Kgomotso Matsunyane

Black ink, white sheets

2007-11-15 10:39

Kgomotso Matsunyane

The blacks are writing and the whites are publishing, and it's all very exciting for the voracious reader desperate for literature that resonates with modern South African life.

I'm not one of those idiots who think Shakespeare or Dickens have no place on this continent, and I think the banning of books, any books (yes, even hateful ones), is a ludicrous proposition. A vibrant society needs an equally vibrant art life, and cinema, theatre and literature are vital elements of that concoction.

The arts are not a luxury, they're an absolute necessity, so to this end that there are an increasing number of black South Africans writing and are being published is a good omen.

Some of the books I've immersed myself in the last couple of months are biographical, like Fred Khumalo's Touch My Blood. Some are commentaries: Sihle Khumalo's Cape To Cairo by public transport Dark Continent My Black Arse and Ndumiso Ngcobo's acerbic Some of My Best Friends are White - Ngcobo will yet prove one of the most important commentators living in South Africa today, he says everything you ever thought but never quite had the brains to put it together in a cohesive, funny argument.

There are also some novels in between, Morabo Morojele's How we buried Puso to Angelina Sithebe's Holy Hill and Kopano Motlwa's Coconut. These are just a few of my favourites, there's just not enough space here to name them all.

A gratifying read

Literature celebrates, critiques, challenges, reflects, and inspires. Inasmuch as I can completely relate to Pip's isolation and growing pains in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, there is something about reading home grown literature that is so much more resonant and gratifying.

People of a shared common experience, i.e. from the same "hood", share the same points of reference. There's nothing more delicious than a private joke, or when you are so familiar with what you read that you re-read it for the sheer deliciousness the intimacy that common experience affords you.

I must have been 11 when I laid my hands on my first Heinemann African Series books - Ngugi and Achebe to be specific. Before then my Bantu Education literature had been limited to Benny & Betty, along with some substandard prescribed texts that showed white people with halos while depicting black people as ignorant savages.

And before that, I had a collection of fairy tale books depicting pliant white maidens desperate for rescue by some prince with a bouffant on a horse. I admit, I was desperate to be Rapunzel or the beauty that gets saved by the beast. Cinderella...? Not so much. Her experience was too black for my liking, if you get my drift.

So all of this is to merely say that the new crop of black writers are doing a great job recording our past and our present in a way that will make our future children understand exactly where we come from, however uncomfortable it may make us feel sometimes.

Reading expands your mind and introduces you to new ideas, it might even teach you a thing or two. For a change, switch off that TV and indulge yourself in some home-made magic. Who knows, you might even enjoy it.

  • Kgomotso Matsunyane is a partner at T.O.M. Pictures, which has been nominated for an International Emmy Award to take place in New York City on the 19th of May.

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