Q&A with isiXhosa storyteller and activist Nompucuko Hluma Zakaza

09 March 2020 - 10:22 By Carla Lever
Nompucuko Hluma Zakaza.
Nompucuko Hluma Zakaza.
Image: Supplied

Nal'ibali column No 8 Term 1 (02/03/2020)

Congratulations on your recent award in the department of arts & culture's isiXhosa oral literature ceremony. What work did the department recognise and commend?

The award recognised an integrated approach I use to promote isiXhosa oral literature. They looked at all the works I do within my role as a trainer, storyteller, writer and researcher promoting storytelling as a tool for social transformation, literacy and community development.

Why is it important that we begin to recognise excellence and exciting innovation in literatures other than English or Afrikaans?

There is nothing about us without us. If we as isiXhosa writers keep on lamenting the atrocities of the past unfair discrimination and being marginalised in the publishing space, we will fail short of proving that our isiXhosa language is an excellent basis for innovative literature. We cannot confine ourselves to rules created to serve purposes which are not befitting African ways of knowing.

You've been working in children's skills development and training for many years. What inspires you about helping children discover the magic of storytelling and books?

Children are always receptive and willing to learn when we give to them with an open heart. Unlike adults, who still doubt that in stories there is self-discovery, children embrace storytelling and reading when it is given with passion and love.

How do we begin to think about decolonising our cultural landscape?

We must look deep into our past and be prepared to close the gaps without bitterness. We should take pride in what was there before and how we can reimagine it in contemporary ways and with humanity.

Oral storytelling and histories are often neglected at the expense of written accounts and books. What do we lose when we ignore this part of our history?

So much! We miss out on intercultural face-to-face communication and we deprive ourselves of discovering important stories for nation building. If it is not about our children and our legacy, then we must question why we are doing it.

You're behind several creative and exciting projects to inspire children and adults in rural areas. Can you tell us a little about what you've been involved in?

I am proud to be working for a national reading for enjoyment campaign with the NGO, Nal'ibali. It is a brand that connects and resonates with children and adults. However, since storytelling is performance and art, I it in different contexts when opportunity arises. I perform, I write for the enjoyment of my language (and recently in English, too, with Swahili and Shona translations by colleagues from the literacy development space).

Opportunities for enriching children's education are often only found in major city centres. What is your experience with the need for these programmes in rural areas?

We are preaching to the converted when we take programmes to urban spaces. Rural children and their parents, however, are still marginalised in this space. There is a need for less talk in boardrooms and conferences, and more action in rural areas.

You must have encountered many inspiring stories working with children's development over the years. Are there any that stand out for you?

I have been developing children through arts and love of isiXhosa language from as far back as 2006 in my village. I love The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. I feel like the power of motivation that every adult and child needs is in that story each time I narrate it in isiXhosa.

You're blazing trails in your own writing, but one of your passions is inspiring children to tell their own stories. Why is this a powerful gift?

The power is in the language, their mother tongue, which they must treasure as gold. They dream, feel and heal through the olden-day stories, which become new when narrated with passion.

As if all this isn't enough, you're studying for your PhD. What's your focus?

I am focusing on the adaptation of isiXhosa folk tales for a contemporary audience (repatriation and reimaging of previously collected folk tales). I work under Prof [Russell] Kaschula’s supervision at Rhodes University.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to access children’s stories in a range of SA languages, visit www.nalibali.org