Fourth book published in Setswana by short story writer

Maruping Phepheng

The novelist and short story writer, Maruping Phepheng, who has published two novels and a collection of short stories in English, has now also published a novel in Setswana.
Phepheng, who hails from Witbank in Mpumalanga, addressed the audience that attended Breakfast With The Authors at Coobah, Bloemgate, in Bloemfontein on Saturday 30 July 2016. He said: “In February 2014, when I started to study Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the Rhodes University in Grahamstown, I found myself under a tree while I was waiting for the class to start. I met two students, Moses Nzama Khaizen Mtileni, and author, Thabiso Mofokeng, and two lecturers, including Lesego Rampolokeng. I remember Lesego Rampolokeng saying to me ‘Maruping Phepheng, you are Motswana Monna (man), why do you write novels and short stories in English?’ ”
“I opened my laptop and showed them that I had a manuscript of a novel I was busy writing in Setswana – Tlhokaina – and my story had a paragraph with only four lines. I then started taking writing in Setswana very seriously. My classmate, Mtileni, had already written a book in Sitsonga and author, Thabiso Mofokeng, had written many books in Sesotho. In February 2014, I had been making the installment of a paragraph of a page, and late in 2015 I started taking the business of writing this Setswana novel (Tlhokaina) very seriously. At the end of 2015 I had made great progress and in 2016 I published my first book in my own language. Briefly, the novel Tlhokaina, is about a young orphan boy raised by his aunt. The upbringing is very difficult and very abusive.”
Phepheng added: “What I have done is to try and respond to a question that I keep asking myself, a question we keep on asking each other as black writers. The question is why are we determined to write in the language that was used by our oppressors. Why is it we write in that language and yet, on the other hand, talk about decolonisation of literature space. So, when I sat and thought about it, I realised a whole lot of things could be done, like taking writers’ festivals to the black communities so that they can be involved.
“If we take writers’ workshops to black communities, we would be able to interest black people in the beauty of reading and secondly in the beauty of writing. We are not going to win the project of decolonisation of the literature space if we do not take literature to the black people. Writers themselves must take meaningful steps to ascertain decolonisation of the literature space and one of those things is to write in the indigenous languages.
“I published my novel in Setswana. I have written it to make a political statement to the extent that I am a Motswana. I am thrusting my language amongst other languages. When people speak about language development, I should be able to speak about my own language, Setswana. And the people should be able to say, ‘Maruping Phepheng has made his small contribution towards the preservation of his language’. This is one of the projects that has made me proud. I have already written three books in English, including Nightfall. This is the biggest moment in my career as a writer.”
The author of the novel, Tlhokaina, said if we don’t write in our own languages, our languages will die. He added: “If you go to Paris, France, or Berlin, Germany, and London, England, and imagine you will meet writers in those countries, do you think those writers write their novels and short stories in Setswana and Sesotho? The answer is no. Those writers write their books in French, German and English. They are not interested in writing in foreign languages. They write in their own languages. If they don’t write in their own languages, they are aware of the fact that their languages will die.
“It becomes our responsibility as writers to write books in our own languages to contribute to our literature. If you want to write a story, you first need the protagonist or the main character. Once you have a character, give him/her an ordinary life. Let’s say your character is a little girl, give her a mother, uncle and friends. Once you have the character, you move on by giving this character a ‘dramatic problem’. When I make contact with the story, I should be able to fall in love with the character or I should be able to hate the character. I want to challenge everybody to go to the library and read books by the late Bessie Head, the late Nadine Gordimer, Sabata-mpho Mokae, Njabulo Ndebele, James Matthews, Niq Mhlongo, Moses Nzama Khaizen Mtileni, author Thabiso Mofokeng and Zukiswa Wanner, some of the best writers that South Africa has produced.” – Flaxman Qoopane