Q&A – Siphiwo Mahala: Imbiza Journal for African Writing Words on the Times

AiW Guest: Siphiwo Mahala.


AIW note: Today we offer a Words on the Times Q&A from Siphiwo Mahala, Editor of Imbiza Journal for African Writing.

Our Words on the Times series (available at the link) was initiated in April 2020 to connect our communities up as it became clear we were moving into our various #covoids; Imbiza put out their first call for submissions in December 2020, announcing their first issue was to be released in May/June 2021…


Imbiza 1

Imbiza Journal for African Writing is an inclusive publishing platform for creative writing, criticism, academic writing, and intellectual engagement for African thinkers, cultural workers, and activists. It is a unique platform that combines imaginative and scholarly writing to cater for diverse audiences. 

Imbiza has multiple meanings in the various Nguni languages of southern Africa. In isiXhosa, imbiza means a pot which is used for cooking food. Imbiza symbolises nourishment. In naming this journal imbiza, we model it on the food that feeds individuals, families and communities. Imbiza Journal for African Writing logo

When we think of Imbiza Journal for African Writing, we imagine a three legged pot that has been part of the lives of generations of Africans. The three legged pot is also a symbol of strength and endurance, withstanding fires on which it stands in order to provide food to generations. 

In isiZulu, imbiza refers to natural herbs or any mixture of roots, bulbs and leaves used for medicinal purposes. In this sense, imbiza represents healing. The medicinal imbiza is used in a variety of ways but the purpose remains to heal individuals, families and communities. The sense of communal servitude that is associated with imbiza defines the objectives of the journal. 

Imbiza Journal for African Writing is based in South Africa, but intends to extend its reach across the African continent and the diaspora both in its content and distribution; it is published biannually in both print and electronic format.


AIW: Could you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the pandemic has affected your plans for it? 

Siphiwo Mahala: Imbiza Journal for African Writing is a direct product of the pandemic. The pandemic and the resultant lockdown gave us time to reflect, and this is when we realised that there is a need for a journal that publishes African writing in different African languages. We wanted to come up with something that brings a community of writers together from various parts of the continent and the diaspora. Three editions later, Imbiza has become that point of convergence. 

In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before and/or how are things on the ground where you are now?

The lockdown has strengthened our capacity to use digital media, inclusive of social media, blogs and websites. This has given us the power to reach our audiences in real time and engender new audiences for our work. It is also how we get in touch with potential contributors and readers, who also help us market our publications. 

What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?

I was inspired by how readers found solace in books, especially at the beginning of the lockdown between April and July 2020. People were posting about the books they were reading, and setting themselves new targets. I also wrote more, and sold more books than I have ever sold in my entire career. People found solace in books when the world closed in on them. 

How can our blog communities best support you?

The more people post about our work, the more people know about our existence and there more contributors and readers we have. This is what has kept us going. We are grateful to all those who keep engaging with us. May the discourse continue.


Siphiwo MahalaSiphiwo Mahala is the founder/director of Imbiza Journal. He straddles both the creative and academic realms. He is a short story writer, novelist, playwright, and critic. He worked for over ten years as the Head of Books and Publishing at the national Department of Arts and Culture. His stories and articles are published in various journals both locally and internationally. His books include When a Man Cries (2007), Yakhal’ Indoda (2010), African Delights (2011), The House of Truth (2017) and Red Apple Dreams and Other Stories (2019). He holds a BA Hons degree in African Languages (UFH), MA in African Literature (Wits) and PhD in English Literature (UNISA). He is a Research Associate at the University of Pretoria and a Research Fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study.


Download the full first issue of Imbiza Journal for African Writing here:

Imbiza First Issue

“The second issue of Imbiza Journal for African Writing has a special focus on Women’s voices. Guest edited by distinguished author and academic, Barbara Boswell, this edition features more than 30 voices from across the continent and the diaspora. Here you will encounter the voices of Aminatta Forna, Flow Wellington, Gloria Bosman, Keletso Mopai, Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang, Nolo Phiri, Thuso Mbedu, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Pumla Dineo Gqola, Simamkele Dlakavu, Shubnum Khan, Zulaikha Patel, and many more. These dynamic writers have joined hands to produce a feast of literature to nourish your mind.”

Imbiza’s third edition is hot off the press.

See https://www.imbizajournal.co.za/ for more… 

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