Singers and poets, literary luminaries and culture vultures gathered in their finery at a feast to end all feasts last night.
The annual banquet celebrating the South African Literary Awards (SALA) was a splash of colour, with traditional beads and gowns and the bling of high fashion sequins. Music and mime, delicious decor and wine – there was something for everyone from the littlest girl to the grand-dames of literature.
The evening commenced with tributes to those who have gone to their rest. Raks Seakhoa of wRite associates called for a moment of silence to remember Miriam Makeba, Es’kia Mphahlele, Bheki Sibeko, N. Motlana, and Noni Jabavu.
Thereafter, actor Sello Maake ka Ncube ably kept proceedings on track in his role as emcee, introducing speakers and engaging the audience with his witty patter and charming presence.
The poet laureate of South Africa, Prof Willie Keorapetse Kgositsile, recited a poem about the impossibility of unscrambling an omelette which expressed, amongst other things, his distress at xenophobia.
The Minister of Arts and Culture, Pallo Jordan, spoke about Noni Jabavu and Es’kia Mphahlele, two contemporaries who passed away within months of each other. Where Noni Jabavu came from the intelligentsia and relative affluence, Mpahlele came from working class origins. They both left South Africa and returned under controversial circumstances.
Both writers wrestled with themes of African modernity and worked out their respective intelligent responses to the challenges they faced in forging their identities.
He said, “Literacy is a vital, empowering capacity for the individual and society in the 21st Century. Developing literacy and literary awareness is a top priority of the Department of Arts and Culture because illiteracy render people powerless.”
The three posthumous awards for literary achievements went to AHM Scholtz, Sheila Cussons and Dora Taylor. These were received by Elizabeth Scholtz, Amanda Botha and Sheila Belshaw respectively.
Literary Life Time Achievement awards were presented to Luli Callinicos, Patrick Cullinan (received on his behalf by Gus Ferguson), Wilma Stockenström, Daniel Modise and WMR Sigwavhulimu. Riana Barnard accepted awards on behalf of Adam Small and Elsa Joubert and Nomsa Mwamuka accepted an award on behalf of Zenzile Miriam Makeba.
The K. Sello Duiker Award went to Njabulo Ndebele who sent his apologies via his son Makhaola Ndebele, who read his father’s words to the delighted audience.
Neither the award for excellence in literary journalism nor the Nadine Gordimer short story award were made but the latest award to be issued by the Minister is for excellence in literary translation. Nominees Michiel Heyns and Elsa Silke were pipped to the prize by a radiant Chris van Wyk, who acknowledged his great surprise, nine years after the translation of Vatmaar.