Not everyone dreams of winning awards and getting accolades for their writing. They just want to tell stories and hope someone hears them.
This is the case with Sebokeng-based Thembisile Kundlwana (34) and Limpopo-born Nyelisani Mbedzi (24), who won awards at the 2019 Sanlam Prizes for Youth Literature. They walked away with a lot more confidence – and a bit of money. We get to know the authors.
WHY THEY WROTE THEIR STORIES
Thembisile says his isiXhosa-titled novel, Tata Sikuxolele (Dad We Have Forgiven You), was inspired kids get from their parents.
“The reason I wrote this book is because there was a father who didn’t care about his kids after their mother had passed on,” he says. “It was only after the kids had succeeded that he apologised and humbled himself.”
The kids were staying at their uncle’s house and weren’t being taken care of properly. Thembisile says he sees a lot of this, including kids begging in the street – not because they want to, but because they’re desperate.
“It forces them to leave and find a means to survive,” he explains.
Nyelisani says some of his stories are inspired by the experiences he and other people go through. However, his Tshivendatitled novel, U Kondelela (Patience) – which scooped him a silver prize – is different. It’s about Lion, the ruler of the jungle, who’s dying. He’s succeeded not by his own offspring, but by an animal with no royal bloodline. Maemu, a human, takes up the throne and does a good job. He gains the trust of the other animals, which helps him when Lion’s son, Nemashango, makes a sudden return hoping to claim the throne. “I usually see pictures and immediately have a full story in my head,” Nyelisani says.
“I saw a picture of a lion and I knew that was the story.” He experienced many challenges while growing up, a lack of tuition fees being one. He says his book aims not only to encourage readers but also to keep them motivated.
READING TO WRITE
Thembisile says although it wasn’t part of his daily routine while growing up, he always had time to read other people’s books. Among the ones he loved most was Akusekho Konwaba (No Longer At Ease) by DM Jiyane, C Achebe and H Mothlabane. He says it taught him that if a place doesn’t feel the same after leaving, “when you go back you probably won’t be at ease”.
Nyelisani says he looks up to media personality Bonang Matheba.
“She had an interview on SABC3’s Real Talk where she spoke about a lot of things she does, like being a businesswoman, an author and a TV personality. It encouraged me to do anything if I put my mind to it.”
ROAD TO PUBLISHING
It wasn’t easy getting their books published and both Nyelisani and Thembisile faced challenges. “When I was preparing for my exams I was under pressure to finish writing the book. I had to do both at the same time,” Nyelisani says. He’s studying computer science at the University of Limpopo, Turfloop campus. He says being an author is challenging in itself – just to be able to reach 20 pages is hard. Thembisile says he didn’t know how to write a story that would be relatable. “Do I write it like this or like that?” he says, adding that he’s always loved literature. Both authors hope readers will get something special from their books.
“Kids may be kids now but they’ll be parents one day, so they must learn how to take care of their children,” Thembisile says. Nyelisani says people must learn to wait for God to fight for them. “That’s what my book is trying to teach.”