KHETHIWE ZULU, in her book South African History Retold, tells the stories of the often-forgotten struggle heroes who gave their lives for the liberation of generations to come. As she points out, “Sadly, many of them are more familiar for the streets and buildings that carry their names, than the contribution they’ve made to our history.”
Khethiwe’s first book was a natural progression from her business career. After an Honours Degree in English from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Khethiwe flexed her writing skills in the business world, with a career in marketing in retail shopping centres before founding her own marketing agency, Creative Boss.
Business communications was a perfect outlet for her skills, but her passion for reading and writing became a drive to impart these to previously disadvantaged children. And when she realised how many ordinary people were unaware of their rich history, her dream of writing a book became a reality. She turned the book into the first South African history boardgame called “Did you really know?”
TURNING A PASSION INTO A BUSINESS
Khethiwe explains the challenge of writing South African History Retold was not in the research or the writing. The biggest challenge was doing everything herself. Unlike the corporate environment where there’s a team, she didn’t just take on the research and the writing. She did it all - even the marketing. “I think I’d have found it a whole lot easier to sit quietly and focus on the writing,” she laughs, “but when you have a new project you usually have to do it all and that’s true in starting a business too.
After completing her first book, Khethiwe knew that it would be so much easier for children to read her stories in their own language, and determined to reach the widest audience possible, she translated her book into isiZulu. In 2020, Khethiwe wrote her second book: South African History Retold; A Beginner’s Guide to Women in the Liberation Struggle, honouring the many South African women who fought bravely for our freedom. “Women played a major role in our history, and we need to honour them for their contribution.”
“My specialities were always writing, editing and content development,” says Khethiwe. So, it’s unsurprising that she developed her books into an interactive format. Spotting another opportunity to reach her market, she created a board game based on her books. Aimed at children, Did you Know turns history into a popular and accessible game, making history memorable in the most relatable way, and building on her dream to make history relevant even to young children.
Khethiwe has a six-year-old daughter. “I wanted her to learn that no matter how ordinary you think you are, you can change the world.” She points out that the men and women she writes about didn’t see themselves as extraordinary. “But they had a meaningful goal and that’s why they were able to create a better future for our children.”
Any major project presents challenges, and writing books is no different. Khethiwe was supported by the people around her; friends, neighbours and ordinary parents of the children she wanted to read her stories. The more she talked about her first book, the more she realised there was a market for it, and that the very people she was writing for were hungry for the stories she wanted to tell.
“I know that it’s important to educate people, and especially children, on our history and my commitment to this goal helped me persevere when things got tough.”
CONSISTENCY BREEDS ACHIEVEMENT
“My advice to anybody, whether in business or working towards a different goal, is that you need to be committed, persistent and consistent. Achievement comes from consistency. Do the mundane, daily, sometimes boring tasks consistently in order to reap the rewards and the excitement that comes with success.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Keen to share her knowledge and bring accurate information to a new generation, Khethiwe says “You can’t rely on Twitter Speak for nuanced answers about complex information!” When it comes to topics like history or our constitutional democracy, you need a reliable source of information. The trick to engaging people, and children in particular, is breaking complex material down into small chunks that are easy to understand and digest.
And she aims to provide it. Right now, Khethiwe is working on her new book about our constitution and how government and democracy works in South Africa, Khethiwe’s priority is her young daughter, and her passion lies in spending most of her free time writing indigenous fairy tales for her. Her career gives her flexibility to spend a lot of time with her daughter, cooking and going for walks. Khethiwe is also a keen tennis player and, unsurprisingly, an avid reader.
You need to know yourself before you can believe in yourself. And to know yourself you have to go back to the beginning, so don’t ignore your history, or the history of our country.