The Madibaland World Literary Festival , a partnership between the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Book Town Richmond, honours three of Nelson Mandela’s greatest passions - communication, education and connection - by gathering 150 writers from all over the world to share their writings and their world views.
“In South Africa, we’re going through a rough time at the moment,” said Madibaland organiser and UWC Education Lecturer (and Book Town Richmond founder) Darryl David. “We’re a very divided country - and more than that, I think the world is a very divided place. I wanted to put something together that had a unifying influence on people - something where, even just for ten days, we spread a different virus: a virus of love; of unity; of oneness.”
The Festival, running virtually from 20 to 28 November 2020, is the biggest book festival South Africa has ever seen. It’s also, if the opening sessions of the festival are anything to go by, a whirlwind tour of the world.
Talks saw attendees transported from the cars and classrooms of Cape Town, where student writers Yunus Davids, Crystel Jansen and Alinique Swart shared powerful stories of their experiences, to the open plains of the Karoo, as explored in the fascinating photography of Louis Botha; from Jackie Kalley’s videos of the botanical gardens of KwaZulu-Natal to international bestseller John Connell’s explorations of life on the farm in Ireland (The Cow Book); and also helped them learn more about Duran curry along the way, thanks to Erica Platter (of wine guide fame).
“COVID-19 has divided us in many ways,” noted Prof Vuyokazi Nomlomo, Dean of UWC’s Faculty of Education, who helped bring the Madibaland dream to life. “But it’s also broken boundaries, and taught us that, across the globe, we are all connected. So we are here from all walks of life, writers and readers alike, able to connect online and through our writings. To me, that speaks volumes.”
The festival was inspired by a man who needs no introduction – Nelson Mandela, freedom fighter and global icon, lovingly called Madiba in the country of his birth.
“Many of us are so used to Nelson Mandela as a political figure that we forget that he is also probably one of the great writers of the world,” said Darryl David. “He unified a nation not only through his actions, but also through his writings - from the celebrated Long Walk to Freedom to powerful love letters to the thoughtful Conversations With Myself, written well into his nineties. He knew the power of stories, and gifted us with a powerful one of our own: the story of a rainbow nation. So it’s fitting we have a festival of this sort in his honour.”
Stories, attendees were reminded, have the power to change our view of the world - and through that., the world itself.
“Storytelling, whether in fictional or non-fictional form, is an immensely powerful and important part of our lives,” said UWC’s Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Tyrone Pretorius. “UWC’s own story, a tale of a journey from a ‘bush college’ to a university that has reaped international acclaim for teaching, learning and research, is one marked with literary figures like the late Adam Small, writer-in-residence Antjie Krog, and powerful poet Diana Ferrus. They remind us that it is through the stories we tell, the writings we read, that we are offered a multilayered view of history and humanity - and how to change the world.”
Madibaland: Unity Through Diversity
There are a lot of book festivals about these days - even online ones, in our new pandemic-troubled world. But there has never been a festival quite like the Madibaland World Literary Festival.
Travel writers like Dana Snyman and Obie Oberholzer will share the festival with political figures like Ronnie Kasrils. Journalist Anton Harber (So, For The Record) will explore the era of post-truth, unpacking how newspapers have lied, and why that’s a problem. Foodies and historians alike can enjoy John T. Edge (The Potlikker Papers) discussing the US South, examining a complex history through the region’s distinctive foods. Shilpa Raj (The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter) will explore life as one of India’s untouchables, in a caste system older than apartheid. And UWC’s own Diana Ferrus will explore the power of poetry to change the world. There are musical sessions. Poetry sessions. Panels on politics, and literature, and much, much more.
“Nelson Mandela once said: ‘A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.’ And that really applies to this event,” Prof Nomlomo noted.
“We have many good hearts and good heads here, from all over the world - who also happen to be writers of the highest calibre. And through their novels, and short stories, and poetry, they will be addressing a myriad of critical issues for our society, from a variety of perspectives. As an educator, I must say: this is an exciting learning opportunity. Engage - and enjoy!”
It’s a celebration of writers - of what they mean to society, and what they can tell us about ourselves. And it’s about finding connection through communication - one humanity, speaking with one voice.
“We may be divided by oceans,” David noted. “We may be divided by time zones, and circumstances, and more. But we are linked by our desire to communicate - and I think this festival will be the perfect chance to celebrate that.”
The Madibaland World Literary Festival runs from 20 to 28 November 2020. For more information, to view a full programme, or to register, please visit the Madibaland World Literary Festival page.