Retelling African Stories in The Keeper of the Kumm

In the face of annihilation and total erasure, when the high-water mark of an entire people is suddenly visible, what does one do? Basil Appollis sits down with Sylvia Vollenhoven to discuss her attempt to rearticulate the earliest of South African stories and, in doing so, invites us to rearticulate our own stories and identities.


‘A Kumm is not just a story, it is almost like a concept. Anything that is told and retold. Things that live on.’

As a journalist, filmmaker and author, Sylvia Vollenhoven spent a considerable portion of her life telling stories. Her book The Keeper of the Kumm was shortlisted for the City Press inaugural non-fiction award, something which Vollenhoven feels indicates that ‘Africans are keen to hear African stories.’

In The Keeper of the Kumm Vollenhoven interweaves her own story with that of a distant relative, //Kabbo, a respected Khoisan storyteller. In doing so, Vollenhoven explores the need for an active historical memory and the troublesome identities available to those in a racialised and misogynistic society. It is in the telling of our collective stories, as well as the retelling of our own personal ones, that Vollenhoven sees the potential for individual liberation.

As recounted by an audience member from the writing of Milan Kundera, and echoed in Vollenhoven’s work, ‘the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory over forgetfulness.’

The Keeper of the Kumm, written by Sylvia Vollenhoven and directed by Basil Appollis, will be performed tonight, 8pm, at Graeme College.

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