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Dr Stella Nyanzi talks about unmuting poetic voices at Poetry Africa Festival

Dr Stella Nyanzi. Picture: Instagram

Dr Stella Nyanzi. Picture: Instagram

Published Oct 12, 2021


On Monday, the 25th annual Poetry Africa Festival welcomed over 800 viewers to the festival's official opening at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Centre for Creative Arts.

This second virtual edition of the event offers a jam-packed programme, with over 30 sessions and over 80 participants from 24 countries.

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“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,” commented Poetry Africa curator Siphindile Hlongwa.

“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,” added Hlongwa.

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.”

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.

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Jonas was specifically selected to represent the festival’s theme: Unmute: Power to the Poet.

In her keynote speech titled Unmuting Democracy, Dr Stella Nyanzi spoke about the power of unmuting the powerful voices of artists.

“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.”

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She continued: “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 are mandatory for democracy to thrive.”

Nyanzi is a human rights activist, poet, medical anthropologist, feminist, queer rights activist, and scholar of sexuality, family planning, and public health.

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Under the theme, “Unmute: Power to the Poet“, the virtual festival is freely accessible and can be watched via Facebook and YouTube.

The full programme is now available here.

As part of the festival, Poetry Africa hosts one live event titled “Emfuleni” at The Playhouse Theatre in Durban on Saturday, October 16, at 6 pm.

“Emfuleni” will be hosted by Khwezi Becker with poets Gcina Mhlophe, Lebo Mashile, Mbali Malimela, Siphokazi Jonas, Thando Fuze and Toni Giselle Stuart. Tickets are R180 and available on Webtickets.

The 25th annual Poetry Africa Festival runs till Saturday, October 16.

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