“What brings us here tonight,” said Sindiwe Magona, the multi-talented author who interviewed the poet, “is a book whose title made me stop. Have you seen the book? Did you look at the title? It made me stop. Can you tell us, what part of speech is ‘quite’ in ‘quite footsteps’?”
“I actually phoned the publisher because I thought you’d made a mistake. But it’s ‘helluva’ footsteps indeed. That’s the title, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s not a mistake!”
Magona said that in the African tradition, you name a child with deliberation “and a book is like a child that comes from your being, emerges from your pores. What made you think – of all the possibilities – it should be this?”
Serote said that the book was written between 2005 and 2007. “At the time there were major changes happening in our country. You’d been used to this great country that was contributing to forward movement in the world, politically and in other ways. We had our icon, Nelson Mandela, we were going through a time when there were bounds of possibilities. Quiet footsteps was a moment where we could stop and reassess what was happening. It’s a book, which hopefully will encourage deep discussion.”
Magona read from the preface: “In broad daylight, we, we will have to examine ourselves, even as we know that some among us will bark at us like mad dogs…”. She wanted to know who the “we” and “some among us” were being referred to.
Serote said the wealth and richness of South Africa rests on the fact of its diversity. “In every aspect – religion, race, language, culture, gender. Sometimes we are able to make that diversity be cohesive. Like right now, we all carry flags and sing anthems. At other times we polarise and bark at each other. There are moments when we disintegrate.”
In a discussion that was critical of the “schizophrenic religion” of Archbishop Tutu, the disrespect of Zapiro to the highest office of the land, and of the media’s treatment of former minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, Serote and Magona held the audience’s attention fast. A series of vital questions were articulated: “Are we seriously, as a people, working towards democracy? Is this diversity seriously working towards non-racialism or not? Is this diversity working towards non-sexism?”
The poet said this book aims to address a multitude of issues pertaining to religion, crime, the political situation and more. “We’ve entered a turbulent space that could result in total regression of what we’ve achieved. It could easily also result in qualitative leaps forward. I thought, Let me be responsible and give my view.”
Serote hopes that Quite Footsteps will address the spiritual malaise and intellectual crisis afflicting the nation – and be a part of its re-awakening. Magona said, “This is a brave book and I’m glad that somebody like you wrote it.”
- Quite Footsteps by Mongane Wally Serote
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