The lecture was held at Soweto Theatre, Jabulani, Soweto, last night.
The first African to be awarded the 1986 Nobel prize for Literature in this category, focused on “negritude” defined as the self-affirmation of black people.
What exactly is being black? What is the being of blackness?” asked Soyinka.
The Professor also spoke highly of atrocities that have occurred on the continent recently-the abduction of 200 girls by Boko Haram, the Rwandan genocide and the scourge of xenophobia, etc.
“What is negritude in all this, he asked to the applause of guests who came on large numbers?”
The Africa Month Colloquium is organized by the arts & culture department.
Some of Nigerians we spoke to regarded Soyinka highly, with some believing he has an ‘academic power’ to change the world.
Dubbed, 2016 Africa Month Colloquium – Politics, Culture and the New African – the lecture was a befitting culmination of a month-long, nationwide programme which had entailed a potpourri of most subjects under the sun affecting the present day denizen on the continent.
Hosted jointly by South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture, the African Independent Newspaper as well as the South African Press Club, the event was fairly attended by both locals and visitors and boasted a panel as diverse in credential as it was in age since it had youngsters such as Harvard University-bound, Mfundo Radebe and newshound, Moshe Apleni rubbing shoulders with the likes of Professor Kole Omotoso [of Yebo Gogo-fame], Professor Muxe Nkondo, Minister Nathi Mthethwa as well as the esteemed guest of the evening himself, Professor Wole Soyinka.
The occasion got to a warm start as programme director, Metro FM presenter, Thami Ngubeni introduced the enthusiastic audience to a performance by Nigerian Isicathamiya outfit, Beulah Quartet, who belted out melodious tunes ranging from contemporary gospel to the group’s own standardized form of Handel’s Messiah. The group had the crowd in song as they even sang some of their sets in Zulu – courtesy of having been mentored by South African, Joseph Tshabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo fame! Evidently bowled over after their performance, Ngubeni promptly extended an invite to the quartet for an appearance on her radio show.
Thereafter, when it was the turn of the 8 month-old African Independent newspaper’s editor, Jovial Rantao – he, in all the frankness he could muster, expounded on how the department of arts and culture was a Cinderella department prior to the arrival of Nathi Mthethwa – since those in charge didn’t focus its tasks on pertinent challenges.
When it was the host’s turn at the podium, Mthethwa touched on the sacrifices of martyrs such as Thomas Sankara and Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, among myriad others spread across the continent. He intimated regarding how the colloquia seeks to demystify the myth that Africans don’t read with somewhere along his speech pointing out to the recent celebration of Fort Hare University’s Centenary – an alma mater which had produced black statesmen, academics and intellectuals.
After an imbongi, who caught both the panel and the audience by surprise since he seemed not to had been part of the programme, barged onto the stage for an impromptu heaping of praises to the keynote speaker – it was then the turn of the octogenarian, shock white-haired and bearded Nobel literature laureate to assume the podium to rapturous applause.
The much travelled scholar, activist and writer, vilified by successions of repressive military regimes in his homeland, began his lecture by acknowledging late fellow Nobel laureate, Nadine Gordimer as one whose pronouncements reminded us that repression wears many colours.
Titled, Discourse: Repositioning Negritude – The Dialogue Continues, Soyinka evoked a rendezvous with Senegalese statesman and scholar, Leopold Sedar Senghor on the occasion of his 90th birthday in Paris – going on to ask: what exactly is being black? What would Senghor have made of Ubuntu?
Soyinka further expressed disgust at what he termed retrograde events such as genocide, xenophobia and the abduction of 200 plus schoolgirls playing out on the continent.
Negritude, he dared, is whatever we make of it whilst somewhere in his talk he referred to one time exponent of the Harlem Renaissance, Countee Cullen as a ‘’halfway house’’.
After Soyinka had wrapped up came the turn of the respondent on the colloquia, Harvard Fellow, Professor Muxe Nkondo who, once expelled from the then Turfloop University back in 1976, is now part of a team tasked with reviewing the white paper on arts and culture – by government.
Later on, the South African Press Club’s Moshe Apleni got to facilitate a Q & A session which instantly seemed to set cats among pigeons since an audience member in the person of writer, Panashe Chigumadzi was the first to fire salvos the panel’s way by putting it to the minister as to whether, in her own term, gender erasure was being bandied about seeing as there was no woman on the panel.
Furthermore, why was it that the colloquia, although held in Soweto, yet a local such as author, Mirriam Tladi wasn’t being spoken about.
Evidently relishing the opportunity to engage with the panel, a former University of Cape Town SRC president and #RhodesMustFall exponent, Ramabina Mahapa challenged Soyinka on his past utterances regarding equating the movement’s antics to an erasure of history. Whilst well-known motivational speaker, Lesego Tau put it to Mthethwa about a need for an African hub for printing, inter alia.
Amidst all the jockeying, a very lanky fellow stood up in the well-acoustic venue to commandingly ask the main guest as to whether he thought the Creator was jealous of this Africa we are trying to build?
In some of his responses Soyinka went on about how there should be less cultural sensitivity; how he believes in humanity as exposed to pan-Africanism versus man-Africanism, in addition to how what happens in politics also happens in the arts. Nkondo, for his part expounded that those gathered should worry about history of colour mythology.
The to-and-fro manner of the session was conducted in a fair but searching way and some questions were provided with answers whilst some in the audience felt that others were left hanging, but all in all the event made for an enriching evening out as the panel vacated the stage for the performance of afro soul songstress, Simphiwe Dana to draw the curtain on proceedings in time for a dinner of finger snacks in the theatre’s foyer.
Additional reporting Sydney Morweng, news editor.
Erratum: Instead of acknowledging that Hassen Lorgat (Bench Marks Foundation and activist) first asked the panel a question on a male only representatives, we instead mentioned Panashe Chigumadzi as being first.
We apologize for confusion.