Twenty in 20: The Best Short Stories of South Africa’s 20 Years of Democracy was launched at the start of National Book Week.
The launch was attended by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture Rejoice Mabudafhasi, South African Book Development Council CEO Elitha van der Sandt, and SABDC chairperson Jane Molony, as well as Twenty in 20 judges Mandla Langa and Karabo Kgoleng.
The Twenty in 20 project, a collaboration between Books LIVE, the Department of Arts and Culture and Short Story Day Africa, kicked off in May, when we made a call for submissions of the finest short stories written in South Africa, in English, since 1994.
After over 200 submissions, judges Langa (chair), Kgoleng, Mtutuzeli Matshoba and Fiona Snyckers chose a longlist of 50, and then a final list of 20 short stories, which have now been collected into an anthology that will provide pleasure for generations to come and serve as a long-standing reference for South African literary posterity. From Chris van Wyk’s 1995 miniature masterpiece, “Relatives”, to Makhosazana Xaba‘s extraordinary 2013 tale of betrayal, “Running”, we hope you enjoy the fruits of the Twenty in 20 project, a Twenty Years of Freedom initiative.
- Read: Announcing the Twenty in 20 Project: Finding South Africa’s Best Short Stories of the Past Twenty Years
Langa said the collection represented “what it means to be South African, what it means to be creative, what it means to take that journey that South Africa has taken for the past 20 years”.
“When we started on this exercise of looking through the short stories we wanted, as South Africans, to do things right,” Langa said. “To come up with the short stories that best represent the spirit of the 20 years of our democracy.
“We believed in the issue, in the principle, that literature comes from the Latin word ‘literatura’, which means letters, which means we were looking for letters that best help us understand ourselves as South Africans and also material that goes to the spirit of writing, which is being able to imagine to ‘the other’, being able to see the world through the eyes of ‘the other’. And we believe that the empathy that comes out of that is what really brings about peace in any community.”
The Twenty in 20 Continues South Africa’s Great Tradition of Short Story Writing
Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture Rejoice Mabudafhasi said she was “delighted” to launch the Twenty in 20 anthology, as it continues a great tradition of short story writing in South Africa.
“In July it was with sadness that we learnt of the passing of the South African literary giant and Nobel Laureate in Literature Nadine Gordimer. She was a renowned anti-apartheid critic and cultural activist who, from a young age, showed principled commitment in an artistic freedom of expression and the ideal of a non-racial and democratic society. Her contribution to the national literary treasury is immeasurable and not even her death can erase it.
“Gordimer saw her fiction as part of the struggle against apartheid; to document the havoc that institutional lies, prejudice and discrimination wrought on private lives.
“But South Africa has a rich tradition of short story writing, with not only Nadine, but also Bloke Modisane, Casey Motsisi, Can Themba, Bessie Head, Es’kia Mphahlele, Njabulo Ndebele, Mbulelo Mzamane and many, many other notable literary voices.
“With this inspirational earlier generation we encourage younger generations to continue with this great tradition while confronting present day challenges.”
Only 6% of Books in South Africa are Published in Indigenous Languages
Mabudafhasi added, however, that South Africa has a long way to go to promote a “culture of reading”, and that the writing community has a responsibility to contribute to its growth.
“In the general sector in South Africa, 49 percent of the books published are in English. 45 percent in Afrikaans. The remaining six percent is shared among the nine indigenous languages,” Mabudafhasi said. “This deep imbalance manifests itself in many ways including economic beneficiation. So we still have a great task ahead of us.
“The writing fraternity has the responsibility to add meaningful value in our endeavour to address the lack of a culture of reading and contribute towards the attainment of a broader imperative of developing a caring society. A thriving literary landscape and a widespread culture of reading can serve as a catalyst for the creation of a prosperous society.
“In the South African context, where our emphasis must be placed on economic growth and development and the creation of sustainable jobs, we need to recognise that the prerequisite for entrepreneurship, inventiveness and innovation is the basic skills of reading and writing.
“Out of reading and writing we also develop our analytical capacity, so that we can address even more complex matters and problems that affect our people and ourselves.
“Reading statistics suggest that only 14 percent of the South African population are active book readers and a mere five percent of parents read to their children. National Book Week is an important initiative to encourage people to value reading as a fun activity and to showcase how reading can be incorporated into one’s everyday lifestyle.
“In the words of our late president Tata Nelson Mandela: ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.’”
Mthethwa: Nat Nakasa Emphasised Shared Nationhood Through Writing
Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa said it is vital for South Africa to “write, tell and read our own stories”.
“National Book Week marks the beginning of Heritage Month in South Africa. This is no accident, as books are an integral part of telling our own stories, celebrating our heroes, and moving our society forward. One of the African proverbs puts it eloquently: ‘Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’
“As we celebrate 20 years of democracy this year, we must write, tell and read our own stories. The importance of books as sources of knowledge and information makes reading a vital ingredient of developing society. The challenge is for South African writers to use their pen to define our identity, tell South African stories and empower communities.”
Mthethwa referred to the speech made by Nat Nakasa, in his address to the English Academy of South Africa in 1963, before he was forced to leave for Harvard University forever on a one-way exit permit.
“The late iconic journalist and editor Nat Nakasa said: ‘It is the general idea of a shared nationhood, the idea of a common experience, which I want to focus attention upon. I believe it is important for our writers to illuminate all aspects of our life from a central point in the social structure. That is, whatever their colour or views may be, they must accept their presence in the country as members of one community, the South African community. After that they can choose to be what they wish. Without this view of life, the writer will continue to lack closeness to his subject, his work will suffer from the inadequacy of his own insight into the human situations he handles.’
“Ours is a period when few writers can claim to be relevant without clearly defining their role and using their talent to help us find our true identity and where we are going as a nation. As custodians of our nation’s heritage, it is the responsibility of the Department of Arts and Culture to promote the culture of reading and writing, develop a sustainable book publishing industry that encourage the development of all South African languages, and resurrect the memory of our unsung heroes like the legendary Nakasa.”
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