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Stories are more than just words

When putting pen to paper, poet and author Lebohang Nova Masango uses African women as her muse for most of her work
Author: Kulani Nkuna
Thu, Sep 03, 2020

We are 26 years into this 'democracy' and the South African cultural dialogue finds itself increasingly concerned with questions of decolonisation and there are active participants lobbying for an African perspective. Most of the renewed vigour in pan African and Black Consciousness ideals can be linked to recent protest action (Fees Must Fall) and global solidarity to diasporic struggles (Black Lives Matter), which in turn reinvigorated African Americans' interest in their dislocation from Africa due to slavery.

The synopsis to Christina Sharpe's In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, reads: "Black lives are swept up and animated by the afterlives of slavery, and she delineates what survives despite such insistent violence and negation." Beyonce's Black Is King then seeks out alternative realities for the continued state of emergency that African Americans find themselves in. One way to do that is by returning to the essence (Africa).

Down Mzansi way, well at least in the realm of literature, poetry, theatre and performance, creatives are calling upon their forebears from their continental bloodlines. Last year, the Market Theatre's James Ngcobo staged Nigerian novelist Chigozie Obioma's The Fisherman, starring Isibaya's Siyabonga Thwala and The River’s Warren Masemola to sold out audiences. Soweto's Abantu Book Festival has a specific African Literary temperament and over the years has hosted Nigeria's Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chris Abani, and Egyptian Mona Eltahawy alongside local luminaries Pumla Dineo Gqola, Zakes Mda and Lebohang Nova Masango.

Masango, a sought-after speaker, poet, academic and author, is often the youngest practitioner among her colleagues in South Africa's literary scene, and operates from a distinctly African perspective in her work.

"The duty of an artist is to reflect the times, as Nina Simone rightly says," Masango observes.

"But the duty of an African artist is even grander, because not only are you reflecting the time and telling the stories that move and inspire you as you see them and tell them, but you have to work against the meta narratives of the West which have been constructed and solidified for centuries. As African artists we should always find the truth and tell it and find where the dark places are, and illuminate them."

Back in 1962 when most African states attained independence, Uganda held the 'Conference of African Writers of English Expression', which convened at Makerere University. In The Rise of the African Novel, Mukoma Wa Ngugi says the objective of the gathering was "to define, or at least agree upon, the parameters of an African literary aesthetic that would also be in the service of political and cultural decolonisation".

The writers in attendance were Chinua Achebe (32), Christopher Okigbo (32), Wole Soyinka (28), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (28), Bloke Modisane (39) and Es'kia Mphahlele (43). Thiong'o explains that the writers "helped shape future debates the role of writers in political change, the writer in continental Africa versus the diaspora, and the relationship of African aesthetics to European aesthetics".

Through her various artistic and intellectual practices (PhD candidate), Masango possesses an arsenal that can wage the battle of restoring dignity from many fronts — while telling stories that reveal the continent's aesthetic attributes. On the other hand, she is in league with her forebears from the Makerere conference who were also concerned with questions of representation and writing for political change. She has picked up that baton and wields it gracefully in the contemporary.

"I want to be an anthropologist who works hard to represent African people in ways that are dignified, in ways that are humane and are true to who we are as people," Masango says.

"I write mainly about African women, and have had great mentors/ supervisors, from Professor Nolwazi Mkhwanazi from Swaziland, to one of my favourite scholars right now, Dr Simidele Dosekun from Nigeria and Professor Dina Ligaga from Kenya. These Black women are not only guiding me on the ways of being a really good academic who is incisive and capable, but they also remind me to represent a very complex set of issues in the most respectful way possible."

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