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Keynote speech Dr Stella Nyanzi opens 25th Poetry Africa Festival

Today the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) opened the 25th edition of the Poetry Africa Festival hosted virtually on its social media channels until Saturday 16 October.


Poetry Africa curator Siphindile Hlongwa welcomed more than 800 viewers to the festival’s opening today at 11 am. “The Covid-19 pandemic may have shut down our theatres, galleries, music halls and museums, but Covid-19 has not shut down the voices of our poets. It is the poetry that has held us together through these two dark years.” Hlongwa mentioned. This year’s Festival recognises the power of the poet. Behind their Covid-19 masks, the voices of our poets have continued to remain unmuted.” 


This week the festival is back with their 2nd virtual edition that offers a jam-packed programme with over 30 sessions and over 80 participants from 24 countries.


Speaking to this year’s festival’s Slam Jam, School Competition, and Open Mic competition,  CCA director Ismail Mahomed said: “We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response from young people to our public participation programme. We are delighted to offer young people a platform alongside legendary poets. We hope that the cross-over of ideas, rhythms and their voices will be the threads by which we weave a better nation.”


Ambassador of France to South Africa, Aurélien Lechevallier, emphasised the achievement of 25 years of existence of Poetry Africa and emphasised that poetry does not only tell a story but also opens a dialogue. 


The festival’s opening also included an introduction to the poet, writer and performer Siphokazi Jonas, who joins in four of the festival’s sessions and screening her film #wearedyinghere during the festival. Jonas was specifically selected to represent the festival’s theme: Unmute: Power to the Poet.


Keynote Speech Dr Stella Nyanzi

Dr Stella Nyanzi is a Ugandan human rights activist, poet, medical anthropologist, feminist, queer rights activist, and scholar of sexuality, family planning, and public health. “It is very empowering to publicly talk about unmuting. You see: for many years in my country Uganda, I have been struggling hard to unmute my poetic voice.” Says Dr Nyanzi in her powerful keynote speech on Unmuting Democracy. 


Nyanzi was arrested in 2017 for insulting the Ugandan president, after which she was suspended from Makerere University. She appealed the decision with Makerere University’s appeal tribunal, which directed that she be reinstated, promoted to the level of a research fellow with immediate effect, and be paid back wages.


The Makerere University refused to abide by its tribunal’s decision. Stella Nyanzi filed a lawsuit against the university requesting reinstatement and back wages. In December 2018, the Makerere University dismissed her, along with 45 other academics, arguing that her contract had expired.  


She continued to say: “If democracy is to thrive in the different countries and societies that comprise our African continent, then creative thinkers, writers, artists, and performers must be allowed freedom of expression. Poets must be unsilenced, unmuted, the gags torn, and the boots on our Adam’s apples lifted. Unmuting critical, creative voices is mandatory for democracy to thrive.” 


Dr Nyanzi ended her speech with: “Unmuting democracy indeed necessitates rendering more power to the poets!  Happy 25 years of Poetry Africa! I thank you.”


The Poetry Africa Festival is being presented by the Centre for Creative Arts with the support of the National Institute for Humanities & Social Sciences, The French Institute of South Africa, and Total Energies. Unmute: Power to the Poet will be the theme for the 25th edition of the virtual festival, which is freely accessible and can be watched via www.facebook.com/poetryafrica  and www.youtube.com/centreforcreativearts

The entire programme is now available on: https://poetryafrica.ukzn.ac.za 

As part of the festival, Poetry Africa hosts one live event titled ‘Emfuleni’ at The Playhouse Theatre in Durban on Saturday 16 October at 6 pm. Emfuleni (by the river), the place where women traditionally meet and talk, philosophise and make plans. A place where women do not have to check what they are saying, no formalities, one can share their honest thoughts and thinking. Join host Khwezi Becker with poets Gcina Mhlophe, Lebo Mashile, Mbali Malimela, Siphokazi Jonas, Thando Fuze and Toni Giselle Stuart by the river as they share their deepest thoughts. Tickets are R180 and available on Webtickets.


Note for the editor:

For any biographies,  images, Q&A’s and interview requests, kindly get in touch with marlyn@isupportdoyou.com – 079 707 7773 or 083 3372518

Please find the full keynote speech by Dr Stella Nyanzi here: https://poetryafrica.ukzn.ac.za/25th-poetry-africa/democracy-unlimited-power-to-the-poets/ 

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