The Eswatini author Ntsika Kota has won the 2022 Comonwealth Short Story Prize (Africa region) for his short story “and the earth drank deep” described by the judges as “a universal story…that reaches across cultures and generations.” Kota is in fine company with this win, as he joins the likes of Remy Ngamije, Innocent Ilo, and Akwaeke Emezi who won the Africa regional prize in the past.
Kota is 29 years old. He was born in Mbabane, Eswatini (formerly named Swaziland). A chemist by training, he is a self-taught writer. His win is history making on two fronts. He is the first writer from eSwatini to be shortlisted for the prize and the first to win the prize. He rose to the top among a stellar group of finalists that includes the Nigerian authors Dera Duru and Franklyn Usouwa, Ugandan author Charlie Muhumuza, and Mubanga Kalimamukwento from Zambia.
As a self-taught writer with a non-literary background, Kota’s journey is truly inspiring. It shows the power of pursuing one’s passion no matter how unlikely it might appear to others. His win is also significant for the ways it brings global attention to Eswatini literature.
“and the death drank deep” is a folkloric narrative set in a hunter-gatherer community and “centers around a group of villagers as they confront threats from wild animals, possible disease, and unexpected death.” Kota reveals that though the hunter-gatherer society depicted in the story is imaginary, some aspects of the social hierarchy of the village were loosely based on Nguni culture from Southern Africa.
The Rwandan publisher Louise Umutoni-Bower, who served as a judge, praised the story for its universal relevance and moving narration:
‘‘and the earth drank deep’ is a universal story, one that reaches across cultures and generations. A story that uses African folktale in a way that remains true to form but is also accessible. It is a reminder of a time when storytelling had a prized place in social gatherings. I was personally transported back to the floor by my mother’s feet where I quietly listened to tales of Rwandan folk heroes and villains. The judges felt that in this story we could see ourselves and what it means to be human. The willingness of the writer to put ‘evil’ on display without interrogation or judgement was commended.
Kota expressed surprise at winning. “Being shortlisted was a shock of its own,”he remarks, “but winning the regional prize as a rank amateur honestly strains the bounds of credulity.” He is grateful for the visibility that winning such a prestigious prize will bring to his work. He will receive a cash award of £2,500, and his winning story will be published in Granta.
Winners from the other regions are “The Last Diver on Earth” by Sofia Mariah Ma (Asia), “A Hat for Lemer” by Cecil Browne (Canada and Europe), “Bridge over the Yallahs River” by Diana McCaulay (Caribbean), and “The Nightwatch” by Mary Rokonadravu (Pacific).
Kota and the other regional winners are now competing for overall winner. This year, the winner will be announced at an online ceremony at 1pm on 21 June. The event is part of the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Kigali, Rwanda.
Congratulations to Ntsika Kota!
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