Kommadagga – here are our participants

The first Kommadagga Workshop, an initiative of the Jakes Gerwel Foundation and LitNet, is currently in full swing in Somerset East under the guidance of Rachelle Greeff as mentor.

This project, which focuses on short story writers, received fifty applications from which six candidates were finally selected to attend the workshop. What is strikes one about these candidates is their overwhelming passion for writing and their commitment to making the best of this opportunity to develop their skills.

This is how the project organisers expressed themselves.

Theo Kemp, executive director of the Jakes Gerwel Foundation:

‘The interest in the workshop and the standard of the applications were so overwhelming that it was difficult to make a decision. This is why we selected six candidates, instead of only five as planned initially. It is extremely encouraging to see that this project, which we are presenting for the first time this year, already addresses such a great need.’

Etienne van Heerden, founder-editor of LitNet:

‘When I read about how excited each of the chosen writers is about this retreat and time to put their head down in the clear air of the Eastern Karoo, my own heart did a somersault. I am happy that we at LitNet and the Gerwel team could work together to establish this workshop – and that with such an experienced mentor as Rachelle Greeff.’

To Rachelle Greeff, accomplished and respected writer, it is the standard of the applications that she finds so inspiring. This is why she finds it such a delightful task to work with this group of people in Paulet House in Somerset East. ‘If it was practically viable, the first Kommadagga Workshop could have harvested two, three times as many applicants from the sterling list of applicants.’

The participants

We proudly introduce the six writers that are attending the Kommadagga Workshop of Litnet and the Jakes Gerwel Foundation from 12 October to 1 November in Somerset East.

Regardt Visser

Regardt Visser studied languages and cultural studies at the Stellenbosch University where he also completed his honours degree in scriptwriting and directing. This has led to work as scriptwriter and director in the theatre and film industry. Regardt has recently started scriptwriting for the well-known soapie Binnelanders.

Regardt says that stories have been part and parcel of his childhood in the fishing village Velddrif. ‘Stories have always been the currency in which my family and the town operate – an unspoken competition among us. I remember school breaks when you tell everyone about your weekend as in “Wa-wa-wait, that’s still nothing. Listen to this one”, and then that story was your biggest asset.’

To tell a good story matters more to him than the destined medium. Nevertheless, he has a preference for the short story as a form and he has been sitting with an idea for a collection of stories that centre around a single theme for very long.

At the beginning of the year, Regardt promised himself that he would try to do something concrete about his writing. The writer Ryan Pedro, whose Pienk ceramic-hondjies appeared recently, told Regardt of his experience at Paulet House and encouraged him to apply for the Kommadagga Workshop.

‘I started to tremble when I received Theo’s mail. The whole year I’ve been on the look-out for such an opportunity. I am grateful to the Jakes Gerwel Foundation for this space they created, for investing in writers, stories and voices from diverse backgrounds.’

Regardt’s idea for a collection of short stories can now get wings. All his favourite books, such as Chinatown, Oolog and Pienk ceramic-hondjies have been written at Paulet Huis. So, to be writing in this same space is simply fantastic.

Theolla Langenhoven

Theolla Langenhoven is from Belhar and works as a personal assistant. She gets her inspiration from people whose stories are generally not told or written about. ‘I love doing community work. This is where I get my stories from, but it’s also a place where I can make a small difference to people’s lives.’

Theolla’s stories take place mainly against the backdrop of coloured communities, a setting with which she’s familiar. She enjoys the forcefulness of short stories, columns and opinion pieces that help you ‘to communicate the story to the audience who benefit from that specific medium by using only a limited number of words’.

The Kommadagga Workshop is an opportunity for her to increase her knowledge and broaden her scope. She says that it was an emotional moment when she heard that she was selected to be part of this project. ‘I’m a late bloomer as a writer. So it’s an honour and a great privilege to attend this workshop that focuses on my favourite genre.’ And to have the chance to learn from Rachelle Greeff makes her even more aware of the privilge, ‘because she is one of the best.’

Zubayr Charles

Zubayr Charles grew up in the picture-postcard neighbourhood of the Bo-Kaap. He teaches English First Language at the Good Hope Seminary High School and coordinates the school’s drama club. At the same time, he is busy with his master’s degree in creative writing at UCT.

‘I write short stories, but I also consider myself a poet and playwright. In 2019 I showcased my first play dealing with gender-based violence The Battered Housewives’ Club.’ Zubayr is in the process of self-publishing an anthology of poems on the topic of the gentrification of the Bo-Kaap.

Zubayr was hesitant about submitting his work to the Kommadagga panel. ‘I have learnt that reading is subjective and people can either really like or dislike one’s writing. So, I wasn’t sure how the panellists would respond to my submission. When I received the good news, it was humbling because, although I have grown more confident in my writing, I wasn’t sure about the reaction I would receive.’

The short story he submitted deals with many of the taboos that millennials in Cape Town struggle with and that older and more conservative generations may not necessarily warm towards.

‘I feel extremely honoured to be part of this programme and I hope to improve my writing in order to continue sharing the stories of the marginalised in the Cape Town of today.’

Stef Cupido

Stef Cupido lives in Wellington and is the mother of a twelve-year-old girl. She loves animals and music. ‘I’m first of all a writer and then a poet. I also like to draw trees and scenes from nature, but I see myself as an amateur in that regard.’

At the moment she’s concentrating on writing short stories and poems, and she is especially fond of using the haiku as a form. ‘In 2018 when I decided to write full-time, I fell in love with the haiku. I started the collective Falling to introduce poetry in all its forms. The project has been launched this year on Nelson Mandela Day with the Illustrated haiku collage about social distance & corona virus.

‘When I received the news that I was chosen for the Kommadagga Workshop, it was such a shock! I was in the internet café and I put my hands to my face out of joy! I kept shaking my head and the people around me must have thought I went totally off my rocker!’

Stef wants to discover the stories deep inside her and is grateful for the opportunity to meet other writers and to be able to talk with other people with ink in their blood. ‘This project brings me more self-confidence; I don’t have to have doubts any longer.’

Sandile Ntuli

Sandile Ntuli describes himself as an active dreamer: ‘I believe in pursuing my dreams, as opposed to passively watching them pass me by.’

He has a twin brother, Andile, and they were born in Emalahleni in Mpumalanga 28 years ago. ‘I read English news between noon and 3 pm, and co-present the actuality programme The ego trip during the week on the campus radio station UJFM.’

Sandile switches easily between fiction and non-fiction and his opinion pieces on several topics have appeared in The Star, The Citizen, the Sowetan and the Mail & Guardian. Some of his short stories have been published in Drum.

He holds a national diploma in small business management and a BTech degree in management services from the University of Johannesburg. ‘I’m a bold Leo, currently learning Chinese, and I naturally gravitate to passing my spare time writing. When I put down my pen, I pick up a spatula in the kitchen. Johannesburg is my current heartland.’

To have been chosen as one of the writers to benefit from the Jakes Gerwel Foundation’s Kommadagga Workshop is a dream come true: ‘It validates my right to dream and gives me the permission to write the way I do.’ It literally took him a few days to digest the news that his application was accepted. The opportunity to meet other people with the same fire inside themselves that keep them awake at night because they have so much to write about is precious.

He embraces the chance to work with Rachelle Greeff and to be mentored by her and, in so doing, to stock up on new tools for his writing toolbox. ‘There are fiction and non-fiction books waiting to have my name on them. Scripts for radio, television and theatre that live only in my head for now is finally going to see the light of day.’

Helena Troskie

Just before Helena Troskie received the good news that she was to attend the Kommadagga Workshop, her grandchildren came to visit her in Jeffreys Bay for a week. Because of this, she read the message only two days after it has been sent to her. ‘That morning I woke up in peace and quiet, alone. For the first time in days I thought about the workshop. So, I got up and grabbed my glasses and cellphone on my way to the bathroom. And in my inbox I saw a message starting with: “Congratulation! I hope that I’m bringing you good news on this Monday!”‘

She sped through the house in record time, and kept repeating an astonished expletive under her breath.

When she finally came to herself for a moment, she read Theo Kemp’s email properly and promptly phoned five people to tell them her news with fanfare.

Helena grew up on a sheep farm outside Jansenville, but also had the opportunity to work and live in countries such as Uganda and Iceland. She writes short stories and regional stories.