Writing takes local to Europe

2017-07-25 06:00
Local author Sonwabiso Ngcowa (second from left in back) after his reading at a bookshop in the town of Essen, Germany.

Local author Sonwabiso Ngcowa (second from left in back) after his reading at a bookshop in the town of Essen, Germany.

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A Masiphumelele author has returned from Germany and the Netherlands, where he has been promoting his most recent work.

Sonwabiso Ngcowa (33) was a guest speaker in libraries, schools and bookshops in cities like Amsterdam, Cologne, Bonn, Essen and Osnabruck were he discussed his new book, written with Melanie Verwoerd, which was translated into German.

The book, 21 at 21, the Coming of Age of a Nation, was conceived by Verwoerd – the youngest female member in parliament in 1994 as part of Nelson Mandela’s cabinet – who invited Ngcowa to work with her as co-reseacher and co-author.

“I was fortunate in that I came together with Verwoerd after she saw me present my previous book at the Book Lounge in Cape Town, when the book she would propose was still an idea. We worked together from the beginning,” he says.

The book contains interviews with young South Africans from diverse backgrounds who were all born in 1994 and became 21 in 2015, just like the new South Africa.

“What inspired the book was the need in us of wanting to know how people who were born in 1994, at the dawn of democracy in our country, were experiencing living in the new South Africa. Initially, we had said we would invite the young people born in 1994 to send us their stories to be compiled in a book.

“But immediately after that we said we would miss many stories if we wrote the book that way. It is a reality that there are many people who have no access to computers. And, the most exciting thing was that we would meet all of the participants, so we decided to go around to parts of the country to interview these 21-year-olds.”

Ngcowa left the financial industry in 2011 to pursue his dream of writing ­professionally.

“I fell in love with writing when I used to listen to radio drama stories. The magic of creating stories, as I heard from the radio dramas, captivated me. The ability to create something where there was nothing, or sometimes putting together floating ideas and the material produced by everyday life as fiction, really inspired me.”

He moved to Masiphumelele from the Eastern Cape in 1996, and after two years at Ukhanyo Primary School moved to Fish Hoek High School. He began writing poetry and short stories.

“One winter night after a storm I came home and my small shack at the back attached to the main shack had the one side of it pulled off by the wind. My written material (as I did not have a computer at the time) had blown away in the wind. This really broke my heart as it was years and years of work. I would get the first old desktop computer years later, long after I had finished matric, from a relative’s employer.”

His journey has taken him a long way from that day, having written short stories which were published first by FunDza and Oxford University Press. His first novel, In Search of Happiness, set in the village where he grew up and in Masiphumelele, encourages dialogue about homophobia and ­xenophobia.

Ngcowa is currently completing his Masters in Anthropology at UCT.

“For a boy who was born and grew up in a place that saw little to no development during and after apartheid, a boy who came to live in a township and lived in a dehumanising shack, it makes me, the man now, proud to have been to Germany to present my work. I am proud not because I am patting myself on the back. I am proud for the reason that there are good people who have shown the willingness to help throughout my career so far. My trip to Germany is dedicated to everyone involved, particularly [my mentor] Dr Lutz van Dijk.”

Ngcowa has just finished a radio drama with Deutsche Welle, which will be translated into English, French, Portuguese, Hausa and Kiswahili. Although focusing on his studies for now, Ngcowa will still continue to write.

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