Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Podcast: Don Mattera’s Living Memory

Azanian Love SongDon MatteraIf ever proof were needed that it is possible for one man to undergo a complete personal transformation, then Don Mattera, rise up. Today Don is renowned for his writings, his humanism, his powerful oratory, and his message of hope, but in his earlier years, Don was a feared gangster. After turning his back on that life, Don simultaneously turned his attention to poetry – and it was as a poet that he gained the kind of earth-shaking status that gang leaders crave.

For if once Don had been feared on the streets, he was to become even more feared as a writer and a political activist. Such fear did he inspire among the Apartheid rulers of South Africa, in fact, that they moved to silence him completely. He was banned for his activism, spending the years from 1973 to 1982 – three of them under house arrest – as a “Banned person”: no speaking, no meetings, no publications, no liberty.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to Don Mattera about his poetry, his deeply held beliefs, and about the twin transformations in his life – his own, and his country’s.

Don MatteraDon grew up during the heyday of Sophiatown’s cultural and social renaissance, when this famous South African city-within-a-city combined intense beauty and squalor to create a multiracial social cocoon that was an affront to the Apartheid authorities, who ultimately razed it, building a whites-only suburb called “Triomf” on its remains. (Triomf has since been renamed Sophiatown.)

It seems to me that Don Mattera has always recognized the power of the collective, epitomised in many ways by Sophiatown, and in his poetry there is a discernible appeal that goes beyond the usual constraints of individual joy and suffering, culpability and credit. This may well explain his personal ability to eschew the individualism favoured by so many intellectuals and instead embrace a brand of collectivism that is the hallmark of those who are effective in the political realm.

Memory is the WeaponDon’s poetry is laced with a heady aroma of ideas, black consciousness, non-racialism and religion-as-a-social-force among them. But throughout his life, Don has not been content to hide behind abstract thought, wallow in its comfort zones, but instead has used political concepts as platforms for entering public life and engaging what he considers society’s most urgent issues.

As a young man he joined the ANC Youth League, and he was one of the founding members of the Black Consciousness Movement. He spent a great deal of his professional life as a journalist – he has written for the Sowetan, the Mail & Guardian and the Sunday Times – and it is no surprise that he was instrumental in the formation of the Union of Black Journalists, as well as the Congress of South African Writers (COSAW).

In a long and successful career as a writer, public speaker, activist and journalist, Don has earned the respect of observers and other activists for his power to inspire multitudes to deep compassion.

Don MatteraHe is a writer who believes that is not enough just to utter words, but that the deeds, the actions that follow the words, matter most, and in fact are what give us our humanity. Don has learnt to embrace the many contradictions of his own life, of his rich and mixed heritage, and he has drawn for his inspiration from the Italian history of his immigrant father and the ancient Xhosa culture of his mother.

His writings include the books, Memory is the Weapon, Gone with the Twilight, The Storyteller and The Five Magic Pebbles. His poetry includes
Azanian Love Song
. He has received numerous awards for his literary output – it is not going too far to say that his first name was well-chosen, for Mattera truly is a Don of South African letters.

I hope you enjoy this episode of the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast:

  • Play now: use the widget links below, or click the link under Latest episodes in the sidebar on the right.
  • Visit feed: You can also play the podcast directly from its source feed; click here, then scroll to the bottom of the page (opens in new window).
  • Listen via iTunes or subscribe through a podcatcher or alternative service: use the buttons and/or feed address in the sidebar.