Man-Africanists in charge
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.