The Abantu Book Festival, a four-day event, promised a space of healing and unity for black historians, academics, writers and academics. A space where black people can be completely themselves with all the complexities of their culture and with no censorship or negotiation. A soulful feast indeed!

6 December 2018 18:30. I walked into the Soweto theatre with high expectations. I was looking forward to attending the much anticipated third edition of the Abantu Book Festival. I was not disappointed.


As a first time attendee, I had heard great stories about this annual feast of African literature. I walked in searching for the rewriting of history from the lion’s perspective, I got exactly what I was looking for.

My young soul could not feel more at home anywhere else. Writers, poets, publishers, story-tellers, historians and consumers of literature from across the African continent were gathered in one place and they spoke in unique voices that joined to form one gloriously unified melody.

My soul could hear the purr of the young lions. It was a purr of serenity. Not because all was well, but because they knew that the next great literary revolution is in their hands, they had found a place to call home- even if for a day.

From the first day, this four-day event promised a space of healing and unity for these black historians. A space where black people can be completely themselves with all the complexities of their culture and with no censorship or negotiation. A soulful feast indeed!

You can imagine my anticipation for the second day of the festival. It was an enlightening experience, filled with educational conversations and debates between writers, literary scholars, activists and journalist. Actress and director Mmabatho Montsho and novelist Nozizwe Jele unpacked Jele’s second novel, The Ones with Purpose, which examines the complexities of grief within the black community.

The much anticipated conversation between Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Professor Pumla Dineo was the highlight of the day. The tent- which could take up to 500 people, was overflowing. The one hour session felt like it moved at the speed of light, it was over before it could even start.

There was so much to unpack, especially with these two powerhouses in one space. While commenting on South Africa’s rainbow nation, Chimamanda pointed out that in her view, apartheid in South Africa was not over.

“Apartheid in South Africa was a thing growing up in Nigeria. I couldn’t understand when I heard it was now rainbow nation. I thought it was puzzling, apartheid only barely ended,” she said.

This is a sentiment that most art and book lovers share, and it may well be a similar sentiment that led Abantu Book Festival founder and director Thando Mgqolozana to imagine a safe space for black people to share their visions and for the voiceless to be heard. He turned this imagination into reality.

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers and The Journalist are honoured to be part of this life changing experience. The Abantu Book festival is indeed a space where all black people are encouraged and advised to follow in Mgqolozana’s footsteps by “Imagining ourselves into reality”. This is truly the seed that Africa needs to turn the comfortable purrs of the lion cubs into the roars of full grown lions who will stop at nothing to tell and document their own stories.

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.