06 October 2023 | Story Samkelo Fetile | Photo SUPPLIED
Nthabiseng Jafta
Nthabiseng Jafta, Publishing Coordinator at the Library and Information Services Department, University of the Free State (UFS).

Nthabiseng Jafta, Publishing Coordinator at the University of the Free State (UFS) Library and Information Services Department, was part of a team that represented South Africa at the Gothenburg Book Fair in Sweden courtesy of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, implemented by the National Library of South Africa. The focal point of the group’s attendance was their engaging storytelling programme, UnderTheBaobabTree. The other team members included Lynn Joffe, Refiloe Moahloli, Sihle-isipho Nontshokweni and the globally renowned South African novelist, poet, and playwright Professor Zakes Mda. 

Jafta expressed deep gratitude for the opportunity to represent South Africa at the prestigious event. She said she feels honoured to share her stories globally, emphasising the historical ties between Sweden and South Africa as a source of inspiration. “This opportunity is not just about storytelling, but also about fostering a deeper understanding of South African culture and literature.”

A cultural journey in storytelling

The theme UnderTheBaobabTree holds immense significance for Jafta. “It represents the essence of storytelling in African traditions, echoing the rich oral history passed down through generations,” she said. “It symbolises a commitment to preserving and sharing timeless wisdom, serving as a vessel for the heart of South African storytelling.”

The programme delivered a diverse and engaging experience. Jafta and her team captivated the audience with tales ranging from Arola, a story on ancient civilisations and community love lessons on how many ways to say hello and the Wanda-land adventures of an eight-year-old girl navigating her identity. Children's stories took centre stage, emphasising their role in bridging gaps and fostering a sense of belonging. “The stories are not only rooted in African perspectives but also resonate universally, addressing themes like hair, language diversity, and the acceptance of emotions.”

Jafta also shared a defining moment from her childhood, when reading the story Ntomb'ende ignited her passion for storytelling. This experience laid the foundation for her deep love for conveying narratives and connecting with others through stories.

Moral values and ubuntu philosophy

Jafta's storytelling is deeply influenced by her family, South African heritage and Basotho traditions, emphasising moral values rooted in oral traditions. The ubuntu philosophy of collective responsibility is woven into her narratives, reflecting the rich tapestry of South African culture.

In the age of digital media, traditional storytelling endures as a unifying force. She stresses that, regardless of the medium, the essence of storytelling remains constant. “Stories adapt through the ages, connecting people and preserving culture.”

Collaboration among the storytellers involved engaging discussions. Topics ranged from the challenges of translating cultural syntax in Sesotho into English, to exploring multilingualism as a global perspective. “Each storyteller brought unique insights, creating a diverse and enriching experience for the Gothenburg Book Fair audience,” she said.

Jafta and her fellow storytellers hope to convey a message of love and diversity. They aspire to show that South Africa’s stories authentically capture the essence of its people and contribute meaningfully to the global community. “The connections formed and books purchased at the Gothenburg Book Fair underscore the importance of South African voices in the world's knowledge systems,” she said.

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