Monday, May 30, 2016

Words and Stories

People often undermine the role words and stories play in our lives. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the dominant culture, for their own purposes, defines the stories we believe to be absolute and true. We amble along within those narratives and many of us never stop and look around and, more especially, look outside the walls of those stories to see the other possibilities. We don’t scratch the surface a bit, or carefully pick at the word choices that are the ingredients that make those stories.
I’m currently doing research for my third historical novel and one narrative various tribes around Southern Africa like to believe is the story of purity. But one thing you learn as you begin to get under the surface a bit, especially after the wars of the Difaquane and the disruptions of colonialism, individuals, no matter where their original people might have been, often hooked up with who made them safest and they became that. A deeper look makes many of the walls that divide us collapse, the narrative is only useful for the ones that require it; it is, in the end, a story.
These stories are everywhere. One story I’ve been analysing is the story of marriage. This is a story well-established and reinforced with almost dictatorial vigour through songs and films and romance novels. What is a good marriage? We all know the story. It is between a man and a woman. It is monogamous, especially on the woman’s side. It is based on trust and love. It is a partnership where the two become one; they are soul-mates. The story is so entrenched we all know a good marriage when we see one, and just as easily can condemn a bad one without a thought. We know the story. But what about a different marriage story? What is beyond those boundaries of the narrative?  Shouldn’t we question everything? Are we not each unique with unique needs? Then how does this marriage-suit fit everyone the same? I suspect it does not.
Another story fed to us is the story of capitalism and the growing healthy economy. That is how a sound country is quantified. Is that the only way? Is it really a healthy way? Nothing grows forever in this practical world we live in—except the economies of countries, at least that is what they tell us. It seems unbelievable, but we all swallow it. Stories, stories, stories. Were we not taught to question? To look behind the Wizard’s door like our dear Dorothy?
And what about those pesky words. Lately the word of the moment has been defile. I understand it is a legal word of some sort, but even there I will not allow it any refuge. It needs to be pulled out into the light and analysed. It must be questioned. Words are the tools that we use to build stories, the stories that dictate our lives, that push us as a global tribe forward— or backward. Shouldn’t we be clear about the words we choose?
What does this word defile mean?  To place under suspicion or cast doubt upon; spoil, spot, stain, or pollute; to make dirty.
Is that what we mean to say when we speak of a man using his position, or age, or power or money to sexually abuse a young vulnerable girl? When we say this girl has been defiled, what are we really saying?
In these words lie the seeds of misogyny and the bricks and mortar of patriarchy. What are we saying when we use defile, what charge is a man actually facing? He soiled the girl. She is now under suspicion. She is dirty.
Does this word not further victimise the victim? By using it, are we not perpetuating the virgin/whore story that attempts to define and prescribe women’s sexuality? Where is the monster who does these things, where is he in this defile word? He’s nowhere to be seen. Is this a story we believe in? Or is it one that is used to control women, much like that well-worn story of marriage? Is it not time to throw away these stories that hold us back?
Words and stories.
Undermine them at your peril.

(This first appeared in my column It's All Write, the 27th May edition of Mmegi)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Exclusive Books is Celebrating Africa Day with The Scattering!!

Tomorrow, 25 May, is Africa Day and Exclusive Books have chosen eight books for their promotion to celebrate the day and The Scattering is among them!!

If you buy the book tomorrow at Exclusives, either the store or online, you get a 20% discount!
You can buy the book HERE!

Monday, May 23, 2016

African Writers You Should Know: Jackee Budesta Batanda

The first story I read written by Ugandan writer Jackee Budesta Batanda was her story Dora’s Turn which was highly commended in the old Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Competition (CBA). It’s about two girls, friends, who are child soldiers. I read it nearly ten years ago and still I think of it often, such a powerful story written in under 600 words.

Jackee has gone on to win many writing awards since then. The most prominent, at least for her fiction, would be winning the 2003 Commonwealth Short Story Competition for African Region. She said winning that award was one of the most exciting things to happen to her as a writer.  I was still an undergrad at the time of winning. That was the affirmation I needed to keep on writing at a young age. I believe all young writers need that kind of validation, if only to tell them, that they are doing fine and they need to keep on.”

Jackee is a journalist, author, speaker and senior managing partner with SuccessSpark Brand Limited, a communications and educational company specialising in media relations, content creation, digital communications and educational programmes.  They are best known for their writing workshops and mentoring programmes.

Jackee has had her writing published around the world in publications such as The New York Times, Boston Globe, Latitude News, The Global Post, The Star- Africa Edition, The Mail & Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Independent, The Guardian, The Sunday Vision and The Sunday Monitor, as well as in numerous anthologies. She’s a recipient of the Ugandan 2010 Young Achievers Awards and was among 39 writers under 40 chosen as most likely to shape the future of literature on the continent. Her story is included in Africa39 an anthology with short fiction from those 39 writers.

In 2012 she was featured in The London Times alongside nineteen women shaping the future of Africa. That same year she was a finalist in The 2012 Trust Women Journalism Awards hosted by Thomson Reuters Foundation and International Herald Tribune. She holds an MA in Forced Migration Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, a BA in Communication Studies from Makerere University, and a Diploma in Education from Kyambogo University.

I asked her about her novel, A Lesson of Forgetting, that I’d heard she was working on.  She said, “It follows the life of a former spy chief in a dictatorial regime who is released after 25 years in life imprisonment. His return reawakens a country’s amnesia of the past and explores how nations and their people helplessly deal with the mechanisms set up to handle past atrocities and heal wrongs. It also sees how he tries to reconcile with his family. It is still a work in progress and has been on the back burner as I focus on revising, Our Time of Sorrow, about an apocalyptic cult murder based on a true incident in Uganda March 2000, where members of cult were burnt to death as they waited for the end of the world.”

Writers living, writing, and publishing in Africa face many challenges. I asked Jackee what she thinks the single biggest problem facing writers in Uganda and on the continent is. “A vibrant publishing industry. Most of the companies are small and lack funds to adequately market the works and produce good quality works. Of course there are so few opportunities for new writers, and the established outlets, suffer from cronyism, where only a small circle of writers benefit.”

For us in Southern Africa, you find that South Africa acts like a mecca to writers, as a place with more publishing opportunities. I asked Jackee what the climate was like in East Africa, if they had a mecca too.  “In East Africa, Kenya would be the mecca, with more publishing opportunities for writers. However, there is a shift with more young writers opening up publishing houses. They are in their nascent stages so we are yet to see their impact,” she said.

And what about integration and cooperation between writers in East Africa?  “There are a numbers of festivals and initiatives coming up which offer an opportunity for writers to interact. Examples are The StoryMoja Festival, Writivism Festival, Kahini Writers Festival, Babishai Niwe Poetry Festival, FEMRITE writers’ annual residency and the African Writers’ Trust Conference. ”

Jackee has accomplished so much, but I asked her in a perfect world where would she want to be as a writer and she said, “I would be published, preferably, by a group of African publishers, and have my books read all over the continent.   I would be running more writing workshops around the continent. The two things I am passionate about are writing and teaching about writing.”

Friday, May 13, 2016

Two Book Launches for The Scattering!!

I'm so excited to announce that there are two book launches planned for The Scattering, one in Botswana and one in Namibia!


The Botswana launch will be in Maun on the 29th of June at the Maun Library from 6:30 pm. It is being organised in conjunction with the poetry group Poetavango.

There will be two poets who will perform poetry in Otjiherero: Mr Charles Kakomee and Mr James Mutenge. Music will be provided by Katini. I will be reading an excerpt of the novel and will be interviewed by Poetavango member and avid literature lover, Uaisako Marenge.

Books will be on sale and I will be available for signing. Hope you can make it!


The launch will be in Windhoek at the National Assembly, in the restaurant there. It will be on the 20th of July starting at 6 pm. Again it will be a celebration and will include music and poetry, a reading and an interview. Books will also be on sale.

I am so honoured to announce that Professor Peter Katjavivi, historian and Speaker of the National Assembly, will be introducing me at the launch. 

Poet Charles Kakomee will perform poetry in Otjiherero and I will be in conversation with award-winning writer Wame Molefhe. Motswana singer Katini will be providing music.

Mark your calendars and tell your friends!I hope to see you there.

From the cover of The Scattering: 
"Kubuitsile has crafted an ambitious, powerful and poignant historical novel that brings to live a very important period.'"– Tendai Huchu, author of THE HAIRDRESSER OF HARARE

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Scattering is out!!!!

My first adult novel, The Scattering, is now out! The historical novel is published by Penguin Random House South Africa.

Below is the blurb from the back of the book and found on Penguin South Africa's page for the book: 

About the book: 
‘I, the great general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the Hereros... Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. I shall give the order to drive them away and fire on them. Such are my words to the Herero people.’ 

South-West Africa, 1904: When German colonial authorities issue an extermination order, the Herero are forced to flee into the desert and seek safety in British Bechuanaland. Tjipuka, a young Herero mother, escapes the massacre with her baby, but is captured and put to work in the death camps in L├╝deritz. There she has to find the courage – and the will – to survive against all odds.

The Transvaal, 1899: Riette’s nursing ambitions are crushed when she is forced into marriage with an older neighbour. When he is taken captive and their farm is set ablaze during the Second Anglo–Boer War, she and his daughters must face the horrors of the British concentration camps.

Against the backdrop of southern Africa’s colonial wars at the dawn of the twentieth century, The Scattering traces the fates of two remarkable women whose paths cross after each has suffered the devastation and dislocation of war.

Moving and intimate, Kubuitsile’s novel provides a fascinating glimpse into the indomitability of the human spirit.

The book is available in book stores in South Africa and Botswana (Exclusives) and here at Amazon.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

MY Vision 2016

The hall in Mmadinare is full, the air quivering with excitement. There are old people and young, all there to hear about the new book just out from one of Botswana’s favourite writers, Kamogelo Modimowame. Everyone knows her. She’s in magazines and on television, she’s interviewed on radio, she’s won a presidential award like most of the country’s prominent writers. 

 Her latest book is about a modern family living in Serowe and the trauma of trying to negotiate the fast, often morally compromised, modern life while attempting to hold tightly to traditional values. The discussion will be a lively one. Her books are always provocative. People in the audience hold copies of her newest novel, dog-eared and marked, read, studied and loved. They are all itching to get started. 

Professor Modise from the University of Botswana English Department comes on the stage. Everyone knows him too. Academics and intellectuals are highly prized in the country. Everyone looks to them for guidance. High-level discussions are common on BTV and on the radio stations, discussions in which politicians often seek guidance from the academics and other intellectuals in the country in the search to make Botswana the most highly evolved country in the world. 

Mma Keabetswe sits with her daughter, Mmoni, they have a cloth bag next to them with Kamogelo’s other four novels inside. They intend to get them signed by the author after the talk. They, like all Batswana, value signed books more than nearly anything. The houses in even the most remote villages are full of books. The mandatory living wage along with the subsidising of books by the government make monthly book buying an important part of each family’s month-end budget. 

“I hope to be able to ask her about that scene in If Ever There Was, that scene with the boy talking to his father about relationships. Do you remember it, Mama?” Mmoni asks her mother. 

“Of course I do. That was her first book, I’ve read it many times,” her mother says. “We discussed at length in our book club.”

“Our teacher says they might make it into a film for BTV,” Mmoni says excitedly. 

“That would be wonderful.” 

The discussion about Kamogelo’s new book carries on well over the appointed time. The audience has lots of questions and the queue for signing books is long. Kamogelo tells the audience she is on a country-wide tour visiting ten villages to talk about her books. In each, the halls have been full of readers anxious to discuss all of her novels. She says it’s wonderful how Batswana embrace their writers, she and all of the other writers in the country really appreciate it. 

On the way home, Mmoni tells her mother one day she’d like to be a writer. Her mother is so pleased. Unlike in the past where it was impossible to earn a living being a writer, things have changed in Botswana. Writers are well respected. Publishers are many and compete to get the best writers, offering lucrative contracts with good advances and excellent royalty rates. Print runs of 10,000 books are easily sold out since Batswana now value reading and books above all else. 

The most popular books have their film rights snatched up by local production companies. Films and television series based on local books are played on BTV and at the cinema all of the time. Local actors, screenwriters, producers, and directors are also making a good living. Films made in Botswana are often sold overseas as well. Last year one of the films adapted from a local novel won an Academy Award. The film industry in the country is thriving. 

As they near home, their minds still swirling with the excitement from the talk and with meeting Kamogelo, Mmoni’s mother turns to her. “You know you’ve made me so happy tonight. I’ve always wished one of my children would become a writer. I know my son, Warona, is an engineer, and Annah is training to become a doctor—but a writer? That was my hope as a mother and now it will be fulfilled. Thank you, Mmoni.”

Mmoni lays in bed thinking about everything that has happened that day. To calm her mind she chooses a book from the towering stack by her bed, all books from well-known Batswana writers. She’s happy to live in such a literary-minded country; it is what she has always dreamed of. 

(This appeared in my column It's All Write in the 29 April edition of Mmegi)