THE LEARNERS at the Legacy Centre with the stories they wrote. Photo: Micheal Luden.

The Writing Competition

BY LESEDI MNISI

Siyafunda, a portfolio that forms part of United Nations Association of South Africa (UNASA), held a writing competition for young learners at the Legacy Centre in Kayamandi. The Legacy Centre is a space where young learners can go and spend time with volunteers from UNASA. At the Legacy Centre, these volunteers help the learners with their lesson plans and also have conversations with them regarding social issues, such as mental health and gender-based violence.

The Writing Competition, as it was called, was held for high school learners “in order to inspire them to do something creative and fun and [practise] their writing skills,” said Sarah James, a third-year LLB student who helped organise the competition and who did a lot of its administration work. James was assisted by Chloe Coetzee, a third-year BA (Law) student, and Micheala Bezer, a second-year LLB student. Coetzee and Bezer advertised the competition and helped the learners with their writing. 

Karla de Bod, a third-year BA (Humanities) student; Sibella Swanepoel, a second-year BA (Law) student; and Lesedi Mnisi, a second-year LLB student, three of Die Matie’s main editorial members, were tasked with the difficult job of choosing the story that would be featured in Die Matie for this edition. 

“It was nice to see how every story was different and to see their imaginations come to life—it creates an excitement for our future writers,” De Bod said about the stories.

In total, 11 stories were entered into the competition.The winner of the Writing Competition is Simanye Plaatjie, a grade eight learner, who wrote a Xhosa folktale about a young girl named Nondwe. Plaatjie’s story can be found below:

“The Magic Fish Bones”

When Nondwe was young, her mother died and her father married another woman. The woman had a daughter named Deliwe who was the same age as Nondwe. Together the stepmother and her daughter set about making the gentle Nondwe’s life a misery. The wicked stepmother had Nondwe doing virtually everything around the home. Whilst the pampered Deliwe played all day and did not lift a finger in work.

Nondwe’s only comfort was the dog that used to belong to her mother and now never left her side. He would lick the tears that fell from her face as she wandered alone in the hills, herding her father’s cattle and her stepmother’s sheep and goats. The cruel stepmother had taken all of Nondwe’s fine clothing and given it to Deliwe so Nondwe only had rags to tie around her scrawny frame as she wandered in the chilly winter winds. Thinner and thinner she grew on the small portions of stale porridge her stepmother left for her. Each day she tightened the cord around her waist as she tried to drive away her pangs of hunger.

One day she was sitting forlornly by a river while her father’s cattle drank. Her faithful dog ignored his own hunger and licked her face to try and comfort her. 

“Why do you cry, my child?” came a voice from nearby. Nondwe was at a loss to see who was speaking to her as she looked around, but her dog looked at the water, cocked his ears and put his head to one side. There was a splash in the river and Nondwe saw ripples in the water. A large silver fish put its head above the water and to her surprise repeated the question, “Why do you cry my child?”

“I cry from weakness that only an empty stomach can bring. At home my dog and I go hungry whilst the rest of my family eat their fill.” she sobbed.

“Wait, that will never do.” said the fish.

The fish disappeared beneath the water and reappeared with all kinds of food for Nondwe and a big juicy fish bone for her dog. They ate the delicious meal and when they had their fill she thanked the fish for his generosity and prepared to take the cattle home.

“One request before you go!” the fish called after her.

“Tell no one I gave you food.”

That evening, when her stepmother handed Nondwe her small portion of stale porridge she thanked her, but said she was too tired to eat and left with her dog to sleep in the warmth of the goat kraal as usual. Each day Nondwe and her dog went to the river and each day the fish gave them both a fine meal to satisfy their hunger. It was not long before Nondwe lost the gaunt and pale look that had resulted from her stepmother’s neglect. Her rounded shape and her beauty returned but her revitalised appearance did not please her stepmother especially as Nondwe continued to refuse the scraps of food that were left for her each evening.

One day she asked Nondwe where she did her thieving.

“I do not steal!” replied Nondwe, but she would not explain why she was no longer hungry each day. This made Deliwe suspicious and one day she followed Nondwe to the watering place and saw the fish appear and give the girl and her dog a scrumptious meal. Deliwe ran home to tell her mother these strange events and the wicked woman made a plan.

“Husband.” said the woman that evening after Nondwe had refused her scraps yet again.

“I feel ill and need a change from the food you provide us with each day. I must have fish. I beg you, go to the river tomorrow and catch me a fat juicy fish.”

Early the next morning, Nondwe and her dog slipped away from the kraal and went to the river to warn the fish.

“Ah,” the fish said sadly.

“Today I must die, but do as I say, when my bones have been picked and cleaned of flesh and bring you peace and thrown away, take them and throw them back into this river.”

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