Opening of the 24th Time of the Writer International Festival, 2021 – #P&P

The written word envelops online as South African, African and International writers meet for a thought-provoking week of literary dialogue, exchanging ideas, and stimulating discussions. Time of the Writer features a diverse gathering of leading novelists, social commentators, activists, playwrights, short story writers and poets. This 24th edition features authors in conversation, panel discussions, a public participation programme, and exhibitions focused on many socially-relevant themes such as whistleblowing, migration, colonialism, gender-based violence and sexual identity.

Yesterday saw the opening of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts’ (CCA) 24th edition of the Time of the Writer International Festival, hosted virtually on the festival’s social media channels from 15 to 21 March 2021.

The festival will stream for free on their Facebook page (, Twitter page (@timeofthewriter) and YouTube Channel ( For the entire programme, participant biographies and to join the Zoom room visit

This year’s festival has been extended to an additional day to mark the UN International Day of Poetry and South African Human Rights Day on 21st March.

“We will provide a platform for poets from across the globe to use their voices to speak to global concerns about human rights violations and a quest for a just society. The poetry programme will also honour the brave men and women whose lost lives in the Sharpeville Massacre is commemorated by South Africa’s Human Rights Day”, says, Siphindile Hlongwa, a co-curator of the Time of the Writer festival and also the curator of the Poetry Africa festival.

At a time when both the Festival’s theme, “The Writer: Witness, The Canary In The Mine or Testifier?”, and a series of anniversaries are dense in our consciousness, we take the opportunity now to think about an AiW #PastAndPresent, looking back to last year’s Festival in the spirit of this one’s, and with the 2021 opening event in particular in view…

– as the first literary festival we saw go completely virtual because of the freshly announced global pandemic in March 2020 – and in record time! – as co-curator Siphindile Hlongwa recalled in her welcome at this year’s opening (Monday 15th March 2021):

“Through our championing spirit, exactly one year ago, we became the first South African festival to venture on an online platform”

– and as an occasion where, in our round-up of highlights of the event, we took our chance to catch up with some of the participating writers in what was then our very new Q&A set –

Words on the Times – an AiW Q&A connecting our experiences of now around our common interests…

(Little did we know it would be still be running nearly a year on…)

Click the image or see here for those responses in the Words on the Times Q&As – Fred Khumalo, Remy Ngamjie and Siphiwo Mahala answer the Words’ subset questions, each speaking about last year’s festival and the then very new changes to our ways of working brought on by COVID-19:

Can you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your plans?
In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
How can our communities support you?

Fred Khumalo is the Fest’s featured writer this year, featuring in four sessions…

Here’s a little taster, from last year’s ToW 2020 Q&A that we were lucky enough to have with him…

AiW: Can you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your plans?
Fred Khumalo: I’m full-time writer, and a freelance journalist. I write both fiction and non-fiction; short stories, novels, essays and biography. To earn a regular income, I write a weekly column (satirical mostly) in the Sowetan newspaper. I have another weekly column in Financial Mail. My Financial Mail column is a food column with a twist. Every week, I visit a restaurant of my choice, eat the food, drink and write a review. I mix up my food review with political events or news of the week. With the advent of Covid-19, which led to establishments such as restaurants being shut down, I thought my bosses at the Financial Mail would tell me to stop writing until the lockdown has been lifted. Needless to say, that would have hit me hard in the pocket. To my surprise, my bosses at FM asked me to continue writing a food column, but without the restaurants…

This year’s opening also saw powerful, moving and inspirational Zukiswa Wanner’s keynote speech, “The Writer’s Voice in a Political, Social and Artistically-Conscious World”.

Zukiswa Wanner – keynote speaker. Credit Tro Onyango.

Wanner is an author, literary activist, publisher, Goethe Medal winner and, of course, founder-curator of the Afrolit Sans Frontieres Festival – itself produced in response to the COVID-19 lockdown, with the first edition beginning on 23 March 2020 via Facebook and Instagram, with more following through the year.

Wanner opened her talk by bringing the Festival theme and the writer’s voice together in this, the second year of the global pandemic…

In this 24th year of  Time of the Writer Festival as we face a global pandemic for the second year, it seemed important that as I looked at the larger festival theme The Writer: Witness, Canary in the Mine or Testifier, I focus too on the writer’s voice in a political, social and artistically-conscious world. I focus on this because it’s the world we live in. For what is writing, without politics or society, and how meaningful is it if not executed artistically?

…closing with the power of possibility as witness, testifier and writer:

[…] Maybe I am dreamer. I know I am a dreamer. Because to be a writer, an artist, is to constantly hope for the better. But I believe a lot of the phobias our societies deal with: Afrophobia, homophobia, womanophobia would be dealt with if people had access to literature. We would then realize that we all love, laugh and hurt and question our own judgments of others. We would question our othering of others.

As writers, we can be witnesses, appear to foretell doom or testify. Unfortunately, as long as no-one reads us and engages with our work, it will not matter. After the end of this 24th Time of the Writer Festival, I can only hope that the narrative is changed.

I am Zukiswa Wanner, a citizen, a lover and a believer in this rich but poor continent. I am sometimes mistakenly thought of as a canary in the mine but always I am a witness, a testifier and a writer. Thank you.

“The Writer’s Voice in a Political, Social and Artistically-Conscious World” is available in full at the Festival website – and it’s a must-read.

As the JRB, who have also published her speech in full here, make clear, Wanner issues a double-call for accountability

…on the part of African governments, and the South African government in particular, which is under pressure to detail how R300 million earmarked for Covid relief for the arts was spent; and second, for the establishment of a national literature foundation to protect and advance writers’ visibility and rights across the African continent.

Wanner picked up on a thread started by author and Abantu Book Festival founder Thando Mgqolozana, who similarly called for the establishment of a national literature foundation in a recent Facebook post.

Mgqolozana called Wanner’s address ‘a career-defining speech’.

The  opening also saw the inaugural Literature Champion of the Year Award! Props and congratulations to Ntokozo Ndlovu…

And a reminder of the significance of the festival’s theme for these, our times, from CCA director:

Catch up with yesterday’s programme (see below) and join in with today’s and beyond…for the full line-up – including the extra day of Sunday 21st, marking the UN International Day of Poetry and South African Human Rights Day – AND to join the Zoom room, head to

Remember – the festival streams – for free – on their Facebook page (, Twitter page (@timeofthewriter) and YouTube Channel ( 

(Fingers crossed re. loadshedding schedule!!)

#Present – Day 1 Festival Programme – Time of the Writer 2021.

#Past – AiW’s Time of the Writer 2020 coverage, inc. Q&As with Fred Khumalo, Remy Ngamjie and Siphiwo Mahala.

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