Dimakatso Sedite was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She is a poet, writer and blogger. Her poems have been published in New Coin, The Kalahari Review, Aerodrome, Botsotso, Hello Poetry, Poetry Café, Poetry Potion, as well as on her Writer’s Blog: nala4za.iblog.co.za. One of her poems will be published by Brittle Paper in early 2019. Her other poems appear in two anthologies: Best New African Poets 2018 Anthology and Botsotso 18: From Private and Public Places’ (Botsotso Publishers). One of her essays was published as an Igby Prize entry by The Kalahari Review, with other essays published on her blog. In 2018 she was a finalist in Poetry in McGregor Poetry Competition, and won 1st Prize at the Poetry Open Mic Competition at the 2018 Jozi Book Fair, in tribute to South Africa’s late poet laureate, Keorapetse Kgositsile. She is the recipient of the 2019 ANFASA non-fiction author award. She studied a poetry course at South African Writers’ College and holds an M.A. Research Psychology degree from the University of the Witwatersrand.
BY SINASO MXAKAZA
With the highly anticipated release of the Best New African Poets 2018 Anthology, it is necessary to get to know some of the young and emerging writers who have contributed to the project. The anthology is part of a yearly collection that gives a platform to African writers. It is published by Mwanaka Media and Publishing and gives a voice to African writers from all over the continent. It is an unbiased and positive image of who we are as Africans as it addresses social, cultural, economic and everyday issues faced by Africans. One of the writers is Dimakatso Sedite, a South African poet with a passion for writing and an impressive profile. She is the recipient of the 2019 ANFASA non-fiction author grant award and studied a poetry course at South African Writer’s College passing it with distinction. Dimakatso holds an M.A. Research Psychology degree from the University of the Witwatersrand. Sinaso Mxakaza, another writer featured in the anthology took the time to interview her. Dimakatso gives us a glimpse into the mind of the writer in today’s world.
Sinaso: Why did you start writing poetry?
Dimakatso: My heart was broken so hard at the age of 19 and I felt like I was ice floating in hell. I then instinctively wrote a poem on my brown notebook and was surprised at the imagery splattered on that paper, like a plate that didn’t know it had just been smashed. I was staggered at how easy it was to ‘dare the unspeakable to speak when I listened to the silence of my heart breaking’ as I have put it in one of my recent poems. I love the imperfect perfection of a poem, how it jabs when you expect it to caress, how it surprises, teases and always leaves our mouths open when it ends, as if God has just swum through our throats. I am drawn to this strangeness in poetry. As a poet, I never know how my poem is going to look or feel like when I write it and this is the biggest thrill in the world to me.
Sinaso: How does it feel to be part of a publication such as BNAP 2018?
Dimakatso: It is quite exciting. With poetry having such a small niche market in South Africa, it is humbling to have an opportunity to have one’s work distributed and read not only in the rest of Africa but the rest of the world too, as well as being translated into different languages. This is thanks to Mwanaka Media and Publishing, who are writer-focused and work hard to globally market not just our anthology but books of individual poets as well. This good practice is how publishers become accountable. In this anthology I feel like I have found a good home.
“ I love the imperfect perfection of a poem, how it jabs when you expect it to caress, how it surprises, teases and always leaves our mouths open when it ends, as if God has just swum through our throats.“
Sinaso: Do you think enough is being done to unearth writing talent in Africa?
Dimakatso: Definitely not. Most African writers, especially emerging ones, remain in the shadows of oblivion. The same small group of well-known and established writers get promoted over and over again like a swirl of birds hovering over readers’ heads in a dark circle. The circle hardly opens to let new emerging voices to seep in. As an emerging writer, one has to hustle and network tirelessly to get their work known and read, especially in South Africa (and possibly most of Africa) where we have no writers’ agents. Just getting published is never enough. You also have to attend art festivals, book fairs, book launches (to give the much needed support to fellow writers), and read your poetry at various platforms etc. It is an endless hustle. More importantly, writers read and writers write. So, the responsibility also lies with us as writers to unearth ourselves. Being a writer is a full-time job and is not instant, although social media may convince us otherwise. Emerging and aspiring writers in rural areas are the most marginalised as they are also not close to much needed opportunities. We are an urban-biased society and anyone who is not in the city does not seem to matter. A lot of stories with good potential get lost through the cracks and the silence in response to this malaise is deafening. Literature, or writing in general, has become somewhat elitist and exclusive. We end up reading similar stories from the same writers because we are lazy to leave our comforts of traffic and air-conditioned rooms to dig up and polish new writing talent between huts and rivers and one-street small towns.
Sinaso: What makes you unique as a poet/writer and what message do you want people to get from your work?
Dimakatso: I have been told by Robert Berold, South African poet, editor and publisher, that I ‘have a strong sense of imagery because I am honest with myself so I can write the image that comes to me, the truth of emotional situations, no matter how unpleasant’. He has also said that I ‘feel my feelings strongly, and know and name feelings’ and that I ‘have a good sense of narrative and dialogue’. I must say I am not really a confessional poet, though, because my imagination is also a bit wild and the context is almost always there in my poems.
I do not think any single poem can be received the same way by different readers, which is what makes writing so fascinating. I write to start the story and for the reader to end it, if and when s/he wants to. I also write because I cannot sing.
Sinaso: You got to pay tribute to the late South African poet laureate, Keorapetse Kgositsile. How did that feel and what more do you think can be done to honour creatives like him?
Dimakatso: It was easy, because again I was being honest as I wrote the tribute to him. It felt like I was writing a letter to my uncle, someone whom I knew, because here was ‘a man who ‘looked like men who looked like me, men that I loved, who was born in the ‘country of my bones’ who could write (These quotes are from my poem ‘Tribute to Keorapetse Kgositsile). I think that he and poet Antjie Krog are possibly the two poets who have inspired me to be a poet. I now realise that I have set my bar really high by trying to follow in their footsteps because they are really fine writers and are a national treasure. That has unconsciously made me work hard at my writing so that I can earn the title of a poet, which I might one day. Until then, I have to work hard.
We can honour our writers by ensuring that their work is available and studied in schools, at colleges and universities. As UCT Professor Emeritus and 2018 SALA Poetry Award Winner, Kelwyn Sole, once said. We should also ensure that we mainstream poetry. We should shatter the myth that poetry is a niche market, by raising awareness through the support of government as the duty-bearer and in partnership with various stakeholders. On the importance of poetry as an important art-form that has socio-cultural, socio-economic and socio-historical relevance. There are many talented poets in South Africa and the rest of Africa; young and old, emerging and established. We just need to create an enabling environment for poetry to thrive, like music does, because as Ngῦgῖ wa Thiong’o said ‘Written words can also sing’.
Sinaso: What is next for you? What are you currently working on and hoping to achieve as a writer in the near future?
Dimakatso: I am currently working on a non-fiction book that unearths an untold story of one fine South African lady through oral history. This has challenged me to grow as a writer because it is terribly easy to get warped in one’s little comfort zone.
I am also hoping to finish my first full poetry collection, which I have been working on for years. I am in no hurry to complete it for writing is a process. It cannot be hurried, it unveils itself when it wants to and cannot be forced. Like us, poems like to rest and breathe before they get the work finished. They are much like us; they have secrets that they reveal when safe to do so. For now, I shall continue publishing my work on various journals and anthologies and reading my poems wherever I can.
To me, each time that I feel a strong sense of satisfaction after completing a poem, which is an achievement.
Sinaso: What can people expect to find in the BNAP 2018 anthology and where can they get it?
Dimakatso: The reader can expect to find a woven labyrinth of diverse voices that waft with colourful imagery, sounds and textures, the Africa we know and love as told by us. The BNAP 2018 Anthology can be purchased online on www.africanbookscollective.com and https://www.amazon.com, or by placing an order via Mwanaka Media and Publishing.
Sinaso: Do you believe that books with a positive narration of Africa are easily accessible to the youth of Africa?
Dimakatso: Yes, there are positive African narratives, but they may at times be laced with the complex context within which we are embedded, and that is okay because it makes our stories authentic. I personally have written positive poems, including ‘It All Started with Tea’ and ‘A Million Years’ (published by Story Zetu) and ‘Poem for my Mother’ (published by New Coin). I find that stories on the burdens we carry will keep on telling themselves until all such stories have been told. If they get silenced, they will find another way to tell themselves and the forced positive narrative will sound fake. Readers are smart and they can smell fake from afar. As African writers we get silenced by the world for writing about our pain and it is not that the world does not relate to our pain. She does, for pain is universal, but as African writers we struggle to keep our voices real. The world feels as if it has a right to tell us what to write and how to write it. Our narration sometimes has influences of ancient African storytelling, where strong imagery does not waft in the cool air but hits you like a hard ball on the chest, and the world does not seem to like that. It is as if we are expected to change ourselves, to lose ourselves for the world. It is a question of whoever holds the power holds the narrative. We are changing that. Fast!
Sinaso: Where can readers connect with you or find more of your work?
Dimakatso: They may visit my blog: nala4za.iblog.co.za; my twitter handle is @makiedimand my Facebook writer page is @dimakatso.sedite.stories
Sinaso: Any last words or message for the readers?
Dimakatso: African writing is alive, richly diverse and is holding its own voice. Africa is not a country or skin colour, neither is it always just a continent. It is also in diaspora. If you want to read fresh poetry that is brimming with diversity get hold of the Best New African Poets 2018 Anthology.
Mwanaka and Media Publishing will re-open their call for submission for the Best New African Poets 2019 Anthology in September. They are however open all year for submission of manuscripts.
Keep reading, writing, redefining yourselves in your own words and always tell your truth. Nobody can tell our stories better than us.
Sinaso Mxakaza is a young South African writer who started writing in 2008 inspired by her love for books. Her poems are about healing, change and finding one’s voice in the world we live in. Her work has been published online in sites such as Poetry Potion, Ja Mag SA, Agbowo, Nthanda Review, Writers Space Africa, The Pangolin Review, online anthology (Next Generation Speaks Global Youth Anthology) and Africa, UK, and Ireland: Writing Politics and Knowledge Production Vol1. She was long listed for the 2018 Sol Plaatjie European Award and the first runner up in the Creative Freelance Writerz competition.