Keynote speech by Zukiswa Wanner opens 24th Time of the Writer Festival


Today the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) opened the 24th edition of the Time of the Writer International Festival hosted virtually on its social media channels and Zoom until 21 March 2021.


Time of the Writer co-curator Siphindile Hlongwa welcomed more than 300 viewers to the festival’s opening today at 11 am. “Through our championing spirit, exactly one year ago, we became the first South African festival to venture on an online platform,” Hlongwa mentioned. This week the festival is back with their 2nd virtual edition that offers a jam-packed programme with over 30 sessions and over 100 participants.


Speaking to this year’s festival and theme, “The writer: witness, canary in the mine or testifier?”,  CCA director Ismail Mahomed said: “We believe that these three roles are incredibly important to defend our democracy. The CCA values the support that it receives from University leadership, our partners and particularly the artists we work with, to be able to ensure that we create a platform for dialogue that help us to engage with our democracy so that we can create the systems and the opportunity which enables to endow it  to future generations of South Africans.”


The festival’s opening also included an introduction to featured writer Fred Khumalo, joining in four of the festival’s sessions and inaugural festival literature champion Ntokozo Ndlovu. Ndlovu was rewarded this title by the festival for his sterling work with the Siyafunda-Donate-A-Book project, making it possible for children in rural schools to have access to literature.


Writer, editor, publisher and curator Zukiswa Wanner presented a keynote speech on the writer’s voice in a political, social and artistically-conscious world:


“While we may want to claim to be canaries in the mine, we probably are not. We are just engaging with our past and knowing how it will shape our future, and we seem prophetic only because our leaders are so anti-intellectual, so anti-literature that they do not read so they too can heed the warnings. I hope this is the case.”


Wanner continues to break down the vulnerable position of literature and touches on her dream of what our continent would be like if each country would have a literature foundation: “Writers would not need to debate whether to take Ngugi’s side or Achebe’s side on the language question. Because you see, writers, like painters, would paint in a colour or language of their preference, but be certain that their work, if engaging enough, could be translated into another of our languages. And our universities would not allow anyone to earn a Master’s degree in any language if they have not translated a book from this continent from one language to another.”


She continued to say that to be a writer is to hope for the better continuously: “As writers, we can be witnesses, appear to foretell doom or testify. Unfortunately, as long as no-one reads us and engages with our work, it will not matter. After the end of this 24th Time of the Writer Festival, I can only hope that the narrative is changed.”


Time of the Writer features a diverse gathering of leading novelists, social commentators, activists, playwrights, short story writers and poets. This 24th edition brings ‘food for thought’ in the form of thought-provoking brunch, lunch, coffee and dinner sessions. The sessions are focused on many socially-relevant themes such as whistleblowing, migration, colonialism, gender-based violence and sexual identity.


Background information

Time of the Writer is one of the largest and longest-running literature festivals in Africa. The festival will host a wide variety of internationally-acclaimed thought leaders, such as Zakes Mda, Zubeida Jaffer and Fred Khumalo.


Time of the Writer is made possible through partnerships with the KZN Department of Sports, Arts & Culture, Amazwi South African Museum of Literature, the French Institute of South Africa, Imbiza Journal of African Writing, the STAND Foundation, the National Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, and the Foundation for Human Rights.


The festival will stream for free on their Facebook page (, Twitter page (@timeofthewriter) and YouTube Channel ( For the entire programme, participant biographies and to join the Zoom room visit

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