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Time of the writer festival in Durban

“Top African writers for Durban festival”

The 7th Time of the Writer Festival, one of the flagship projects of the Centre for Creative Arts, on the Durban campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, takes place this year from the 22 to 27 of March with readings, panel discussions and live music nightly at the Sneddon plus a range of day activities at other venues around the city.

Challenging subjects, brilliant minds, colourful and engaging personalities from around the African continent will descend on Durban, setting the stage for vibrant, inspiring and provocative interaction.

Presented in association with the French Institute of South Africa, the festival will this year focus on the 10th anniversary of democracy in South Africa, with the theme “Going Forward”. The festival will present a critical retrospective and forward-looking take on democracy as seen through the eyes and words of writers – how far have we come, what is the role of writers and writing in a democracy, etc. The presence of writers from 10 African countries other than South Africa ensures that the discussions and debates have a continental perspective.

Important associations are being made with the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s African Scholarship Conference, which will be held on the 24 and 25 of March on the Westville campus, and with the African Renaissance Conference, which also takes place in the city during this period. The link with the African Scholarship Conference, entitled Ingede: Negotiating Transformative Spaces of African Scholarship, comes at a critical juncture following the merging of the former University of Durban-Westville and the University of Natal, demonstrating the will of the new University of KwaZulu-Natal to continue the process of constructive discussion.
The dialogue and exchange in an African context presents a unique interface of scholars, writers, activists and social commentators, and offers an exceptional platform to foster creative and innovative thinking on writing, freedom of speech, activism and democratic governance on the continent.

Setting the pace for rigorous discussion will be controversial Kenyan critic and social commentator, Ali Mazrui, whose views on transforming Africa into Afrabia have significantly polarized academic opinion on the continent.

A complete contrast in style is to be found in South African icon, Pieter-Dirk Uys, equally famous as the effusive Evita Bezuidenhout. This stage personality whose inimitable style and stage presence have made him a household name in this country offers incisive commentary on serious social issues in a distinctively satirical style. Audiences are assured of a riveting evening on Tuesday 23 March when Uys is combined with the incomparable talent and energetic stagecraft of fellow countrywoman, writer/poet/storyteller/ and filmmaker, Gcina Mhlophe, in a presentation entitled Between Page and Stage: The Politics of Performance Art.

The South African contingent is set to make an impact this year with a line-up of illustrious participants, such as Zakes Mda, whose prolific and award-winning output as playwright, author, poet and journalist has established his reputation as one of South Africa’s literary giants. Also featured is the widely celebrated Antjie Krog, whose multiple prize winning novel Country of My Skull (1998), was recently adapted into a feature film. Her latest work, A Change of Tongue (2003), has elicited enormous interest and critical acclaim in literary circles.

Other prominent South African voices include Sindiwe Magona, whose writings recall her personal and political struggles as a Black woman living under apartheid; Elinor Sisulu whose biography Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime won the prestigious Noma prize for outstanding publication in Africa in 2003, and Jann Turner, whose recent writing explores themes of loss, dislocation and rootlessness. Turner makes a return to the academic home of her father, anti-apartheid activist Rick Turner, who was assassinated in Durban in 1978.

The festival programme closes with the power pairing of Njabulo Ndebele and Albie Sachs who will present considered views on the decade of democracy and propose ways forward from this point in our country’s history. Ndebele’s recently published The Cry of Winnie Mandela (2003) has provoked widespread comment and his seminal collection of essays South African literature and Culture: Rediscovery of the Ordinary (1991) remain pertinent to contemporary discussions in this country. Sachs, a front-line protagonist in the struggle against apartheid, and now a judge in the Constitutional Court, is known for his autobiographical works, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (1990) and the Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter (1990), with a new book expected soon.

Boosting the line-up from the South are Zimbabwean, Chenjarai Hove, outspoken author, poet and critic currently based in France where he has refugee status, and Unity Dow, a High Court judge from Botswana, who considers writing an act of ‘reclaiming the voice’ to speak out on women’s rights, in particular. An encouraging feature of the festival is the strong representation of women writers from the continent this year. Among these is Leila Abouzeid, who writes in Arabic and is the first Moroccan woman to have her works translated into English.

Yolande Mukagasana is an award-winning writer from Rwanda, whose latest work traces personal accounts of the Rwandan genocide, which ironically took place 10 years ago in the same year which marked South Africa’s achievement of democracy. Poet, author, illustrator and painter from the Ivory Coast, Veronique Tadjo, wrote The Shadow of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda, a book that goes beyond reportage to explore the spiritual legacy of the genocide, her prose alternating between raw and poetic, and uncovering a healing vitality and a commitment to forgiveness.

Another Rwandan connection is the Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, whose Weight of Whispers, set in the aftermath of the Rwandan massacres, won the 2003 Caine Book Prize for Short Story writing in Africa. This is an honour she shares with Nigerian Helon Habila, who among other accolades won the Caine Prize in 2001, and whose powerful debut novel, Waiting for an Angel, charting the experiences of a young journalist living in Nigeria under military rule, won the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book, African Region, 2002.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo comes Lye Yoka, whose sometimes caustic and humorist writing exposes corruption, malpractice and “demoncracy”. Others in the impressive line-up are award-winning poet, novelist, academic, and previous Ghanaian ambassador and chairman of the Committee on Implementation of UN Resolutions Against Apartheid, Kofi Awoonor, and the prolific author and political activist from Egypt, Sonallah Ibrahim, whose renowned 1981 novel The Committee explored the role of multinationals and the government's economic policies on Egyptian society. In 2003 Ibrahim was awarded the prestigious prize of the Arab Novelist Assembly, and stunned the pan-Arab literary gathering (including government officials) by denouncing the prize because “It is given by a government that does not have credibility”.

Hosts who will facilitate the evening sessions include Yonah Seleti, Zakes Mda, Tembeka Mbobo, Lisa Combrinck, Margaret Daymond, Ashwin Desai, Ntone Edjabe, Johan Jacobs, John Matshikiza and Michael Chapman.

Activities at satellite venues will expand the festival programme, making writers more accessible to a wider range of audiences. An Educators’ Forum will be held at Teachers’ Centre in Overport, providing an important exchange between teachers of literature and visiting writers. Now in its third year, a creative writing workshop, organised in conjunction with the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Creative Writing Programme, will be held at Westville Prison.
Other activities include a seminar at the Journalism Department at the Durban Institute of Technology (23rd March) and a Publishers’ Forum at Kwa Muhle Museum (26th March); a Zakes Mda creative writing workshop at the BAT (27th); and Women Writers Speak at Diakonia (27th). The festival includes music performances by Hlanganani Marimbas, Indonsa (female singing ensemble), Brian Thusi (trumpet), Ndikho Xaba (unique homemade instruments) and Marumo Ncube (mbira).
New books by Michael Chapman and Stefan Helgesson will be launched, while a schools short-story competition and wide-reaching school visits further broaden the week’s schedule of activities. The week culminates with a late-night launch of Chimurenga magazine and festival after-party in inimitable Chimurenga style at the Playhouse Upstage on 27th March.


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