Africa story wars: Two black female cultural leaders discuss the importance of narrating Africa-sourced stories

Tsotsi is one of her favorites.

Her name is Zama Mkosi, a daughter of a South African Supreme Court judge and a lawyer herself. Initially involved in maritime law, she provided legal services to such international co-productions as South Africa-based and directed Oscar winning film, Tsotsi.

Starting in 2012, she got in charge of the National Film and Video Foundation in Johannesburg, which means Mrs Mkosi is a prime promoter of the South African film industry both domestically and internationally.

She has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and run the New York Marathon (it took her slightly north of five hours to do the latter). Together with her husband, Mrs Mkosi founded an event management company for married couples under the name Uthando Events.

Zama Mkosi talks about the importance of developing creative projects that tap into local stories for inspiration. Animation is in high esteem for her.

“Until lions learn to narrate hunters will tell their stories for them.”

Nigeria-born writer and TV presenter, Moky Makura, is pissed off by the ‘Monkey Masturbating in the Zoo’ narrative of Africa. She is not just convinced that that the 40-plus countries on the continent that live in peace should be given more attention by the war-focusing mainstream media.

She made it her mission to get young women reading again. “There isn’t really a culture of reading here,” she explains her decision talking to CNN about South Africa, a nation where, to be considered a bestseller, a fiction book needs to only sell 5,000 copies. ” The book buying public is white middle class women and I wanted to change that.”

Conscious of her chosen audience, Makura took the decision to make the books sex free because it was a more responsible approach. “Because of the market we are selling to and because of the issues in Africa with AIDS and sex as a whole we didn’t think it was important.”

Moky Makura’s Nollybooks is a trans-African creative industries prodigy

More than 3-million South Africans are illiterate, 8-million functionally illiterate, and many millions more aliterate – they can read books, but don’t. It’s this last, vast market that Moky Makura’s Nollybooks targets.

Creating an entirely new market of readers out of ordinary, aliterate South Africans has been done before — to stunning success. The country’s first tabloid newspaper Daily Sun revolutionised the local publishing industry by tapping into the market of working-class readers, people who had never bothered to read newspapers before. Launched in 2002, Daily Sun is by far South Africa’s largest circulated newspaper, with daily sales of over 400,000 copies — three times that of its nearest rivals — and a readership of over 3-million people.

Like Daily Sun, Nollybooks seeks to attract readers with a low price — ca R50 a book, between half and a third of the cost of a conventional novel — and content that speaks to their lives. The bookazine format is also an attempt to fit with the readers’ lives, being smaller than most books and so easier to fit in a handbag and read on a kombi or taxi to and from work. The glossary of more difficult words included with each book will be useful to members of an aspirational generation, young second-language English speakers keen to improve their language. And dictionaries are rarely found in homes, let alone on public transport.

Like the successful international franchise Harlequin Mills & Boon Ltd, all Nollybooks are put together according to a formula that dictates plots, character and writing style. “Formulaic writing gives them [the readers] a guarantee. They know what to expect. It’s like watching a soap opera. There is a little bit of the same in each book, and this is like what Enid Blyton [a British children’s writer] does for young readers, too — helping to create reading habits.”

Early in 1999, Moky Makura formed an agency,  Red PR , with the vision of becoming the first pan-African PR network. In 2002, she sold her business to Draft FCB – then SA’s largest communications agency. From 2001 to 2006, Makura was the presenter and field reporter for South Africa’s award winning news and actuality show ‘Carte Blanche.’ She has presented numerous field reports on Africa:  stories on the Nigerian film industry, Zimbabwean farmers in Nigeria, people trafficking in Nigerian Edo State, child soldiers in the DRCongo and democracy in Zimbabwe.

See related reading

Nigeria-s ‘Chekhov’ unravels Ukrainian toddler-s misconception of the smoking African

Fast readers of Ethiopia or Addis’ avid culture of newspaper reading

The first Nigerian film production in Europe. It turns Ukrainian phones red and challenges (Half of A Yellow Sun) in authenticity

Conclusion: demand more African stories to inspire you! Tell more of your own stories, as well.


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