially given Nigeria’s rich literary scene. Her goal was to introduce more variety, better content and good quality writing to the masses, the kind of books that speaks to readers and gives them the courage to delve further into African literature. Yusuf is also the co-founder of Tapestry Consulting, a boutique research and training company focused on gender, sexuality and transformational issues in Nigeria.

Yusuf also talked about how there remains a great demand for publishing houses in Africa which can work towards sustaining African culture for future generations and give young writers the opportunity to tell own stories in order to build an archive of African history.

Her speech was in line with the director’s vision who wants African people to take ownership of their stories. Mgqolozana urges people to write their own stories.

The book festival runs until Sunday 9 December 2018, and each day has jam-packed sessions which are to be moderated by different scholars and authors who will touch on different topics. Some of the authors include the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is known for Half of the Yellow Sun (2006), Purple Hibiscus (2003) and We Should All Be Feminists (2014) among others, South African novelist Nozizwe Jele whose debut album, Happiness is a Four-Letter Word (2010) won numerous awards, South African author Fred Khumalo whose books include Bitches Brew (2006), Seven Steps to Heaven (2007) and Touch My Blood (2006). Celebrated author and academic Pumla Dineo Gqola will also be present, whose Rape (2016) and Reflecting Rogue (2017) changed the South African literary landscape.

The event is scheduled to have two main sessions each day one in the morning and one in the evening with various panels, screenings and performances in between. The morning sessions take place at Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Soweto, and the evening sessions at Soweto Theatre starting at 18:00. This is one festival not to be missed.

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers and The Journalist will continue to keep you posted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If you were not able to join the festival this year, there is always next year. In the meantime, stay updated by following us on social media. All images courtesy of Mmuso Mafisa and Abantu Book Festival.