Author works to bring healing and hope

Westridge-raised Athol Williams, 49, in his library in Century City.

Westridge raised author and founder of the inaugural Cape Flats Book Festival has likened it to planting a tree in the desert.

“The tree is the people in Mitchell’s Plain, of the Cape Flats, creating great works of art of discovering their imagination, hope and beauty,” said Athol Williams, founder of Read to Rise – a literacy non-profit organisation and host of the festival.

Authors, illustrators, publishers and literacy groups will be at West End Primary School, in Merrydale Avenue in Lentegeur, from 9am until 5pm on Saturday August 31 and Sunday September 1. Entry is free.

They will be telling their stories, selling books and sharing their reading experiences in the form of panel discussions and workshops.

As a published author, philanthropist and business lecturer, Mr Williams, born in Lansdowne and now living in Century City, is the first person to earn five Master’s degrees from five global top-ranked universities – MIT Sloan School of Management, London Business School, the University of Oxford, Harvard University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, all of which he said he did in pursuit of excellence and refusing to accept second best.

Most of his work is self-published via his company Theart Press.

He has published numerous poetry antho-
logies since 2009, in 2016 he published his autobiography, Pushing Boulders: Oppressed to Inspired, and this year he published the sixth in the Oaky book series and a book for tweens entitled A Girl Called H.

The series was illustrated by his wife, Taryn Lock, who is also the co-founder and executive director of the organisation.

Mr Williams said writing was his passion and that his work had allowed him to support the organisation, to play different roles in funding and oversight.

Mr Williams said the team had visited every primary school in Mitchell’s Plain to deliver new books and discuss the hopeful story of Oaky, who started out as an acorn and grows into a great oak tree, surviving challenges and meeting friends – with whom pupils could identify.

“Oaky is much bigger than me,” he said, adding that he wrote the book to inspire and encourage children to see themselves in the world and identify their goals.

Commenting on the deployment of the army to the streets of Mitchell’s Plain and other areas affected by gang violence, Mr Williams said: “Cape Town does not have a murder crisis or a violence crisis. Cape Town has a hopelessness crisis”.

When he engaged girls in class, he said, not one of them ever said: “‘I want to be a prostitute’. So, why do girls end up being prostitutes? It is because circumstances are such that it gives them no choice but to go and do that.”

He also has not met a boy who says: “‘When I’m big I’m gonna be a gangster and go kill people.’ No one does that – deal in drugs that destroys lives,” he said.

“It is because we’ve created an environment where they’ve got very little choices. Gangs are about livelihoods. The money a guy makes from his drug dealing, he puts his child through school with, pays for medicine for his mother and puts food on the table. So I think this view of gangs are bad people is wrong. These are people who do bad things,” he said.

“They’ve made some different choices, so we mustn’t absolve them from their responsibility of making their choices but I do feel some people got easier choices than others,” he said.

“We’ve got to address the hopelessness and the healing that is required,” he added.