Author Malebo Sephodi on creating a safe space for black women to have important conversations – through writing and activism.
Main Photo: Xolisile Vilakazi
By: Blacklight writer
Sephodi’s debut book (memoir), “Miss Behave” has been hailed by critics and readers as a must-read.
HuffingpostSA gave the author a glowing review, calling her a writer to watch, saying:
“A new voice has just entered the South African literary scene. Her work shall challenge all those who think themselves to be writers. Here is a benchmark of what writing is all about. This work shall in its due course inspire women to resist, to demand more, it will influence a revolution.”
Apart from writing, Sephodi, runs the programme, Lady Leader, which creates a safe space for women to have imperative dialogues about issues facing them.
She is also a researcher with interests in Africa’s Economy and Development, Gender, Spatial analysis, Quantitative Research Methods and The Hegemony of Science.
Blacklight had a chat with Malebo about being an Author and an Activist.
Blacklight: What inspired you to pen “Miss Behave”?
Malebo: I would owe it to my Publisher – Thabiso Mahlape (BlackBird Books) – who commissioned the book.
She found me on an ordinary day with my mind far away from writing a book.
“What would you like to write about?” She asked.
That question led to many meetings of musings around writing and subject. This is how the process that mentally stimulated me to pen Miss Behave took place.
I would say Miss Behave is the drawing out of what I breathed in. This is the kind of book I would want to read at age 10 – 20 – now – 40 and 80. In the book itself, I quote Toni Morrison when she reminds us that we should write books that we want to read. So, this was my way of adding my voice to a conversation that has been going on for centuries by Black women everywhere.
BL: What was your main intention in sharing the book with the world?
M: One of the things that are very important to me as a scholar is how I make the work I produce in a university space accessible to my community.
Miss Behave is a collection of experimental writing that sees me trying to locate theory and ideology within my experiences – to explain difficult concepts using my story.
Although, I knew I wanted a wider audience to read my work, my main target was black women – those who are grappling with agency and those who are questioning their existence and everything around them. I also wanted to target the non-reader. And so, I wrote it in a way that I would have a conversation.
On another level, I wanted to note the observations I have made living in this body of mine – a Black heterosexual, female body in South Africa and the issues that I grappled and continue to grapple with – issues of blackness, violence, sexuality, power, agency, sexism, patriarchy, intersectionality and so forth.
BL:Considering the theme of the book, would you call yourself a feminist writer?
M: I googled the word “feminist writer”, and the images that popped up triggered my impostor syndrome.
My first thoughts were: ‘Who am I to possibly think I fit within that league?’
I am an African Feminist – yes.
I am a writer – yes.
BL: What did the process of writing the book teach you about yourself?
M: I am not really sure, but what I do know is that there was lots of crying, anxiety, doubt and joy.
BL: What inspires you as a black writer?
Malebo: I consume Art created by black people. Art speaks a language that my soul comprehends.
When I slip into a dark place and I can’t go on – I hide in the arms of Jazz for a while – for nourishment, refreshment and inspiration.
BL: Is there a book that continuously inspires you, as a writer, and what is it about it that makes you want to do better as a human being?
M: It’s a quote by Miriam Tlali (1984) In Remove the Chains: South African Censorship and the Black Writer. Index on Censorship 13 (2).
“To the Philistines, the banners of books, the critics… We black South African writers (who are faced with the task of conscientizing our people and ourselves) are writing for those whom we know are the relevant audience. We are not going to write in order to qualify into your definition of what you describe as “true art”. Our main objective is not to receive ballyhoo comments on our works. What is more important is that we should be allowed to reach our audience. Our duty is to write for our people and about them.”
BL: You have a programme called Lady Leader. What is your mission with the programme?
M: Lady Leader exists to provide a space where black women can feel safe with each other. This is where we can talk about things that we wouldn’t naturally talk about with people around us – where we can be whoever we want to be.
The programme has gone through an interesting evolution. I talk a little bit about this in the book. But one thing I always tell the members is that it is based on the life lessons we learn and how we can share them with each other.
BL: In your opinion, what constitutes a great Lady Leader?
Malebo: Someone who is a “safe space” for others.
BL: What’s the bigger vision for yourself as a writer and activist?
M: To live in a liberated society.
Blacklight: Can you share your favourite quote from “Miss Behave”?
Malebo: “I am enough”
Miss Behave is available at all leading book stores.