Man-African­ists in charge

CityPress - - Voices - DANETTE FREDERIQUE voices@city­

The de­part­ment of arts and cul­ture hosted a col­lo­quium at the Soweto The­atre this week head­lined by Nigeria’s No­bel prize for lit­er­a­ture lau­re­ate Pro­fes­sor Wole Soyinka to wrap up Africa Month cel­e­bra­tions. How­ever, de­spite its in­ten­tions to pro­vide time and space for in­ter­gen­er­a­tional di­a­logue, the panel came up short in the eyes of young writ­ers who at­tended.

Thato Ros­souw, a 25-year-old Soweto-based blog­ger on the site De­colonis­ing Lit­er­a­ture and a book club man­ager for a non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion called Read­erWorld, ex­pected more from the pro­gramme.

“With a topic on of­fer head­lined Pol­i­tics, Cul­ture and the New African, one of my first ex­pec­ta­tions was for the panel to not only con­sist of more young peo­ple than it did on the day, but for them to be given a chance to voice their con­cerns about the po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural di­rec­tion that the coun­try and the whole con­ti­nent is tak­ing,” he said.

Ros­souw also noted the lack of fe­male pan­el­lists and mem­bers of the les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der, in­ter­sex and queer com­mu­nity on stage.

He added that he felt the ab­sence of the younger gen­er­a­tion at the event demon­strated the low re­gard that lead­ers of the older gen­er­a­tion hold for the youth. Only two young in­di­vid­u­als joined the panel, com­pris­ing Soyinka, an­ti­a­partheid ac­tivist Pro­fes­sor Muxe Nkondo and Arts and Cul­ture Min­is­ter Nathi Mthethwa, among oth­ers. One of them never spoke, while the other only spoke to fa­cil­i­tate the Q&A ses­sion.

The only woman to hold a mike on stage was me­dia per­son­al­ity and pro­gramme di­rec­tor Thami Ngubeni, not a guest speaker.

“It con­cerns me that we were there to dis­cuss the new African, when not all of the peo­ple who form part of this iden­tity were rep­re­sented,” Ros­souw said.

Dur­ing the Q&A ses­sion, young nov­el­ist Panashe Chigu­madzi called out the event’s era­sure of black women as the pro­mo­tion of “man-African­ism” – her play on the phrase Pan-African­ism. She also drew at­ten­tion to is­sues of de­colonis­ing the lit­er­ary space, an ini­tia­tive the col­lo­quium failed to pro­mote, as Ex­clu­sive Books – a prof­itable white-owned cor­po­ra­tion – was the ven­dor of­fer­ing a col­lec­tion of Soyinka’s ac­claimed works, among other books, in the the­atre lobby.

Chigu­madzi sug­gested that these events sup­port book dis­trib­u­tors such as African Flavour Books in fu­ture pro­gram­ming.

Although Soyinka ad­dressed the im­por­tant theme of Africans tak­ing charge of their own nar­ra­tive, and ques­tioned the no­tion of black­ness in the 21st cen­tury, the au­di­ence re­mained am­biva­lent. Dur­ing a feed­back ses­sion led by Ngubeni af­ter the panel ended, one au­di­ence mem­ber stated that Soyinka and his gen­er­a­tion “don’t talk to me and can’t con­nect to the youth”.

How­ever, an­other at­tendee dis­agreed, say­ing that the older gen­er­a­tion’s wis­dom was “worth ab­sorb­ing”.

Per­form­ing that night were the Bealah Quar­tet, an all-male Nige­rian a cap­pella group, as well as singer Sim­phiwe Dana.

Many of those present said the de­part­ment of arts and cul­ture had failed to draw Africa Month to an elec­tri­fy­ing close.

“I left the venue feel­ing that no mo­men­tum had been ini­ti­ated for us to build on,” said Ros­souw.

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