By Edward Tsumele

About 15 years ago, Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang was a common figure in the newsrooms and broadcasting spaces where she worked as a journalist and a TV producer. However, these days she is a common figure in academic halls, libraries and book publishing spaces. This is because the former print journalist and TV producer is now an academic whose life pursuit these days is research and writing. And she enjoys her current life. “The fact of the matter is that the academy has always loved me and I, in turn, have always loved the academy. As a young person growing up in the township, I have always embraced learning and reading. Right now, I am enjoying what I am doing in the academic spaces as well as writing and publishing books,” she said. This interview was done on the eve of the launch of her new book titled Soweto Tea Party. “As we grew up, we were told stories about the lives of the freedom fighters and cultural activists, such as Tata Walter Sisulu, Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mama Miriam Makeba, Mama Nadine Gordimer and others. Of course, this information was whispered to us by adults as these people, including Papa were banned.
“As children, we honestly believed that somehow through a magic wand, they were going to bless us with their presence. This as adults silently doubted as to whether such a day would ever arrive.
“So, this book recaptures that childhood magic. The stories were told through songs such as Malaika by Mariam Makeba,” said Mazibuko Msimang. The book was launched at the Book Circle Capital bookstore in Melville on June 16. The bookshop, besides selling African books by African authors, has also emerged as a trusted place to source children’s books. The book tells Mazibuko Msimang’s story as an artist, story-teller, researcher and academic. The transformation took place in the past 15 years since she left her TV work and the newsroom.
Her life has been as varied and as interesting as the stories she tells and the plots and characters she weaves into them to create that literary magic which touches readers, young and old, as well as contributing knowledge to society through academic papers she presents wherever she finds an opportunity and a platform to do so. For example, when the iconic Drum Magazine celebrated its 70th Year anniversary in 2021, she wrote a paper that focused on the 1950s Drum Magazine’s favourite pin girl, Dolly Rathebe, whose fame during that time came from her vocal abilities, acting talent and good looks.
The presentation of that paper has since morphed into something bigger for Mazibuko Msimang. Last year, she made news when the University of Pretoria appointed her as the inaugural Writing Fellow of Future Africa Institute – a mainly science-focused institute that is slowly transforming itself into a trans-disciplinary institute whereby natural sciences scholars collaborate with social science scholars in their scholarly research. This is in recognition of the fact that the world’s complex problems require a multi-disciplinary approach to come up with solutions. “What happened is that this conversation about the need for a multi-disciplinary approach in the academy has been going on for some time, dating back to the time when Professor Tawana Kupe (now Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria), was still a dean of the humanities at Wits in 2007, when I completed my PhD in African Literature.
“Last year, I made a proposal to the University of Pretoria, proposing that I would like to write a book about the artistic life and output of Dolly Rathebe as a Writer in Residency Fellow. Fortunately, the Senate accepted my proposal,” she said.

About Soweto Tea Party
Guess who’s coming to Princess and Baba’s Soweto Tea Party! Tat’uNelson Mandela? Mama Lilian Ngoyi and Mama Nadine Gordimer? Who else is coming? Miriam Makeba? The book, which is available in all 11 official languages, is based on the author’s own experiences about a time when her father, Fanyana Mazibuko, then a teacher at Morris Isaacson High and a freedom fighter, was placed under house arrest by the apartheid regime in the 70s and 80s.
Her parents kept the children mentally resilient by relating stories about struggle heroes and playing African music.
This slice of Soweto history is brought to life by Samantha Van Riet’s moving and magical illustrations.
However, Mazibuko Msimang’s life journey is more complex than this.
Over 25 years, she has worked as a writer, academic, producer and broadcaster, creating value-based content for young and old audiences/readers on multiple platforms.
She is part of the Puku Children’s Literature network where she consults on Special Projects.
Her academic work also entails supervising Masters students at AFDA – The School for the Creative Economy. Mazibuko Msimang has published six books for young readers: In the Fast Lane (2003, New Africa Books, translated into isiXhosa by Dr Xolisa Guzula); A Mozambican Summer (2005, New Africa Books); Spring Offensive (2006, Timbila); Love Songs for Nheti (2006, Vivlia), Freedom Song (2008, Pearson) and Qhawe! Mokgadi Caster Semenya (2021, New Africa Books) celebrating the life of the champion gold medallist. Her debut adult novel is titled The Daughters of Nandi (2021, Paivapo).
Her books for young readers celebrate positive cultural and social values and encourage self-love, confidence, courage and resilience. In 2003, she was awarded the Bessie Head writing fellowship, which enabled her to complete and publish the collective biography, Spring Offensive.
About her residency at the University of Pretoria, she said she was almost half way through her writing project on the life and times of Dolly Rathebe.
“What I would like to add is that opportunities such as the one I got at the University of Pretoria are useful in that one has access to archives as primary sources, apart from interviewing people such as her daughter and others who were there with her,” she said.
“The fellowship also affords one to focus on the work without the worry of having to earn a living elsewhere as you research and write. All these are important factors, and I hope in future the university will increase the number of fellows to, say, five.” Her fellowship, which commenced in 2021, will come to an end in 2023. –

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