Kudos for Don Mattera

2016-10-09 07:08
Don Mattera. Picture: Lerato Maduna

Don Mattera. Picture: Lerato Maduna

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At 81 years old, liberation poet and author Don Mattera wasted no time expressing his displeasure at being interviewed.

“I never trust journalists because I’ve been one myself,” he quipped.

Nevertheless, there was no stopping what the former Sowetan journalist and struggle stalwart had to say once he was relaxed and comfortable about the reason City Press called.

Mattera will receive the inaugural Mazisi Kunene Poetry Award at the Poetry Africa International Festival in Durban this week.

The festival, now in its 20th year, will also pay homage posthumously to South Africa’s first national poet laureate and one of the symbols of isiZulu poetry, the late Professor Mazisi Kunene.

He is best known for the poem Emperor Shaka the Great.

Mattera described how his life’s mission has been to liberate and educate people all over the world.

“I am indeed happy to receive this award. I have received so many other awards, but it’s not about the award.

"It’s about the person whose name carries the award and a person like Mazisi Kunene was a giant in my life.

"He was a great poet and the only person I can say that matched him is Es’kia Mphahlele, and maybe a few others.”

Mattera said he believed that even though he was receiving this award, no one really remembered him or what he had done for the liberation of this country.

“I have trained hundreds of journalists, but none of them will tell you that they were trained by Don Mattera.

"Who wants to give praise to a man who is anti-ANC leadership? No one cares about the Don Matteras of the world any more.”

Speaking about the effect of poetry on his life, this gangster turned community activist referred to his upbringing and how it moulded his first love.

“I couldn’t speak English very well when I was sent to St Theresa’s Covenant School in Durban. So, when I was about eight, my grandparents sent me there to study because they weren’t happy with the quality of education I was receiving in Joburg.”

Mattera, who is often described as a philosopher and lover of literature, was born in Westbury.

Mattera’s grandfather was an Italian immigrant who married a Xhosa woman from the Eastern Cape. They moved to Johannesburg, where Mattera’s father was born.

At the time, he was classified as an Italian. Because Mattera’s mother was a domestic worker, the government classified him as coloured.

“I can say that I was already born into a broken world, a world full of divisions. I wrote my first poem after starting at my new school and my family couldn’t believe how good I was at English,” he said, adding that that was the beginning of his “love affair with the written word”.

When Mattera attends the festival next week, he said he would be reading a new piece of work that he has been working on called Child.

“I am not really interested in who will be there. I am just there to say what I need to ... and if people want to come and listen, then they can.”

. The Centre for Creative Arts within the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s College of Humanities will host the 20th Poetry Africa International Festival from tomorrow until October 15. Approximately 20 poets from South Africa, Africa and different parts of the world will feature

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