The reactions to Thando Mgqolozana’s statement at the Franschhoek Literary Festival this year that he is quitting South Africa’s “white literary system” continue to roll in, and an optimistic observer would perhaps perceive an increase in nuance in the discussion.
SLiPNet project co-ordinator and Stellenbosch University academic Wamuwi Mbao, who was in the audience for the now-infamous “Is Anger Underrated” session, has written a reflective piece entitled “Behaving Badly: On Anger and Literary Festivals”.
Mbao believes that “over the course of a week [Mgqolozana] systematically dismantled the illusion of stability underpinning the fragile thing we call South African literature”, but also points to the inability of “the old forms” – such as exclusive literary festivals – to transform.
One of the more peculiar legacies of South Africa’s transition to democracy is a society in which we have been led to believe that anger is a limiting medium of expression. We tend to think that it is unjustifiable, that it is unproductive and that it is a sign of failed communication. But to think in this way is to miss how certain forms of anger form critical interventions to the status quo.
Thando Mgqolozana’s remarks leading up to, during and after this year’s Franschhoek Literary Festival are an example of this sort of intervention. His utterances have re-ignited debates around the politics of South African literatures in our current moment, and the perverse dynamics of social interactions in a society riven with inequality.
Fiona Snyckers, author of Team Trinity and Trinity On Air, echoes the assertion made by Marianne Thamm during the “Is Anger Underrated” event that imagining the conversation as a gender debate rather than a racial one provides some illumination. Because of this, Snyckers says she has nothing to add: “I am listening and I am learning.”
If this were an issue affecting women, I would expect men to keep themselves in the background, offering support and little else. I would certainly not expect them to wrestle the mic away from the woman speakers and start mansplaining the issues to the women in the audience. I would especially not expect them to tell women that they are “overreacting” or “grandstanding”, or that the discrimination they experience is “all in their heads”. These are all accusations I have seen levelled against Mgqolozana in recent days.
Similarly, I would rather chop off my typing fingers than start whitesplaining the local literary scene to black authors. This movement Mgqolozana has started does not need my approval, my sanction, my acknowledgement, or my participation. I am not a protagonist in this story. At best, I have a non-speaking, walk-on part that requires me to shut up and listen.
So why am I breaking my silence? Perhaps because it seemed too easy an option to remain quiet — the lazy way out.
Author Michiel Heyns threw his hat into the ring in an exasperated comment on a piece by Liam Kruger for SLiPNet, focusing on the visible inequality and the expense of Franschhoek.
Read Heyns’ comment:
Ah well, here we have that annual debunking-the-FLF piece again, largely indistinguishable from its predecessors, once again homing in on the indisputable fact that Franschhoek is an expensive and twee little town — in this respect indistinguishable from thousands of such towns all over the world. But Franschhoek (unlike all those other little towns?) ‘requires an ongoing process of wilful obscurantism’, because, yes, it is set in the midst of misery and squalor. This is distressing, and makes the inequalities dividing our country more conspicuous than they may seem, say, in Johannesburg, where Sandton City is at least out of sight of Soweto, and where in fact the beneficiaries of the inequality are much less blindingly of the same colour. But that fact, that at the FLF one is reminded at every turn of the fact that reading is minority pursuit enjoyed, by and large, by the white middle classes, does not seem to me to warrant the conclusion that ‘the Franschhoek Literary Festival is irredeemably disengaged from the lived reality of much of South Africa’ — as witness some of the sessions Liam Kruger attended, and some that he did not attend, which tried exactly to engage with the lived reality of South Africa — in literary terms, of course, as one would reasonably expect at a literary festival. But it would seem, though Kruger doesn’t exactly spell it out — well, he does just about — that the FLF’s crime is that the audiences are overwhelmingly white. And, somehow, those white audiences are to blame for this fact. The logic of this escapes me; but I suppose it runs something like this: white people, unlike black people, can afford the trek to Franschhoek, and can afford to pay R450 for a meal; therefore they should rather stay away, in solidarity with their black compatriots. But the even given that yes, of course, white people are statistically richer than black people, that does not fully account for the uneven demographic at the FLF; to put it bluntly, there are now very many black people who could afford to attend the FLF if they’d wanted to. The Cape Town Jazz Festival, which isn’t cheap, is attended by very many black people. (And by the same token, I know of several white people who felt they couldn’t afford the FLF; I couldn’t have attended more than a single day if I hadn’t been offered accommodation by a friend.) In other words, for well-documented and lamentable historical reasons, black people are not as yet as much into books as some white people (and I stress ‘some’). Why those some white people should be held responsible for this fact Kruger does not make clear. In fact, his article makes little clear, other than the fact that he spent the weekend feeling thoroughly superior to his surroundings. Well, at least he didn’t spend it feeling guilty, like the rest of us.
High Court Judge Dennis Davis takes a tougher line, asking: “Where are the black bourgeoisie?”
Davis, who chaired another controversial FLF session entitled “Just Julius”, with Kenny Kunene, Fiona Forde and Richard Poplak, is quoted in The New York Times as saying: “I think the problem is our inability to construct events that more accurately represent our country. I am seriously doubting Mandela’s narrative of a journey towards reconciliation.”
Read the article, written by Roslyn Sulcas, a culture writer for The New York Times who grew up in Cape Town:
Ms. [Ann] Donald, who was directing the festival for the first time this year, said that the intention was to aim the festival — which has a $135,000 budget (mostly from sponsorship) and a number of international participants — at anyone who loved books. “We work as hard as we can to make the program as diverse as possible,” she said, “but I am very aware of the perceptions.”
She added that there were practical issues affecting attendance, including the lack of public transportation to Franschhoek, and the expense of staying in an international tourist destination. “Is cost the major issue, or is it a content problem?” she asked. “I think the big thing is to listen to the points being raised, then trying to address them.”
Others at the festival took a tougher line. “Where are the black bourgeoisie?” asked Dennis Davis, a high court judge who is white and who moderated the “Just Julius” panel. “I think the problem is our inability to construct events that more accurately represent our country. I am seriously doubting Mandela’s narrative of a journey towards reconciliation.”
Modjaji Books and The Book Lounge would like to invite you to the launch of A Saving Bannister by Wendy Woodward.
Woodward will read from A Saving Bannister, and she will speak about her new collection with Finuala Dowling.
The launch will be on Wednesday, 3 June, at 5:30 PM at The Book Lounge.
Don’t miss it!
Crocker’s narrative of the unique places the friends visit, and the events they experience, is atmospheric and moving. I am sure more than one reader will add Sutherland to their bucket list after his wonderful description of the night sky in that area.
The Last Road Trip is an enjoyable adventure tale with, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a bit of a love story woven into it. It is written in a concise but very eloquent style, which makes this feel-good novel an easy and satisfying read.
As always the National Arts Festival, held annually in Grahamstown, promises to deliver incredible art across all genres, offering festival goers an unforgettable experience.
From Thursday, 2 July to Sunday, 12 July the town will be buzzing as the jam-packed programme takes over venues like the 1820 Settlers Monument, Rhodes University and surrounding school campuses.
The organisers of the festival have taken a bold step this year: Instead of featuring a person as their artist of the year they have opted to celebrate satire as a genre, paying tribute to the hard and often unrewarding job satirists have of making us think about difficult topics.
Pieter-Dirk Uys, Chester Missing, Jeremey Nell, Tjeerd Royaards, and Dario Milo (Zapiro’s lawyer) are but some of the names who will be bringing this art form to the respective festival venues.
Other highlights on the programme include:
- A Voice I Cannot Silence, a play based on the life and work of Alan Paton, author of the incredible Cry, the Beloved Country.
- A startling performance of William Shakespeare’s classic play, The Tragedy of Hamlet.
2015 FEATURED ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Since launching the featured artist programme in 2012, the spotlight has shone on artists whose prolific work has fearlessly contributed in challenging ways to our national discourses about race, class, ethnicity, gender and environment. This year the festival breaks the mould by declaring a genre the 2015 Artist of the Year.
Satire has the ability to contest boundaries. It unravels itself through interactive forms of expression. It is fearless about how it challenges perceptions and traditional positions. Satire is a dynamic mode of creative expression. It is inter-culturally charged. It is most productive when it concentrates on one fundamental issue: social justice!
In the wake of the attack on the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, various debates about satire have reared their heads. Can satire change an opinion or persuade a mind? Are cartoons so dangerous as to pose an ideological threat?
Unlike comedy soirees, satire has the power to punch out philosophical lines that can send out a knockout blow. Unlike pub jokes which can have a solidifying effect that ultimately turns stereotypes into truths, satire can unravel layers of dishonesty to allow the audience to establish their own truths.
At the 2015 National Arts Festival, satire takes a pivotal position ranging from Pieter-Dirk Uys, the diva of South African political satire in the performance arts genre to Chester Missing, the only satirical puppet on the planet to be taken to court and to have won the case against him.
Albert Pretorius, Rob van Vuuren and James Cairns directed by Tara Louise Nottcutt premiere their new work, Three Blind Mice, which has its own biting elements of satire inspired by courtroom dramas that have shocked the nation.
In the Festival’s visual arts programme, Freedom of Expression in Broad Strokes, is a showcase of winning cartoons since 2001 from an international cartoon competition which encourages visitors to think about the complexity of freedom of expression and what it means to them. At the same time, the exhibition aims to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On the Think Fest! Programme, South African award winning cartoonist Jeremey Nell, (Vodacom journalist of the year 2011) and Dutch cartoonist Tjeerd Royaards (2nd prize at Press Cartoon Europe in 2014) will talk about the power of cartoons and satire; and Dario Milo, who has represented Zapiro and the Goodman Gallery in the Spier case, talks on Satire and Parody: The Legal Protections and Restrictions. He will be joined other prominent thinkers, satirists and cartoonists in a rigorous debate on the ethics and principles of freedom of speech and satire.
On the Remix Laboratory programme and also open to all Festival-goers, a Cartoon Competition supported by the city of The Hague in the Netherlands and the international Cartoon Movement will have its South African launch on the Think! Fest programme with support from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Young people will be asked to create cartoon sketches about their ideas and local solutions that can contribute to international peace and justice. The ten best cartoons will be selected by an international jury and will be on display at the Peace Palace in The Hague, from September 21, 2015.
The National Arts Festival recognises that satirists are a pillar of a critical and a free society. Yet today, many are becoming a threatened species! Many stand to lose their jobs as bureaucrats, funders and fundamentalists tighten the pressure valves. Many create their work without ever bowing down to the immense pressures they face. Celebrating the right for free and fair expression as enshrined in the South African constitution, the National Arts Festival is proud to take the bold step of personifying the genre of SATIRE and to announce the art of SATIRE as the 2015 Featured Artist of the Year.
A very difficult read. An uncomfortable story. A real tale of so many men that suffered in silence then and most likely suffer in silence even still. A novel that is potentially the most important account of a soldiers story and how they live with themselves afterwards.
Om ’n nuwe digter te ontdek, is soos om ’n nuwe vriendskap te sluit.
Dis presies hoe ek gevoel het by die lees van Nolens se ’n Digter in Antwerpen – in Afrikaans vertaal deur Daniel Hugo, ’n voorste vertaler van Hollandse en Vlaamse tekste.
Die boek is pragtig uitgegee en Hugo stel ons voor aan een van die beduidendste digters van ons tyd, eweneens bekroon met gesogte erkennings soos die Constantijn Huygens-prys en die Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren.
In Sarah du Pisanie se nuutste liefdesroman, Huweliksklokkies op Jakkalswater, is die karakters opregte mense met goeie waardes en suiwer bedoelings.
Nie almal se (soet) koppie tee nie, maar duidelik ’n wenresep vir Du Pisanie, wat al twee dekades lank ’n gewilde naam onder Afrikaanse romanselesers is.
Sy is veral bekend vir haar stories wat in Namibië afspeel.
We’ve collected the best of the quotes we can remember hearing at the 2015 Franschhoek Literary Festival.
If you recall one that we’ve overlooked – or if you are an author who said something really witty and wants to be acknowledged – share your pearls of wisdom in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.
“What’s the biggest mistake I see in my writing students? That they didn’t choose accountancy.” – Imraan Coovadia
“If you don’t want your mom to see it, don’t put it online.” – Emma Sadleir
“After I submit the book I have some hellish weeks. What have I done? I should have kept this to myself.” – Ivan Vladislavić
“Life doesn’t do what stories do. Life continues. Stories end.” – Christopher Hope
“If we choose not to write African stories we are impoverishing our literature.” – Henrietta Rose-Innes
“I’d like to think my sexuality is one of the least interesting things about me, much like my head of hair.” – John Boyne
“Only now can we start writing about miserable lesbians, as it is no longer necessary to create positive images.” – Sarah Waters
“There’s swagger to Nigerian attitude which is great – see their soccer World Cup confidence. We need more swagger as SA authors.” – Ekow Duker
“I see a lot of sentences that could have been written better in my books. But then I would never publish anything.” – Nthikeng Mohlele
“Non-fiction as a category is like calling all the clothes in your wardrobe ‘non-socks’.” – Hedley Twidle
“Writing is more than a compulsion.” – Masande Ntshanga
“Banging your head against a wall because it’s so nice to stop. Writing is like that.” – Deon Meyer
“Writers do half the job. The reader who picks up the book does the rest.” – Thando Mgqolozana
“Nobody cares what people in Nigeria think about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels. Value is created elsewhere.” – Harry Garuba
“When you’re young you hear people say ‘everybody dies’ and you hear in your head ‘everybody else dies’.” – Darrel Bristow-Bovey
“Many black professionals, including the few who are here, are actually secretly indebted – we’re not genuinely middle class.” – Eusebius McKaiser
“The only way you can be universal is to be sure you are very specifically local.” – Damon Galgut
“Julius Malema is a mixture of Hitler, Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko and many other dictators together.” – Kenny Kunene
“If soup kitchens are there to cleanse guilt and not to restore dignity then there’s a challenge.” – Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
“Once people have been free to express themselves in racist, antisemitic, senile ways … then we can klap them.” – Rehana Rossouw
“All my experiences removed geography from my world.” – Hugh Masekela
- Literary Landscapes: From Modernism to Postcolonialism by Harry Garuba, Ina Grabe, Merry M Pawlowski, Carrol Clarkson, Johan Geertsema
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
Woman Zone has issued an invitation for ordinary people to be part of a book about being a woman in Cape Town. The book will feature 13 stories from a diverse crowd of women living in the city, excerpts from woman writers about the city, an explanation of the Woman’s Walk VoiceMap and a section on the people, potentially you, who made this book possible.
There are three categories of financial sponsorship for this book: a gold sponsor donates R3 000 and gets a bio in the book; a silver sponsor donates R1 000 and gets their name in the book; and a presale book sponsor pays R250.
Payments can be made on Quicket:
Antjie Krog, Finuala Dowling, Gabeba Baderoon, Ingrid Jonker, Liesl Jobson, Malika Ndlovu, Margie Orford, Nadia Davids, Olive Schreiner, Sindiwe Magona, Zoë Wicomb, Zubeida Jaffer and Zukiswa Wanner are among the authors included in the book.
Skoobs and Helco Promotions would like to invite you to the launch of No Lullaby For my Country and other poems by Vusi Mavimbela.
Mavimbela, who was involved in the struggle and is currently South African ambassador to Zimbabwe, will be speaking about his probe into the meaning of life through poetry in this volume.
The launch will be on Tuesday, 2 June, at 6 for 6:30 PM at Skoobs Theatre of Books.
See you there!
- Date: Tuesday, 2 June 2015
- Time: 6 PM for 6:30 PM
- Venue: Skoobs Theatre of Books
1 Montecasino Boulevard
Fourways | Map
- Refreshments: Refreshments will be served
- RSVP: Helen Holyoake, Helco Promotions, firstname.lastname@example.org, 082 452 9488
About the book
No Lullaby For My Country and Other Poems is a modern day odyssey that spans four decades of the poet’s probe into the meaning of life. The scope of the search is world-wide, reflecting the poet’s extensive travels around the world. It is an incisive commentary, praise and critique that does not shy away from tackling conventional beliefs, no matter how conventional they might be. It is the kind of reading that provokes the inner recesses of the mind and hopefully lifts the human spirit.
‘Your poetry is astonishingly powerful. Thank you for reminding me of the need for unpadded truths fearless of pain and free of forgetting.’ Editor’s Comment
Here are two extracts from the poems “Nelson Mandela” and “Pakamile Mankahlana”
Nelson Mandela (2014)
was our Sigmund Freud
who dispatched all of us
to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
to sing the songs of atonement.
We all wept
wept many blood rivers
that shall lie hidden
under the lush greens
that shall forever feed
the hope of our collective dream.
Remember that we all wept
Desmond Tutu wept
the nation wept in broad daylight
tears as hot as molten zinc
a delirious purgatory fomented
in swathes of race and ideology.
Pakamile Mankahlana (2000)
You are the cub
of the same bloodline that
Nqgika and Sandile
bequeathed the shifting frontiers
of the Wars of Resistance
that theatre so epic
and the drama so equally grand.
You took me there
once upon a time
the land of the Xhosas
on the edge of geography
where the umbilical belly
of African Resistance
lies entombed between and beneath
the streams of
the Great Fish and
the Great Kei.
About the author
Vusi Mavimbela was born in the rural town of Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal. He obtained a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from the University of Natal (Durban).
Mavimbela came back into South Africa from exile in 1990 after residing in many countries abroad doing ANC work from 1976. Since his return he has written many feature articles for a number of national (Sunday Times, Sunday Independent, The Star, The Sowetan, Sunday Tribune and other magazines in South Africa) and foreign newspapers.
Vusi Mavimbela was the Political Advisor in the Office of the Deputy President Thabo Mbeki from 1994 – 1999. From 1999 – 2004 he was the Director-General for the National Intelligence Agency. From 2005 until 2009 he served as Non-Executive and Executive Director on a number of company boards. From 2009 -2010 Vusi Mavimbela was the Director-General in the Presidency.
Since 2011 Vusi Mavimbela has held the position as South African Ambassador to Zimbabwe.
His hobbies include reading, writing, playing golf and listening to music.