TIME OF THE WRITER TURNS
Time of the Writer, one of the country’s more progressive book festivals – playing out in townships, schools, tertiary institutions and in town – is having a big birthday. We preview next week’s events and chat to two of the featured star writers on the p
WCharl Blignaut talks with Zakes Mda e are running interviews with you and Lidudumalingani. You’ve met, of course, but what advice do you give young, black writers like him about the book festival circuit?
Unfortunately, I have not met Lidudumalingani. I like his name, though. Full of thunderous poetry. As lyrical as his story, Memories We Lost. But I have no advice to give to young, black writers like him about the book festival circuit. He will pick and choose which to attend or not according to his own ideological mind-set. I have had good and bad experiences at book events. There are famous book events I will never go back to because of previous bad experience there. But there are others I visit every year. One of those is the Jozi Book Fair because it is a progressive event run by a progressive organisation. It is grass roots in its orientation, the majority of its audiences being township and inner-city kids. It is a marketplace of ideas and of books, mostly by self-published writers. It is therefore shunned by mainstream publishers and hardly covered by the mainstream media. It’s been like that for years, actually from its very inception, long before it was fashionable to talk of decolonised book events. What is your experience of Time of the Writer? Last year it decided to undo the formula and go to the people more?
I have had wonderful experiences at Time of the Writer. It is one book event that is inclusive. On the last three occasions I was there, my events were held at Umlazi and KwaMashu in addition to the campus ones. You seem to be back home quite a lot. What are the things you’re seeing change or get stuck, literary or otherwise?
I am back home almost every month because I am no longer teaching at the university. I now devote all my time to creating art. I am encouraged by the wealth of innovative ideas in the art scene in South Africa. I always make it a point to visit young artists when I am in Johannesburg, for I am inspired by them. I even engage in collaborations with them, for instance, working on joint paintings with such young talents as Khehla Chepape Makgato. Please could you tell us WTF! you’re doing to cope with the governing party.
Fortunately, Athens – where my family has lived for 35 years – is an island of liberalism in a sea of white nationalism that is Trump’s America. So, we only hear of and see his buffoonery on television like the rest of the world. Trump is merely part of a worldwide trend. You might have noticed that a lot of so-called Western democracies have drastically drifted to the right and have become nationalistic and conservative. We see #Brexit in the UK and the rise of white nationalism and xenophobia in each European country and in Australia.
South Africa has not been left out in that trend. The ANC has been taken over by its conservative wing, with strong ethnicchauvinistic and narrow nationalistic traits. Therefore xenophobia has taken root, and in many communities it is led by young people in ANC regalia. Hence also the attempt by government ministers to placate these xenophobic tendencies instead of condemning them outright. So you see, South Africa is part of that trend that has given birth to Trump in the US.
But like all trends, it will pass. Trump and Zuma will be history, though they will leave their stench for generations to come.
I’m really curious to know what you’re working on, publishing or painting?
I am currently painting the Washboard Series, which are collaged narrative paintings on gender and domestic tensions – all featuring the washboard. I am also currently working on a movie script on Hugh Masekela and Father Trevor Huddleston, titled Warrior Monk and the Hornman. I’m writing a novel titled The Zulus of New York. But I am also engaged in a publishing venture for children with my son, Neo Mda, who is a graphic artist and animator. We published our first fantasy set in a volcano, which we are now producing as a feature animation movie, produced by Zola Maseko and directed by me.
TRUTH TO POWER Celebrated novelist Zakes Mda is never scared to speak his mind