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Siyanda Mohutsiwa: Pan-Africanist, writer

Some of you might know writer Siyanda Mohutsiwa as Siyanda-Panda, the Twitter star with 14,500 followers, the clever-clog who came up with the hilarious hashtag #IfAfricaWasABar that kept folks (me!) laughing for days.

Some of you might know her from her essays at Mail and Guardian’s Thought Leader. Others might have heard her fresh and interesting perspective on all sorts of issues when she’s been interviewed on SAFM and Cape Talk Radio in South Africa. Maybe you first found her at her blog, or her YouTube series, Africa This Week with Siyanda. However you know this young woman, one thing is certain—she is a rising star on this continent. To add to her many accomplishments, she was recently long-listed for the Short Story Day Africa Prize with the first short story she has ever finished writing (!?!).

I interviewed Siyanda and she said she was so excited when she’d heard she had been long-listed for the prize. And what is her story about? “The story follows the mental breakdown of a young Motswana student at the University of Botswana, in the vein of stream-of-consciousness. I hope in reading it one hears echoes of Bessie Head’s A Question of Power and, if possible, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack Up. But that might be slightly ambitious.”

Siyanda’s nonfiction has been published around the world. I asked her if her dreams are to be a novelist and short story writer or to stick to nonfiction. “Ideally, I would like to do both. I love fiction. But nonfiction comes much more easily to me and there are few things I enjoy more than a good essay. I can’t, however, deny how much of an impact fiction has had on my writing. I have learned that it doesn’t matter whether it is fiction or nonfiction, good prose is good prose. And so that is what I want to write: good prose.”

I asked Siyanda what she thinks most hampers a writer in Botswana from becoming a success. “I had over 30  pieces published in numerous publications in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Finland and the United States of America. But only three or four of those pieces ever made it to Botswana papers.

I have also spoken on many radio stations all over the world and have become something of a regular contributor to South African radio stations like PowerFM and CapeTalk. But those types of opportunities have not been extended to me on Botswana media quite as readily, even

after I gained some publicity as the youngest to make last year’s Top 40 under 40 list. This is probably my own fault - I don’t write very many things that are specifically aimed at a Botswana audience. But still, I wonder if I’d ever survive if I set my sights solely on local papers.”

She gives an example. “At age 18, I pitched some articles to several Botswana papers around the time my blog was taking off and I didn’t get any responses. When I started to write for Mail&Guardian’s Thought Leader blog the same year, however, one or two of those articles got lifted by Botswana papers without my consent.

 Is it that Botswana papers recognise something about their readership that I don’t? Was I not up to standard for local papers? Did editors not think it wise to take a chance on such a young writer? I can’t say.

I can, however, say that in not having a platform in Botswana, I have been pushed to seek opportunity elsewhere, and in doing so I have grown exponentially and that when I do finally make local contributions it will be a better experience for both myself and the local reader.”

Siyanda is a true Pan-Africanist. What is her dream for this continent? “Free education, free healthcare, cheap and reliable transport, cheap internet connectivity and cellphone plans, no borders.

“I know I sound crazy, but the ideal Africa to me would be one where people are free to use their income on their desires and building something, as opposed to working simply to survive.

“I think if efforts were made to make surviving much cheaper, we would all be better off.  My utopian Africa also involves real and effective unity. You know, an African Union that actually works, regional agreements that are actually followed through. Basically, African unity that isn’t something that’s trotted out only when it is time to defend the indefensible. Dreams like these involve young Africans who are fearless and determined, getting chances to lead themselves. I hope to continue to meet more of this type of idealistic African.”

And how does this dynamic woman describe herself? “Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a young woman with ambitions to one day refer to herself as an African Intellectual without any irony.”

Its all I write



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