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“Can the Twain Meet?” Karin Schimke Gives her Take on Thando Mgqolozana’s White Literary System Debate

Bare and BreakingUnimportancePostmortemKarin Schimke has added her voice to the debate on the “white literary system” sparked by Thando Mgqolozana at this year’s Franschhoek Literary Festival.

“It was bound to happen in Franschhoek. For the nine years of its existence, the festival has continued to astonish writers of all races with its ability to remain so solidly, apparently intransigently, white. Look down from a stage, or across the audience from the back of a hall, and what you see is a carpet of greying white people’s hair,” Schimke writes.

She shares her take on the sessions where Mgqolozana voiced his view that the literary system in South Africa is all but transformed, and reports on the context within which it was made. She also reports on Maria Phalime’s (Postmortem: The Doctor Who Walked Away) address to Franschhoek High School on the Thursday before the FLF started as a way to bring the Book Week For Young Readers initiative, run by the FLF, into the conversation.

Read the article, titled “White with anger”, to find out what Schimke says about the current conversation:

On Sunday, Mgqolozana was on another panel, this one run by Eusebius McKaiser and featuring writer Marianne Thamm and psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. Their topic: “Is Anger Underrated?”

It may be underrated, but it is not under-felt. Anger rustled through the room like a restless child and finally erupted when Mgqolozana eloquently and unequivocally restated his intention not to attend literary festivals in future.

Black audience members say they feel uncomfortable, unseen and unheard. White audience members feel affronted by what they perceive to be a rejection of their support of the literary machinery that allows black voices to be heard.

Can the twain meet over the (undoubtedly noble) cause of uniting all people through reading? Or will the strands keep unravelling because of perceptions of the patronising nature of the white literary establishment?

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