Siphokazi Jonas to headline Poetry Africa Festival 2021 |

Siphokazi Jonas. Picture: Supplied
Siphokazi Jonas. Picture: Supplied

By Kedibone Modise

South African poet, playwright and producer, Siphokazi Jonas is honoured to be the featured act at the 2021 Poetry Africa Festival.

Under the theme “Unmute: Power to the Poet”, the 25th edition of the virtual festival is set to take place at the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from Monday, October 11 and runs until Saturday, October 16.

“Being selected as the Poetry Africa Featured Poet this year has been a lesson in celebrating all the moments of impact because art allows us to contribute something to society and ourselves every day. I am truly grateful to the festival, this is an honour,” shares Jonas.

Jonas says she will be tackling mental health and how the sense of community has been affected, particularly during these uncertain times.

The renowned poet hopes her personal experiences will help the audiences overcome their challenges as well.


The Eastern-Cape born star says it was during the height of lockdown that she almost gave up her career as an artist.

Siphokazi Jonas. Picture: Sithembele Jnr (SJ Photography)

“The early days of lockdown were ones of high anxiety because of how quickly our livelihood was taken away.

“I have always been laser-focused about a career in the arts and have never wavered, even during the most challenging times.

“Last year was the first time I have ever considered quitting because it seemed we would not find a way out of the performer-audience model.

“But I thank God and the incredible community which I have around me because we began improvising and coming up with ways to take our work online.

“This is when we streamed a theatre recording of #wearedyinghere around the world, and along with Optical Films and the support of the Kolisi Foundation, the production was adapted into a short film.

“Being multi-disciplinary meant I was able to take more writing jobs and clients were requiring filmed performances instead of live ones.

“The increase in collaboration and filming has led to a different way of disseminating my work, but also wider audiences,” says Jonas.

When asked about the future of arts in South Africa, post-Covid-19, Jonas offers: “In the poem which I wrote for SONA 2021, ’What does not sink’, there is a line which says, ‘The artist contemplates whether to eat her own words, and art starves.’

“I believe that artists will always make art. However, the department which holds the almost sacred responsibility to ensure that arts and culture are protected is failing and has done so during one of the most devastating times in recent history. They have left us eating our own creations to survive.

“Further, the ‘starving artist’ trope will also continue to be a reality if artists are not paid their royalties and residuals for the ongoing use of their recorded works and their images.

“Artists are using both their work and their bodies as protest, my hope is that those who consume our work will support those efforts.

“I am inspired by the passion and tenacity of South African artists, while I am deeply discouraged by corrupt leadership, the latter reminds me of a legendary character, Laqhasha, from Sgudi Snaysi, cutting off our potential for progress at the knees,” she says.

Siphokazi Jonas. Picture: Supplied

Her work tackles issues around faith, identity, gender-based violence, cultural and linguistic alienation, black women in rural spaces, and the politics of everyday lives.

“My work is about sight: seeing and being seen. My characters are often in the margin in some way and I invite them to speak with nuance instead of the two-dimensional way in which they may often be presented.

“I aim to treat these stories with compassion always, the audience will be challenged to interrogate their own prejudice and be moved to empathy, not only for the characters but for themselves and for the people around them as well.

“It is also why my work interrogates privilege and the abuse of power so that we can investigate our position in relation to that abuse, and ask uncomfortable questions such as, are we complicit?”

Jonas counts poets and theatre-makers Ntozakhe Shange, Napo Masheane and Thembi Mtshali-Jones among her artistic inspirations.

“My main influence in the combination of poetry and theatre is Ntozakhe Shange, the creator of the choreopoem. There are other creators like Napo Masheane who are incredibly adept with the form, and it is a pleasure to consider them contemporaries.

“Two of my favourite storytellers are Mam Thoko Ntshinga and Mam Thembi Mtshali-Jones. Some musicians who influence my approach to art and performance include Lea Salonga, who has sung for Disney and Broadway, for example, has the most incredible diction, and Babalwa Zimbini Makwetu.

“Zimbini brings her entire spirit into performance and I always have a visceral response when I listen to her. As a multi-disciplinary artist, I draw from many different art forms to make chakalaka in my own creative bowl,” admits the star.

Legendary poet Dr Stella Nyanzi will be delivering the keynote speech during the opening of the festival on Monday, October 11, at 11am.

Nyanzi is a multiple award-winning medical anthropologists, specialising in sexual and reproductive health, sexual rights and human sexualities in Uganda and The Gambia.

“Both Stella Nyanzi and Siphokazi Jonas represent the brand of strong women voices who have been a feature of the Poetry Africa festival for a quarter of a century.

“They are fearless and unambiguous in letting their voices inspire hope. The poems give agency and impetus to the continued struggle for social justice,“ says Siphindile Hlongwa, curator of the Poetry Africa Festival.

The 25th Poetry Africa Festival is freely accessible and can be watched via Facebook and YouTube.

Siphokazi Jonas Selected as Featured/Headlining Poet at Poetry Africa Festival, this is the inaugural year

Siphokazi Jonas

Siphokazi Jonas

Stella Nyanzi

South African poet, playwright and producer, Siphokazi Jonas will be the featured poet during the 25th Poetry Africa Festival presented by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from 11 to 16 October 2021. Poet Dr Stella Nyanzi, a multiple award-winning medical anthropologist, specialising in sexual and reproductive health, sexual rights and human sexualities in Uganda and The Gambia, will be delivering the keynote speech during the opening of the festival on Monday 11 October at 11 am.

Featured poet Jonas is a storyteller, and ordinary lives fuel her work in poetry and theatre that has been featured at numerous poetry sessions and festivals around the country. Her experience of growing up in Komani, in the Eastern Cape, during the transition years of South Africa’s democracy, has an ongoing influence on her stories. Her work engages questions of faith, identity, gender-based violence, cultural and linguistic alienation, black women in rural spaces, and the politics of everyday lives.

She also produced four one-woman poetry shows in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Her most recent stage production, #wearedyinghere, was performed at Artscape Theatre and Joburg Theatre to positive reception. The production was adapted into a short film and has been screened at numerous international film festivals and will also screen during the Poetry Africa Festival. 

“Both Stella Nyanzi and Siphokazi Jonas represent the brand of strong women voices who have been a feature of the Poetry Africa festival for a quarter of a century. They are fearless and unambiguous in letting their voices inspire hope. The poems give agency and impetus to the continued struggle for social justice ”, says Siphindile Hlongwa, curator of the Poetry Africa Festival. 

Keynote speaker Nyanzi self-identifies as a radical queer feminist scholar, social justice activist, human rights defender, non-violent protester, poet, Facebooker, opposition politician belonging to the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), a former aspirant for Kampala Woman Member of Parliament (2020-2021), an ex-prisoner from Luzira Women’s Maximum-Security Prison, and mother of three teenagers. She obtained her doctoral degree from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (2009), a Master of Science degree in Medical Anthropology from University College London (1999), and a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and Literature from Makerere University (1997).

For her critical writings, she was arrested twice and charged with cyber harassment and offensive communication against Uganda’s president Museveni. For the first case, her prosecutors applied to the court for her to be subjected to an involuntary mental examination. She was tried, convicted, and sentenced to eighteen months in maximum security prison for her second case. During her fifteen months of imprisonment at Luzira Women Prison, she was acquitted and released by the high court. She continues to write critically about Uganda’s leadership.

“As the festivals presented by the Centre for Creative Arts continue to be celebrated for being defenders of democracy, social justice and social transformation we are proud to have Stella Nyanzi and Siphokazi Jonas headline our festival programme this year ”, says Ismail Mahomed, the director of the Centre for Creative Arts . 

The Poetry Africa Festival will be presented by the Centre for Creative Arts with the support of the National Institute for Humanities, The French Institute of South Africa, and Total. Unmute: Power to the Poet will be the theme for the 25th edition of the virtual festival, which is freely accessible and can be watched via  and

Siphokazi Jonas featured poet and Dr Stella Nyanzi keynote speaker at the 25th Poetry Africa Festival


MUSIC EXCHANGE (#MEX21), South Africa’s preeminent entertainment-economy-invested conference, returns this September for the 11th consecutive year, hosted by Ticketpro.

Lauded and awarded for its consistent commitment to the broader South African music industry, #MEX21 will run from 11 September to 2 October 2021, with a wealth of quality international and local speakers.

Some of the topics #MEX21 will unpack, in detail, include our streaming reality, the platforms generating engagement (Ayoba) and driving artist’s incomes (SubmitHub), right through to the importance of heritage (MEX Chairman), the state of radio in South Africa (KFM), and just how artists are rebuilding and morphing in response to the pandemic (RJ Benjamin).

Our Keynote speaker, from Australia, is Michael Smellie. He speaks about the seven deadly sins of the music business.

Michael’s career in the music business spans more than 25 years.

He has worked across five continents as former Global Chief Operations Officer of Sony BMG, Asia Pacific Head for BMG, and Managing Director of Polygram and rooArt in Australia.

He is an investor, adviser and board member to many start-ups’ creative businesses in Australia and the United States and is currently the Board Chair of the Music Council of Australia.

Stuart Rubin, from New Zealand, speaks about the importance of the song and looking to legacy for wisdom and inspiration as well as unpacking Elvis 30 Number 1’s and Neil Diamond.

At the height of his career, he was Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing for Sony BMG. Stuart’s career in music started in New Zealand in 1976 with PolyGram. 

He “crossed the ditch” to Australia and held several senior marketing roles in PolyGram and BMG, before moving to Hong Kong in the 1990s where he became BMG’s VP of International Marketing for the Asia-Pacific region. In 2001 he moved to New York, becoming Senior VP International for BMG. Following the merger with SONY, three years later, Stuart was made Senior VP International of Commercial Marketing. 

Stuart’s interview reveals a person fascinated with people, whether they are artists or music lovers. With his long experience in selling music to a global market, and as an A&R professional, he delivers a unique perspective on the industry.

Gasant Abarder, the author of Hack the Grenade, columnist, and former editor of the Cape Times & Argus speaks to the Cape Town reality for artists and his take on the media landscape in both print and online.

We speak to legacy with producer Greg Cutler, an engineer from London; regarding his relationships with Harari, Hotline and Rabbit, bands that shaped the SA sound that we know and love today.

Despite the past 18 months being the most challenging in MEX’s decade-plus dedication, investment and global outreach, Music Exchange 2021 (#MEX21) is opening its annual industry-focused indaba to the world come 11 September 2021.

Over the past 11 years, MEX has actively informed, partnered and brokered with some of the biggest and most influential players and institutions, with the sole purpose of elevating, educating and sharing a wealth of learning from all four corners of the planet and 2021’s #MEX21 commits to being no different.

If anything, #MEX21 is offering everyone, directly or indirectly professionally affected by the pandemic, an opportunity to explore the possibility of change, with speakers who exemplify talent, success, and perseverance at a time like no other.

MEX has welcomed and hosted the likes of composer Dr Trevor Jones, musician and producer Bryan Michael Cox the Orchard’s Ben Oldfield, Mark Murdoch, Mos Def, Tim Renner, Rachel Z, Tom Novy, Karen Zoid, Siphokazi Jonas, Christian Wright from Abbey Road, Arthur and Charles Goldstuck and Moreira Chonguica among many more, all in an impressive lead up to this year’s impressive list of confirmed speakers.

The #MEX21 speaker line-up includes, but is not limited to:

Michael Smellie – Chairman of Music Australia – Australia.

Jason Grishkoff – Founder SubmitHub – USA.

Stephen Werner – Station Manager @ KFM – RSA.

Stuart Rubin Former Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing for Sony BMG – New Zealand. 

Gasant Abarder Author, and former editor at Independent Newspapers – RSA.

Greg Cutler – Producer engineer visionary proud ambassador of SA Music legacy – UK.

Melissa Conradie – Music industry specialist, publicist, booker, radio plugger – RSA.

RJ Benjamin – Artist – RSA.

Sipho Mabuse – MEX Chairperson and Artist – RSA.

With more names to follow, #MEX21 talks will deliver on what MEX is known and respected for by delivering quality conversations that lead to quantifiable outcomes.

In partnership with Ticketpro, Paul Bothner MusicWestern Cape Government, AYOBA and the City of Cape Town.

 #MEX21 will host local entertainment industry thought-leaders and game-changers in 30-to-60-minute presentations on the Ticketpro streaming platform.

For a mere R100 investment, per ticket, #MEX21 delegates will enjoy an all-access pass to the full 11-day conference, comprising a series of unmissable keynote addresses and international thought leadership sessions from some of the most relevant and revolutionary minds in the business.

Martin Myers, founder, and convener of the conference remarked “2021 is another big year in Music Exchange’s history. Our collective and ongoing investment to help influence, adapt, evolve and remain relevant in a massively compromised economy sits at the heart of all we do.”

Follow us on Facebook to get breaking announcements, as they happen.

Secure your ticket and watch here:

For booking details, and more information, go to:

For more information and interview opportunities, please contact:

Martin Myers @ MEX

083 448 4475

Siphokazi Jonas creates a bespoke love letter to her country, South Africa.

Siphokazi Jonas creates a bespoke love letter to her country, South Africa.
Listen to her words as she takes you on a journey across South Africa showcasing the diversity and beauty the country has to offer.

Continue your journey online by visiting for more virtual exploration.

The work was shot over three days in South Africa with Siphokazi Jonas.

Poem title: A place of many names

Please do enjoy

By: Siphokazi Jonas Producted: Core Productions Ltd.


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On Location pics. over 3 days

Credit: Dan McCain
Credit: Dan McCain
Credit: Dan McCain
Credit: Dan McCain

South Africa: A place of many names

South Africa: A place of many names

Siphokazi Jonas creates a bespoke love letter to her country, South Africa. Listen to her words as she takes you on a journey across South Africa showcasing the diversity and beauty the country has to offer. Continue your journey online by visiting for more virtual exploration.

Rachel & Siya Kolisi, Executive Producers of the Short film #WeAreDyingHere


Springbok rugby captain and global ambassador for the United Nations Spotlight Initiative, Siya Kolisi together with his wife Rachel Kolisi are the Executive Producers of a new short film entitled #WeAreDyingHere.

“One of the most beautiful results of this film is that it causes people to stop, think and more so encourages men and women to have conversations. Like the title, it gets straight to the point” explained Rachel. “There are many things that need to be unpacked in this film, and there is a lot that can be explained” Siya added. “The narrative of the film also teaches you that Gender-Based Violence doesn’t start with the violence, but the whole thought process; the film encompasses a lot of educational learnings for us as men.”

Produced by Bianca Schmitz of Optical Films and Siphokazi Jonas of Wrestling Dawn Arts, in association with the Kolisi Foundation, #WeAreDyingHere chronicles the journey of three soldiers forced to survive a war that they did not choose. In this war against women’s bodies, they attempt to find solace by telling their stories under the constant watch of a relentless enemy. #WeAreDyingHere is an intimate reflection on the impact of violence, harassment, abuse, rape and femicide on everyday life. While the film never depicts any violence, the psychological and emotional trauma on these soldiers is evident. It is a necessary insight into the experience of living in South Africa where names of missing or murdered women trend frequently.

#WeAreDyingHere is an adaptation of the critically acclaimed stage performance of the same name created by writer and performer Siphokazi Jonas who directed the original stage production. In July 2020, the stage production was mentioned in TimeOut New York as one of the best productions to stream during the lockdown. This production was co-written and performed by poet Hope Netshivhambe, and musician Babalwa Makwetu, whom all reprise their roles in the film.

“I am tired of feeling helpless and afraid as a woman in South Africa,” Jonas insists. “Before work began on creating #WeAreDyingHere, I felt as if art has no real place in terms of true change in the world; a film is not going to change murderous intent. But a fellow writer reminded me that our work gives us language and helps us to articulate ourselves and that’s what we hope #WeAreDyingHere will elicit.”

Director Shane Vermooten says about the production, “During the initial lockdown in South Africa, I watched a recording of the stage production, and when the performance finished, I sat in my living room with tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t think of anything else for days. I knew we had to do adapt this incredible production for the screen.” He continues, “#WeAreDyingHere is a unique combination of spoken word poetry, theatre and film and this distinctive combination helps deliver a powerful and poignant message in a visually rich way, which I haven’t seen on screen before.”

#WeAreDyingHere will have its global premiere at The Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in February 2021. PAFF is the largest Black History Month event in the US, a nexus for emerging Black voices looking to be seen, felt and heard.

Although the film title is, #WeAreDyingHere, the producers want the film to leave everyone with an overwhelming sense of how much women want to live: to thrive, fearlessly, and as freely as possible.

Left to Right: Siphokazi Jonas, Hope Netshivhambe, Babalwa Makwetu
Left to Right: Siphokazi Jonas, Hope Netshivhambe, Babalwa Makwetu

For more information, behind the scenes and the launch of the official trailer visit our website –

For Press & Media Enquiries contact:

Martin Myers

+27 83 448 4475

About the Kolisi Foundation

The Kolisi Foundation was founded by Siya and Rachel Kolisi in April 2020 with a vision to change narratives of inequality in South Africa, by working alongside others, adding our story to the stories of communities and individuals who are changing the world.

The Kolisi Foundation seeks to support people living in under-resourced communities in South Africa, by providing resources, facilitating capacity-building and horizontal learning exchanges, and mobilizing and advocating for systemic change. The Kolisi Foundation’s mission is shaped around the following three programmatic areas: Food Security, Gender Based Violence, and Education and Sports Development.

About Optical Films

Founded by Producer Bianca Schmitz, Director Shane Vermooten and entrepreneur Marlon Parker, Optical Films tells stories that guide audiences to question their perspectives and the way they relate to the world around them. We are all capable of making an impact in our world and it is Optical Films’ desire that the films we produce become a springboard for audiences to make a difference.

The films Optical Films produce are not only high quality entertainment, but also have a

direct social impact. From seeing a spike in organ donor registrations to putting a football team through high school and shining a light on gender-based violence and human trafficking, entertainment and impact is at the heart of who we are.

About Wrestling Dawn Arts

Wrestling Dawn Arts was founded in 2017 by writer, performer, poet Siphokazi Jonas who is also director of the company. This is a performing arts and creative writing company which focuses on the development of writers and performers in South Africa.

The company offers workshops and training on writing and performance as well as the arts business both for schools as well as emerging and professional artists. Wrestling Dawn Arts also offers production and directing services for stage productions. The company has co-produced plays such as Around the Fire and The Widow at the Artscape Theatre Centre. Wrestling Dawn Arts won Best Project in the Western Cape under the BASA and DAC and NLC Debut programme in 2019.