What is South Africa’s narrative after 21 years of
democracy? This question often pops up in literary discussions all across the
country. Who is telling the narrative? What shapes it? The jury is still out on
There is no definitive conclusion. Yet.
But a group of young writers and editors has come together
to create more dialogue around these questions through the release of an e-book
anthology that features writings – “post-1994 truths” by South Africans including Lebohang
“Nova” Masango, Spoek Mathambo, Sindiso Nyoni, Mack Magagane, Thenjiwe Stemela, Sibusiswe Maseko and others.
Entitled Thought We Had
Something Going, the anthology hopes to act as an archival folder that
reflects on the times through various voices. The writings are a collection
salvaged from the online magazine THIIS, also known as That’s
How It Is, which closed down in 2014 after its five-year run. The magazine couldn’t sustain itself financially. THIIS and
We Had Something Going anthology were founded by Tlali Taoana, a pan-African
strategist and the co-founder of Scurl & Cutt, Molemo
artist and director of Visual Arts Network of South Africa, and Thando Sangqu, an
English student at Wits University.
The team’s dream for THIIS was to provide a
platform for young South Africans to share their thoughts and opinions on “their own social realities
before the time of #RhodesMustFall or #FeesMustFall”. And although some of the pieces were written more than two or three years ago, Sangqu says
the narratives are still relevant in 2015 and that the content was ahead of its
The anthology launches this week with a three-day programme
that kicks off on Thursday November 26 with a debriefing of the year 2015 with The Feminist Stokvel collective: Danielle Bowler, Lebo Mashile, Lebohang
”Nova” Masango, Kavuli-Nyali Binase, Pontsho
Pilane and Milisuthando Bongela, as well as Fees Must Fall Student movement leaders Shaeera
Kalla, Vuyani Pambo, Anele Nzimande and Natasha Ndlebe.
There will be a discussion with director Teboho Mahlatsi from
The Bomb Shelter about the importance of storytelling and the country’s narrative
in 2015 on Friday November 27.
A pop-up library – which will run in conjunction with the e-book
launch – will be open at Bean There in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, at 111 Smit Street and it
host a selection of youth culture magazines and African literature.
According to Taoana, the pop-up library is a tool to shine light on the importance of
spaces, such as libraries, that foster creativity and learning.
All the events will take place at Bean There.
The Mail & Guardian spoke to one of the Thought We Had
Something Going project founders, Sangqu, ahead of the book
What is the story behind the title Thought We Had Something Going?
The title Thought We Had Something Going was inspired
by the fact that we thought, when we started the online magazine THIIS or That How It
Is as young ambitious writers and creatives, we had something going. The title
expresses our sentiment when we had to close the magazine and how we “thought
we had something going”. If we look at our own experiences, things tend to make
sense in retrospect no matter how great or dull they may be. If we relate this
to our country’s narrative of 21 years, I think a lot of us “thought we
had something going”.
What inspired the
The project was inspired by the online magazine THIIS or That’s
How It Is. We, as a team, thought that stories and content needed to be archived.
The project is a thought-stream that hopes to act as a thought-stream for young
people to reflect, create and shape their position in retrospect to what
they thought. We think that’s important, it’s too easy to feel brand-affiliated
and to create caricatures of ourselves on social media. The concept hopes to
inspire young people to account for the own present-future and what they
thought they had going, in honest forms of expression such as conversations.
Why did your team
go the e-book route? Did you approach any publishers?
Tlali Taona, Molemo Moiloa and myself did approach publishers. Many of them turned down the book as they thought it was
too risqué and some thought it was not relevant enough. We thought an e-book was
the best way to engage our youthful audience as this now ensures that everyone, no matter your economic or social position, can access the book. The publishing
model in itself is exclusionary and most young people would rather torrent
their favourite book and print copies, then buy it. We’ve produced a visually
pleasing e-anthology that we hope readers will enjoy – a book young
people from Mdantsane to Sandhurst can read and enjoy.
What are some of the issues addressed in the book?
The writers in the book write about a variety of issues from the
politics of attending private schools and their issues of race, drugs and
sex. One writer in the book tells his story about his struggle to find a job in South African as a Princeton graduate. There is also a piece written in Xhosa on the importance of
culture to young people. The online magazine had a variety of different writers and we’ve selected some of the pieces that are are most relevant to our goals
as a team. We owe this e-anthology to each of writers and contributors for
their sometimes candid written narratives.
Why did you include The Feminist Stokvel in your programme?
We included The Feminist Stokvel collective as we felt issues of
patriarchy and misogyny were strongly evident during the #FeesMustFall
movement. We felt the collective would be able to engage in our attempt to
debrief fees must fall and the issues of patriarchy and the role of women
during this period.
How do you feel about the way the older generation reacted to the
I think how the “older generation” has responded to movement has
been problematic. At times, as young people, we didn’t know if our parents were
for the movement or not. As we saw with the lack of credible reporting in the
media. The role of our parents needs to be scrutinized going forward. It almost
felt to me that we were fighting for them but with no moral support. I
think perhaps because they, and most older people, didn’t understand the
seriousness of the agenda and role of young people, which is why they didn’t
engage as much. However, it’s certainly brought to light that the older
generation will only get it when it’s too late already.
How do you plan to continue the conversation after the three-day
In early 2016 we will transform twh.sg and the content in the e-anthology
and will create an app or platform framed on medium.com and Whatsapp that will allow people to write their own content. We hope writing content and engaging with content in
a similar fashion to instant messaging will allow people to rethink the way they write and read literature.