A man of rock-solid integrity
THERE have been so many tributes paid to the late Guy Willoughby that I hesitate to add another. But I was involved in an incident which showed clearly what enormous integrity he possessed.
In 1986 I wrote a novel called The Horse Thief, which was nominated for the CNA Prize and ended up on a shortlist of three entries. The other two entries consisted of a collection of three short plays by Geraldine Aron and an autobiography by the late Ellen Khuzwayo.
I was puzzled that two works of fiction should appear on the same shortlist as an autobiography, but assumed that the judges knew what they were doing.
Well, they knew exactly what they were doing, all right, but not in the way I had thought, because the autobiography got the prize. Clearly, Miss Aron and I had been window-dressing in an exercise aimed at allowing the judges to cock a snook at the then government by awarding the prize to a well-known ANC activist.
I wonder if the judges realised what an immense wrong they had done to all concerned.
Firstly, they betrayed the intellectual integrity which was the bedrock of the prize by picking a winner on grounds other than excellence. Second, they insulted Aron and myself by taking work into which we had poured our hearts and using it for a base purpose.
And third, they dehumanised Ms Khuzwayo, an intelligent and courageous woman, by objectifying her, a fact of which she was perfectly aware (I know this, since we had tea together after the “awards” ceremony).
There were no indignant protests from the intellectual community, just a deafening silence from the so-called literary lions – with one exception: a magazine article by Willoughby.
His main thesis was that one cannot compare chalk and cheese, and that in any case when it came to sheer writing quality Khuzwayo’s book ran a distinct third. I note this not to denigrate her efforts, but simply to point out that she was not a professional writer, and her publishers seemed not to have made an attempt to polish her manuscript.
That was the sort of man Guy Willoughby was.
I mourn the untimely death of a vastly talented humorist, satirist and playwright, a thoroughly nice person and above all a man of rock-like integrity.