WOLE SOYINKA Guiding the way to Mandeland
Wole Soyinka’s lecture spreads hope
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 .