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Unpacking the power of the pen

Sam Moodley. Supplied

Sam Moodley. Supplied

Published Oct 9, 2023


Sumboornam “Sam” Moodley, an activist and writer, will feature at the annual Mafika Gwala Memorial Lecture, presented in partnership with South African History Online, at this year’s Poetry Africa Festival.

The event will feature Moodley in-conversation with Omar Badsha on October 9 at 3pm. The topic is: Mafika Pascal Gwala: Writing as a Weapon of Culture Emerging from the Black Consciousness Movement.

Born in Dundee in Northern Natal, Moodley had four sisters and a brother. Her father was a clerk, and her mother a housewife and a Tamil school teacher.

She said she followed in both their footsteps – her father being an advocate for the rights of the unemployed and her mother, who promoted culture in Dundee.

Moodley matriculated at Dundee Secondary School and pursued her tertiary education at the University College for Indians on Salisbury Island.

After she qualified as a teacher, she taught at Witteklip Secondary School in Chatsworth.

“Much of my teaching centred on experiential education through subjects like English, drama and history. Lived education was a source used to make pupils aware of the social and economic conditions under which they lived.”

Moodley’s teaching career was short-lived. She said her services were terminated by the then Department of Indian Education on the grounds that all married women were placed in temporary positions and due to her political involvement with the South African Student Organisation.

Moodley said her awareness of inter-sectional inequalities of race, class and gender began early in her life; with her father’s welfare and educational work.

“He raised funds to build primary and secondary schools for the so-called Indian community; the lack of teachers and the racial divide of the Group Areas Act of the ’60s causing a separation of a once united black community living together.

“I remember the hurtful comments of my mother being called a ‘girl, a ‘c****e’; separate seating in a movie house; a market and town hall for whites only; the tolling of the bell at 8pm each night heralding the curfew for the African community. Gender inequalities existed socially and culturally. There were more boys than girls at school for instance. Girls were stopped at Grade 9 so they could continue with household chores or become available for marriage.”

She said she fought this in her own family and insisted on being sent to university. This, said Moodley, marked the start of her political education.

While at school she and others took up the matter of not having subject teachers in matric; and they refused to raise the flag on Republic Day on May 31.

“Later, when I lost my job as an educator, I joined the Black Community Programmes as a research assistant to Steve Biko. I helped to compile the publication Black Review.”

It was here that Moodley met poet, writer and researcher Mafika Pascal Gwala, a cultural activist of the Black Consciousness Movement.

“Pascal emerged as one of the Black Consciousness writers addressing the social ills that began to rear their head at that time. He broke away from the Eurocentric writing and crafted himself as a black writer exposing the social injustices that plagued black communities.

“In our writing workshops with him, he used to jolt us into reality by asking, ‘Are you a white writer or black writer?’ Don’t sugar-coat your words. Write them as you see or feel them. Mix the colours of anger, fear, humiliation, disgust, disappointment and disillusionment. Capture the feelings of the people, but don’t let them hang their heads too long. It was our aim to raise their heads up high, their fists too. Let their pride soar to the heavens and then descend to break the shackles that oppressed them to servitude.”

During the in-conversation, she will hone in on Gwala as a cultural activist, who believed in raising the consciousness of the youth into active citizens, to participate in uplifting their communities.

“The principles of Black Consciousness, of pride, self respect, dignity, independence, critical thinking and self-reliance are woven into his writing. Poetry Africa brings together poets as voices of dissent and of resistance, challenging the social and political disorder and status quo and igniting the flames for transformation of a more conscious world.”

The 27th edition of Poetry Africa will feature 100 spoken-word poets from 20 countries. It is produced by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The festival will present events in Durban, Joburg and Bloemfontein.

Live festival events will take place at the Howard College Theatre in Durban from October 10 to 14. An online programme will be held from October 10 to 13.

The full Poetry Africa programme can be viewed at Tickets are available on Webtickets (Durban).


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