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Little Hands

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Sibongile Xamlashe’s formative reading experiences

Sibongile reading to her son Chumani Once upon a misty time, when Mpumalanga province was known as Transvaal, long before she was promoting the love of reading and exposing children to literature in isiXhosa and English, Sibongile Saraphina Xamlashe had little hands and this is what she read…

Sibongile’s earliest memory of books and reading:

I grew up alone at home, but my uncle’s wife looked after me as if I was her own, in fact I did not know that she was not my real mother up until the early nineties.
I came across books at home while we played with older children who went to school. They taught us stories, rhymes, songs like:

“Nabaya bomame “there are the women”
Bethwel’imithwalo “ carrying luggage”

ncincibo ncincibo (no translation for this it’s playful language)
nabaya bomame” “ there are the women”

Sibongile’s first books:

My mother brought many magazines from work in Afrikaans. She read stories from the magazine for me in isiZulu and I would look at the cartoons like: Liewe Heksie and make up my own oral stories. I loved it very much. I started to read stories by K.S. Bongela.

A particular story, I loved very much to read was a story of church people who went far away to attend a church ceremony, and had to sleep under the tree in the jungle because when night came they were still far away. One man who was not a believer said he wouldn’t be a feast to the lions. The priest said no, God had promised him that they will be safe. They slept under the tree and the man slept on top, in no time the lions came and had the feast…. I use to listen to that story over and over again. It made me curious and attracted me to books.

I came to the Cape in grade 6, and it was then that I was exposed to literature. My friends and I were library members; we read, shared and discussed books. When I stared high school in grade 9, I had already read uDike Nocikizwa, Buzani kuBawo**, Enid Blyton’s collection of the Secret Seven Adventures, Danielle Steel’s books like The Secret, Family Album…, Ngungi wa Thiong’o and many other books that I do not remember. I haven’t stopped reading since then.

I read newspaper daily when I was at school because they were delivered. I still read novels in isiXhosa and English, and the local newspaper “City Vision and Vukani”.

Sibongile as an adult, reading with children:

My reading continues, at home my daughter and my son love to be told oral stories, stories read from the books in any language. I always interpret for the younger one who is 6 years old; both of them love to read especially the girl. She always looks for books to read, she sometimes has up to 5 books in her school bag.

At times I dodge reading to them (my kids) when I am tired because I know I will not read with passion so I would rather do it the right way than just doing it because they want me to.

My children know that mama always brings home books and magazines for reading. Sometimes my husband looks at me when I buy magazines and says, ‘Another one, didn’t you buy that already?’ I just smile at him and buy the magazine.

I read on Saturdays at the Vulindlela reading club were I volunteer as a PRAESA staff member. This is the reading club were reading, playing games is happens outside the school environment, promoting the love of reading and exposing children to literature in isiXhosa and English.

I volunteered at church as well during June Holidays where there was a Holiday Programme that included reading. Reading is really fun and empowering for me. I just love the sight of books and children who value and love to read. My children love books as well. I see that as an excellent way of stimulating their curiosity about life.
From Literatuur in Context:

Knobel Sakhiwo Bongela, better known as KS in the writing fraternity, was born in 1939, and at his death on 8 May 2006, Feni (2006) described him as one of the giants in Xhosa literature. At his death, he had written thirty works of fiction, and received the African Languages Literature Award in 1999 for Iimbali zikaMpahleni (Amabali amafutshane ) (1998). He matriculated from Lovedale College in 1957, where as head prefect he had overseen young Chris Hani and Thabo Mbeki. He married a woman called Nobulumnko on 10 July 1963, fathering two sons, Sango and Sonwabile, and four daughters, Nangamso, Ayanda, Qondisa and Viwe. He was awarded a BA degree from Fort Hare in that same year, and embarked on a long career in education. After six children, he married his second wife, Xoliswa, in 1991, fathering four more daughters – Vuyo, Mili, Singa and Qhayiqhayi. He completed his PhD in 2001 at UNISA on ukuhlonipha (showing respect). He translated Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe into Xhosa as Lwadilik’idonga. Furthermore, he wrote Xhosa textbooks for primary and secondary school use. In his private life he was a ballroom dancer and pianist, and served as an elder in the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Butterworth and East London.
Prof Peter Mtuze said, “In his writing he tried to depict the lives of people in towns, townships and rural areas. He was a tried and tested horse in the field. He was one of the few guys in the writing fraternity to obtain a doctorate. He was also a man who will be remembered for his sense of humour and his love of education”. Bongela is described as a gentleman, a humble man, a scholar, a tried and tested author and a patriot who loved his culture and IsiXhosa.

I have searched the Internet for some cover images of Bongela’s books, but have not found any. If anybody can scan and email me some images, I would like to add them here.

**I would like to have put in a link to more information on Buzani KuBawo’s author Witness Kholekile Tamsanqa, but could not find a good link. The link above does lead to a very interesting article by Jimmy Matyu titled Surprised to find author was humble shop owner, in which KuBawo is mentioned. If you find a link, please post it below.

On Verna Vels, adapted and translated from Childlit.Org

Multi-talented, award winning Verna Vels, radio and television presenter and author of numerous radio plays, regards the highpoint of her hugely successful career as the creation of Liewe Heksie, arguably South African children’s literature’s most famous character. Verna said the idea for Liewe Heksie came from the Walt Disney film of Snow White. The wicked witch in that film was her inspiration. Many years after she first saw the Disney film, she thought it would be fun to write about a small witch who was a bit absent minded. The land where this witch would live, a flower-land with silver a silver rose as its most precious possession, was derived from Richard Strauss’s opera, Die RosenKavalier. The Liewe-Heksie books each containing six to eight stories were not planned in advance, they evolved spontaneously from some small seed of an idea. Verna feels this kind of organic development of the stories was essential. She says she loves fantasy and the freedom it presents to a writer, but like the Liewe Heksie books quickly proved, she is also acutely aware of the discipline and logic required to structure fantasy into good stories. Children don’t like open-ended stories, she says. For this reason she always ensures her stories have a strong beginning, middle and end. When there is a battle between good and bad, good will always win. When there is injustice in a children’s book, it must be solved, and when there is a message or a lesson, it must not come across as a message or a lesson.

Aims of The Little Hands Trust
• To support initiatives that promote reading for enjoyment.
• To mentor African literary artists, including writers, illustrators and editors, to produce creative, suitable and appropriate children’s storybooks for children of various ages with a focus on early childhood (ages 0 to 9 years).
• To collaborate with African publishers to increase and sustain publication of children’s books in African languages. To initiate and support translations of stories between African languages, from African languages to ex-colonial languages and from ex-colonial languages to African languages.
• To help to orientate and educate adults in the importance and significance of reading to and with children.


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