Life and times of a multi-disciplinary scholar, writer and artist Nokuthula Mazibuko-Masimang

The inaugural University of Pretoria Writer in Residency Fellow’s new children’s book Soweto Tea Party has just been published.

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

About 15 years ago Nokuthula Mazibuko -Msimang was a common figure in newsrooms and broadcasting spaces when she worked as a journalist as well as a TV Producer.

However these days she is a common figure in academic halls, libraries and book publishing spaces.

This is because the former print journalist and TV producer is now an academic whose life pursuit these days is research and writing, and she enjoys her current life.

“The fact of the matter is that the academy has always loved me and I in turn have always loved the academy. Even as a young person growing up in the townships, I have always embraced learning and reading. And yes, right now I am enjoying what I am doing in academic spaces as well as writing and publishing books,” she told me in an interview held at Spilt Milk Social Café, a coffee shop on the busy 7th street in Melville.

This interview was conducted with the academic and writer on the eve of the launch of her new book titled Soweto Tea Party.

“The fact of the matter is as we grew up we were told stories about the lives of the freedom fighters and cultural activists, such as Tata Walter Sisulu,  Mama Winnie (Madikizela-Mandela),  mama Miriam Makeba,  Mama Nadine Gordimer and others. Of course this information was whispered to us by the adults as these people, including Papa were banned people.

“However as children we honestly believed that somehow through a magic wand, they were going to bless us with their presence.  This is as even the adults silently doubted as to whether such a day would arrive when the exiles and the imprisoned would come back to rejoin their communities from prison and exile. And so this book recaptures that childhood magic, the stories were told through songs such as Malaika by Mariam Makeba,” says Mazibuko Masimang as she related her journey of how she ended up penning this book, which was to be launched at the nearby Book Circle Capital bookstore in Melville at 27 Boxes on June 16, 2022..

The bookshop besides selling African books by African authors, has emerged ever since it was launched a few years ago, as a trusted place to source children’s books  as well in  Johannesburg.

The publication of this book by Mazibuko Masimang, however is just one layer of her multi-layered life as an artist, story teller, researcher and academic, most of the transformation having steadily taken place in the past 15 years since she left her TV work and the newsroom.

Her life in the past 15 years has been as varied and interesting as the stories she tells and the plots and characters she weaves into them to create that literary magic which touches readers, both young and old, as well as contributing knowledge to society through academic papers that she presents wherever she finds an opportunity and a platform to do so.

For example, when the iconic Drum Magazine celebrated its 70th Year anniversary in 2021, Msimang-Mazibuko penned a paper that focused on the 1950s Drum Magazine’s favourite  pin girl Dolly Rathebe, whose fame during that time came from her vocal abilities, acting talent and of course her good looks.

The presentation of that paper has since morphed into something bigger for Mazibuko Msimang.  She last year made news when the University of Pretoria appointed  her the inaugural Writing Fellow of Future Africa Institute. a mainly science focused institute that is slowly transforming itself into a trans-disciplinary institute whereby natural  sciences scholars collaborate with social science scholars  in their scholarly research. This is in recognition of the fact that the world’s complex problems require a multi-disciplinary approach in designing solutions.

“What happened is that this conversation  about the need for a multi-disciplinary approach in the academy have  been going on for sometime, dating back to the time when Professor Tawana Kupe (now Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria), was still a dean of the humanities at Wits in 2007, when I completed my PHD in African Literature.

“Last year, I therefore made a proposal to the University of Pretoria, proposing that I would like to write a book about the artistic life and output of Dolly Rathebe as a Writer in Residency Fellow, and fortunately the Senate accepted my proposal,” she said.


Essentially Soweto Tea Party is based on the author’s own experiences about a time when her father Fanyana Mazibuko, then a teacher at Morris Isaacson High and a freedom fighter, was placed under house arrest by the apartheid state during the 1970s and 1980s and most importantly the book is available in all 11 official languages.and  is published by New Africa Books, and will be launched on June 16th 2022 at Book Circle Capital –  27 Boxes Mall in Melville 4th Avenue 2pm to 3pm. Copies are available at Book Circle Capital and at www.ethnikids.africa

About Soweto Tea Party

 Guess who’s coming to Princess and Baba’s  Soweto Tea Party !  Tat’ Nelson Mandela? Mama Lilian Ngoyi and Mama Nadine Gordimer? Who else is coming? Miriam Makeba?

To find out, delight in reading University of Pretoria Fellow Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang’s new historical picture book for children Soweto Tea Party. The book is based on the author’s own experiences about a time when her father Fanyana Mazibuko, then a teacher at Morris Isaacson High and a freedom fighter, was placed under house arrest by the apartheid state during the 1970s and 1980s. Her parents kept the family’s children mentally resilient by relating stories about struggle heroes and playing African music. 

This slice of Soweto history is brought to life by Samantha Van Riet’s moving and magical illustrations.

However Mazibuko-Msimang’s life journey is more complex than this.

Dr. Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang is a Writing and Research Artist Fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Institute. Over 25 years Mazibuko Msimang has worked as a writer, academic, producer, and broadcaster creating values based content for young and old audiences/readers on multiple platforms. She is part of the Puku Children’s Literature network where she consults on Special Projects. Her academic work also entails supervising Masters students at AFDA – The School for the Creative Economy.

Mazibuko Msimang has published six books for young readers: In the Fast Lane (2003, New Africa Books, translated into isiXhosa by Dr. Xolisa Guzula); A Mozambican Summer (2005, New Africa Books); Spring Offensive (2006, Timbila); Love Songs for Nheti (2006, Vivlia), Freedom Song (2008, Pearson) and Qhawe! Mokgadi Caster Semenya (2021, New Africa Books) celebrating the life of the champion gold medalist.  Her debut adult novel is titled  The Daughters of Nandi (2021, Paivapo)

Her books for young readers celebrate positive cultural and social values; and encourage self-love, confidence, courage and resilience. In 2003, she was awarded the Bessie Head writing fellowship, which enabled her to complete and publish the collective biography, Spring Offensive.

And with regards to her residency at the University of Pretoria, she told me that she is almost half way through her writing pro ject on the life and times of Dolly Rathebe.

“What I would like to add is that opportunities such as the one I got at the university of Pretoria is very useful in that one has access to archives as primary sources, apart from interviewing people such as her daughter and others that were there with her. The fellowship also affords one to focus on the work without the worry of having to earn a living elsewhere as you research and write. All these are import5ant factors, and I hope that in future the university will increase the number of fellows to say five,” Mazibuko-Masimang said.

Her fellowship which commenced in 2021 will come to an end in 2023.

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