Literature slings barbs and arrows at the M&G LitFest

That was the M&G Literary Festival, that was: Two days and eight sessions of fluency, knowledge, wit, barbs, bitterness, wisdom, anger, humour, theory, emotion, high academe, celebration, gloom, lived experience and words.

Views arrowed out on subjects ranging from decolonising culture and institutions, the economy and political economy to race, publishers’ problems, Jo’burg’s challenges, postapartheid fiction and our political present and memorialised past. So much to quote, so little space. Here are some of the most telling words.

Achille Mbembe on why constitutional democracy is running out of steam: “There are culturalist explanations, like Nkandla. There are technical explanations. The third reason is that we have divorced the political from the cultural. Liberation meant living like white people. All we wanted all along was to live like them … Poverty of imagination is not an accident. The project of apartheid was designed to do that as well.”

Songezo Zibi, chair of the session It’s the Economy, Stupid!: “So, it’s not the economy, stupid, it’s the politics, stupid!”

Songezo Zibi

John Saul, during the South Africa at a Fork in the Road session: “Whenever you are faced with a choice at a fork in the road, veer left!”

Fourie Botha, Umuzi’s publisher: “It’s unbelievably depressing. Books [fiction] are not selling. I’m struggling to sell a thousand copies of an English South African author who is well known. It’s heartbreaking. We need to sell 2 000 for it to work.”

David Robbins of Porcupine Press: “Self-publishing is ideally suited to make and sustain a grass-roots literary culture in a postcolonial society like South Africa … we do not deal in rejection.”

Lewis R Gordon, on Black and White in Colour: Why Race (Still) Matters: “South Africa is a black anti-black racist state … with privatisation of political power.”

And Hlonipha Mokoena had this to say during the same session: “Race is a distraction from all the other things that black people should be writing about … We are trying to overcome our history. History will leave us hurt, history is not done with us. Our reckoning with history is coming towards us.”

Hlonipha Mokoena

Mandla Langa, on The South African Novel at 21: “The South African novel should go into areas the social sciences don’t. South Africa is not what it thinks it is. We need to go back into South African history to find out ‘Why are we so fucked up?’.”

Henrietta Rose-Innes said of the South African novel: “The South African diasporic experience is no less a South African experience – there’s loss, pity … you can’t socially engineer South African stories.”

In the same session Damon Galgut said: “We’ve not been allowed to understand our history until very recently … we’re bound by our history but how do we break free? In theory it’s easy; in practice we are still bound by the past … In writing Arctic Summer I could free myself from expectations of politics and nationalism.”

Ivan Vladislavic said: “What distinguishes the novel is a particular use of language. If you’re looking just for an account, nonfiction will do.”

Damon Galgut

Galgut again: “Fiction has never been as beleaguered as it is now. Books as testament or report – social media does that now so the function of the novel has changed. We turn to it for different reasons or differently … Book reviews … never dwell on how language is used.”

Mandla Langa on The Monuments Men: Rewriting Reputation – Rhodes, Malan, Mandela and EM Forster: “Nelson Mandela became all sorts of things to all sorts of people. The image of Mandela served the cause of reconciliation rather than of inquiring into what really happened. South Africa had to come to the ‘conclusion’ it did to avoid conflagration in the 1990s … Mandela … was … the creation of the ANC.”

John Saul

They came. They spoke. They contested. The sixth M&G Literary Festival has been put to bed.

This year’s edition is done and work on 2016’s has already begun. It’s a year-long task of the most stimulating kind for me and my codirector, Corina van der Spoel, 364 days before the two days of the Litfest itself (yes, 364 plus two as 2016 is a leap year). The Litfest lives not in suspended animation between its annual outings but in animated suspense. See you soon.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Darryl Accone
Darryl Accone has been in journalism for the best part of four decades. He is also a Fellow of the Salzburg Seminar and the International Writers Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University and the author of ‘All Under Heaven: The Story of a Chinese Family in South Africa’ and ‘Euripides Must Die’.

Related stories

New partnership gives space to up-and-coming publishers

With the publishing industry evolving, the SA Book Fair aims to facilitate this evolution by supporting young publishers and writers.

South African Book Fair’s thought-provoking reads

Despite having a relatively small local book market, the SA publishing industry has produced some exciting books that you can read at the book fair.

African publishers promote their titles at SA Book Fair

Here's a list of the publishers from sub-Saharan Africa invited by Goethe-Institut to be part of this year’s South African Book Fair.

SA Book Fair: Madiba’s legacy revisited

The annual fair, together with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, will present a dialogue at the upcoming fair: Revisiting Madiba’s Legacy.

Steven Friedman: Taking sides on the charter

Political analyst Steven Friedman - who features on one of the M&G Lit Fest panels - looks at a critique of South Africa's Freedom Charter.

SA bonded to a stupid economy

Resistance is rising to the liberalising ideology of the South African state and corporate elites, says Patrick Bond, who is on an M&G Lit Fest panel.

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

Joe Biden’s debate guests run the only Zimbabwean restaurant in...

A Zimbabwean restaurant feeding people in need formed an unlikely addition to Joe Biden’s election campaign

The high road is in harm reduction

While the restriction of movement curtailed the health services for people who use drugs in some parts of the world, it propelled other countries into finding innovative ways to continue services, a new report reveals

Khaya Sithole: Tsakani Maluleke’s example – and challenge

Shattering the glass ceiling is not enough, the new auditor general must make ‘live’ audits the norm here in SA

State’s wage freeze sparks apoplexy

Public sector unions have cried foul over the government’s plan to freeze wages for three years and have vowed to fight back.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday