As the celebrations and commemorations of women’s month draw to an end, I wish to wax lyrical about Stacey Fru, the brightest and youngest star on South Africa’s literature scene. Predictably the bulk of the reading public may retort, – Stacey who? Stacey Fru is a 13-year-old teen sensation, South Africa’s very own multiple international-award winning child author, activist, philanthropist, edutainer (on the online Children’s Television South Africa (CTVSA), public speaker, and brand ambassador. She was born on the 16th February 2007, as the second child of four siblings, to Dr. Emmanuel Fru (44), a political scientist, and Mrs. Victorine Mbongshu Fru (42), who holds a Master’s degree graduate in Communication Science. Stacey is presently a Grade 8 pupil, at my alma mater Sacred Heart College. Her universal acclaim as a wordsmith has earned her the title of ‘child prodigy’. This prolific young writer has steadily cemented her emergence as a child author with a very bright future. Her five children’s books, Smelly Cats (2015), Bob and the Snake (2016), Smelly Cats on Vacation (2018), Tim’s Answer (2019) and Where is Tammy (2019), underline what a prodigious talent she is. The themes in her books cover a wide range of societal concerns, including culture, illiteracy, religion, respect, love, health, difference, abuse, role models, trafficking, family, friendship, safety and security. Reading Stacey Fru’s books one encounters a narrative skill that is really quite surreal for her age.
Incredibly, the first three of Stacey’s books were authored prior to her 11th birthday. She wrote her first book, Smelly Cats, aged just seven, in 2014, and without her parents being aware. The story of how her parents subsequently battled to publish that first book are eloquently narrated in her TEDx TALK of February 14 2020, ‘Stacey Fru: Living Your Dream’. In summary, those difficulties experienced inspired Stacey Fru’s mum to establish Profounder Publishing. This courageous can-do approach has resulted in all five of Stacey Fru’s books being published without stress from mainstream palookas. Tribulations experienced explain why the first book was published only a year later, when its author was aged eight, on 16th July 2015, and launched at University of Witwatersrand (Wits). The book featured an encouraging foreword from the then Head of College of Stacey Fru’s school, Mr. Collin Northmore. The message of that first book focused on variances ensuing from social and religious beliefs. Smelly Cats made Stacey Fru the youngest winner of the National Development Agency’s (NDA) Early Childhood Development Award, as ‘Best ECD Publication 2015: Special Mention Category’, a prize donated by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Furthermore, Smelly Cats has been approved by South Africa’s Department of Basic Education as a recommended text for pupils, from the early childhood phase up to Primary School level. Stacey’s debut also led to her induction as the ‘Youngest founding member’ of the Wits University Centre for Multilingual Education and literacy, in 2016. Wits Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib penned the foreword for her second book, and for her third book, the Wits Head of School of Literature and Media (SLLM) Professor Dan Ojwang, did the honours.
In Bob and the Snake (2016) the key message centered around friendship. Her third book, Smelly Cats on Vacation (2018), it should be noted, was authored as a sequel to the first book, Smelly Cats. Its message focuses on study habits, rest and respect. Stacey Fru’s fourth and fifth books Tim’s Answer and Where is Tammy? were concurrently published in July 2019. The former deals with the theme of role models, and the latter switches its focus to safety and security. Stacey Fru has already revealed that her next book will be a novel (I speculate she refers to a novella).
As if all these feats are child’s play, so to speak, Stacey stated, in recent interviews, that she has already set a personal target of having written 12 books, by the time she is in Grade 10. Surely we may all agree that this is extraordinary, by any stretch of the imagination, for a teenager. Stacey Fru’s age-defying accolades are listed at staceyfru.co.za – however only a sample will be shared here. They include her selection as the youngest inductee in the ‘Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 influential South Africans’ of 2016; winning the African Child Award for Creative Writing and Social Impact, awarded by the Pan African Leadership and Entrepreneurship Development Centre (PALEDEC) in partnership with the International Human Rights Commission, and hosted in Accra, Ghana in 2019; the Egyptian President El Sisi’s acknowledgement of Stacey Fru as the ‘Youngest Promising and Most Inspiring Arab African Youth’, at the World Youth Forum’s Arab and Youth Summit, hosted in Aswan, Egypt in 2019; recipient of The Global Child Prodigy Award, received in the category of writing, hosted in New Delhi, India in 2019; appointed as custodian of the annual AfriCAN Children of the Year Awards (partnering with UNICEF to celebrate World Children’s Day, every first Saturday of November) and being selected as an ‘Ambassador of the Youth Café (to champion ‘Youth Empowerment in Africa’) in 2020. Mindful of Stacey Fru’s local and global accolades, I have noticed with disappointment the conspicuous absence of any award from her school, Sacred Heart College. Such a grave omission suggests that the school has an archaic criteria, which fails to recognise a prodigy in plain sight. Stacey Fru’s accomplishments must surely compel the school to rectify this oversight.
Stacey Fru certainly seems poised to follow in the footsteps of many of her iconic predecessors, including doyens such as Nontsizi Mgqwetho, Noni Jabavu, Bessie Head, Miriam Tlali, Ellen Kuzwayo, Gcina Mhlophe and Sindiwe Magona. The latter two have undoubtedly noted with pride the blossoming of this young writer. Indeed, they will retire knowing that their largely under-celebrated consistency, in upholding the rich storytelling tradition of our nation, will continue to thrive in time to come. Stacey Fru is an important advocate in educating the young about the dangers of illiteracy, and the need to confront all kinds of prejudice manifesting in our 21st Century world. This young author is a trailblazer, and must be celebrated. MALIBONGWE!