SONA 2021 address fails talented local artists

Michelle Nkamankeng

Dr Tshepo Mvulane Moloi: At age 12, with 3 published books already, Michelle Nkamankeng is the youngest author in South Africa and Africa and a prospective doyen of literature.

This year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2021, delivered by the South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, continues to justifiably receive critique, mostly revolving around lack of information about the government’s plans. The first concern has to do with sparse details about government’s plans to overcome the Coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, which has pestered us since its advent in March 2020. The second concern has to do with the government’s sparse details about its plans to address numerous matters which have arisen post SONA 2020.

 For the susceptible South African public, the source of the latter misery seemingly stems from the government’s futile economic recovery plans. For persons like myself, keen about plans regarding prospects about the ‘Arts’ and artists, the above two concerns although valid, somehow make light of the paltry reference SONA 2021 has made to the ministries of ‘Arts and Culture’, ‘Basic Education’ and ‘Higher Education’. The latter trio were, execrably, only mentioned in passing. This is baffling when considering that the 35-year-old ‘black’ writer and performer, Siphokazi Jonas, opened SONA 2021 by reciting her mesmeric poem, “What does not Sink”. Given that Siphokazi Jonas is deservedly trending lately, I wish to focus on another ‘black’ writer, named Michelle Nkamankeng.

Michelle Nkamankeng’s feats, as one of South Africa’s incipient authors, is quite astounding for a juvenile. This 12-year-old starlet of literature was born on 23 December 2008, in Gauteng. She is a grade 7 pupil at Rand Tutorial College, sited in Observatory, Gauteng. Her proud parents are Paul Nkamankeng and Lauritine ‘Lolo’ Nkamankeng. The latter is also her manager. Michelle is the third child of four siblings. According to her mum, Michelle began showing interest in reading at the tender age of 4, then from five years old she progressed to take an avid interest in writing. She started writing children’s books when she was 6 years old, but only published her first book aged seven. Such an early venture into writing has earned her an avalanche of awards. The uppermost award, worth a special mention, is the rare accolade of being South Africa’s and Africa’s youngest author in 2018. This has catapulted her, as one of South Africa’s looming littérateurs, into the category of child authors ranked in the top ten percent globally.

Michelle Nkamankeng’s children’s books include Waiting for the Waves (2016), The Little Girl Who Believes in Herself (2018) and The Little Mouse (2019). In brief the initial book “is about a little girl who loved the ocean and the big waves” (Nkamankeng, 2016), it’s a “story that highlights the contradictions of emotions” (Nkamankeng, 2016). The second book is “about a little girl who after conquering her fear starts gaining confidence and begins dreaming big about what she wants to be in life” (Nkamankeng, 2018). The third book is about an “exciting cat and mouse game” (Nkamankeng, 2019). Stirringly the author’s then school principal, Colin Northmore, wrote the foreword to the first book and Prof. Jonathan Jansen, who is currently a distinguished Professor of Education at Stellenbosch University, did the same for the second and third books. The following words are noteworthy: “I am inspired by this jewel of a child. She could not have come onto the national stage as a child author at a more critical time in our history. The story of her life is simple – every child can read and write” (Jansen, 2018:7). The fourth book is titled The Golden Ring but is not yet published. This nascent author has astonishingly remarked in manifold interviews that she is busy with what would in time be counted as her eighth book.

If Michelle Nkamankeng’s literary deeds proceed unhindered, fruits of her labour ought to pay off by propelling her to eventually achieve the pinnacle status of ultimately becoming a ‘doyen of literature’. Mindful of this, it can only be read as regrettable how SONA 2021 dismally failed to place adequate emphasis upon the government’s detailed plans for South Africa’s treble ministries of ‘Arts and Culture’, ‘Basic Education’ and ‘Higher Education’, both at ‘Provincial’ and ‘National’ levels.

I opine that if the South African public had to seriously ponder about the incredible achievements of local upcoming literati, as highlighted within this article, as showcased in Michelle Nkamankeng’s profile, they would certainly agree en masse that the scant reference in SONA 2021, pertaining plans for the ministries of ‘Arts and Culture’ and ‘Basic Education’ and ‘Higher Education’ is a great disservice. The lack of detail from SONA 2021 for artists keeps even budding creatives such as Michelle Nkamankeng in the dark about information that may be of help to them when planning for the year ahead. It cannot be downplayed that the meagre reference to the ‘Arts’ and ‘Education’, prolongs loss of income and productivity of plenty of artists, ever since the ‘new normal’ which has necessitated reliance upon virtual platforms.

Dr Tshepo Mvulane Moloi
082 464 7337
Postdoctoral Research Fellow Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Study

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