Johannesburg - In September Keletso Mopai, born in 1992, will be part of the South African Book Fair, alongside fellow women authors who write about their perceptions of patriarchy and women’s emancipation.
Mopai, who has had no experience of institutional apartheid, was born in Lenyenye township in Limpopo. She said: “The only way I could write was from a post-apartheid perspective.”
She said her debut novel, If We Keep Digging (2019), deals with issues honestly, because people like sugarcoating things and end up not telling the truth.
“It’s my first book. I am a new author, still dipping my feet in any stream closest to me.
“The title of my book comes from the fact that it lays bare South African issues and really digs deep to the core of our problems in a post-apartheid South Africa. The characters in the stories are often marginalised and ignored, the ones that are sidelined: young South Africans, orphans, children growing up in abusive households, rape victims, people with misunderstood mental health problems.
“All these characters are brought to the forefront and we get to see and hear them,” said Mopai.
Mopai who turns 27 in August, said she began writing seriously in 2017 “especially about the marginalised Africans in Limpopo townships who are mired in untold poverty and do not have a voice”.
A graduate with an Honours degree in hydrogeology - an area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the earth’s crust - from the University of Limpopo, she is irked by the high - 55% - youth unemployment rate.
“Right now I don’t have a job. All of my friends don’t work. It’s ridiculous.
“I get mad. I am driven by anger. A lot of things make me mad. Racism, how we (Africans) are perceived in the professional world, those with Afros being told to relax their hair and tie it back into a ponytail like white girls, like at Pretoria Girls High - that is racism. It shows how hair affects (economic) opportunities.”
“I’m drawn to queer stories, maybe that’s because I love stories that are less represented in literature. I want everyone seen and truthfully. My writing is about South Africa, no matter the settings. Being from Limpopo, it came naturally to me to set some of my stories there because it’s my home and it’s a place I know and love.”
Mopai said she had experienced a prejudice she considers as unjust as racism - colourism, which is discrimination against someone with a dark skin complexion, usually among people of the same race.
“I was made fun of because I am very dark-skinned. I now have social anxieties which affect my writing. Right now, I am self-conscious when I go about the township. It plays on your mind. I am very antisocial. I spend a lot of time on my own. I like writing about colourism. I don’t care anymore,” said Mopai.
Asked which books she was reading, she said: “I read a lot, especially books by Kagiso Lesego Molope.
“Molope’s latest title, Such A Lonely Lovely Road (2018), a knotty tale of the intersection of race and homophobia in the black community and family ties in a post-apartheid SA raises a lot of issues, the core one being sexualilty.”
Mopai said she will begin a Master’s degree programme in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, UK, in September next year.
“I want my (Masters) thesis to be a novel which will come out in five years or so,” said Mopai.