Growing up in Thaba ‘Nchu, Charmaine Mrwebi surrounded herself with literature that allowed her to travel the world but she yearned to find books written in Setswana, her mother tongue, about her own experiences. After school, Mrwebi moved to Bloemfontein to work at the town’s public library, where she became fascinated by the work of South African Authors. She became highly influenced by Call Me Woman, by Ellen Kuzwayo.
“When I published my first book, I thought book stores and distributors would jump to stock it. When that did not happen, I needed to create a platform to distribute my book so I created Charmza which has many rooms which include publishing, storytelling school visits, poetry workshops and working with the Performing Arts Council of the Free State” she explained.
Mrwebi uses her monthly school visits to identify young writers to mentor, to encourage them and let them know they are not working in isolation. Once they have been identified she donates books to these writers after they have formed their book clubs, poetry groups and reading clubs”. She says that these visits bring her the greatest joy, especially if she gets to tell stories in her mother tongue.
She published Mantlwane… Ga re Tshamekeng (Mantlwane Let Us Play) based on a game she played as a child. “Mantlwane was a game I played as a child. It helps to build your imagination, it moulded who I am today. Children have so many distractions today that we are losing that ability to build whole worlds”.
“I love that the children can get to teach me new songs. Or tell me a story their grandmothers told them. The more books we read together or stories we tell the more they open up and feel safe sharing their experiences” she added.
Mrwebi struggled to receive backing in the publishing industry and decided to raise her own funds to publish her books. Over the years she has self-published four books in her mother tongue.
According to Mrwebi “Writers think and dream in their mother tongue and something is lost when it is translated”.
She is empowering communities to be able to tell their stories in their own language. They also teach adults how to write, edit and publish books in their language. The self-made Author from Free State has become a role model for black women in the publishing profession by breaking through barriers.