Alert! Riaad Moosa kills. He kills. The “strictly halaal” comedian-doctor-magician from Heathfield, Cape Town, provided the light relief at the Sunday Times Literary Awards on Saturday evening, and by the end of his second stint had slain everyone in the house.
His performance drew remonstrations from the awards’ keynote speaker, Bankole Omotoso, the Nigerian author, actor and academic who was tasked with remarking on the situation of writers during our proverbial “interesting times”. How could anyone be asked to follow Moosa’s act? he complained.
In the end, though, Omotoso held his own: his speech and impromptu deviations from the text kept us all quite engaged, and the substance of what he had to say, which amounted to a call for vigilance during times when state institutions come under attack, was nothing if not germane. He received as much applause as Moosa.
Here are video clips of the two speakers, plus an extract from Omotoso’s speech:
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Excerpt from Omotoso’s speech
THE ROLE OF THE WRITER IN TROUBLED TIMES
Coming as I do from a country without a state (Nigeria) and living in a state without a country (South Africa) I must have a unique luck for being in the mainland area of Chaoskan, the state and country of chaos players, awon arije nidi ‘daru: those veritable amaphithiphithi, inhabitants of isiphithiphithi.
“During the colonial period the people are called upon to fight against oppression; after national liberation they are called upon to fight against poverty, illiteracy and under-development.” (The Wretched of the Earth)
Between these two periods exists a period of transition, of transformation which was not supposed to have a time term or physical space. But it is a period that has become the place of chaos, the land of permanent transitional justice and of transformational arrangements forever in limbo. This is the land of Chaoskan which is neither a country nor a state. It is a time and a place that is not wished for and if and when it exists must be wished away. It is a place where there are no government services such as education, health and police protection. It is a place of illiteracy, of disease, ignorance, superstition and poverty.
“In 1789, after the bourgeois revolution, the smallest French peasants benefited from the upheaval. But it is a commonplace to observe and to say that in the majority of cases, for ninety-five per cent of the population of under-developed countries, independence brings no immediate change. The enlightened observer takes note of the existence of a kind of masked discontent, like the smoking ashes of a burnt-down house after the fire has been put out, which still threatens to burst into flames again.” (The Wretched of the Earth).
It is in this land where justice has given way to legalese, where the culture of lying has morphed into multicultural explanations and self-deception has become a way of life, Chaoskan is the place where troubled times exist. This is where we must seek to discover the role of the writer.
This short talk presents:
A. Defining Chaoskan in space and time;
B. We visit a few examples of writers and the consequences of their actions – both writing and non-writing in Chaoskan;
C. We attempt to find the foundations and the coming into being of Chaoskan;
D. We look at life and death among chaos players the commanding sometime inhabitants of Chaoskan;
E. And finally we find out how writers can help us to escape from the land of Chaos.
- Complete speech at the Sunday Times (pdf download)