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Celebrating South Africa's Tamil Writers

Nirvani Pillay
Celebrating South Africa's Tamil Writers

South African Tamil Writers making are waves on the local literary scene. The stories are unique and the narratives express much of their personal journeys. Full of passion in their own writing genres this summary is a testimony of the reading culture that is very much a part of our Tamil diaspora in South Africa. I reached out to these authors for more information about their works which I believe deserves a wider audience.

First up we have Sugar Cane Boy by Rubendra Govender

With a family history in sugar farming Govender published Sugar Cane Boy in 2008 which was an instant success resulting in the book now used as a set work for grade 8-10 scholars in Durban and has sold over 12500 copies. The story follows a lasting friendship between two boys, one Indian African and the other black African. Govender also works as an actor, educator and as a newspaper columnist writing opinion pieces. In 2012 he published a second book called The English Major’s Daughter. The protagonist is a young white girl and touches on a few sensitive issues such as prejudice during the fall of apartheid. Sugar Cane Boy is also on the reading list at Stanford University. Purchase is via email on bambata@mweb.co.za and retail at R250 each.

 

The second on my list is written by another Govender Beaten Not Broken by Vanessa Govender

I was not able to get feedback from Govender for this piece but this book seems to have caught everyone by surprise especially the author who repeatedly stated that she did not expect it to be such a success and it turned out to be quite a resounding one at that. The timing for the launch was at the pinnacle of the global #MeToo movement. The story hit home for many women around the country from all walks of life. Vanessa started off her career in media and her talent for articulation is clear as she goes through the stages of an abusive relationship towards healing. She is happily married with three children and lives a very balanced life now. The book is a story of triumph and about healing. I follow Govender on social media and enjoy some of her philosophies on letting go of the past and moving towards a fulfilled and abundant life. Watch an interview of Vanessa Govender: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxZiSoWWTUk

The book retails for R249 and can be purchased online at Exclusive Books: https://www.exclusivebooks.co.za/product/9781431426799

I researched a little about the surname Govender. This spelling variant is said to be exclusive to South Africa as the change occurred during the time of documentation when the British did not understand the dialect spoken by indentured labourers and transposed Gounder to Govender. We have a significant number of Tamil South Africans with the surname Govender who carry it proudly and with great authority. The lineage dates back to the Kongu Vellalar Gounder caste, commonly known as Gounders and originates from Tamil Nadu. History suggests that this group or caste has played a role in politics and economic development of the Kongu Nadu region.

Recently published is Made in Chatsworth by Kiru Naidoo

The township of Chatsworth was established in the 1950s by the apartheid government which forced a law called the Group Areas Act. The act dictated that those of colour could not reside in areas designated for white residential occupation. Forced removals from newly designated white areas to areas like Chatsworth was and still is a strong talking point for every South African of Indian ancestry. Made in Chatsworth is written as a memoir presented as short chapters. The focal point of the book is The Bangladesh Market. Naidoo has made a deliberate attempt to not caption the images used so that readers can take themselves on a visual journey. An excerpt from the first chapter titled Ancestral Vices fittingly gives us the tone of the book:  “Our gene pool originates in the deep south of the Indian subcontinent.  The ethnic chauvinist in me claims my Tamil lineage, a Dravidian people with a written history dating over 5000 years.”  The short chapter on the kaleidoscope of his life continues: “In truth, my bloodline has been colourfully tinged with the joys and jeopardies of human existence.   Apartheid classified my family ‘Indian’.  We were even known as ‘Asiatic’ at some point.  This was in spite of the fact that by then at least five generations of my family were born in Africa.” Watch an interview of Kiru Naidoo on the country’s morning news station https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMcbG2opb_A

Naidoo is taking a book tour to five Indian cities in 2020. The author may be reached on +27829408163 or kirunaidoo2@gmail.com

 

A book that caught my interest is Something is Rotten in Durban by Kuben Samie

As a developing country, South Africa has had a number of challenges with government and socio-economic development. Samie is an environment activist with degrees in Zoology and Law. He took on a cause to raise awareness of sensitive issues which has now become quite a personal passion. By self-publishing Something is Rotten in Durban he aims to highlight the phenomenon of illegal waste dumping. He also campaigns to save the historical Cato Manor Indian Cemetry. Samie has long involvement as a volunteer for the Tamil Coordinating Committee of South Africa, as well as the Tamil Guardian and has contributed towards awareness of the human right’s abuses of Tamils in Sri Lanka from his South African base in Durban. The book is currently available on Kindle and Paperback on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/SOMETHING-ROTTEN-DURBAN-Combatting-Scourge/dp/0620784547

More about the author on his page: https://samie.co.za/

 

Last but not least is Mala Lutchmanan who is a stalwart in the local Tamil community. She is a presenter on the Indian radio station Lotus FM. She is also an educator and author. Lutchmanan teaches at a school for pupils who have learning disabilities which includes reading. She has launched five books which are designed to aid her learners work through their challenges. Lutchmanan is a proud teach of the Tamil language and was recently commemorated with the Valar Tamizh Maamani Award by the International Academy of Tamil Language and Culture in Chennai. Something not often talked about is her acclaimed translation of Long Walk to Freedom in Tamil, as well as translation of some of Mandela’s famous quotes.

A podcast of her interview about this book can be found here: https://iono.fm/e/452083

I am an avid reader and I try to support local writers whenever possible. For this reason I hope to inspire you to support one or all of these writers as they establish themselves in the literary world. We are so proud of their achievements and contributions to social cohesiveness, social change and preservation of the strong Tamil heritage at the southern tip of the African continent, especially when there appears to be an often difficult task to highlight Tamil film and art forms against the more common globally used Hindi. May Tamil Africans continue to shine a light well into the future! Mikke Nandri

 

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