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Victor Dlamini

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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Nadine Gordimer’s Shining Literary Voice

It tells us something about Nadine Gordimer that Raks Morakabe Seakhoa, the untiring champion of South African letters, used to call her ‘Comrade Nadine’. In her country, where identity is everything, that Gordimer was comfortable with a word viewed with skepticism in high literary circles is significant.

Her death brings to an end a remarkable literary career, and coming so soon after the deaths of Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, there’s a sense that this is the end of a literary era. These writers did not shy away from addressing what they believed ailed their societies, even as they held onto notions of literature as romance.

Gordimer relished language. Her fiction and non-fiction alike rewards the reader with passages of exquisitely written prose. She used language as a surgeon uses a scalpel, delicately opening her characters to reveal what contradictions they contained.

“To a writer no one is ordinary,” she once said – one of many gems delivered almost as asides by way of explanation.

Nadine wrote in one of her short but important essays, “Five Years Into Freedom,” “Again and again, when I’m interviewed or find myself in encounters with other people abroad, the burning question is ‘What is happening to whites?’ And again and again, my genuinely surprised response is: ‘What about blacks? Don’t you believe there are challenges to be met in their new lives?’”

Gordimer’s ability to weave lyrical, even magical, prose into her writing, as she tackled the most prosaic human shortcomings, says something about her commitment to social justice. “There are some who still have this sense, suffer it, I would say, and unnecessarily, so it becomes a form of self flagellation. I don’t posit this in any assertion of smug superiority; I should just wish to prod them into freedom from self confinement.”

“Five Years” explores very directly, and with Nadine’s typical courage, the subject of what it means to be South African, to declare oneself as such. If the topic was a complex one five years after South Africans gained their freedom, it has only increased in complexity since. When Gordimer writes, “A city in transition is always full of contradictions,” she may well have been referring to the entire country and all who live in it.

Gordimer did not yield to the nomadic impulses that claim so many of our writers. She lived here, in South Africa, a South African, defiant against apartheid and also against the titters of the so-called genteel set, the liberals who found fault with her uncompromising stance. She was a home-grown revolutionary – but it is worth remembering that Gordimer also cherished the bonds that link writers across borders.

Reflecting on fellow Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, she said “He has done something Camus despaired of seeing any activist achieve: lived the drama of his time and been equal to the writing of it.” But Gordimer’s assessment of Soyinka provides a clue to her own status as a writer. Her fiction never shied away from drawing from the freshest pages of history. Luckily for us, she was equal to the task of writing it. If Mbeki and Zuma received literal attention from the likes of the Reverend Frank Chikane and his book Eight Days in September, Gordimer’s last novel, No Time Like The Present, placed a kind of literary focus on the two leaders that seemed almost impertinent in its immediateness.

Even as she wrote alongside history that was only few years old, however, it was her ability to leave moments of silence in her fiction that spoke most eloquently, daringly and damningly. It is her unflinching focus on how individuals wrestle with personal responsibility, even as they face political, social and family pressure, that has been the source of her literary strength across the vivid decades of South Africa’s recent past.

If the notorious immorality act once forbade mention, let alone practice of sexual relations across race frontiers, the present has rendered invisible some of the contradictions of a society that was once constructed around race. Thus, in No Time Like the Present, Jabulile and Steve have come back to establish their careers, like other returnees from exile. It is fascinating to observe the delicate balance they have to strike as they attempt to communicate across the vast cultural gulfs that separate their two families.

But the complications are never simply binary, and beyond any racial and cultural minefields that they have to negotiate, Steve has also to content with the demands and expectations of his father and the deference to his Jewish mother’s claims on him.

One of my favourite sentences from No Time Like The Present is, “There was no space for meaning in personal achievement. Climb Mt Everest or get rich, all cop outs from reality, indecent signs of being on the side of no change.” Indeed.

To cut to the quick, observations like that serve as a reminder, if one were still needed, that Nadine Gordimer belongs in that very special club, the great world writer. Her voice will be missed, but lucky for us, in her writing it will never be lost.


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Dale Hefer on the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast

Dale Hefer

From Witblits to VuvuzelasMy colleague and friend Dale Hefer will publish her new book, From Witblitz to Vuvuzelas, with Oshun this year. I had the pleasure of writing the foreword.

Here is her book’s blurb:

Founding director of Chillibush Communications (Pty) Ltd Dale Hefer started her company in 1998 as a one-woman show. Operating from a rented garage and using her boyfriend’s computer and money borrowed from her sister as start-up capital, Dale soon grew the business to the R1-million mark (just two years later, it was up to R18 million). Today Dale employs a team of 40-plus and has projected earnings of R70 to R80 million. In From Witblits to Vuvuzelas she shares a wealth of advice for South African marketers in witty, straight-talking style. The title provides guidelines based on the author’s years of experience with clients and incorporates invaluable insight from local marketing professionals. Each chapter contains personal anecdotes that illustrate key concepts, and focuses strongly on our diverse culture and the challenges and pitfalls that marketers encounter in this country. From Witblits to Vuvuzelas is an essential tool for anyone in the marketing industry or for those who want to enter the world of marketing.

I sat down with Dale to talk both about her writing and business success. Please enjoy our conversation on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast (in this case, with video):

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Dale Hefer

Book details


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Podcast with Njabulo Ndebele: Live at the Cape Town Book Fair

Fine Lines from the BoxNjabulo NdebeleIt was my great pleasure to interview Njabulo Simakahle Ndebele about his latest book, Fine Lines from the Box (Umuzi) at the recent Cape Town Book Fair. I’m thrilled that I now have the opportunity of sharing this wonderful conversation with you as a ‘live’ podcast, the second live podcast in my series of Literary Podcasts. I have no doubt that I’m not alone in regarding Ndebele as one of South Africa’s greatest intellectuals. He is known for writing that always raises the bar, and each page of his writing sizzles with lexical gems that are anchored in deeply considered thought. Ndebele has held the position of Vice Chancellor at two universities in South Africa, and is the author of short stories, novels and essays that have been more influential on South African thought and imagination than, it can well be argued, any other single voice. Apart from Fine Lines from the Box, his books include the monumental Rediscovery of the Ordinary and Fools and Other Stories, and the post-modern fictional meditation on South African identity, The Cry of Winnie Mandela.

I recorded our conversation, and present it here as the latest Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast, along with the liveblogged report that BOOK SA’s Johannesburg editor, Liesl Jobson, filed after the conversation:
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Podcast with an Adventurous Writer, Mario d’Offizi

Bless Me FatherMario D'Offizi Every now and again a book comes along in which a small part – a chapter or less – seems to overshadow the whole, until it becomes almost impossible to remember that the work is about much more than the passage that receives most of the attention.

Mario d’Offizi’s memoir, Bless Me Father (Ge’ko Publishing) is one such book. The chapter in which he describes his abuse at the hands of Father Reginald Orsmond whilst at Boys’ Town in the Magaliesberg has come to stand for the entire text. (See, for instance, coverage of the book in The Times.) But reading Bless Me Father yields a clearer view: it is, in fact, mostly about Mario’s unexpected trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with a veteran journalist – and that’s certainly where the majority of its rewards lie.
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Podcast with Virtuoso African Storyteller Mbulelo Mzamane

Mbulelo MzamaneMbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane is at heart a storyteller: he has the ability to plunge straight into the belly of a narrative and bring forth its gentle resonances. It so happens that Mbulelo is also one of the finest literary historians of our time, and even though he often warns against what he calls the “abuse of theory” he clearly knows his way around this increasingly arcane terrain.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as Mbulelo shares some of his most riveting messages regarding the “state of the arts and society” – for his interests spill over from literary history to the wider contemporary issues that contain it. He has made his mark in fiction, theory, academic writing, teaching and literary activism, and is well-known, among other things, for being one of the brave souls who dared challenge the literary “canon” in the mid-seventies and insist on a new study called African Literature. He delivers unforgettable speeches at conferences, insisting on the primacy of storytelling even within the context of the most advanced literary considerations.
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Further Thoughts on Our Country, with Njabulo Ndebele

Njabulo Ndebele

I’ll be in conversation with Njabulo Ndebele at the Cape Town Book Fair, Sunday 15 June, 4pm, room 1.62. I hope you can join us.

The topic is “Further thoughts on our country” and we’ll touch on themes drawn from Ndebele’s latest book, Fine Lines from the Box.

The home of The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast during the fair is stand C11. Drop by to pick up the show’s first CD, featuring five episodes with something for everyone: Gabeba Baderoon, Breyten Breytenbach, Lebo Mashile, Kopano Matlwa and Lewis Nkosi. Photographs of the writers that I’ve taken are included on the CD, which is for sale at cost – just R10.

I look forward to seeing everyone in Cape Town.


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Podcast: Conversation from the Country of the Heart with Breyten Breytenbach

A Veil of FootstepsBreyten BreytenbachIn our age of consumerism, when even ideas must be stripped of their complexity and delivered ready to serve, there is something to be said for those who are still prepared to speak in riddles, who still think that ambiguity adds to the joy of language and that narratives are far more open than is often reflected by those who insist on closure.

Any careful reading of Breyten Breytenbach‘s A Veil of Footsteps (Memoir of a nomadic fictional character) reveals a writer deeply aware of the demands of convention – the convention of the memoir, of the convention of the “observer” – and it is the risks Breyten is prepared to take in resisting, even frustrating these demands that bear the most fruitful rewards.
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Podcast: Zubeida Jaffer Talks About Her Generation

Our GenerationZubeida JafferZubeida Jaffer is one of South Africa’s most travelled journalists: she has not only travelled the country top to bottom, covering the stories that chronicle South Africa’s transformation from a despotic minority regime to a democracy, but she has an incurable weakness for travel across the globe, and is often found away from home.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to Zubeida about her life as a journalist, and about the process of writing Our Generation, her personal life story, which is seamlessly woven together with the story of the struggle.
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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.
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Podcast: Mmatshilo Motsei on Writing, Healing and Activism

Kanga Kangaroo CourtMmatshilo Motsei, writer, healer and activistI recently met with Mmatshilo Motsei in her Pretoria home – with its beautiful, lush gardens – to talk to her about her book, The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court – and to hear about how some men still suggest that when a woman is raped the clothes she was wearing can be used to tell whether she “asked for it” or not. The setting and the subject matter could not have made for a starker contrast in that moment.

Mmatshilo wears her many roles with charming elegance. She is at once a poet, a public speaker, a creative strategist, a gender and peace activist, a trainer, a healer, a rural development practitioner and a writer.

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