Being a storyteller is one of the most important aspects of my identity. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t searching for expression in one way or another, whether as an actor on a stage, on my couch with pen and paper in hand, or in an art class. As a child, I read books at an alarming rate and watched the movies I loved repeatedly. Essentially, storytelling was my way of making sense of the world.
One of my favourite storytellers is Linton Kwesi Johnson and I remember watching him read his poem Five Nights of Bleeding. In the silence that followed, he told us the story of how he discovered the power of the pen and how he’d used it as a weapon against injustice. Since then, I’ve made the pen my weapon too and have made it part of my life’s work to encourage others to do the same.
The stories we write and tell about ourselves have the power to transform us. In South Africa, we are in desperate need of a fresh and meaningful approach to the women-empowerment conversation. We are tired of the four weeks of advertising dedicated to celebrating the spirit of “womandla”.
The women of South Africa are taking up space; we are making active and visible changes to our landscapes and the reality in which we find ourselves. These are the stories we need to tell, now and throughout the year.
I know this to be true through my own experience. As a way to restore agency to young girls of colour in South Africa, I wrote a short story about a brown girl, titled The Girl Without a Sound. I launched it online in Setswana and English and made it available for free download. The resulting traffic was overwhelming and caused the website to crash!
With the help of the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, The Girl Without a Sound was translated into isiXhosa and isiZulu, South Africa’s most widely spoken languages, and continues to be well received.
Producing the story in Setswana, my mother tongue, was important to me and launching it in Vryburg in North West, where my mother’s family is from, was in many ways a homecoming for me. As I watched schoolgirls respond to the story, I started to really understand just how powerful my pen could be – and how essential.
These students were inspired by the story, how it was created and how my little seed of an idea had turned into an online phenomenon. They saw me as proof of what they could do if they believed in themselves and told each other new stories of possibility, hope and success.
Stories and storytelling can help young girls create independence for themselves. Our girls are ready for these stories and we have them to tell. We just need to raise our voices.
- Ngaba is an actor and author of The Girl Without a Sound – a children’s book to empower young black girls. She is also Nal’ibali FUNda Leader.
This August, Nal’ibali is celebrating Women’s Month by paying homage to female literacy activists who are using the power of the pen and storytelling to empower others. Visit its website at nalibali.org and mobisite at nalibali.mobi to meet women who are making headlines in South Africa’s literacy space