The 20th Time of the Writer Festival, organised by UKZN’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) within the College of Humanities, saw a successful week when 17 writers from South Africa, Africa and abroad showcased their literary prowess.
This year’s Festival, which ran from 13-18 March, was themed: The Past Paving the Future, and commemorated the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi.
The historic original isiZulu version of the book by the late Professor Mazisi Kunene, titled: “Emperor Shaka the Great, uNodumehlezi kaMenzi” was launched during the Festival at the Durban International Convention Centre.
Speaking on opening night, Director of the CCA, David wa Maahlamela, said: ‘This Festival is an unmatched reflective platform that allows knowledge and cultural producers to examine political issues facing the globe. We are also honoured that Mazisi Kunene’s original isiZulu book is being launched during the Festival, attesting to UKZN’s commitment to close the gap between learning institutions and the community.’
Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Stephen Mutula also noted the importance of the Festival, recognising it as an integral part of the literary landscape. ‘The Festival speaks to the vision and mission of the University. It has a strong community engagement element while allowing for irreplaceable cultural exchange and bringing together African literary intellectuals for the dissemination of African knowledge.’
Addressing writers, Mutula said: ‘UKZN recognises isiZulu and English in its bilingual policy. We are preserving language in academia. Help us in enhancing language. The output of your writing will help place Africa in a stronger position for the development of the continent. Your writing must not be an abstraction. It must make life qualitatively and quantitatively better for society.’
Reflecting on 20 years of Time of the Writer, renowned storyteller Dr Gcina Mhlophe acknowledged the achievements of African writers. ‘The story of this Festival is written in our hearts and minds. The most important word in isiZulu is Ngiyabonga (thank you). We forget it because it is a small thing. However, we should remember and thank all the writers who have come up on this stage for the past 20 years.
‘This Festival is about sharing gifts; these writers are sharing gifts with us. It is hard to believe that it is 20 years of Time of the Writer. We want more, new voices to listen to us. Time of the Writer opens doors and lets children meet writers who write in their languages. This is for the African child, for possibility. I hope we have 20 years more. We do not want this festival to become a Festival that once was. We must build it higher,’ said Mhlophe.
Participating Festival writers also spoke about their literary journeys and the political landscape of the country.
Megan Ross related on challenges of motherhood and being a writer; Nkosinathi Sithole discussed decolonising the curriculum and the mind; and Ralph Mathekga debated on how writing for a Sunday tabloid helped him learn how to write for people.
Zakes Mda apologised to young writers about his generation saying: ‘We fought for freedom, came back and messed up this country.’
UKZN student Khethani Njoko advised the audience: ‘If there is a book you want to read but can’t find, write it.’
Time of the Writer paid tribute, with a moment of silence, to literary stalwart Miriam Tlali, who died in February this year. She was the first Black woman in South Africa to publish a novel.