Flair Magazine Publisher and Editorial Director Hlayiseka T Mabunda chats to language activist Enock Shishenge about his first individual poetry anthology titled Lockdown.
Flair: Tell me a bit about yourself, where you come from or grew up, your education, and how you got into writing.
My name is Enock Shishenge born at the village called Jimmy Jones in Limpopo. I started writing sometimes back when I was at secondary school but took it seriously when I was at Giyani College of Education. I was at Giyani College of Education when my poems were published in the Sowetan, Daily Sun, and Timbila. I also got an opportunity to write for the defunct Giyani News and Peoples’ Voice. But Vonani Bila of Timbila played a very important role in my writing career, especially poetry. He believed in me when writing on my side was still very tough. I have an HDE majoring in History, Xitsonga and English (Univen) and Honours in African Languages (Unisa)
Flair: Let’s talk about your book LOCKDOWN. What inspired that title?
My voice is always critical to whatever situation I encounter in life. I regard poetry as an appreciation of well weaved words that speak to the past, present and future situations faced by humans. Poetry is the labour of my imagination and when I feel joyful I write, when I encounter hardships I write. So when our lives were closed down I decided to write something which will be remembered in the history of our sufferings.
Is this your first published book?
It is my first individual collection, but I have been published in other literary works, especially poetry anthologies.
Flair: Tell me a bit about your latest book of poetry Lockdown. What is the main story or stories in the book?
The book, as I have said it’s poetry, it speaks about life in general, especially the scourge of the CoronaVirus we are facing now as human beings across the world. As a student of decoloniality I drive some of the poems to speak along those lines. For instance, in a poem ‘Let them finish us,’ it speaks about the destruction of our indigenous languages and knowledge by the colonialists; the westernisation and christianazation of black people while at the same time taking their wealth. So I am suggesting that they have come again to finish us with their coronavirus. There are poems which speak about writing poetry in a very intelligent approach and I also had time to pay tribute to some of the people who have died. It’s a variety of themes.
Flair: Who did you have in mind when you wrote the book?
I had South African people in mind, including our leaders who I bash as a sign of resistance. Poetry is a resistance arts.
Flair: What sort of research did you need to do to write this book?
To write this book I needed no research. It needed observation. I am a very observant and conscious person who wants to clearly understand every situation that humanity goes through. The only resource I had with me was my mind, pen and paper.
Flair: What was the inspiration that propelled you through the process of writing this book till the end?
I love reading books. I love writing books. I love analysing books. I told myself that I would write 21 poems, one each day of the first 21 days of the strict covid 19 lockdown. But I ended up writing more than that. I have so many poems waiting to be published in both Xitsonga and English. I was determined to be part of the covid 19 lockdown in a positive way. In the history of this coronavirus it must be known that amongst those who wrote there is a poet who wrote poems to deposit in the history of our sufferings.
Flair: How difficult or challenging is it to market and promote your book?
Writing this book was a very simple exercise. To me writing poetry is my daily bread. That’s why if you go to my timeline most of my posts speak to poetry or its poetry.
Flair: Who helped you publish the book?
After having realised that publishing is a colonised space I decided to self – publish so that I remain decolonial in my publishing journey. I published using Ndzhaka Publishers which is under Ndzhaka Language Institute, a decolonised language institute which aims to be a true representative in the promotion and protection of indigenous languages.
Flair: What sort of help did you need to get published?
Publishing needs money, but like Steve Biko said ‘black man you are on your own.’ I am presently funding my projects. It is expensive to publish books because you need funds for editing, for proofreading, designs and other logistics involved in book making. I hope they will assist me in future those given the responsibilities to do so.
Flair: When is your book coming out, and what sort of reception do you anticipate?
The book will be formally introduced to people this coming Sunday. Hope the printers shall have printed copies for me. I can’t determine what the reception will be at the moment. We need to wait for three months or so. The likes on Facebook mean nothing until that time when one has got on the ghetto streets to sell the book.
Flair: What sort of marketing are you doing to get people to read your book?
As I have indicated social media is the way to go. You reach as many people as you can. I will try all avenues, newspapers, magazines, radio and television. This is a very relevant book which I hope the media will be interested to be a part of. Reviews are very important in platforming books.
Flair: How difficult and challenging is it to market or promote your book/s?
Promoting a book will always be difficult, especially now that people are not working. But I will make sure that the price is not sky – rocketing so that people afford it. It’s only R75
Flair: Looking back, would you say writing this book was worth the trouble?
I think so. We need to always record what will be remembered when we are gone. When we are gone we don’t only have to be remembered only by our own families but by the society as well. But to be remembered by the society one needs to do something that the society will remember. So I look back and say this is worth the trouble.
Flair: Any future plans to continue writing?
I have turned myself into a fulltime writer. After publishing close to five English projects that I have I will focus on my indigenous language writing, promotion and protection through the Ndzhaka Language Institute. I also have some manuscripts in my language. I have sent some for funding and if I am lucky I will publish them the soonest.
Flair: Where can people buy the book or get hold of the book?
My plan is to make sure that it gets online for people to easily access it. But at the moment I am the only person who can get it to them. But in stage two I will device other means to reach as many people as I can.
Contact: People can get me on my phone 083 338 8275 or Enock Shishenge on Facebook.
Enock Shishenge is a secondary school teacher and language activist born at Jimmy Jones, Limpopo province. He has an honours degree in African Languages from Unisa. His works have been published in several poetry anthologies, magazines, newspapers and journals such as Timbila, Echoes, Turfwrite, The Burning Shacks, Sunday World, City Press, Daily Sun, Numsa News, Sowetan, Loocha Magazine, Nsati wa Gayisa, Ntsena Loko A Yo Sewula, Hi Landza Nhlalala amongst others.
Shishenge has been awarded the following accolades: The Star in Education Award twice (2018 and 2019), Best Xitsonga Teacher (2018), Cultural Teacher of the Year (2018), Gauteng Brand Ambassador Award (2012), The Star in Education Award (2011), and Somafco Trust’s Essay Writing Award (2010). He worked as a columnist at Loocha Youth Magazine, an indigenous language activist at Wena Institute; He has also worked as a language practitioner at Saide and Molteno on a part time basis. He has performed his poems on the global poetry landscape at venues such Somafco, Tanzania and Pen y Dre, Wales in the United Kingdom.
He currently serves as the deputy secretary of the Midrand – Ivory Park SA Democratic Teachers Union branch. He has done many radio, television and newspaper commentaries on indigenous languages. He describes himself as an activist and revolutionary watchdog existing in the depths of his consciousness.