Why I go to Franschhoek even though it remains still a 'spot-the-darkie' festival

Fred Khumalo Watching You
The writer laments the exclusion of the other at the Franschhoek literary festival. /daily fox
The writer laments the exclusion of the other at the Franschhoek literary festival. /daily fox

Almost every year, for the past 13 years, I subject myself to the bittersweet experience of visiting the Western Cape town of Franschhoek for their annual literary festival.

It's always a memorable experience, rubbing shoulders with both local and international authors, sitting through their talks and readings, soaking it all in an earnest attempt at keeping abreast of new trends and opportunities in the world of books.

Most importantly, the food and wine are to die for. If you can afford them. Which brings me to the painful aspect of this annual pilgrimage.

You've just landed at the airport. You drive further inland, with the townships and shacklands of Cape Town all behind you.

What then begins to unfold before you, as you approach Stellenbosch, is sheer evidence of obscene wealth. All those winelands, stretching across the landscape, all the way to the horizon.

A handful families own all of this.

Look, I live in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, one of the most unequal cities in the world. We all know the discomfiting dichotomy of Sandton and Alexandra.

It's just that in such northern suburbs of Johannesburg wealth, which exists in breath-taking abundance, hides behind tall walls and impregnable gates.

But here in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and surrounding towns, wealth shouts at you as you drive through the main road that snakes through the winelands.

The beautiful landscape only reinforces this wealth. Ah, those smiling valleys and meadows; those rivers and brooks with waters that giggle as they bounce against rocks and boulders; those frowning mountains and hills; those dancing palms and oaks.

All these creations of God laugh in your face if you are poor: "We were created by God, but only the moneyed can enjoy us!"

Poor people in the Western Cape do exist. They are the faceless, voiceless shadows who plant and harvest the grapes. They get paid measly salaries - and as part of their salary, they receive bottles of wine.

The fact that wealth in these parts is still wholly in white hands is further reinforced when you finally get to the town.

Attendees are predominantly white. Black writers call it "the-spot-the-darkie festival".

There's a reason the festival is white. Travelling here - from any part of the country - is expensive. Accommodation is prohibitive, as is food.

My friend and fellow author Thando Mgqolozana a couple of years ago delivered a stinging rebuke to organisers for their reluctance to transform the festival so that it is more reflective of the demographics of the land.

He was dismissively told to stay away if he wasn't happy with the current offering. Four years ago, Mgqolozana put his money where his mouth is.

His brainchild Abantu Book Festival, held in Soweto every December, last year eclipsed the Franschhoek festival in terms of attendance.

Happily, black people who attend Abantu - yes, it is deliberately black - buy books.

Black writers who still persist on attending Franschhoek have been pilloried by those who believe this festival should be boycotted.

I believe writers are supposed to transcend boundaries; they are supposed to be bridges between various sectors of society.

I'll continue visiting Franschhoek, for it is to me a sober reminder of where the country still is in terms of wealth redistribution or lack thereof.

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