Masi author tours Germany, Netherlands

Sonwabiso Ngcowa with Dr Lutz van Dijk

An author from Masiphumelele has just returned from a reading tour through Germany and the Netherlands.

For two weeks, Sonwabiso Ngcowa, 33, was a guest speaker in libraries, schools and book shops in cities like Amsterdam, Cologne, Bonn, Essen and Osnabrueck. The focus was on his recent book 21 @ 21 (writtenwith Melanie Verwoerd) which was translated into German under the title Suedafrika mit 21 organised by writer Dr Lutz van Dijk, founding co-director of the Hokisa Children’s Home in Masi, who has mentored Sonwabiso for a number of years.

The book is a collation of interviews with young South Africans from diverse backgrounds, all of whom were born in 1994 and came of age in 2015. To mark the “coming of age” of the nation, Melanie and Sonwabiso travelled across South Africa collecting the life stories of young people born in 1994. These “born-frees” relate their personal journeys, dreams and hopes for the future of the country. The brutally honest voices of these 21-year-olds, sometimes challenging and sometimes disturbing, are also funny and hopeful, and give an invaluable insight into the machinations of thought among the youth in modern day South Africa. Sonwabiso, a writer and poet, was born in an Eastern Cape village but grew up in Masiphumelele.

His works were among the most popular of the Mobi-Books, designed to be read on mobile devices. His short stories were published in English and Xhosa. Mr Ngcowa acts as a mentor in writing workshops, helping youths to develop their own texts.

His book reviews have appeared in numerous newspapers and online. His debut novel, In Search of Happiness, was published in 2014, received much praise and was translated into German under the title Nanas Liebe.

Sonwabiso said: “My experience in Amsterdam and Germany was most amazing. I had been in 2014 with Lutz on a similar tour. The first time I had taken my first book called In Search of Happiness. This is a novel about two girls falling in love. It was well received and the responses both in Amsterdam and Germany were overwhelmingly heart-warming.”

He said that this time around in May, he went again for the second time. “I met Lutz when I landed at the Schipol airport in Amsterdam. We started what would be another most exciting tour. The first reading was at the central library in Amsterdam. After this we went to different cities around Germany to meet with different audiences. We were in schools, book shops, libraries, churches etc.”

He said that in each of the presentations, the audience took part in vibrant discussions about the youth of South Africa, and the country’s current standing.

“For me, the experience made me see our beautiful country in a way I had not seen it before. We were engaging with people who genuinely want to see our country do better. However, people who were not telling us what to do, but showing that they are hopeful for the country.”

He said the experience continues to teach him to dream big.

“Having been born in Mpozisa village, Alice in the Eastern Cape, who would have thought? Coming to live in Masiphumelele, Cape Town in 1996, a place with a lot of energy, but very minimal resources, how is it possible for anyone to be able to do anything constructive?”

He shares part of the journey that he has walked.

“If I said I walked it alone I would not be telling the truth. Lutz has played a very big role in my writing career that is still at the beginning. I cannot thank him enough.”

Sonwabiso was born on July 7, 1984. In 1991, he started “big school” in a mud church building that doubled as Grade 1 and 2 classes. The walk to school was more than a kilometre, and often he arrived having eating nothing for breakfast.

In 1996 he moved to Masiphumelele. Here, he said, the walk to school took him less than five minutes and was “paved with possibilities of being involved in crime or drugs”.

The following year he finished his primary schooling at Ukhanyo and then started at Fish Hoek Middle School in 1998. He finished matric at Fish Hoek Senior High School in 2002.

In 2003 he said, he was lost, confused and scared.

“My dream to become a pilot died in 2001 when I went up on a plane for the first time and realised that I am not good with heights. I then worked as a garden boy in a private home. I worked as a general helper and a nursery, as a painter company assistant, as a dish washer at the Fish Hoek Spur, as a starter meal-maker at the Fish Hoek Spur.”

Towards the end of 2003 he went back to his ex-guidance teacher, Mr Douglas at Fish Hoek High School. “He was still keeping the same smile and warm heart for his ex-learners. Between ourselves we complete an application for me to study Business Management and Processes at Cape College. I got accepted, and graduated with a diploma in 2005.

He then worked for five years in at a bank. “The bank afforded me the opportunity to grow. Five years later I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write, and, hopefully have some work published. I wanted to study further. But, I was still shaking as I typed the resignation letter (to resign as a consultant junior manager at the bank.”

He laughs, says: “Indoda ayikhali (“a man does not cry” ).

“I have since graduated from UCT with a BSocSci Degree at UCT, majoring in anthropology and social development. I also completed an honours in Anthropology. I am now doing my Masters at the same university. My latest book, which I recently presented with Lutz, is my third book.”

Melanie is married to the grandson of apartheid architect HF Verwoerd. After Nelson Mandela encouraged her to “use her surname and voice for the bigger good”, she joined the ANC.

In 1994, Melanie was elected as a Member of Parliament for the ANC, as the youngest female MP in the history of South Africa.

She was re-elected in 1999 and appointed ambassador to Ireland in 2001. Her memoir, When We Dance was published in Ireland in 2012 and in South Africa under the title The Verwoerd who toyi-toyied.

Her book, Our Madiba: Stories and reflections of those who met Nelson Mandela, was launched in 2014 by Archbishop Tutu.

Other writers include Joost, who grew up in the all-white Afrikaans enclave of Orania and gives a fascinating insight into life in this secluded community with its own public holidays and currency.

Also in the book is Ishmael – a devout Muslim – who grew up in Australia after his father and his family immigrated to Australia because of their anti-apartheid beliefs – and then returned to South Africa when it became increasingly difficult to practise their faith in Australia.

In all there are 21 writers who speak about their lives, philosophies and their dreams, about unemployment, their children, their sexual orientation and life experiences as well as what motivates or upsets them.

You can order 21 @ 21 at any bookshop for R220 or order a
signed copy with a discount for
R200 – directly from the author: