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THE Time of the Writer Festival begins in Durban on Monday with a host of renowned scribes headed for Durban and bringing with them an engaging programme.
One of the topics to be discussed is that of writing about gender violence, an issue we thought particularly appropriate when almost daily South Africans hear or read of a horrific rape or domestic violence incident, not forgetting the countless others that don’t come to public attention.
It is for this reason that Tonight spoke with Shafinaaz Hassim, a South African author, poet sociologist and someone well respected for her research and works relating to violence against women and children.
Her works include Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion – A South African Perspective and Memoirs for Kimya. Hassim is the editor of Belly of Fire, an anthology, and wrote a novel on domestic violence, titled SoPhia.
“As a sociologist and identity theorist, my work focus has been women’s biography,” she says. “My first book, a non-fiction work called Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion – A South African Perspective, looks at how women’s lives are administered according to the honour code in patriarchal society, and throughout my research I found that the data on gender-based violence was most compelling, urgent to be written about so that this topic could be debated by readers.”
Having researched deeply into gender-based violence and domestic violence, we asked Hassim if she thought South Africa was proactive enough on violence, or if it is largely reactionary.
“I want my writing to go beyond the academy, and to create new ways of thinking; a shift in how we deal with violence. We need to constantly renew how we encounter and deal with trauma in our society.
“We need to understand the root causes, but we first need to undo the discourse that suggests victims ask for it. We are reactionary, and there is a denialism that operates among us, in that we feel it won’t happen to us, or we blame the victim. These are problems that distance us from looking at root causes of perpetuating violence, and by not looking at particularities of the attacker; we are not able to find solutions for family and community.
“Victim, perpetuator, children, all need varied support in order to alter the tide of violence. These forms of support need to come from the legal system and counselling structures, but they also require citizen participation to a great degree – more than we have,” she said.
Through her work with WordFlute Press, Hassim works with communities and uses this interaction as a platform and process for healing.
“I have found that with our workshops, the stories have been documented and in being spoken, written or published, these stories have allowed their tellers a kind of validation. I believe in the power of story in whatever expressive form, and I believe that we need to harness this power by creating these platforms where issues that we’ve remained silent about, now become a shared forum of healing and bridging gaps in understanding issues that affect women across cultures, children across social structures. As a social scientist, I have also seen how short stories and fiction have worked as a vehicle to enhance public debate about serious issues such as abuse, war, displacement, poverty, xenophobia and many other social ills.”
With Memoirs for Kimya we saw Hassim go from blog to book and with many of her other projects, she has used blogs interactively to communicate her books. Hassim explains why she does not believe in the eventual death of print over digital.
“Memoirs for Kimya was a blogged collection of writings that took some of the data from my interviews to poetry and prose, and the book publication was a tribute to this process over some years. All my other works are available as e-books for the simple reason that the message of a work needs to be established in whatever platforms are available to potential readers. I believe this collaboration between electronic and print works will continue, that we will still find relevance for print even when much of the world moves to a digital format.
“What is important is to continue to generate the interest in story in upcoming generations. Story has been part of our archetypal make-up, and how we form our sense of who we are. Our identities as we evolve through the life cycle depend on and demand that we be part of a story. If children stop reading, we become less of a thinking, creative species, and more robotic, zombie-like. Perhaps there is a narrative in that as well.”
• The Time of the Writer Festival runs from Monday to Saturday. Tickets are R25 for evening sessions, R10 for students, from Computicket or at the door one hour before the event. Workshops and seminars are free. Full programme at www.cca.ukzn.ac.za