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South Africans Need to Be Uncomfortable – Alan Paton Award Winner Jacob Dlamini “Echoes Antjie Krog” in His Acceptance Speech

Jacob Dlamini

AskariJacob Dlamini was announced as the winner of the 2015 Alan Paton Award on Saturday night, for his book Askari: A story of collaboration and betrayal in the anti-apartheid struggle, and took the opportunity to stress that South Africans should “notice the kak” that exists around them in their country.

The Alan Paton Award, in its 26th year, recognises books that demonstrate “the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power; compassion, elegance of writing, and intellectual and moral integrity”. It is awarded concurrently with the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, which went to Damon Galgut for Arctic Summer. Both winners receive R100 000.

The judges called Askari “a considered examination of South Africa after 20 years of democracy”, and an “exceptionally brave, groundbreaking book, learned without being ponderous, with an insistent moral compass”.

Jonny Steinberg received an honourable mention from the judges for his book, A Man of Good Hope.

Read Dlamini’s acceptance speech, in which he responds in part to keynote speaker Antjie Krog’s comments:

Jacob Dlamini

A few days ago a friend asked if he should pray for me. And I said, well, I don’t know, if you’re so inclined, maybe, but it’s such a strong list, that whoever wins this evening, will have deserved the prize. So I’m honoured to have been among the people shortlisted for this prize. It’s been a remarkable year for non-fiction in South Africa.

I just want to echo what Antjie said. I’ve been away from South Africa for 12 years now, but I come home quite often, and I know that I’ve been back home for too long when I stop noticing the beggars on the street. That’s when I know that I’ve been back home too long. When I come back and it still registers, that there’s something going on in this country, that it’s not right, I know that I’m trying to see this place with fresh eyes.

There’s something about this place that deadens the soul. That deadens the imagination. And of course, as you can see from the quality of the work on display here today, there are many of us who try valiantly to challenge that.

But I want to echo Antjie: I want you to be uncomfortable. There’s nothing about this country that should make us comfortable. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We need to be uncomfortable. You know that you’ve been here too long when you are comfortable. When you don’t notice the kak around you.

So with that I just want to say thank you. Thank you to Jacana, you’ve been amazing. I’m overwhelmed.

View some photos from the event:


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