On Friday evening writer Muthi Nhlema gave a befitting tribute to the spirit of the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela of South Africa during a storytelling session at Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) in Blantyre.
His recital of “Ta O’Reva”, a piece of fiction depicting an interaction between Winnie and her husband Nelson, just before he came out of prison, was a perfect tribute to the globally-acclaimed freedom fighter who will be remembered for her multiple faces.
‘I know what you expected of me. But there is too much at stake. You and I don’t have a choice in this matter. Freedom has too high a price for us to have a choice. Nelson! This will make sense one day. One day, this will all be worth it.’
In his deep and commanding voice, Nhlema perfectly took the audience to the private confines of the interaction between the two Mandelas as captured at Victor Vesrter Prison in Cape Town.
He alternated his voice between Winnie’s soft and beautiful voice and Nelson’s deep authoritative voice to carve out a vivid picture that had the audience creating pictures from the scenery as portrayed by Nhlema in this hearty exchange.
The writer did not hide his admiration for the courage and sacrifice that Winnie showed throughout the struggle years of apartheid in South Africa.
Nhlema said: “The reason I wanted to read today was in line with the tributes that have followed her passing. Some people remember her for some of the things that she did. Others remember her as a freedom fighter and yet others as a ‘criminal’.
“As much as she did what she did, it is very easy to judge her because those of us who are alive now have the privilege of living in safety. She lived in very trying times. None of us have experienced policemen breaking into our houses and taking us away for a year from our loved ones.”
He said he decided to use the story telling session to honour an individual who sacrificed her well-being and dignity for the sake of others.
“Platforms like the story telling session are providing an outlet for both old and young writers who have written a lot, but have nowhere to share their stories and get feedback. This platform allows you to share your story and see how people are reacting to your ideas,” he said.
The brains behind the storytelling sessions, Ekari Mbvundula, said there was no way that as writers they could miss the opportunity to celebrate the life of someone regarded as a role model and an icon globally.
“She is a South African hero and an African hero too. There was no way that South African liberation could not have an effect on the rest of Africa, especially Malawi which is so close to South Africa geographically.
“We basically share our heroes within Africa because we are almost the same people. And we take so much inspiration from her,” she said.
Mbvundula expressed her firm belief on the progress and impact made by the story telling sessions so far with more people coming on board to support, the latest being their collaboration with Central Bookshop.
“It is a big opportunity for growth. We have been looking at the idea of going into schools to engage young people into writing, but essentially the overall idea is to build the industry and get the writers who speak at these sessions published,” she said.