It was 4:00 am in the morning. The air in my room, humid from a night spend with closed windows, felt heavy on my lungs as I took it in with a hint of disbelief at how fast the night had gone by. The alarm I had reluctantly set on my phone the previous night had woken me up a couple of minutes earlier and, after an Eric Tomas inspired pep-talk to get myself out of bed, I finally decided to get up, take a cold shower, eat cold breakfast and wait outside my building, during one of the coldest mornings I’ve ever experienced since I’ve been in Bloemfontein, for a minibus taxi that was set to arrive on campus to pick me and a group of other writers up at 5:30am – only for it to arrive about 50 minutes late.
At 5:15 am, after drinking almost 3.6 liters of coffee, the fog in my vision still hadn’t cleared and nothing seemed to be going my way. At that point I had developed one of those ‘today’s not gonna be a good day’ gut feelings you get on some mornings (or was it from all that coffee I drank?) not knowing that the day, as groggy and stop-and-go filled it was in the beginning, was set to be a very interesting, informative and fast passed one throughout.
A writer’s collective I’m part of in the University of the Free State – serendipitously dubbed ‘Writers Bloc’ at its launch a few days earlier – had been invited by writer and lecturer Sabata-mpho Mokae to attend a publishing workshop by Phehello Mofokeng, at Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley, Northern Cape, and the day I’d been waiting for had finally arrived – I was finally going to go see the Sol Plaatje University, and I was all types of excited about it.
The trip from Bloemfontein to Kimberley itself was long-ish (it was a little under two hours), and the jalopy we were travelling in looked more like a comical-bordering-on-dangerous sum of back and forth trips to a local mechanic working from the back of his yard, safely held together more by the individual prayers of its current passengers than it was by said mechanic’s long hours of labor, than it looked like a road worthy car. But, thanks to the loyal gods of literature, we made it safely to our destination – and the trip was as wonderful as the destination that awaited us.
Lemme digress a bit:
As cheesy and ripped out Binyavanga’s “How to Write about Africa” as this may sound, throughout our surprisingly smooth ride to Kimberley, while others were catching up on the sleep they had forgone to make it on time for our early-but-late departure (I really don’t know how people can sleep while riding in what is seemingly a bomb on four wheels), I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the Free State/Northern Cape landscape. South Africa has beautiful (unoccupied and unused) land, and it’s a shame that only a few can experience it in its fullest capacity.
Anyway, back to the reason why we’re all gathered here today:
Other than being the first city I’ve been to in the Northern Cape – itself the fourth province I’ve been to in South Africa – Kimberley was as basic as any other run of the mill South African city I’ve been to in the past. Originally-intended-for-White-people but slowly getting its BEE infused gentrification (another universal trait of South African cities), and a city with a considerable literary significance, Kimberley has always been one of those cities I’ve wanted to visit before I kick the bucket and go to literary heaven. It has a rich literary history, diversifying literary present and, because of people like Sabata and institutions like the Sol Plaatje University, a writer and reader filled future.
Well, my first encounters with Kimberley and its literary significance was in books about and by Sol Plaatje (a man whose name now adorns an institution which stands as a beacon for the development of literature written in Native languages in both Kimberley and the rest of the country) while on a binge reading marathon in 2011 and, with the launches of a number literature events and programs in the city over the past couple of years, Kimberley has over the years gradually become a strong contender for the status of the country’s literary capital. This city has one of the greatest writer development programs I’ve ever come across – the university is launching a creative writing in native languages program soon – and titling it ‘UNESCO City of literature’ would be a testament of the hard work of many.
Basically, Kimberley, in my eyes, has always been and will always be an ideal candidate for the UNESCO City of Literature status. This is why:
I first came across the UNESCO City of Literature program in 2010: a program which is part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, launched in 2004, and was born out of their Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity initiative which was launched in 2002. Because the network was created to ‘promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development’ and it currently boasts a membership of 116 cites from 54 different countries, Kimberley, with its growing significance in the country’s literature industry, would make a perfect fit.
Anyway, after one of the worst lunches I’ve had in like … forever, and having people judge my writing with me sitting right in front of them (a very interesting and equally awkward experience), the day ended on a high note – that’s until we had to get back into the contraption that go us to Kimberley to drive back to Bloemfontein. Kimberley has left an indelible mark in my literary consciousness and I will be visiting it more over the years. Hopefully one of the trips I’ll be making there will be to attend the celebration of it being officially named a UNESCO City of Literature.