WOLE SOYINKA Guid­ing the way to Man­de­land

Wole Soyinka’s lec­ture spreads hope

The Sunday Independent - - FRONT PAGE - DON M AKA TILE

THOUGH one be­gins on such a jour­ney as­sured of ar­rival, the des­ti­na­tion Man­de­land has not been lo­cated yet. World-renowned aca­demic Pro­fes­sor Wole Soyinka said this at his in­au­gu­ral pub­lic lec­ture at the Arts Cen­tre, Auck­land Park Kingsway Cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg on Fri­day evening.

It was the first of three pub­lic lec­tures the No­bel Lau­re­ate will give ex­plor­ing the theme “A long walk to Man­de­land” as Distin­guished Vis­it­ing Pro­fes­sor at UJ’s Fac­ulty of Hu­man­i­ties. Fri­day night’s lec­ture was themed “First The Good News”.

Soyinka, 82, con­tin­ues to ac­tively teach and en­gage in pub­lic dis­course on global pol­i­tics and devel­op­ment. The ti­tle is ap­pro­pri­ated from the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Nelson Man­dela, Long Walk to Freedom.

Soyinka, who speaks with a clear boom­ing voice, his dic­tion equally lu­cid, says the trav­eller should be mind­ful of Afro-pes­simists as they em­bark on this jour­ney to Man­de­land. “I do not want to give joy to the Afro-pes­simists.” It is a jour­ney that will re­quire great phys­i­cal strength and stamina where the weak will need to be urged to “go on, go on”.

But he warns that “the road to our des­ti­na­tion appears to be con­tract­ing” not be­cause he wanted to be “rid­ing on the neg­a­tive slant of the ti­tle cho­sen by Man­dela”. He is con­scious only of the need to “strengthen the morale of those un­der­tak­ing the jour­ney” as “em­bark­ing on any jour­ney im­bues one with a sense of mis­sion partly ac­com­plished”.

He drew muted guf­faws when he asked the au­di­ence to take a leaf from the book of the Chi­nese, as ev­ery­one else on the con­ti­nent seems to have done so: A jour­ney of a thou­sand miles be­gins with the first step. A play­wright, es­say­ist, poet and novelist who writes mainly in English, Soyinka speaks like a man used to be­ing lis­tened to. As if speak­ing to those who read his works, which are “steeped in Yoruba mythol­ogy, im­agery and dra­matic id­ioms”, he ad­mit­ted in the lec­ture that though “we have not even as­cer­tained what ex­actly is Man­de­land, and where is it lo­cated – we shall get there sooner, rather than later”.

Man­de­land is utopian, the kind of place some­one of the good­will and self­less­ness of Man­dela would be­queath us. Soyinka spoke of the in­flu­ence of the good men of the stature of Man­dela, like the late Fa­ther Trevor Hud­dle­ston, on his im­pres­sion­able young mind as a lad grow­ing up in Nige­ria.

He re­mem­bers Hud­dle­ston as one man who stood up against apartheid. Soyinka says Hud­dle­ston threw him­self into the strug­gle against apartheid be­cause he cared about the plight of the down­trod­den black man in South Africa. Hud­dle- ston left an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion on him, Soyinka said.

Through South Africa-Nige­ria re­la­tions, he was aware of the hard­ships of apartheid, the tra­vails of which he fol­lowed through the old Drum magazine. He spoke of how “newly in­de­pen­dent West African nations took an interest in the degra­da­tion of the black man down south, in the then Rhode­sia and South Africa”.

He took an interest in many up­ris­ings, like the Mau-Mau in Kenya and for the in­de­pen­dence of Bi­afra in his own back­yard. The good news on this road to Man­de­land in­cluded the re­cent de­vel­op­ments re­gard­ing the Kenyan elec­tions, Soyinka said.

There were hur­dles on the road to Man­de­land, like the ex­cesses of those like Yahya Jam­meh.

Cur­rently a Fel­low at Cam­bridge and Har­vard uni­ver­si­ties and Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus at Obafemi Awolowo Univer­sity in Nige­ria, Soyinka seems to have come at the right time.

Pas­sion­ate about working with young stu­dents, Soyinka comes at atime in South African ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, UJ in­cluded, where a dose of mo­ti­va­tion would come in handy.


PRO­FES­SOR: Nige­rian Lit­er­a­ture No­bel Lau­re­ate Wole Soyinka .

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