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Children's Literature in Southern Africa

Tjo! StoryFest 2017, inspires and motivates people of Tshwane.

Poster: Tjo! StoryFest 2017

Article by Aimee-Claire Smith

20 July 2017


Photo: Tjo! StoryFest in action, photo by Marina Mare


Photo: Tjo! StoryFest in action as visitors browse the goods on sale. Photo by Marina Mare.

There aren’t many of us in the lecture hall, but we listen attentively as Professor Vasu Reddy, Dean of Humanities at the University of Pretoria Mamelodi Campus, opens up the Festival.

We often underestimate the stories on our own doorsteps,” he poignantly reminds us.

So begins a day of energetic, motivational conversation at Tjo! StoryFest 2017.

Topics centre around the importance of South Africans telling their own stories, in their own languages – “Why can’t we write in our mother tongue?” poet and writer Nkini Mokani wants to know – focusing on the richness of our gifted African youth.

13-year-old published writer, Pamela Ngubeni, tells us about her self-help book on being bullied - about how writing the book which was sometimes painful, helped her to process and heal from her experiences.


The audience is as involved as the speakers, chiming in with exclamations and heartfelt laughter.


Logo: Xarra Books, Tjo! StoryFest 2017

Outside, attendants browse stalls featuring African crafts, music of all genres, and fashion, or speak to the friendly and caring representatives of the SA Depression and Anxiety Group, who know that “It’s much easier for someone to express themselves in their own language.”

That’s why they have a 24-hour helpline with consultants available in all 11 official languages.

There’s also a table laid end-to-end with books of every genre written exclusively by Africans, courtesy of Xarra Books, an independent bookstore in Johannesburg.

Photo: CAFCA students jamming, Tjo! StoryFest 2017. Photographer: Marina Mare.

The day finishes with enchanting, jivey music from CAFCA, featuring Zanele Ndlovu, who plays on indigenous African instruments.

Photo: of CAFCA students jamming at the Tjo! StoryFest, 2017. Photograph taken by Marina Mare.

Looking back, the Tjo! StoryFest was a wonderful celebration of the South African creative scene and all the stories still to be told. The energy was positive, authentic, and hopeful.

I went home feeling invigorated, patriotic, and ready to create and share my own stories with the world.

It wasn’t only me, either – everyone I spoke to could sense the vibe. It created waves.

I overheard two young people in conversation over a business they would like to start together and a young girl talking about her drawings, while a gentleman and I discussed the poetry we each liked to write.

I am positive that Tjo! StoryFests in the years to come, will be even more of a success.


Photo: 3 Generations of Ngubeni women, Tjo! StoryFest,2017. Photo by Marina Mare

Photo of Pamela Ngubeni with her book, 'I am being bullied', at the Tjo! StoryFest, 2017. Photo by Marina Mare.