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Sunday, 11 October 2020

‘Small businesses can reduce suffering in South Africa’


It’s been six years, but Jacques Sibomana remembers clearly the day he witnessed an unemployed single mother being sentenced to prison for stealing a pair of shoes to allow her five-year-old daughter to attend school. 

This is one of the many heartbreaking stories Jacques encountered while he was working at a non-profit organization that helps rehabilitate people found guilty of crimes. 

These cases inspired Jacques to launch a business that aims to help people before they turn to crime, by spurring jobs in townships in particular. Jacques also hopes it will help South Africans who were hit by the COVID-19 economic crisis to start their own small businesses. 

Despite its humble beginnings, the business, known as Kuba Technologies, has garnered national as well as international attention. 

TMTV Media spoke to Jacques about his roots and his vision for Kuba Technologies, launched in 2017.

 Please give us a bit of background about yourself. Who is Jacques Sibomana? 

I grew up in Kanyamazane township outside Nelspruit, now known as Mbombela. This is also where I started my first business, which was a gardening service, while I was in Grade 7. 

From Grade 7 to 8, I started selling fruit and vegetables door to door and later turned to mowing lawns because I discovered it was more lucrative.

In order to fund my studies, I worked as a vendor at Strand beach in Cape Town, where I sold various goods like sunscreen, sunglasses and caps.

After 2010 I started working for the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO).

Through my work at NICRO, I realized that, to reduce crime and especially the number of young people getting involved in it, we need to empower small business owners to build sustainable businesses that can create jobs in their communities.

What inspired you to start Kuba?

The inspiration for Kuba comes from a number of things, including my work at NICRO, where I discovered the need to create jobs in underserved communities. I believe that, by empowering local businesses, we can achieve this.

Tell us about Kuba and the services you offer.

Kuba offers a basket of services designed to build sustainable small businesses. Our services include: an e-procurement platform that allows corporates and individuals to buy from local small businesses, Grow My Biz marketing and administrative services for small businesses, and online courses designed to support individuals looking to start a small business, or to support small business owners looking to polish their business skills.

What have been some of Kuba’s highlights and greatest achievements?

Our highlights were when we connected township entrepreneurs to over R15 million in opportunities, as well as having our users referring Kuba to friends and family.

Who is your target audience?

 We target township-based entrepreneurs and community members, but you can use Kuba from anywhere in South Africa.

 Who are your personal and/or business role models and what are the characteristics in that person or business you wish to emulate?

Mark Zuckerberg – because of the way he has inspired and connected people all over the world, making it possible for many people to create industries and businesses that did not exist before Facebook.

What are some of the greatest lessons you have learned as an entrepreneur?

To always listen to your customers and users, as they have a better knowledge of the product they want or need.

Friday, 28 August 2020

MaLaCo: Every End is a New Beginning


By Mandisa Constable 

One of the things I keep getting asked about is how on God’s green Earth did I manage to get the courage to take such a drastic leap from a high-paying corporate career in property finance to now wanting to go full-time into music and media? Come to think of it, this decision was made eight years ago.

I remember it clearly. I had just completed my second year at the University of Johannesburg, where I had also unfortunately found out I didn’t qualify for financial assistance after my mother was retrenched and could no longer afford my tuition. Living in the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg, I guess the financial aid providers figured I was not poor enough.

Needless to say, with my mother now unemployed, I realized very quickly that the only way for me to move forward was to find a job and, funny enough, that was also the point when I learned that trying to find a job was a whole job in and of itself.

Luckily, my boyfriend at the time had an IT job at a company that had a marketing and admin assistant role vacant. I went for an interview and immediately got the job.

For a few months all was well and I was able to support myself without putting too much financial pressure on my mom for my personal needs. However, sadly, a few months into the job, the company lost its biggest client and, just like that, it folded and I was once again jobless.

There I was, looking for jobs again, and as fate would have it, not too long into the hunt, my mom managed to secure a job on a consultancy basis at another company, while at the same time managing to get me a slot at a partner company out in the East Rand. It literally lasted two months and I was fired. Yup, fired. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

What can I say? It was an enormous blow to the ego. I mean, I will be honest, I was fabulous with clients and my communication skills but, fact is, taking taxis, I was always late and didn’t quite understand how to bite my tongue when having disagreements with my line manager, so I guess I pissed them off.

Alas, there I was, someone who had just been fired, with an incomplete degree and flat broke. I felt terrible. I remember feeling so hopeless and ashamed. My room was always in such a state, and ironically, I always found comfort in being alone in that chaos. Until one day I remembered having received a PDF copy of the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.

I recall being stationed at my desk in front of my computer and reading the book. My eyes were glued to that screen. I was so consumed, I managed to finish the book while burning the midnight oil until the wee hours of the morning.

After reading that book, something in me switched on. I remembered that this was my life and that I could decide how it would turn out. With a clear vision written down and a genuine will to seek knowledge and apply it, I could achieve anything I wanted.

So that was it. I decluttered my room, got rid of everything I honestly didn’t need, and I got really, really focused. I was back to regular programming with job hunting, but this time on level 1000. I was registered on every online job portal I could find. I even went as far as to rope my family into assisting me with faxing my applications when they left for the office in the morning.

I literally used to wake up each morning as though also heading to work to catch a taxi to Randburg to use a more cost-effective internet café to go online and submit some more job applications.
My vision was clear. I wanted to complete my studies by securing a job under a SETA-certified learnership, which was essentially a work-based approach to earning a tertiary level qualification.

I wanted flexible working hours, to be married with a child by 24, then build my corporate career up to where I was a regional sales manager by 28. After that I wanted to record an album, have my own business, uplift African youth throughout the continent and greater diaspora, then get deep into philanthropy while earning a prestigious position as the President of the Ubuntu Commonwealth of Africa (it’s still being established *wink wink*).  
And here I am. I earned my tertiary level qualification, I had such an enriching and fulfilling career in property finance, where I managed to be the youngest, first black female regional sales manager by the age of 25. (I managed to beat my own expectations – see how the universe works?)

I also have thee most precious baby girl. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with her daddy, but I am grateful that we get to co-parent as best we can.

After the end of that relationship, I realized how I really needed to find healing and the only way I have ever really found healing was through art. I had always grown up with a deep passion for public speaking, writing, dancing and singing, so I definitely felt I needed to give that side of myself some much-needed attention, while also honouring my lifelong dream of actually doing music and getting into the media space.

Arriving at this checkpoint in 2019 has been truly monumental, because for the first time in my life I fundamentally understand my purpose and who I am and what I want out of this crazy ride called life.
I get it. Change is so freaken scary and uncomfortable, but it is inevitable. Either you are forced to change, or you drive it.

I can safely say I have chosen to drive change in my life, while at the same time being forced because I have learned that, more often than not, the only thing that stands in the way of moving forward is me actually getting in my own way. Hopefully, while I trip and get up on my road to achieving my dreams, I get to inspire African girls and boys everywhere to do the same.

And, on that note, I now define myself as an Independent Recording Artist and Radio Personality out to change someone’s world, one liberated expression at a time.

-Image by A Man and his Lens

-TMTV Media

Monday, 17 August 2020

Rehab for writers: Look for stuff you can't find on Google


A follow-up on Rehab for writers: an 11-step programme

If you are looking for easy steps to improve your writing, I am afraid I have to disappoint you. What I can offer are reflections that will hopefully add a bit more substance to your writing. 

Recently I came across a video on YouTube on improving academic writing that caught my attention. I’m not in academia but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to steal from people who are much smarter than I am.

I have to say, much of what the expert shared appeared self-evident, and I thought his lecture lacked real-life examples, which I think prove especially useful for people who do not practise writing as a craft. 

Nevertheless, one thought did stand out for me: Academic writing is not about generating new knowledge, it is about adding value. I’m not certain those two ideas are all that distinct, if at all. However, the concept gave me pause for reflection. 

According to the pundit, new knowledge is one of the easiest things in the world to produce. It could be as simple as adding up the number of people in a room and presenting that as freshly discovered data. Whereas “adding value” entailed dishing up information that is useful to the audience. This information would need to be specifically tailored to the requirements of the reader/s. 

Now, producing content for a target audience is far from a revelation. However, it appears to be quite rare in academic circles. The expert’s overarching argument was that the relevance depended on how the essay or proposal was framed. That certainly is a worthy consideration for writers from all walks of life, whether you are penning a work email or drafting an important corporate text. Consider the meaning of each word. Have you used any “trigger” words or phrases? Is your writing littered with epithets that could come across as confrontational, like “on the contrary” or “nevertheless”?  

In other words, in academia, offer value to your audience without implying that previous work on the topic was erroneous or incomplete. This is where the professor lost me somewhat. He offered several examples of what not to do, but was not so forthcoming with alternatives.

As for adding value, I delight in that idea…It implies that you, as the writer, have taken the care to learn more about a particular topic than your average reader may know. In the best cases, you may even offer an analysis to your audience.

If you ask me, these are some of the useful takeaways from this lecture, with my own personal spin:

-What car does he or she drive? Do a bit of research on your target audience. If you can, find a demographic profile of the typical reader, including age, gender etc. Tailor your content and language accordingly. For instance, a middle-aged car fanatic father of two may not care about flowery poetics and would probably prefer the kind of expressions used by sports commentators. 

See here for examples.

-From the archives: Read previous articles on the topic. What kind of language was used? What was the reaction from readers? Did they like/dislike stats or did they want more flesh-and-blood case studies?

-Add value to your readers’ lives. If you are writing a business article, try to include information that will help your audience make decisions, for example, whether they should buy or sell stocks in a particular company or sector, or whether they should invest in property. Note: You are not advising them on whether to buy or sell. You are merely providing information that could assist in that decision. 

-Tell them something they don’t know. Time is precious, perhaps more so than ever. So, make sure the time your readers spend with your content is well worth it. You could add a graph to an article that illustrates historic market trends, or add an original survey that you conducted among key players in a certain industry. One of my personal favourites is archive material, such as old newspaper clippings or book excerpts – I live for anything that cannot be found on Google. 

-Original content by TMTV

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Rwandan women make history at water treatment plant

About 30 minutes’ drive outside Kigali, the tidy capital of Rwanda, past lush forests, marshland and makeshift roadside stores advertising their offerings on hand-painted signs, a group of women are quietly making history.

On a construction site next to the Nyabarongo River, the women are hard at work on a water treatment plant that will change the destiny of the country, as well as their own.

Florence Ntibazakwirwa spends several hours a day bending steel to precise angles, after which the metal is used to reinforce the structure of the buildings.

“This comes along with passion. Success has a lot to do with the commitment/urgency and passion you devote to your profession,” said the 30-year-old mother of one.

“If I manage to acquire a long-term contract in this project, I think in two years’ time I will be able to manage my own project, and to build my own house. I am looking forward to building a strong house, using my own skills, and this house will be a great example to other women.”

Florence is part of a group of 80 women on the site, as well as 421 men. In many ways, this is a landmark project, not least because so many women are involved in the construction process.

Read more

-Content by African Development Bank. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

The Africa Investment Forum: Changing the way the continent does business

Last year the inaugural Africa Investment Forum, hosted by the African Development Bank, raced out off the starting block, attracting a huge media buzz and high-profile interest.

The Johannesburg event was attended by several heads of state, ministers and potential investors. 

The Forum aims to fast-track investment in Africa by accelerating deals that may have stalled. 

Investors at last year's conference held discussions around deals worth billions of dollars. 

The Africa Investment Forum has launched a roadshow to promote this year's event, including a recent trip to South Korea.

-Image: African Development Bank

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Unpopular opinion: The ANC is too big to fail

It is all too easy to vilify the ANC. We are all well aware of the governing party’s failings and the tragic consequences that have followed.  
So, here is another hypothesis: Is South Africa prepared for life without the ANC? What would that look like? Is there a political party ready to step into the ANC’s sizable shoes?
To borrow a phrase often used on Twitter, Unpopular opinion: The ANC might just be too big to fail.
The party is so embedded in our history, culture and institutions, that it has backed us into a corner. One cannot escape the organisation that has shaped the past century of our country’s politics and history. The ANC currently dominates parliament, with nearly two thirds of the seats in the two houses of our national legislature. It governs in eight of the country’s nine provinces.
Even the second-biggest party in parliament, the Democratic Alliance, could only muster 22% of the seats in the National Assembly in the last elections in 2014.
The ANC’s reach also extends to most of the parties represented in parliament. Many of these parties are, in fact, offshoots of the ANC, including the Congress of the People (COPE), the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Pan Africanist Congress, the United Democratic Movement, and the Economic Freedom Fighters.
The EFF managed to score 25 seats in the National Assembly in 2014 on their first try, while veterans COPE and the UDM squeaked out just 3 and 4, respectively.
Notwithstanding its juniority, and for all its balking at the ANC’s profligacy, the EFF in many ways epitomises South Africans’ Daddy issues. EFF president Julius Malema has frequently acknowledged his willingness to return to the fold of the ANC.
By railing at the ANC on the one hand, and genuflecting before it on the other, Malema is acknowledging, perhaps unwittingly, our existential relationship with the ANC. Too often this bond has been dismissed as a sentimental one. It is far beyond that. Most of us do not know a world without the ANC. All of our lives have been inscribed by the party in some way or another.
It’s telling that the Democratic Alliance, no less, struggles to define itself in terms that are unrelated to the ANC. Aside from the standard attacks, presenting the DA as an alternative government, the once-liberal poster child has often found itself caught up in ANC worship.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane just cannot resist invoking Nelson Mandela to remind the ANC of how far it has fallen. It’s a somewhat mixed message: Doesn’t the DA have any of its own historic figures to revere and hold up as a standard of admirable leadership?
Could it be that the DA is low-key crushing on the ANC’s historic prowess? The ANC could just be the big brother that the DA despises, but also looks up to with envy.
All in all, our opposition parties have done little to excite South Africans, other than responding with outrage and court action every time the ANC is caught in the act. Fair enough, opposition parties, by their nature, are reactive. But how have the DA, EFF, UDM etc distinguished themselves from the ANC, politically, philosophically, even organisationally? Have these parties secured the ideological and structural foundations to replace the ANC?
The recent spats in the DA ranks suggest that the official opposition is in disarray. In the process, the DA may have squandered whatever political capital they gained from the Jacob Zuma years.
The EFF, for its part, started off on shaky ground, given its messy departure from the ANC. Granted, it pulled itself together quite nicely, judging by its electoral performance thus far. But the EFF’s raison d’être alone has arguably been about survival, aside from the array of corruption scandals that have followed its leader from the very beginning.
For all its shortcomings, the ANC has largely done a masterful job of mobilising the polar forces of our country, often for the greater good of society. Within its own ranks, the ANC has, by hook or by crook, managed to bandage together the tripartite alliance, made up of the SA Communist Party, itself and Cosatu. Before that, it brought together all manner of groupings – ideological, ethnic, religious and business – to march against the apartheid regime. Think of the messy climate in which the ANC and its allies operated at that time: violence at home, leaders in prison, waging guerrilla warfare or wayfaring abroad. It was like trying to restrain a multi-tentacled creature that sprouted a new appendage each time one of them was slayed.
At present, there is no political grouping in South Africa that is seasoned enough to navigate South Africa’s complex social dynamics. The beast has mutated and is in constant flux. Old hatreds have been revived, antiquated power structures have been rebirthed and elevated their sophistication, our demands have grown, and our protests have sharpened. Who will step into the breach? 

-Content: text by TMTV, image via ANC 

Friday, 12 April 2019

Technology helps farmers overcome wheat woes in Sudan

Farmers and other players in Sudan’s agricultural sector are celebrating the success of new heat-resistant wheat varieties which could transform the food landscape in Sudan. The country has been hit hard by a severe bread shortage and sharp price increases last year.

Locals blamed the bread shortage on a lack of foreign currency, which deepened a crisis that was triggered after the government halted wheat import subsidies. Extreme heat has in recent years also affected wheat yields.

Thanks to the new cultivars such as Imam, Zakia and Bohain, Sudan’s wheat-growing areas saw a rise in production to around 303,000 ha, up from 230,000 ha in 2017. The high productivity and wheat area expansion this season is expected to lead to a record high production of around 0.85 million tons of wheat, covering up to 45% of the national demand, said Nahar Osman Nahar, the nation’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Nahar was speaking at a national Farmers’ Field Day event, one of several held between 26 and 29 March 2019 to showcase the achievements of the wheat project, developed under the Bank’s Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) programme. The project has led to the roll out of technologically enhanced wheat varieties, in line with one of the Bank’s top High Five Priorities, namely Feed Africa.

TAAT’s wheat programme has already yielded significant results in Sudan.

The field days, which received widespread media coverage, were attended by a broad range of stakeholders in the wheat value chain. The events promoted the success of the cultivars, released in the past five years.

Policy makers, the private sector, credit institutions, input providers, processors, NGOs, youth and women’s associations and thousands of farmers showed up to witness the success of the project.

In addition, four members from the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) shared their experiences and promised future collaboration with different partners in Sudan.

During the field day, seed production farms were visited, along with farmers’ fields involved in scaling-up activities. Youth and women’s groups were trained in wheat production, value addition and farm machinery maintenance services at the Basatna, Wad Elbur and Mukashfi innovation platform (IP) sites. IP sites are selected by the TAAT wheat team for scaling up and widely promoting the impact of proven wheat technologies to farmers and stakeholders along the value chain.

At another field day event, technology-adopting farmers expressed their happiness with the impressive performance of heat-tolerant wheat varieties, and said they were expecting to realize yields of 4-6 t/ha this season, compared to 2t/ha before joining the Project. At Wadelneim village, a group of innovative farmers who adopted the heat-tolerant varieties Zakia and Imam, said they expected to achieve yields of 6-7 t/ha. They attributed their success to the hands-on training they received at the TAAT farm school.

Between 2012 and 2016, Sudan only produced 24% of the country’s national wheat demand, leaving it heavily reliant on imports of over 1.5 million tons of wheat each year.

Heat stress in sub-Saharan Africa is a major constraint to wheat production. In places like Sudan temperatures often exceed 38°C. Climate change is expected to worsen the situation.

In response to the food crunch, the African Development Bank decided to intervene to boost one of the most vital food sources in Sudan.

Nahar said the growing partnership between the private and public sectors engaged in seed production could result in a record amount of certified seed, enough to cultivate around 420,000 hectares of wheat next season.

-Text & image by the African Development Bank

Thousands receive food in South Sudan

Thousands of people in South Sudan have received relief from a food security project which is addressing the nation’s severe food and nutrition needs.

The South Sudan Short-Term Regional Emergency Response Project (STRERP) was launched in December last year by the government with a $43.57 million grant from the African Development Bank. The World Food Programme is implementing the project.

To date, WFP has succeeded in procuring 8,500 MT of food, representing about 85 percent of the planned food procurement under this project. Food has been delivered to over 175,000 beneficiaries - more than half of the project’s overall target.

“WFP, working closely with the Government, is doing a sterling job in delivering timely aid and allied assistance in the implementation of the STRERP project. We need to work even closer with community groups and leaders to maximize the coverage, impact and sustainability of the operations,” African Development Bank’s Country Manager for South Sudan, Benedict Kanu said.

As a result of STRERP, 432 retailers have been contracted to supply food to vulnerable and displaced households in Mingkaman (the capital of Awerial county in Lakes State), Bor (the capital of Jonglei State) and Wau (the capital for Wau State). These efforts have stimulated local markets, created business for traders and boosted the local economy. Furthermore, the positive developments are giving confidence to local populations that peace is on the horizon.

Moreover, the project has created an opportunity to assist people facing food insecurity in urban areas. As internally displaced persons (IDPs) return to cities, it has become challenging to meet the food needs of many. Thanks to STRERP, the Wau Urban Project has been launched to provide some 20,000 urban dwellers with food and water vouchers, while they receive training and capacity building on sanitation, health and nutrition, business skills, voluntary savings and loan association and gender/protection.

The project also plans to provide clean water that will continue even after the project closes in 2019. Starting in the second half of 2019, the Wau Urban Project will begin constructing new water facilities and rehabilitating existing ones.

About 6.17 million people in South Sudan were at risk of experiencing severe food insecurity in January 2019, according to a recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report. The report indicated that 1.39 million people were in emergency and catastrophic situations, requiring urgent food assistance.

-Images & text by African Development Bank

Monday, 25 February 2019

What SA media can learn from the New York Times

The New York Times has offered some hope for the media industry at a time when its newer rivals are struggling to find their way. 

The Times recently reported a phenomenal growth in subscribers.

Meanwhile, millenial media companies like Vice, Huffington Post and Buzz Feed announced in February that they would cut hundreds of staff in order to remain profitable. The New York Times, on the other hand, is hiring staff and showing growth that was once almost unthinkable. 

The newspaper announced in November that it had grown subscriptions by 203,000 to 4 million in the third quarter. About 3 million of those subscribers are receiving the digital-only edition. The Times also announced that operating profit had grown to $41.4 million from $31.8 million in the previous quarter.

It seems almost odd that a 168-year-old news organisation is leaving its digital-era competitors in the dust. 

Here are some lessons that South African media houses can learn from the New York Times.

1. ‘You find the future in the past.’

These are the words of Mark Thompson, the president and CEO of the New York Times Company. Thompson made the remarks at Fortune magazine’s Brainstorm Reinvent conference in September 2018. Thompson was referring to the formula behind the newspaper’s digital boom. Another way to put this is: Content is king. And the NYT has that in spades. Capitalising on good old favourites like job openings and apartment listings has worked for the publication. Want ads used to generate as much as $235 million for the NYT but dropped to around $7 million when print began to decline. Thompson said recreating the following for want ads on digital was a matter of creating a winning user experience. 

“The kind of person who is our kind of person values accuracy and timeliness in everything they consume,” Thompson said.

“Legacy print media was obsessing about the finer points of monetization, when they should have been focused on making sure the experience people have with you can be really superlative.”

2. Good journalism matters

In the first quarter of 2017, the paper gained 308,000 net digital subscribers, which editors and executives attributed to interest in the Trump administration. This time around subscribers were attracted by coverage of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the United States Supreme Court and the anonymous op-ed by a senior Trump administration official.

Trump may constantly decry media outlets like the New York Times as “fake news” but his casual relationship with the truth seems to have benefited established news organisations. 

3. Innovation doesn’t need to be costly
Not every newsroom has a New York Times budget, but that doesn’t mean that innovation is beyond your reach. Some of the ideas implemented by the NYT seem fairly simple, such as building digital channels around their classic content, like cooking and crosswords. 

You may not be able to innovate on the scale of the Times, but there are ways to revive your brand without breaking the bank. For example, using social media tools (like Facebook live or Instagram) to augment regular coverage. It’s all about researching what has been successful for other outlets and adjusting those ideas to suit your resources. The key thing is not to follow trends blindly. Use what works for your brand and your particular audience. One thing is certain: not innovating will not help your cause and may even lead to your demise. 

4. Stay the course
The NYT’s current success did not come overnight. It was a matter of trial and error. If you have a valuable offering, it will eventually triumph. Don’t flog a dead horse but don’t be defeated by failure either. The Times underwent several changes before it found the right formula. 

In 2013, digital revenues made up 18.1% of Times circulation. Today it comprises 38.4%, according to data compiled by Joshua Benton in an article from the Nieman Lab

At a time when new media organisations are cutting staff, the Times is hiring. 
Benton writes: “A common goal in newspaper circles a few years ago was to someday be able to make enough money in digital to cover the cost of the newsroom. Well, at this point, the Times could pay for the newsroom two times over with just digital money. Which is probably why that newsroom keeps growing — the Times reported it now employs 1,600 journalists, an all-time high.”

He further advises: “Take 98 percent of whatever energy you devote to worrying about the future of the Times and rechannel it into worrying about your local daily, which is very likely approaching existential crisis.”

Content by TMTV Media 
Image by StevePB via Pixabay


Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Rehab for writers: An 11-step programme

1. FEEL FREE TO ASSUME: Every time you pick up a pen or sit down at a keyboard, assume you don’t know anything; assume that it’s your first encounter with those 26 letters; that you have to seduce and persuade stubborn verbs, adjectives, nouns, adverbs… to your will…

2. READ – EVERYTHING – NOVELS, NON-FICTION (ESPECIALLY BY/ABOUT OTHER WRITERS); NEWSPAPERS; MAGAZINES; TRY TO AVOID BLOGS – by the look of it, most of these people self-edit. If you’re young and impressionable, you probably won’t be able to distinguish the tripe from the triumphs, so these people are probably the worst role models. I’m a blogger myself and I would hardly prescribe my personal ramblings as a master’s class in writing… It’s meant to be an outlet, a kind of finger exercise – take it as no more than that…

3. EDIT: not just your own work, but constantly be aware of language around you – how can it be said more meaningfully, elegantly, concisely, less ambiguously? Fortunately or not, a large part of my career has consisted of paring down language, doing my darndest to make sure that copy sings… Clunky sentences rile me – whether at work or driving along the highway. Take this billboard along a particular road in Johannesburg. I think it says something like:

INTRODUCING THE NEW KING OF DRAUGHT BEER… With limited time to draw a reader’s attention, why not chop it down to: THE NEW KING OF BEER… Pay attention to newspaper headlines – how would you have written them to be clearer, punchier, cut-to-the-chase?

4. SEEK COUNSEL: Talk to more seasoned wordsmiths. Learn from them. What are their tips? What works for them, what doesn’t? Like any basic education, you may disagree with them but understand and explain WHY…

5. WRITE – for pleasure, journal, explore, blog, listen (I’ve even taken to adopting turns of phrases from radio from radio/TV bulletins – not original descriptions, of course; simply clever, succinct ways of defining events or concepts).

6. FREE YOUR SENSES… Especially for creative writing – a tip I picked up from a writer friend Khadija Heeger: When you’re describing a piece of music, for example, try saying what it looks like; what colours does it conjure up in your mind? Is it bright, dark, is it purple, or wispy as a cloud? When you’re describing a sight, compare it to a taste. For example: The air tasted bitter, like an old coin.

7. MAKE IT PERSONAL – Over the years I’ve read about various writerly routines and quirks. For example, Maya Angelou holes up in a hotel with a deck of cards, a bottle of sherry, a dictionary and a thesaurus… Toni Cade Bambara used to love writing on scraps of paper – including the strip found in pantihose… I prefer to write in pencil…

8. SWEAT – It’s just not worth it if you’re not perspiring a little… ‘Writing and reading mean being aware of the writer’s notions of risk and safety, the serene achievement of, or sweaty fight for, meaning and response-ability.’ – Toni Morrison

9. LEARN THE RULES BEFORE YOU BREAK THEM: Don’t be too dismissive of grammar sticklers (like yours truly). How can you be a carpenter without knowing how to use a hammer and nail? The same applies to basic grammar. Would it kill you to learn the difference between a colon and a semi-colon? Look at it this way: once you’re armed with this knowledge, you’re in a better position to wrangle with vets like me – why you should start a sentence with ‘and’, for example…

10. IMAGINATION – Please feel free to use it. Avoid clichés wherever possible. It’s stimulating to think of a fresh way of describing something – at least consider it. Don’t overdo it. But original writing will always enhance a story, challenge/entertain the reader and do greater justice to the subject.

11. PUNCTUATION – Write so that you don’t need punctuation. Notice how effortlessly the following sentence flows: “So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea.”

That sentence is 42 words long – about twice the traditional print journalism recommendation – but uses only two commas; yet it makes perfect sense. I would imagine that every word and image was carefully selected – not just what the author wanted to say but the emotion she wanted to evoke; for that you need to understand both literal meaning and something more subtextual, like rhythm. You need to edit thoughtfully, sometimes over and over, until you achieve that. (extract from To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf)

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