Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Fortiscue Helepi, the founder and owner of African Flavour Books, an independent bookshop in the Vaal, gave a presentation at the Jacana Media offices in Johannesburg last week as the first in the publisher’s series of talks titled “Continuing the Debate – Decolonising South Africa’s Literary Landscape”.
Bridget Impey, MD of Jacana, opened the discussion with some background, and explained why the publisher wanted to continued the conversation.
“We were in the audience when Thando [Mgqolozana] made that declaration that he was leaving white literary festivals, and it was so goddamn brilliant,” she said. “There was such a good energy, there was such a good connection with all the people that were there. So we thought we had to keep the momentum going. It would be disappointing if we had Franschhoek and then we all went home and forgot about it.
“So we want to look at the practicalities. A lot of what happened at the follow-up event at Wits was people saying, we’ve got a situation – how do we change it?
“There are certain people who think we should go in, Stalin-style, and wipe out Franschhoek in one fell swoop. I’d rather build up new things.”
Forthcoming events include a discussion around the Google Mapping of all the independent booksellers in Johannesburg – including hair salons and street vendors – which is being undertaken by journalist Griffin Shea, and a talk by Mofenyi Malepe – author of the self-published book 283: The Bad Sex Bet, which has now sold almost 5 000 copies. Contact Jacana to find out more.
When asked where he stands on the “literary apartheid” debate, Helepi says the one message he is trying to preach is that black people must not sit back and wait for change.
“There are things that are very important to us, and we cannot sit on the fence and say, ‘people are not doing this for us’, when we don’t invest in it. I took R400 000 of my family’s money, that we saved the last three years, and I invested in this thing. Because it’s very important. I’m very passionate about it. You can’t point if you didn’t try. We need to invest our money. Where are our entrepreneurs?
“We have to ask ourselves what kind of legacy we are going to leave for our kids. We can’t leave that legacy of ‘we are not readers’. That’s not right.”
The story of African Flavour Books
Helepi, a chemical engineer, entrepreneur and author, opened African Flavour Books in February this year, after three years of research.
“It was a very long journey,” he says. “We always wondered why we didn’t have bookshops with African literature. I think most people come to this continent to get to the literature, and they still find American authors and European authors in the front of our bookshops.
“The other thing is that I am staying in the Vaal, and I had to travel every weekend an hour, at least, to come to Joburg, only to get to a bookshop that doesn’t have the books that I want.”
Helepi said he and his wife researched bookshops all over the country, and decided that there were so many authors, such as Zakes Mda, Niq Mhlongo, Zukiswa Wanner, that “this country needs to know about”.
The joys of starting a bookshop
“The nice thing that we found in the Vaal is that everyone wants a bookshop in their mall,” Helepi said. “So we could really negotiate prices. Some people cut their rental by R5 000!”
Helepi said he also wanted the design of his shop to attract any young kids that were walking by: “We wanted them to think it was an ice-cream shop! We wanted beautiful colours. We also have a nice kids’ area to encourage them.”
With the international trend of bookshops closing down, Helepi says a lot of people asked him why he was opening one. “We believe that it’s going to take a long time to get our lesser known authors on Amazon. In South Africa, people are still buying books in bookshops. And everyone is very excited about our bookshop.”
The challenges of starting a bookshop: Authors
Helepi says he always tells authors: “You need to market yourself as if you are self-published.”
He says he believes book events are vital to familiarise people with the work: “Most authors were not particularly excited at first, because our events were not really sponsored by their publisher, so we struggled and we are still trying to get authors to see the value of connecting with people. It’s a very new market and it needs to be encouraged.
“In our area there are a lot of students and they are very interested in the events, and they come. But it’s very difficult to get the authors there. Self-published authors are willing to work with us more, because have invested their own money.
“For us to create demand for the books, authors need to be out their marketing their material. If you don’t do that, your book will just collect dust.”
The challenges of starting a bookshop: Publishers
Helepi says publishers should also do more to market their authors.
“People cannot believe the collection of books that we have,” he says. “But I had to study. It took three years, and I researched on each and every website. Not every customer will have that passion. We need to make information available very, very easily.”
He was also disappointed that publishers always referred him to the distributor instead of handling his queries directly.
“The distributor doesn’t understand my needs; my needs are totally different. I want to see people who are not out there. I’m not trying to look like someone else, I’m not trying to be like Exclusive Books, I want to be totally different. I want someone who published a book in 2001 and it’s sitting there collecting dust – that’s the book I want. I want the material that people don’t know about. People are still trying to sell me Grey. I don’t want Grey. I don’t want it!
“I want to get the point where I have a 100 percent African bookshop. At the moment we are sitting at around 80 percent, to 20 percent international. Because you can’t say ‘no’ to a customer. If a customer says they want Grey, you need to give it to them.”
The challenges of starting a bookshop: Distributors and Booksellers
Helepi says his main frustration was with the distributors, from hard-to-navigate websites with outdated book catalogues, to bad communication, to poor tracking of payments.
“Because I’ve only been operating for four months, I’m working on a cash basis. So if I give you money, I want to get that money back as quickly as possible. When you are an independent bookshop, time is everything. Without cash flow, you will not stay afloat.”
The challenges of starting a bookshop: Readers
“With the market that I’m targeting there is that perception that people do not read,” Helepi said. “But you will find that actually people read.”
However, Helepi says the issue of “book travelling”, where one copy of a book is shared and passed along, is something he is trying to combat – and not chiefly for his own gain.
“What I’m trying to do now, is I’m stressing to everyone that comes into the shop the importance of keeping the copy. Because, yes, you might access it easier now, but in a couple of years later you will not have it. It’s better to make sure you have your own home library and keep all these books so that your kids can access them very easily.
“I want people to understand the value of buying books and keeping them, otherwise publishers don’t think people are reading.”
Helepi says theft is a big problem too, but that he designed to shop to be a big open space, which does help.
A lack of knowledge about local authors is another challenge Helepi faces, and he says he makes a point of taking his customers through the authors, because readers can be intimidated: “sometimes people want to read, but they don’t know where to start”.
He says his mother gave him Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country and a few other volumes, “and from there, I never stopped”.
“Someone needs to introduce you to reading, and we try to do that. We make sure we invest a lot of time in teaching young people about the authors that we have. We recommend books they can relate to, Kopano Matlwa is a good example, and from there they come back for more.
“We don’t want to start everyone on Long Walk to Freedom.
“We try to make sure the budget is in the right place. If you are buying Grey, the money is taken away from buying Kopano Matlwa or someone else.”
Helepi says people are shocked at the books they are able to get at his store, but he always makes sure he has a wide variety to suit all tastes.
“Our customers buy books either because they can relate to them or because they can learn from them. They don’t buy books just for the sake of buying books.”
The bestselling book at African Flavour Books is Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, with Gayton McKenzie’s A Hustler’s Bible coming in second.
Incredibly, Helepi says fiction is the most popular genre. “I think people find it hard to get. We have everything, and people get excited.”
* * * * *
Jennifer Malec tweeted from the event:
* * * * *
» read article
Here are some of the highlights of the 2015 South African Book Fair, taking place in Johannesburg from 31 July to 2 August.
The SABF programme was released last week, and will feature over 100 authors, writers, poets, publishers and playwrights.
We’ve picked out some of the unmissable events from this year’s South African Book Fair:
* * * * *
Friday 10 AM (Brink Room)
Mark Winkler talks about how he broke through the lit barrier and two publishers give their tips and suggestions on how to get published.
* * * * *
Friday 12 PM (Achebe Room)
Why is it important to talk to children in their own language?
In this insightful talk, Elinor Sisulu, NLSA & PUO discuss “Children’s literature publishing in indigenous languages: How do we achieve a quantum leap?” Facilitated by the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation.
* * * * *
Saturday 9:30 AM (Anglo Auditorium)
Goodbye to all that: Decolonising culture and institutions
Thaddeus Metz, Xolela Mangcu, Achille Mbembe & Pumla Gqola, chaired by Salim Vally. In conjunction with the M&G Literary Festival.
* * * * *
Saturday 11:30 AM (Gordimer Room)
The power of family
Leon de Kock discusses the sometimes complicated, sometimes supportive nature of the family with novelists Masande Ntshanga, Craig Higginson, Dominique Botha & Rehana Rossouw.
* * * * *
Saturday 1 PM (Gordimer Room)
Stories from the street
Novelists Ivan Vladislavić, Lauren Beukes & Mokone Molete talk about their cities and the role they play in their lives. Moderated by Bontle Senne.
* * * * *
Saturday 1:30 PM
South Africa at a fork in the road (Anglo Auditorium)
John Saul, Steven Friedman, Louis Picard & Rehana Rossouw, chaired by Adam Habib. In conjunction with the M&G Literary Festival.
* * * * *
Saturday 2 PM
Do you want to be an illustrator? (Alice’s Room)
Join award-winning David Melling as he shows you how he came to illustrate books, how he makes characters come to life and how you can learn to do the same. Interactive and fun! Age 7+
* * * * *
Sunday 9:30 AM
South African fiction publishing at 21 (Brink Room)
Gatekeeping or rainmaking? – Fourie Botha (Umuzi), Bridget Impey (Jacana), Thabiso Mahlape (The Blackbird), Palesa Morudu (Cover2Cover), Debra Primo (UKZN Press) & David Robbins (Porcupine Press), chaired by Raks Seakhoa. In conjunction with the M&G Literary Festival.
* * * * *
10 AM (Alice’s Room)
The Trouble With Cats (DC)
Wonder Woman races to save Batman & Superman from her arch-enemy, Cheetah on an island off the coast of Mozambique. The story takes a twist to Soweto where a young girl has to find her inner heroine & save the day. Lauren Beukes & art by Mike Maihack. Suitable for age 5+ & includes a brief talk on how comics are made. Grown-up comic fans welcome. Dressing up as a super hero is encouraged!
* * * * *
11:30 AM (Gordimer Room)
Siphiwo Mahala talks to Ivan Valdislavić, Achmat Dangor & Masande Ntshanga about the art of the short story.
* * * * *
1 PM (Gordimer Room)
Science fiction, fantasy and horror – what are the rules of this new reality?
Speculative fiction is explored by Fred Strydom, Melissa Delport & Lauren Beukes. Chaired by Louis Greenberg.
* * * * *
1:30 PM (Anglo Auditorium)
The South African novel at 21
Leon de Kock discusses with novelists Damon Galgut, Mandla Langa, Niq Mhlongo, Henrietta Rose-Innes and Ivan Vladislavić. In conjunction with the M&G Literary Festival.
* * * * *
2:30 PM (Achebe Room)
Want to try your hand at professional editing?
Join this 50-minute hands-on workshop to see if editing is meant for you. “A lightning tour of the skill of editing” will have exercises and questions, so come expecting to be challenged … and supported. Please book early as we will need to restrict the number of participants to 25.
* * * * *
3 PM (Alice’s Room)
A dress-up “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”
In celebration of Alice in Wonderland’s 150th anniversary and the launch of Alice in isiZulu, with readings in both English and isiZulu. The Queen of Tarts, Tina Bester, will be serving it up! Prizes for the best-dressed! On the guest list – the Gruffalo, Wally, Floppy, Peter Rabbit and more … The grand finale to the bookfair!
* * * * *
4 PM (Anglo Auditorium)
The Monuments Men: Rewriting reputation – Rhodes, Malan, Mandela & EM Forster
Dean Allen, Damon Galgut, Lindie Koorts & Mandla Langa, chaired by Achmat Dangor. In conjunction with the M&G Literary Festival.
* * * * *
» read article
The Book Lounge and the Fugard Theatre have announced the fifth edition of the Open Book Festival, and have released the names of the 82 local and 20 international participants confirmed so far.
The year’s Open Book will take place from 9-13 September in Cape Town. Venues include The Fugard Theatre, Homecoming Centre, Cape Town Central Library and The Book Lounge.
Mervyn Sloman, festival director, says: “We’re thrilled to announce a fantastic line-up for the fifth edition of Open Book. Festival goers have a wealth of stimulating and entertaining experiences to look forward to. South African writers will be sharing the stage with authors from Congo, Denmark, France, Kenya, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA and Zimbabwe.
“We’re in the process of finalising the events that make up the festival and the programme will be available at the beginning of August.”
Tickets will be available from early August.
Note: The list of participants below is not final
Confirmed South African authors:
Melissa de Villiers
Jean de Wet
Vernon RL Head
Zelda la Grange
Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho
Craig Bartholomew Strydom
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
Marlene van Niekerk
Rudie van Rensberg
Alex van Tonder
Mandy J Watson
Marc Boutavant (France)
Shereen El Feki (UK)
Karen Joy Fowler (USA)
Patrick Gale (UK)
Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe)
Masha Gessen (Russia)
Saskia Goldschmidt (Netherlands)
Andrey Kurkov (Ukraine)
Alain Mabanckou (Congo)
Helen Macdonald (UK)
Jakob Melander (Denmark)
Neel Mukherjee (UK)
Okey Ndibe (Nigeria)
Andreas Norman (Sweden)
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya)
Chris Riddell (UK)
Asne Seierstad (Norway)
Laura van den berg (USA)
RA Villanueva (USA)
Svante Weyler (Sweden)
» read article
Jacob 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:
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:
» read article
WiSER, JWTC and CISA would like to invite you to the launch of Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World by Gary Wilder.
Freedom Time takes a look at decolonization from the perspectives of Aimé Césaire (Martinique) and Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal) who, beginning in 1945, promoted self-determination without state sovereignty.
The launch will be held on Tuesday, 30 June, in the WiSER Seminar Room on Wits University’s East Campus at 5:30 PM.
Don’t miss out!
- Date: Tuesday, 30 June 2015
- Time: 5:30 PM
- Venue: WiSER Seminar Room
Richard Ward Building
Wits University | Map
- Refreshments: Drinks and snacks will be served
» read article
You are hereby cordially invited to the Decision Makers State of the Nation Business Breakfast with Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Tony Leon and host Stephen Grootes.
The event will take place on Friday, 10 July, from 7 to 10 AM at the Sandton Convention Centre. Tickets cost R995 per person with a 10 percent discount if you book a table for 10 people.
In light of the ruling party’s decision to dismiss the Public Protector’s report of President Jacob Zuma’s upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, the speakers will discuss the following points:
- Has the Public Protector’s office been silenced?
- Will we ever regain the moral high ground of the Mandela years?
- Who are the good guys in parliament?
- Are the winds of change blowing in South Africa?
Don’t miss what is sure to be a riveting discussion!
» read article
The initial reaction to Thando Mgqolozana’s plan to “quit the white literary system” has died down, and the conversation seems to be heading in a more practical direction. In that spirit, some advice put forward by Mofenyi Malepe – author of the self-published book, 283: The Bad Sex Bet – may offer some direction.
At a recent discussion on the topic of “decolonising the literary landscape”, held at Wits University, chaired by Eusebius McKaiser and featuring Mgqolozana himself, Sunday Times books editor (and founder of Books LIVE) Ben Williams called attention to a few black authors who have managed to “hack the system”.
“There’s not a lot of wiggle room for people inside the white literary system to crack the problem,” he said, “and it’s not going to happen unless it’s forced.
“But there are one or two black writers who have ‘hacked’ the system: Gayton McKenzie’s A Hustler’s Bible, which he produced and sold outside of the white literary system, and DJ Sbu’s Leadership 2020. They figured out that you can strategically publish something and make money.”
A Hustler’s Bible has lifetime sales of over 14 000 copies, and is still number six on the top 10 best selling biographies/autobiographies in the country – despite being published in 2013 – while according to reports Leadership 2020 is selling well, occupying a top spot in one of South Africa’s most-contested publishing genres, self-help.
After the formal debate was over, Malepe took the opportunity to comment, beginning, much to the audience’s amusement, with: “My name is Mofenyi Malepe, the author of the controversial book 283: The Bad Sex Bet.
“Already, with what I just did right now, I marketed myself.”
But despite the audience’s laughter Malepe’s message was a serious one. He stressed the importance of authors taking on the marketing – and publishing – of their books themselves; of abandoning the colonial literary system completely.
“Thando, I just want to know from you, how many more books do you have for Jacana, so that you can walk out?” he asked. “That way, we would be able to have this debate as black authors and black writers, we would be able to … not even complain about whiteness this, whiteness that.
“I’m saying this because the other day I was driving in Braamfontein – and after this incident I almost dug myself a grave – I sold a book to an award winning author – Sihle [Khumalo, author of the bestselling Dark Continent My Black Arse], he’s sitting that side [and indeed had a valuable comment of his own to make after the event - ed]. He saw my book on my car, on this thing we stick on the car door. He stopped me because I’ve been making a noise everywhere else.
“I’m self-published, by the way, and I’ve managed to sell 4 300 copies in five months.
“I’m not saying this because I’m too conceited. I’m saying this because we are busy complaining about white publishers and everybody else, but what are you doing?
“I have a feeling that you [Mgqolozana] still owe Jacana two more books, or one more book, before your contract expires. I could be wrong. But we cannot complain about the same people that we keep going to.
“We will never get to that point where we don’t have this discussion anymore if we are forever going to run to them and come back and complain.”
Thabiso Mahlape, a publisher at Jacana Media, repudiated Malepe’s claim that Jacana tie authors down to a contract, saying: “Publishing is a highly emotional process. The last thing you want is people that you hate working with you – it’s hard enough working with people who like you.”
However, during the event Mgqolozana did concede that there is a “flaw” in his argument, saying: “I wish I was taking a stand in which I was jumping completely out of the colonial literary system in South Africa. But I still do want to be published.”
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian on Friday, he clarified his stance further, saying that he will only feel “at home” in the South African literary space when “my publisher, editor, proofreader, graphic designer, layout person, printer, publicist, distributor, bookseller and most readers are black – reading my work in their preferred languages.”
He added: “But I’m not going to wake up tomorrow to a decolonised country, am I? So I have two choices: to write – because I can’t not write – and never publish, or to write and publish but stand my ground where I can.”
To find out more about 283: The Bad Sex Bet, email firstname.lastname@example.org
» read article
Blank Books and Bibliophilia invite you to a day of celebrating the art of comic books at Erdman Gallery.
Graphic novel enthusiasts can look forwards to pop-up shops featuring Azania Mania Art Kolektiv, Underground Comix, local creator signings, comic book exchange, doodle session, rare editions, handmade minicomics and much much more!
The Comic Book Market will take place on Saturday, 20 June, at the Erdman Gallery in Cape Town. The doors open from 2 to 6 PM.
Come and meet cool comic artists and buy some comics!
- Date: Saturday, 20 June 2015
- Time: 2:00 PM for 6:00 PM
- Venue: Erdman Gallery
84 Kloof Street
Cape Town | Map
» read article
Sol T Plaatje, journalist, linguist, politician, translator, writer and intellectual, died on this day in 1932, aged just 55. To celebrate his life, read an excerpt from his novel Mhudi – the first novel in English by a black South African.
Plaatje wrote Mhudi in 1919, although it was only published in 1930. RRR Dhlomo An African Tragedy was published in 1928, making it the first published black South African novel in English, although Mhudi was written first.
Mhudi is set in the 1830s, during a period of conflict between the Ndebele, the Barolong, the Griqua and the Boers, and Plaatje called it: “a love story after the manner of romances; but based on historical facts … with plenty of love, superstition, and imaginations worked in between wars. Just like the style of Rider Haggard when he writes about Zulus.”
But Plaatje was being flippant in this description. Mhudi is deeply political; it explores the origins of segregation and is an implicit attack on the apartheid government’s 1913 Land Act.
Read an excerpt from Mhudi, taken from Chapter 2, “Dark Days”:
Ra-Thaga, in order not to be attacked by wild animals, was won to sleep in the top branches of some large tree, where he would weave a hammock of ramblers and ropes of inner barks, tying it up with twigs. In this manner he spent many nights alone in different woods. This was a wise precaution, for occasionally his sleep and the stillness of the night were disturbed by the awful roar of the kind of beasts, making thunder in the forest. One morning, at the end of another restless night, when the wood pigeons began to address one another in their language, after the dawn of day had caused the whining of the hyenas to cease, the sun rose slowly, and Ra-Thaga, descending from his late solitary nest, commenced the misery of another day. Each of his mornings was but the resumption of his fruitless search for the company of human beings, which is seemed he was never to find in this world. As he dragged his feet through the dewy grass he seems to have no particular destination in view. He wondered how much longer this solitude would last. With a drooping spirit he mused over the gloom of existence and asked himself if he still could speak his own language; or if, supposing he met anyone and was address, he could still understand it.
These thoughts tormented him for the sixtieth time, when he suddenly saw a slender figure running softly towards him. It was clear that the maiden was frightened by something terrible, for she ran unseeingly towards him, and as he arrested her progress the girl stood panting like a hunted fox. It was only after some moments that with a supreme effort she could utter the short disyllable, tau (that is, a lion).
‘Where?’ asked Ra-Thaga.
‘Oh, stranger,’ gasped the girl, recovering her voice, ‘how good of you to appear just when my succession of misfortunes has reached a climax. I almost stumbled over a huge lion just beyond that ridge, not far from here – I am afraid he will hear us if we speak above a whisper. I did not notice the brute at first because his hair looked just like the tops of the autumn grass. He must have been eating something, for straight in front of me I heard a sound like the breaking of a tree. I think he was crushing the leg of a cos – oh, how silly of me to forget that there are no cows in this wilderness. Anyway,’ continued the girl between her gasps, ‘I noticed that in front of me there was, not a tuft of grass, but a living animal feeding on something. So I stepped quietly backward, without turning around, until I was at some distance, and then I turned and ran.’
Ra-Thaga, successfully concealing his own fears, asked, ‘You were not, then, observed by the animal, were you?’
‘No,’ she replied, ‘I believe that he is still devouring his prey.’
Ra-Thaga did not know what to do, for if there were two things he was against meeting, they were a Matabele and a lion. ‘But here is an awkward position,’ he thought, ‘a young woman fleeing to me for protection. What is best to be done?’
His native gallantry urged him to go after the beast; the young woman persisted in following close behind him. Vainly he tried to persuade her to remain where she was, but she was obdurate. ‘Nay,’ she replied, in a loud whisper, ‘I dare not remain alone.’
Ra-Thaga thought he knew what was passing through her mind before she spoke. She added: ‘I have wandered through this lonely wilderness for days and nights, since my people were scattered at Kunana; I have lived on roots and bulbs and wild berries, yearning to meet some human being, and now that I have met you, you cannot leave me again so quickly. In fact, I am not quite certain that you are a man, but if you are a dream, I will stay with you and dream on while the vision lasts; whether you are a man or ghost I have enjoyed the pleasure of a few words with you. I am prepared to see ten other lions with you rather than stay behind of my own free will. Walk on to the lion, I will follow you.’
Ra-Thaga heard this with a shiver. He believed that women were timid creatures, but here was one actually volunteering to guide him to where the lion was, instead of commanding him to take her far away from the man-eater. How he wished he might find it gone! However, he summoned up courage and proceeded, his companion following. At times he felt pleased that she had not obeyed him, for her presence stimulated his bravery. As they proceeded, however, he certainly began to doubt the wisdom of his adventure. ‘In our country,’ he said to himself, ‘lions were usually hunted by large companies of armed men aided by fierce mastiffs, and not by one badly armed man guided by a strange girl.’
Suddenly their extreme peril struck him and, before he had time to ponder it, the maiden touched his should and pointed to what looked like a moving tuft of grass, some fifty yards ahead – it was a black-maned lion.
Remembering Sol T Plaatje, 83 Years After His Death
New Sol Plaatje Memorial Unveiled in Cape Town
Sol Plaatje’s Original Handwritten Boer War Diary Now Available in Digital Archive
» read article
Eusebius McKaiser led a panel discussion last night at the University of the Witwatersrand entitled Decolonising the Literary Landscape, organised by Jacana Media, with authors Thando Mgqolozana and Siphiwo Mahala, as well as Ben Williams, Sunday Times books editor and founder of Books LIVE, and Corina van der Spoel, festival organiser, book facilitator and former manager of Die Boekehuis.
McKaiser made some introductory remarks, before each panelist spoke their piece, followed by questions and comments, and closing remarks.
We’ve transcribed some soundbites below, but to get the full feel of the debate, listen to the podcast here:
* * * * * * * *
“White, unearned privilege extends to every part of society, and I’m afraid South African literature and the literary landscape are no exception.
“There are many white writers, festival organisers, book editors and reviewers, awards committees – not least the Media24 one, after that awkward picture over the weekend of about seven or eight white people winning awards – who are highly unaware of the unearned privileges that come with writing if you are white in South Africa.
“You have a ready audience – a small one, to be fair, in total, regardless of whether you’re black or white – for your work.
“And sometimes book festival organisers respond too quickly and too anxiously – what on earth was Kenny Kunene doing at the Franschhoek Literary Festival? It was a gimmick. It screamed white liberal angst about how to attract black audiences. All that happened in the end is that the event sold out very quickly because white middle class South Africans were anxious to know from him whether Julius Malema will come after their bottles of Chardonnay. That’s not the way to deal with deconstructing the literary landscape.
“You need to engage your audiences critically.
“It’s interesting which books are punted by book editors, by publications. In non-fiction it’s always works that either tell white readers that the country is on the brink of rescue or collapse – like The Fall of the ANC, I love the dudes who wrote it but it wasn’t particularly great. Of course it sold millions. Because the prospect of the fall of the ANC is music to the ears of people who don’t want to leave for Perth.
“When you do find works that are genuinely brilliant and deserving of a Sunday Times Literary Award, it will be a book like Askari, or like Redi Tlhabi’s, both of those books are excellent, as well as Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s A Human Being Died that Night. They’re excellent. But of course they also had something in common: they are books that tell white people what black people are like. Or, in Pumla’s case, oh my God! A black woman is humanising a white monster. The chances of an Andile Mngxitama book telling white people about their unearned privileges bluntly ever getting that kind of exposition, let along getting onto a shortlist, is almost none, because that kind of messaging is not loved.
“We need to stop thinking that there’s some sort of objective process by which we decide which books we punt, which authors we punt, and that there’s something self-explanatory about a book like Endings and Beginnings selling 10 or 20 thousand copies. No it’s not. Just like Native Nostalgia by Jacob Dlamini, it stops a white person from actually having to bother going into a township.
“If you had to get a book that says racism is alive and well, it will be quietly ignored. That is something that white liberals have to confront themselves with. A failure to do so puts you on a continuum with Steve Hofmeyr.”
“In 1976 the worm turned on apartheid. In 2015 I feel like the worm may have started to turn on the white literary system.
“At the Franschhoek Literary Festival, Thando said he’s angry: ‘I’m angry at the people and our friends who think this situation is okay.’ Thando, I’m one of those friends, and I apologise. I don’t know if you’ve had an apology yet, but I apologise.
“In Askari, Jacob Dlamini poses the question of whether we should broaden or widen the definition of the word askari. And I think we have to ask the question, just as apartheid was supported by collaborators, black and white, might we argue that the white literary system is sustained by literary askaris.”
Williams tweeted some follow-up points on that this morning:
“In trade publishing, in terms of the formal economy, you’ve got one million people spending R2 billion.
“What sells? International bestseller fiction. James Patterson. Afrikaans literature sells. The number one work of fiction right now in the country is by Deon Meyer and it’s called Ikarus. Local popular non-fiction sells, cookbooks or sports biographies, or occasionally politics.
“The only black writer on the list right now, of the top 88 books in the country, is Khaya Dlanga’s To Quote Myself. He is number 87 out of 88.
“And the last thing that sells is Christian titles.
“Here’s what doesn’t sell: local English fiction. Publishers publish it at a loss because they believe in the work. And poetry, and you won’t find many publishers of poetry in this country as a result.
“So almost all publishers have to bring in big international bestsellers. But it remains a fundamentally untransformed industry.
“I think, and I stand to be corrected by any publishers in this room, that apart from Jacana Media there are no formal trade publishers with black editors in the country.
“There’s not a lot of wiggle room for people inside the white literary system to crack the problem, and it’s not going to happen unless it’s forced.
“But there are one or two black writers who have hacked the system. Gayton McKenzie’s A Hustler’s Bible, which he produced and sold outside of the white literary system. And DJ Sbu’s Leadership 2020. They figured out that you can strategically publish something, and make money.”
“If you want to understand the disparity that exists in the publishing sector or the book sector, you should visit Books LIVE today. There’s a picture of the Media24 Literary Awards, which is all white, and the latest post is of the Indigenous Languages Publishing Programme Awards, which is all black. So that says something about our industry.
“I must say, I was quite challenged when Thando decided to accept the invite to Franschhoek, because personally I thought he shouldn’t. It sounded more like accepting a dinner invite, and then once you’re at the table you’re telling the host what to cook.
“However, this moral reasoning of mine, versus his consternation – I think he came out tops. Because him being there gave him a platform to raise the issues that he raised, and that’s why we are here today.
“But I do not believe that white extremism can be counteracted with black extremism.
“We all know by now that the Franschhoek Literary Festival is the embodiment of all that is wrong with this white literary system we are talking about. And my decision, back in 2011, was to remove myself from that; not to be part of it.
“Much as I took that decision, I do not stand for a total boycott of any festival. I do not hold views as held by Andile Mngxitama, who is calling for a blacks-only festival. To do that is to emulate the very people you are criticising. But my rejection of the white literary system does not mean I will embrace black mediocrity.
“Franschhoek is the embodiment of all that is white. It is a private initiative. They created that festival for themselves. And after they created it, they thought, ‘Ha, so we will also need maybe some black monkeys to come and entertain us’. And then they extend invites to us. So it was on those grounds that I declined the invite in 2011. But the circus will not stop because of the absence of one monkey.”
Corina van der Spoel
“I think the debate should be welcomed and is necessary to encourage and to stimulate. It allows us to think anew about the role of culture. I think this is a necessary phase of transformation that some of us might have thought was over.
“This debate is emphasising that everybody feels uncomfortable. Blacks are uncomfortable because they have political power but not economic power and cultural power. Whites might still dominate cultural expression, but there is a discomfort of what this could mean in a world where the majority really rules.
“I believe that white people need reminding of the easy trap of complacency and thinking that everything is alright, that everyone is settled in post-apartheid comfort. Everything is not alright, as Thando says. The society is still in the making.
“But I also think Thando’s decision to opt out of South African literary festivals and his lashing out at the so-called white literary system is racialising the debate and polarising people in ways that they never were before. It’s a pernicious kind of racism. It’s a blame culture which shifts responsibility and shouting that detracts from the real issues in South Africa, namely that our education system is failing both black and white learners.
“It also detracts from questions such as: ‘Are black parents buying books for their children?’”
“This is why Rhodes must fall.
“We need an alternative to the existing literary system. And I believe the system will be changed by readers, and in South Africa that’s black readers and black book buyers.
“There’s a distinction between black people who buy books and those who read them. Black households have the phenomenon of the travelling book. A book will be read until it has lost all its pages. Which is why it is nonsensical to say black people don’t read.
“The readers are missing because they do not have access to literature.
“I’m reluctant to call this thing a white literary system. It’s a colonial literary system. It’s a colonial construction that didn’t change when there came a thing called democracy. Which is why we’re talking about decolonisation and not transformation. An opportunity for the colonised to imagine something new. We haven’t had that.
“Thando jumping out of the colonial literary festival, Rhodes Must Fall, Open Stellenbosch, Transform Wits are not coincidences. They are indicators that black people have come to the realisation that we have been through a false transformation process and we have to do something about it – starting now.
“I feel horrible that for the last seven years or so I have been begging to be integrated into this system in a more comfortable way. What the fuck was that about? I’m horrified!”
* * * * * * * *
See a Twitter timeline of the #LitApartheid hashtag:
Flickr album from the event:
» read article