Rufaro Samanga’s literary journey began when she started reading Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work.
Fascinated by their authentically African storytelling, she decided she would try her hand at writing .
In high school, Samanga was always a top achiever in English and excelled at writing essays. But she never quite imagined pursuing a tertiary education in the field of literature and instead went on to pursue a BSc in biological science (molecular and cell biology) at the University of the Witwatersrand under the Allan Gray-Orbis Foundation scholarship.
“My biggest problem is that (at school) I was good at everything. Everything was an A. So I was great at English, but equally I was great at the sciences. At that time I sort of made a practical decision because I saw that a lot of the scholarships were going to people who were doing mathematics, engineering and the sciences. And I loved science as much as I loved English but it actually never occurred to me that I could do English literature or journalism or anything to do with writing, so for me the most logical thing was to go into the sciences.”
The 22-year-old also holds an honours degree in microbiology and biotechnology and next year she will be pursuing her Masters degree. She has dedicated 2017 to pursuing her passion for writing, though. It was after she wrote a story for the pan-African online site Okay Africa on the eight most influential black women writers in South Africa, that she realised she could make something out of her love for writing.
That story went viral and it proved to be a defining moment that helped her realise people enjoyed her work and the hobby could be something serious. Today, her stories on Okay Africa focus on culture, activism, feminism and lifestyle.
Earlier in the year she wrote a controversial story for them titled “Enough! I Will No Longer Be Disappointed by African Men in the Bedroom” in which she questioned African men’s “legendary sexual escapades” and shared how her own first-hand experience with African men has been far from legendary.
To get her work out there and to further hone the craft, she’s been entering a few short story competitions over the past few months. “I think the biggest one thus far has been the Koffi Addo Prize for creative non-fiction. I wrote a piece centred on public health care and public hospitals from the perspective of having lost my dad to that system as well.
“I think for me it was one of my favourite pieces because it was an intersection of me writing and my science. With my science I actually want to move into the public health lane and that’s gonna be the focus of my Masters next year. I loved that piece because it was sort of like bringing the two together.” Even though she didn’t eventually make the shortlist, she was honoured to be long-listed alongside 14 African writers.
Rufaro Samanga. Picture: Supplied
Her writing has benefited from her studies. The rigorous nature of the scientific method has taught her to be critical, thorough and logical. Her main focus this year has been to put together a solid body of work.
“Initially, I set out to write a novel. And that was what I was working on for the greater part of the year. I had the whole story down, but I just couldn’t think of an ending that sat right with me. I’d settle on one and then a few days later I’d be like I’m really not feeling it. The way that I write, if I can’t think of a beginning, middle and end, then I just can’t work on it.”
And so as she struggled to settle on this, she found herself writing less and less. Then, after she put up a critical Facebook post on misogyny (she regularly puts up mini-essays on a range of topics via her personal Facebook account), one of her friends said he really loved the post and asked her when she’d write her first book, Reflections of Young Black Women.
“Then it hit me. The reason I was struggling with this novel is not because I’m not supposed to write a novel - it’s there, it will be done and it’s an important story to be told - but this is my most pressing and most urgent work. I think of it and I can just envision the entire book and that’s why I write so much more now. This is the book I’m meant to be writing,."