Max du Preez gave a witty, self-deprecating and inspiring acceptance speech upon winning the 2014 Alan Paton Award on Saturday night.
Du Preez, who was described by MC Nik Rabinowitz as a “national treasure”, won the award for A Rumour of Spring, beating Vusi Pikoli and Mandy Wiener (My Second Initiation: The Memoir of Vusi Pikoli), Karel Schoeman (Portrait of a Slave Society: The Cape of Good Hope 1717 – 1795), Elizabeth van Heyningen (The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War: A Social History) and Shaun Viljoen (Richard Rive: a Partial Biography).
After thanking Sunday Times and the judges and sponsors Exclusive Books, Du Preez joked that the only reason he attended the awards was because he was hoping to meet one of his “all-time heroes”, Karel Schoeman, adding that the award “really should have gone to” the reclusive writer.
Du Preez also spoke about the positive reaction he has had from people about A Rumour of Spring, saying that it indicated that “this nation is strong”.
“Freedom is written in the hearts of the people here,” he said, adding that he hopes he made it clear in the book that South Africans “are bigger, as a nation, than the government of the day and the politicians”.
Read the full speech:
I have to be very honest, but let me just say thank you very much to Sunday Times and the judges and Exclusive Books. This is special, and I can use the money to do the research on my next book, which is due out at the end of the year, so thank you very much.
I’m very cynical about these literary prizes. I very rarely agree with the decisions made, and I certainly disagree with tonight’s decision. People who know me would tell you that I don’t do lots of people, I don’t feel comfortable when I’m surrounded by a lot of people. I only came tonight because I thought I was going to meet Karel Schoeman. And then he didn’t come! Which has kind of destroyed my night. But Karel Schoeman is one of my all-time heroes. He’s influenced my thinking, I envy his knowledge and his commitment. This really should have gone to him. He’s a spectacular guy. I’m sorry to miss him once again. He doesn’t return my phonecalls or my emails. For 25 years.
I was also reminded, when Claire [Robertson] spoke and Barry [Ronge] spoke, that I also once worked for the Sunday Times. In fact, 30 years ago, I was the political correspondent for the Sunday Times, and I worked under Tertius Myburgh, who was entertaining company, but, and that brings it back to my book, because that’s really what my book was about. I had the privilege of sitting in the front row, watching the drama of South Africa, from 1975 to now, to witness events. And I remember Tertius Myburgh, and the battles I had with him, and then dark days of the mid-80s late-80s, and then I look at Phylicia Oppelt, who is the editor of the Sunday Times today, and that to me is the story of South Africa, and it’s a beautiful story, and I try to tell that story in my book; looking back at 20 years but also looking at where we are now and where we are going forward to.
I was particularly pleased that the book sold very well, not only because I really needed the royalties. The kind of feedback that the simple message of that book has got is that we can moan and bitch as much as we like, we can blame Jacob Zuma or whoever as much as we like, but at the core of it, this nation is strong. Freedom is written in the hearts of the people here. This is an open society.
I believe that Clem Sunter [author of 21st Century Megatrends: Perspectives from a Fox] is very angry with me. I do respect him as a person but this nonsense about South Africa becoming a failing society or a failed society. I hope I explained convincingly in my book – and I think I have, listening to the reaction of people – that we are bigger, as a nation, than the government of the day and the politicians.
I would just like to also say I think part of the explanation for the good sales of my book was a really good cover. And the cover of my book was designed by my wife. So thank you to Angela Tuck, my wife, who designed this and some of my other book covers and also for her patience. She is always my first editor.