Sabata-mpho Mokae is a journalist and a writer based in Kimberley, Northern Cape. He works as a sub-editor and feature writer for the Kimberley based publication, Diamond Fields Advertiser. Sabata-mpho is the author of The Story of Sol Plaatje, a biography of the renowned South African linguist, politician, translator and writer, Sol Plaatje. His Setswana novel, Ga ke modisa, won the 2013 Mnet Literary Award in the Film category and African Languages category (Setswana).
Did you always wanted to become a writer?
From an early age I liked reading. I grew up in a village in Taung, North West. There are not many things that young people can do to while away time. My biggest occupation after school was reading my mother’s high school novels.
How did you get interested in writing?
I only thought I could write after reading Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease. The way he had written the story made me want to write too. I started writing short stories after paying attention in languages classes, mainly Setswana and English. I became more interested in how authors put forward their stories, how they created characters and how their characters got themselves in and out of tight corners.
What are some of the challenges you faced to get your book published?
Fortunately when I wanted to get my first book published, which was a Sol Plaatje biography, I was already known as some sort of an authority on the subject (Sol Plaatje) and it was fairly easy for the publishers to take the decision to publish the book.
How much of your work reflect your life?
I think we all write from a certain vantage point. We all have backgrounds that influence how we tell stories. I also think that the only people whose life, in smaller or larger degrees, does not invade in their creative writing are those who don’t write. In my Setswana novel Ga ke modisa (I’m not my brother’s keeper), I tell the story that many South Africans are familiar with – the story of corruption at local government level. One of the main characters is a journalist and I am a journalist too. The character is not a reflection of me, but I thought of myself and other journalists when I created him. But I think I do very well when I create characters whose values I disagree with. I think someone once said ‘we write good novels when we write about the people we hate and we write good biographies when we write about the people we like’. I think it is true.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Good writers are first and foremost relentless readers. One has to read most, if not all the time. Writing also requires discipline. You have to write as often as you can in order to get better at what you are doing.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
You get a lot of respect. I think writers are most possibly a group of people who will never have millions but still have millionaires admiring them.
What are you working on now?
I am finishing my first English novel, which is actually my thesis for the MA in Creative Writing that I am doing with Rhodes University.
If you were to write a book about your life what would the title be?
I’d rather let this one pass because I’ll never write a book about myself. Never.