Truthful and hard-hitting poet and cultural activist vangile gantsho has participated in poetry events and festivals around Africa and internationally. “I prefer to write my name lower case as part of my small-girl revolution,” she says.
She released her debut poetry collection undressing in front of the window in 2015, followed by red cotton this year. Her new collection was published by Impepho Press, which she co-founded as a pan-African publishing house to tell stories that celebrate both the fragility and resilience of the human experience.
“We believe in championing brave, particularly feminist, voices committed to literary excellence,” gantsho says. Her work has also been published in several literary publications, and she has produced shows such as Katz Cum out to Play, The State Theatre’s Night of the Poets, and Human4Human.
She identifies as a womxn, spelt with an x to break the patriarchy of being tied to men and to denote gender fluidity and inclusivity. “I believe black womxn are powerful and dangerous. And I think the world should be grateful that we are still so full of love. That against the odds, we are alive and loving … is a miracle,” she says.
As an activist, she began No Camp Chairs Poetry Picnics (NCCPP) on the lawns of Union Buildings, which lasted from 2011 until 2016. “We wanted to speak to our president. We invited him to come listen to us but he never came. NCCPP became the most popular and one of the longest-running poetry movements in Tshwane,” she says.
Ten years ago gantsho decided to pursue poetry full-time, initially supporting herself by waitressing and working in a call centre in between travelling the world to perform. Her audience so far has included four former African heads of state and a sultan. Now she makes a living by teaching poetry, performing, editing and running workshops.
“Poetry has been a lifeline for me, and opened me up to so many different opportunities. It is also how I was led towards finding the language to understand my calling.”
She believes her calling is to be a traditional healer, and moved to the Eastern Cape to focus on her spiritual training. “I started poetry healing workshops before I knew I was a healer. I wanted to focus of how poetry saves lives. On how we could use writing as a medium of healing.” — Lesley Stones