Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
3 minute read
16 Sep 2017
6:00 am

Thoughts of a ‘clever black’

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

Author of Intimate Thoughts of a Clever Black Mbali Gcabashe says female writers have a long way to go.

Mbali Gcabashe (left) and a reader at the launch of her book.

What is a clever black? The term has been used as a tool for silencing people who are vocal about the state of affairs in the country, says Mbali Gcabashe, who last year, launched her debut book Intimate Thoughts of a Clever Black.

Since then, she has been holding dialogues around the country continuing the conversation of debunking such social myths as the “rainbow nation” and the social ills that continue to put women at the bottom of the socio-political food chain.

“The book addresses what I see as a premature ‘rainbow nation’. I believe we jumped the gun when it comes to integration. A lot of issues needed to be addressed to establish trust, but instead we rushed to blending the Black and White. The recent spats of racism prove just that. The book also touches on the issue of patriarchy and gives men a chance to reflect, and women get to reflect on their contribution to patriarchy.”

Growing up on the edge of the apartheid era, as Gcabashe described it, on the streets of Madadeni, a township in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, as child she had many questions which were never answered. Those questions became the basis of her ambition to write.

“I never understood why we had to be squashed in townships and only go to town on special occasions. I knew that I wanted more for myself, more than what I could see within the dusty streets of Madadeni. I always knew there was more, white people certainly exhibited that.

“As a child I knew that someone needed to answer my questions that were never asked, because asking was just not an option, all we were taught was to get on with it. What was it? I participated in debate teams as a child as a means to raise my questions, needless to say it was never enough.”

Commenting on social media and the platform it has given for racist attacks in light of the recent controversy around Jacaranda FM presenter Tumi Morake, Gcabashe says she is encouraged by Morake’s resilience after she was accused of racism and subsequently subjected to a barrage of racist attacks.

“Social media is a reflection of the political space we are in, the era of silencing and bullying. The leadership we have, or the lack thereof is showing through the social media. There is a rising community of bullies and intolerant people and it is very regrettable. However, seeing the strength and resilience of the likes of Tumi is encouraging.”

Going back to literature, female writers still have a long way to go, says the mother of four. In the literature space women are definitely rising to the task of writing, but when it comes to the ownership of the value chain, women are lagging far behind.

“Women are still not seen as equals in our society. You are either a good woman who toes the line or you are labelled a troublesome bitter Black woman who likes rocking the boat.”

But progress is somewhat notable in the literary world, she concedes, although it seems largely to be babysat by men.

“Women still need to be endorsed by some man, even in the literary business, because the biggest players in this field are male and mostly white. I am hopeful when I see women who are pushing like Basetsana Kumalo and Khanyi Dlomo, this gives me hope that another Africa is possible.”

Ownership in literature, as in mainstream media, is still largely unbalanced despite the resurgence of writing culture in the country, Gcabashe opines.

“We don’t want a space where there are a lot of black writers who do not own their material, and who end up just being the feeders of content.

“I believe we have some amazing writers in Africa, we do compete very well, now we just need to compete in the economics of literature.”

Gcabashe’s ongoing Intimate Chats dialogues have inspired her to write a second book, and so a sequel to her Clever Black debut is definitely on the cards. –