FunDza Literacy Trust has an online library aimed at getting South African teens and young adults reading for pleasure by providing the relevant, exciting and accessible content that will make them want to read. Every week there is a new short story, and every day new material is added, so it is indeed a content ‘monster’, always needing to be fed.
Thus FunDza is always on the lookout for new young writers, so when Anathi Nyadu, a student from the University of the Free State, started regularly sending in some good writing to be published in the Fanz section, Zimkhitha Mlanzeli, FunDza Editor, took note.
Zimkhitha had been writing the diary of Zinzi Zwane in serialized form for FunDza – this was a fictional story of a young woman with trials and tribulations. However she was looking for a new writer for the series, and so she commissioned Anathi to take it on.
And take it on he did. Anathi took on this new challenge writing as a young woman, and Zinzi went through a slight personality change, suddenly reading lots of South African literature and giving book reviews, though also going through her various conflicts with parents, boyfriends and peers.
Anathi was also mentored by FunDza editors to write one of FunDza’s professional weekly stories, ‘In our hands’, a moving story about the FeesMustFall protests.
So when Cover2Cover, FunDza’s publishing partner, was looking for an young writer to write the latest book in their popular Harmony High series, Anathi was a natural choice. He came to Cape Town to meet and work with the Harmony High editors to conceptualise the story and brainstorm the plot details. Although Harmony High is a series, each book follows a different character who attends Harmony High, a fictional township high school, Anathi introduces the character Khanyisile, who goes through difficult times as he arrives at Harmony to finish his schooling.
After a lot of hard writing and editing work, Heart of Stone was released. It is the first Harmony High book to have the new graphic cover design, which will now be part of the Harmony High look.
We caught up with Anathi to hear more from the writer himself.
Tell us about writing as Zinzi Zwane – was it a challenge, writing as a woman?
It wasn’t really hard for me because I read a lot and thus expose myself to a lot of female characters and how they lived their lives. My background is different from Zinzi’s though, and that was a challenge. Zinzi grew in a well-off family but the diary begins exactly when they lose all the money. However, her way of looking at life remained the same even though she was no longer privileged. What was hard for me as someone who didn’t grow up in a family that had money was writing about someone who had everything growing up. But her gender was not an issue at all. I began to own the character as time went by.
Why do you think producing local content is important?
African stories have been written for a long time by people who are not African – and this has led to the misrepresentation of Africans. This has been seen in movies, and in books where characters and their actions were merely stereotypical and failed to represent us accurately. For me, reading stories written by African people was quite important for me, as I could relate to the stories easily. By writing my stories, I hope to do this for many other young people. If our stories aren’t told by us, the misrepresentation will continue.
How does Heart of Stone aid in this misrepresentation?
The little details are what matter when telling a story that is uniquely your own. An example would be the use of names in the African cultures. Names have meaning in African culture – you are what you are called. In the book, I tried to give the character names that matched their purpose for the story. For instance, there’s a character I called Nwabisa which means to make happy and her role in the story was to try and comfort and bring happiness to the life of Khanyisile. I also chose to set the earlier parts of the story in a fictional village called kwaMtuzuma. Which literally translates to “in Zuma’s land”. I chose to this because I wanted the reader to understand that the story is set in contemporary South Africa and that these struggles are very current.
Also, the book is set in a Cape Town township. This setting alone is a place that many of our youth can relate to – and can identify with some, if not all of the troubles that are mentioned. Troubles such as old people who drink and yet tell them not to drink, bullies at school, gangsterism and gender based violence or even a lack of parks for youth activities and access to libraries. Heart of Stone was inspired by the different challenges I have seen and experienced that the township youth face today.
How do you think we can remedy the lack of reading in South Africa?
People do not have access to reading material. I started reading from a young age. Books were not available in my home or anywhere close by, so whenever my nephew visited, he would bring me magazines and newspaper clippings from town and I would spend a lot of my time reading them. This is still a problem today. People do not have access to libraries and many homes do not have books in them – no wonder the youth equates books with school only and not with pleasure. This will not happen organically, but needs to be actively changed – which is why I seek out opportunities to do my part, no matter how small to actively change the culture of reading in South Africa.