If what novelists and poets say, think and write about, often foretells the future, then South Africa looks to be headed for trouble. Here from Books Live, are some remarks made by writer Thando Mgqolozana at the recent Franschhoek Literary Festival
“I’m part of a group of writers that started Read SA with Ben Williams, Zukiswa [Wanner] and others, which was because we want to encourage South Africans, especially black South Africans, to read, and particularly to read South African literature.
We come from a history where black writers were banned and the stories that would most resonate with a black audience were suppressed. There have never been as many black writers as we have now, there has never been as much diversity in terms of voices and stories.
“But that campaign fell off because the literary infrastructure at the moment is in the cities, in white set-ups, like here, for example. It systematically excludes black people. So what is needed is the establishment of that infrastructure. That’s what we need. Not just campaigns. We need to get libraries in the black communities. There are some now, built by the democratic government, but they are fake libraries. The ones that are functioning there are functioning because they are sponsored by Canadians and Australians, and they bring books from there. For example, I went to Harare Library in Khayelitsha [for a conversation with Cyril Ramaphosa about a national book club - ed.] and it’s sponsored by Carnegie. We need libraries and bookstores with relevant, affordable books in the black community.
“I don’t think private individuals can fund the kind of infrastructure that’s needed. We need the government to step up. Between festivals we need other literary activities, book launches and all the kind of things we have here. And that is a massive project, but I would rather be focusing on that than come here and say the kinds of things that I’m saying, ‘please change, please change’. I don’t think it’s going to work. We’ve tried to do it. My greatest focus is going to be writing, and I’m going to try to make this kind of change through my writing.”
But I don’t want this literary festival to change any more. I feel that it was wrong for me to ask of it to change in the first place.
“It’s the same argument as the Rhodes Must Fall kids are making at UCT. They are not asking the university to change, because that would mean tweaking a few things and it remains the same, fundamentally. So now they are talking about the complete decolonisation, and that means a demolishing of the entire system, which would provide us with an opportunity to imagine something new, something different. For me, that’s what I wish and hope will happen to this system. Changing this and that would still not be comfortable for any black writer, I think.
That’s like asking to be integrated into a fire.
“What I’m talking about is not just literary festivals. It’s not just literature. I’m talking about this society, the way it is. But in order to do that I focused on this small point of literary festivals, in order to be able to say: what this society needs is a complete decolonisation…”
I don’t think black people are angry enough at Nelson Mandela.
I think in this country there is a moment that we missed; we should have unleashed our anger, which had been accumulating for centuries, and we didn’t.
“There were many things that we could have done but we chose to go through a Truth and Reconciliation process that didn’t work, which basically postponed the anger that people had and now they are starting to unleash. What black people are missing is that moment of victory. We didn’t have it. The elections in 1994 were not that.”
Several years ago I interviewed Jenny Hobbs, one of the founders of the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF). We talk a bit about the lack of black audience members (there doesn’t seem to be a lack of participating black authors), and efforts being made to change things.
As mentioned off the top, the anger coming out of this year’s Festival gives reason for concern. It also tells me that the FLF is doing what a writer’s festival should do, airing serious issues in a non violent environment. I only hope that leaders in the country are listening, and are able to take measures to diffuse this anger. Without some action taken to lessen racial tensions, increased violence will in all likelihood be the inevitable result, which will be a tragedy not only for South Africa, but for the world, for the world needs more than just one Canada. It needs more places in which differences are accommodated, exploited and celebrated.