A man of rock-solid in­tegrity

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

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.

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