Giving heroism a new face with a South African identity



Growing up, Bontle Senne immersed herself in fantastical spaces. Pop culture’s classic supernatural stories told tales of adventure that stirred her imagination, providing an escape into worlds without bounds. Mundane problems of the everyday were displaced by the exploits of characters whose ambition and daring shifted the course of history. But through all of this, the lack of black heroes in the stories prevented her from fully identifying with them. Now an author and advocate for literacy, she is reshaping the genre by releasing a trilogy of otherworldly Afrocentric children’s books. “I’m giving heroism a new face,” she says.

Set in Johannesburg and its surrounds, Shadow Chasers tells the story of a young black girl and boy who travel through a magical world in search of family history. So far two of the three books are out, with the final segment anxiously anticipated by fans. As the global movie scene becomes ever more hooked on fantasy, the push to promote black heroes is gaining traction. African fans of the genre in particular are itching to see the first solo film of the continent’s fictional hero Black Panther. And as this movement sweeps the planet, Senne sets out to introduce a South African perspective.

Through her trilogy, Senne hopes to inspire young black women. “I like the idea of a black girl also kicking butt and breaking down the gender stereotype,” she says. It is important for young people to see heroes who look like them in mainstream media, role-models who represent their gender and background. Given African culture’s rich history of myth and magic, Senne finds it startling that the fantasy genre is yet to fully express itself in South African literature. Her fantastical new trilogy is opening up a whole new world of possibilities for her country’s children to explore, encouraging them to stimulate the source code of dreams – their imaginations.