The House of Truth launched on Can Themba’s Anniversary

The evening of Friday, 8 September saw book lovers gathered at the Nelson Mandela Foundation for the launch of Siphiwo Mahala’s The House of Truth. The book is a bioplay inspired by the life of legendary writer and journalist Can Themba, from the illustrious 1950s generation of Drum writers.

After the critically acclaimed performances, rave reviews and sold out shows at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Market Theatre and Soweto Theatre respectively, The House of Truth is now available in book form with a foreword by Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President of South Africa.

The 8th of September marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of Can Themba. The day is also celebrated globally as International Literacy Day. Book lovers were gathered at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, to celebrate the launch of Siphiwo Mahala’s The House of Truth, in an occasion that also paid tribute to Themba. The occasion was addressed by the charismatic MEC for Education in Gauteng province, Panyaza Lesufi, whose speech resonated with what Can Themba stood for and whose sentiments were echoed by other speakers.

The vibrant programme was expertly guided by business woman and radio host, Azania Mosaka, who clearly immersed herself in the works of Can Themba ahead of the event. Following a warm welcome from the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Mosaka called upon former Press Ombudsman, Joe Thloloe, who paid a moving tribute to Themba.

Thloloe got his first break in journalism back in 1961, when Themba was the acting editor of The Golden City Post. He spoke about how Themba was so conscious of recruiting young talent, with legendary journalists Casey Motsisi and Stan Motjuwadi standing out as examples of Can Themba’s former students whom he recruited to work as reporters at Drum magazine.

In addressing the occasion, Lesufi hastened to declare that, “I speak honestly because this is the House of Truth.” Indeed, what followed was nothing but the truth. He spoke about the elements that compromise the South African education system, including the fact that positions are not always filled by the best candidates, most of the time it is persons connected to some authorities who get the job.

He also highlighted the worrying trend of teachers that are leaving the profession, pursuing other interest which are often more lucrative. This was in contrary to Can Themba, who even after years of working for Drum magazine, still wanted to return to the classroom and teach. He emphasised that Can Themba’s works should be an automatic choice for school syllabus, and that he will encourage teachers to read literature by South African writers.

Lesufi’s sentiments resonated with part of Mahala’s speech, who quoted the late writer and academic, Mbulelo Mzamane, who once described the South African education system as “miseducation of crippling magnitudes.” Mzamane had advised Mahala to pursue doctoral studies and focus on Can Themba for his research. Mahala called for the prescription of South African books like Themba’s in schools. He also highlighted the challenges of local writers, whom he says are at the bottom of the hierarchy in the book sector.

“The book industry remains one of the most untransformed sectors in the creative industries,” he said. He further opined that it was time to take action, as practitioners in the industry had been mourning for a very long time. He made reference to Thando Mgqolozana and Fort Helepi, who respectively started the Abantu Book Festival in Soweto and African Flavour Books, a bookstore located in the Vaal and with a new branch opened recently in Braamfontein. He said with these small initiatives, the tide in the book sector was bound to turn.

In a panel discussion that followed, Sello Maake kaNcube, Mahala and Can Themba’s daughter, Yvonne, all shared their perspectives on Themba. Maake kaNcube referred to a point in his life when he was despondent, and after reading The World of Can Themba, he felt a special connection with Themba’s stories. This resulted in the first adaptation of “The Suit,” a role for which he earned the 1994 DALRO Best Actor Award.

The platform also presented the rare occasion for Yvonne to publicly talk about her father, who died when she was only 488 days old. Given the fact that she was young, anecdotes shared by the likes of Thloloe help her connect with her father. It was kaNcube’s acting in The House of Truth that gave her the most comprehensive representation of her father. The play was so convincing that “I started believing he was Can Themba. I started crying thinking, Papa!” she said.

While commemorating the passing of Can Themba, the occasion also saw the birth of Iconic productions, the publisher of The House of Truth. The company transcends different arts genres, including theatre and film. Mahala indicated that all his works, including the documentary, would henceforth be produced under the company.