Perseverance pays off

2008-02-29 00:00

'My wife, who was in my class in matric, always teases me that whenever teachers asked us who wanted to become a teacher mine was the lone, eager hand.'

Darryl David laughs about the fact that he was one of the few people in his class who actually wanted to be a teacher. He is now the only Indian lecturer in Afrikaans at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He credits his love of languages - he majored in English and Afrikaans - with making this unlikely subject his speciality.

'I focused on Afrikaans because the lecturers really cared for me and they believed I had the potential to become a lecturer,' he explains. 'I must say that my experiences with Afrikaners over the years make it hard to believe that they were the architects of apartheid. There are some really wonderful Afrikaans people.'

David's career choice is not too surprising. He comes from a long line of teachers.

'Both my paternal grandparents were teachers, my dad was a teacher and most of my mother's brothers and sisters were teachers. Teaching is in my blood,' he says. 'My father was thrilled when I decided to study literature. My mother, however, wanted me to be a pharmacist or speech therapist. I tried to please her and went to the open day for speech therapists but knew immediately it was not for me.'

One of David's more recent interests has also grown out of his love of languages more especially his love of the written word. He had a dream of creating a book town in South Africa to emulate the likes of other such towns in Europe. Hay on Wye is the most famous British example.

His perseverance saw the creation of a book town in Richmond in the Karoo last year. David was the driving force behind the whole project.

'At the opening of the Book Town,' he says, 'I told the audience that I'd waited almost three years before my wife gave me a first date. South Africa's national Book Town was destined to happen as perseverance is my middle name.'

But what was it that appealed to him about Richmond?

He answers simply: 'Richmond is a small Karoo town but its strength lies in that it is slap-bang on the N1, about 600 kilometres from Cape Town. Its other strength is that it is largely a forgotten town, so the architecture of its bygone era is pretty much intact. It is definitely one of the better preserved Karoo towns. Property was also going for a song until we launched a book town last September.'

In David's mind starting a book town is one of his top achievements and one he had worked on tirelessly for five years.

'Book Towns are what I like to call 'a biography of a nation'. Sure, booksellers are out to sell books in these places, but if they are clever, they will know that South African books are what it should be about. As a nation we have to become proud of our writers and celebrate our literary inheritance.

'My vision for this book town is that it must become the launch pad for emerging voices in South African literature. It must also be the venue for celebrating and honouring the literary voices that have inspired us.

'We opened Book Town with Patrick Mynhardt as our guest. He died shortly afterwards but what a legacy he bequeathed to Richmond. That was his last big show in South Africa and I am proud to know that I drove him through the Karoo with my family to the launch. It was a true homecoming for this boy from Bethulie. He had last performed in the Karoo almost 50 years before and it is fitting that Richmond and London were his last two shows.'

It was David's love of travelling that inspired him to reinvent a town off the beaten track. He explains: 'My parents always took me and my sister on holiday all around the country. Afrikaans and its poetry also inspired me.

'There is something in Afrikaans poetry that is so grounded in the landscape. Even Mynhardt, while driving through the Karoo, remarked on how special die vlaktes of the Free State are to him. Luckily, my wife is a kindred spirit when it comes to travel,' he laughs.

'We can drive for hours and merely absorb the scenery. That will be the highlight of the trip for us. In fact, some of the best photos I've taken are as a result of her artistic eye. When my daughter was born I felt I had to show her all the places we'd seen without her. And I suppose the more we visited the Karoo, the more we were drawn to explore the forgotten corners of southern Africa.'

Apart from continuing his vocation as a lecturer in Afrikaans, David has 'big things planned for Richmond this year' but is waiting for funding to come through. He does, however, urge readers to keep watching this space as he assures us these plans 'will make Pietermaritzburgers very proud indeed'.

David urges anyone interested in becoming a part of this book town to contact him. Richmond doesn't just need booksellers, but also people to run restaurants and guesthouses, as well as artists who are keen to live and work in the Karoo.

Contact David at davidd@ukzn. ac.za or booktownrichmond @sai. co.za or Peter Baker at pcbaker@mweb.co.za

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