Pulane Malatja sits straight-backed, ankles crossed, wearing a short black dress and a red plaid head wrap. A gauzy scarf covers her knees and a notepad sits in her lap. Pulane apologizes as she puts on her reading glasses. She’s just had an asthma attack, she explains, and might not be able to speak as clearly as last time.
Pulane raises the notepad and begins to read.
I’m trying to take pictures and listen at the same time, so I don’t hear it all. Pulane writes about a phone call she received from a man she loves. “His skin grows darker when he’s drunk,” she reads.
I don’t hear every word, but I hear what Pulane means. I know just what she means.
Pulane shares her thoughts with the group after completing her reading. Among other things, Pulane’s piece explores her experiences as a child watching her father abuse her mother. She says she’d never talked about these experiences until she joined this group.
Pulane is a participant in Katlehong Stories, a group of aspiring creative writers and volunteer teachers who meet every second Saturday in a high school classroom in Katlehong Township. My friend Caroline Wanjiku Kihato started the group a few months ago with Papi Thetele, a community activist with the Katlehong Local AIDS Council. A few more of my journalist friends quickly joined in.
The Katlehong students range in age from 16 to 63, and none of them had written professionally before joining this class. But now two of the students, 16-year-old Basetsane Kaunda and 19-year-old Nkosikhona Kumalo, have become published writers. Their first-person articles, both focusing on the subject of HIV/AIDS, were published earlier this month in the City Press and the Daily Maverick. (Read Basetsane’s story and Nkosikhona’s story.)
The other Katlehong participants aren’t far behind. During the session I attended, Paulina Maama shared a heart-wrenching account of her experience caring for a close friend who was dying of cancer. Paulina has been fine-tuning this piece for a while and hopes to find a place to publish it soon.
Watching the Katlehong Stories session reminded me of what a privilege it is to write. Writing is more than a job for me; it’s a lifeline. I can see that lifeline forming for the people in this group.
I think there are many great stories to come out of Katlehong. I’m sure I’ll write about Katlehong Stories again, but in the meantime please follow the group on Facebook.