Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the opening of Africa Century International African Writers Conference, National Library, Pretoria

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07 Nov 2014

Programme Director,

Chairperson of the SALA Board, Prof Zodwa Motsa
Managing Director of the wRite Associates, Mr Raks Seakhoa

Our National Poet Laureate, Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile

Honourable Samia Yaba Nkrumah

Members of the Media,

Delegates to the Africa Century International African Writers’ Conference
Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We gather here today for the third annual Africa Century International African Writers Conference - a legacy project of the South African Literary Awards in partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture. This conference was inaugurated in Mangaung, Free State Province, in 2012 and is the gathering of literary luminaries of Africa and the Diaspora, as a celebration of African letters.

The then-OAU, met in Coutonou, Benin, in 1991, at the Conference of African Ministers of Education and Culture and resolved “... to afford the African people a moment of pause within which to reflect on the contribution of African Writers to the development of the Continent.”

The Africa Century International African Writers’ Conference speaks truth to that resolution with this congregation of some of our Continent’s greatest intellectuals and authors. This auspicious event taking place today coincides with the OAU-declared International African Writers Day’s 22nd anniversary and we are glad to honour this day in such a manner.

Africa can be proud that she is home to four Nobel laureates of literature and it is in this spirit that we continue to raise the profile of African writing and its contribution to our shared histories. In addition to that, it is important to support the continuation of the critical assessment of the literary arts and the role they play in the writing of the African story.

Programme director, it is a well-documented fact that, through the ages of colonial oppression, resistance and revolutions in Africa and elsewhere, intellectuals, especially of a literary bent, have been at the forefront of articulating the masses’ efforts and aspirations for political liberation and social emancipation. In the beginning was the Writer. And the Writer articulated the vision and the dream of a new Africa. The Writer was an activist, in thought and in deed.

These literary minds came in many forms of depth and breadth. They took the position of selfless leadership to execute tangible programmes and projects that dismantled boundaries. These boundaries carried stereotypes that emerged from centuries of colonial oppression and exploitation of the people of Africa. But the Writer was never an arm-chair critic.

It is through the Writer’s thoughts and ideas, through the published work in fiction and non-fiction writing, and the establishment and running of newspapers and other creative outlets, that the Writer became the voice of the voiceless. The Writer made it possible for the masses to be heard and agitated for resistance and liberation.

The Writer was in the thick of the fight.

A good example was Sekou Toure who said:

“It is not enough to write a revolutionary song; you must fashion the revolution with the people …. There is no place outside that fight for the artist or for the intellectual who is not himself concerned with and completely at one with the people in the great battle of Africa.”

Programme director, it is my pleasure to welcome Honourable Samia Yaba Nkrumah, Executive Director of The Kwame Nkrumah Pan African Centre in Ghana. She is also Chairperson and Leader The Convention Peoples Party. She is the only daughter of Ghana’s first President, the legendary Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and his Egyptian wife, Madam Fathia Ritz.

The fact of her pan-African identity lends itself well to her commitment to unity on our continent. Honourable Samia Yaba Nkruma will present the Africa Century International African Writers Conference lecture titled: “Towards Africa’s Socio-cultural Liberation.”

What can I say but that we are responding to her father’s vision, Kwame Nkrumah: We are building up a better and richer life for our people and our continent despite the challenges. Yes, the liberation flame, although feeble and glimmering, still grows brighter each day. And the time is now for our Writers to give us a new light on how we see ourselves. Our Writers must reclaim their position as the harbingers of the Africa that we all want. 

South Africa also boasts a remarkable literary tradition. We have two Nobel laureates and numerous writers who are internationally acclaimed. But as we gather here to honour the scribes who add to this tradition, we remember with great sadness, the death this year, of Nobel laureate and doyenne of South African literature, Nadine Gordimer.

We also remember poet Mafika Pascal Gwala. We also mourn and remember the passing away of poet and children’s author, Chris van Wyk, among others.

We are proud that The South African Literary Awards will, this evening, present the Nadine Gordimer Short Story award. The list of winners is growing.

This year we have repatriated iconic journalist and writer Nat Nakasa’s remains which are finally at rest at Heroes’ Acre. Also, we have published the 20 best short stories to mark and celebrate 20 years of freedom and democracy of our nation.

Indeed, it has been an eventful year for the literary arts in our country and I congratulate the nominees and those writers who will be honoured with the South African Literary Award in their respective categories.

As we continue to celebrate 20 years of freedom and democracy, it is important to observe that among those intellectuals and Writers who fought for our country’s liberation were writers such as John Langalibalele Dube and Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje the founding President General and Secretary General of the ANC respectively.

As Africa’s oldest liberation movement, the ANC carries the honour of having received the solidarity of many literary intellectuals across the continent during the dark days of South Africa’s struggle for freedom. Many African countries warmly opened their doors to protect and host our writers who took up arms against the former oppressor through the might of the pen.

To add to the observations of these important dates and events, it is important to note that 2014 is also the culmination of the 50th anniversary of the OAU/AU celebrations.

This year also marks 130 years since the infamous Berlin Conference at which the scramble and balkanisation of Africa was formalised and continue to define her present perceived or apparent malaise.

The theme for the Africa Century International African Writers Conference is Governance in Africa: Her Prospects and Retropects – How the Past Speaks to the Future. This theme draws from the vision of the Conference, which is to celebrate both the 20th and 21st centuries of African Writing. This is the African Century.

If we want to determine our future and be in control of our fate as Africans, we have to closely study the past and how it impacts on the present. The Writer must bring together through their work that golden thread that intuitively connects the past, present and future. We know that those who do not know where they come from, will not know where they are going. The Writer must shed light. Our time in NOW.

Programme director, I trust that the conversations that will take place here over the next two days will be thoughtful, fruitful and will provide greater insight into the African Story. The theme for this year is ‘telling our own stories.’ This is about highlighting and celebrating our own heroes and heroines to move us forward. This cannot happen without the Writer. The Writer must write!

I wish you all well over the Conference. NGIYABONGA!!! THANK YOU!!!