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Centre for Creative Arts

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Crimes of History and Africa Dreaming at the Time of the Writer

Opening Music Billy Kahora, Kole Omotoso, Max du Preez

The second evening of the 12th Time of the Writer saw two compelling panel discussions, featuring eminent writers from across the African continent, hold the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre audience rapt. Assessing the role that writers should play in relation to crimes against humanity, and the relative merits and implications of the term “Magical Realism” as a literary genre in African writing, formed the basis of the thoughtful exchange of ideas.

The first session, “Crimes of History” – facilitated by long-serving justice rabble-rouser Max du Preez – witnessed Billy Kahora (Kenya) and Kole Omotoso (Nigeria) direct a glaring light at Africa’s human rights record.

Kahora, a writer, activist and editor, unreservedly charged politicians with the crime of feeding a “recurrent cycle of human stupidity”, in which liberators became enslavers as they ascend to power. Du Preez, ever the contrarian, shared anecdotes of early extravagances by Robert Mugabe – a man still perceived in many corners as a symbol of success – whilst “the masses starved”. African leaders’ “absurd capability to get away with anything”, and the overly-respectful esteem accorded them, was linked pointedly with the flimsy scapegoats often trotted-out on their behalf: “colonialism” and “imperialism”. From the atrocities of Darfur to the post-election violence in Kenya, the need for an effective infrastructure and systems of punishment in times of “transformational justice” was brought tellingly home.

Zachariah Rapola, Mia Couto and Elana Bregin Mia Couto Reads

Mia Couto of Mozambique and South Africa’s own Zachariah Rapola both expressed reservations with the use of the term “Magical Realism” in their discussion, entitled “Africa Dreaming: Magic, Imagination and Literature’” For Rapola, his award-winning collection of stories, Beginnings of a Dream – which he later read a beguiling passage from – drew very tangibly from his own cultural practice of dialogue with the ancestors – an unseen reality by no means incredible, fanatical or “magical” in his estimation. Couto – although wary of the wholesale use of a single term in describing a diversity of original, disparate narratives – did articulate storytelling’s role in pointing to fundamental, often forgotten, truths through the devices of fantasy, and the inherent “magic” of the relationship between writer and reader. Through this, he said, the “hidden, universal and eternal” could be arrived at. Reading from his book A River Called Time, a single line captured, for me, the genre’s power of the otherworldly: ‘You slid into death as a bird folding wings.’


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