Last year, during the beginning stages of my still minuscule career as a literature blogger, I was invited to give a talk on “the meeting point between the books and the internet” at the inaugural Rutanag Book Fair in Tlokwe – a well-known township near an extremely white town called Potchefstroom, in North West. Now, because I love talking and travelling for free and because the guys at Rutanang were offering me an opportunity to do both, on the 26th of April, 2016, I found myself sitting in front of a small group of writers at a library in the middle of a township I barely knew, mumbling incoherent nothings and praying that the questions that would follow after would not expose me for the idiot I knew I was.
Fast forward to 2017: I’m still the insignificant and geek-ish literature blogger – with an addiction to the internet that will cause him to be single for the next eight-and-a-half years – that I was in 2016, but Rutanang Book Fair has changed. Instead of doing the whole people-crammed-in-a-hall-listening-to-a-bunch-of-writers-speak thing that usually happens at every other book fair, they decided to host this year’s entire installment of the book fair online. Yes, online: complete with its own Twitter and Facebook hashtags and everything.
Before I continue, let me get something off my chest first:
I’m a huge fan of the Rutanang Book Fair and every other book fair and festival that is currently challenging commonly and wrongfully held stereotypes about black people and books. For way too long black people have been wrongfully labeled as people who don’t read, let alone write books, and book fairs like Rutanang, Abantu, Northern Cape Literature Festival and the Kimberly Book Fair have played a massive role in nipping such stereotypes in the bud, and flipping the middle finger to anyone who continues to perpetuate them. I love and respect the people who work hard to make sure that these book fairs continue to happen, and only wish them growth each and every year.
With that being said, let what I’m about to say not be seen as me taking a huge gulp of hater-rade, but as me saying “maybe you shouldn’t have done that, well at least not now” – but in a nice way.
Now, back to why you’re here:
As much as I enjoyed watching it, I really think that this year’s Rutanang Book Fair, though I’m sure the organisers had good intentions in doing so, shouldn’t have happened the way it did. While I respect the whole #ShiftingSpaces concept the organisers were trying to push, the price of data in South Africa doesn’t allow me to fully agree with the idea of hosting a three-day book festival exclusively online. By hosting it online, the organisers of the book fair made it inaccessible for a huge population in South Africa – including a majority of the people who live in the very township in which they themselves are based.
There were certain aspects of the book fair – like the written interviews with certain writers and some book reviews that were posted on their Facebook page – that I think worked well online. But, with that said, there were also other parts of the book fair – like 10+ minute video interviews with certain writers and bloggers – that I believe were just too much for a landless student such as myself to joyfully consume without denting his pockets. Data is an oppression that most of us are still trying to liberate ourselves from – that and debit orders from hell – so, and this is hoping that you guys read this, the next time that you guys at Rutanang think of hosting your book fair online, remember that the price for data, just like the fees in South Africa, still hasn’t fallen – and we are landless.
But, for any of you guys that can afford to do so, you can check out the videos of the whole book fair on the Rutanang Book Fair’s Facebook page.
Trust me, you’re gonna lose a lot of data, but you’re gonna enjoy it anyway.