To the uninitiated, these two stellar wordsmiths passed away in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Both men were award winning writers. K. Sello Duiker, the dreadlocked 'traveling salesman' was the 2001 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book, Africa Region winner for his novel Thirteen Cents and the 2002 Herman Charles Bosman Prize for English Literature for The Quiet Violence of Dreams. He was born in April 13, 1974 and was found hanging on 19 January 2005, foul play suspected. One of the people who contributed tributes to Duiker, Homi K. Bhabba noted, "despite my disappointment at your unceremonious death, I respect your decision"
The second writer is Phaswane Mpe, who was born in 10 September 1970 in rural Limpopo Province and who was an academic attached to the prestigious University of the Witwatersrand. He was largely known for his brave eye-opener titled Welcome to Our Hillbrow, a novel which dealt with xenophobia and HIV amongst South Africans, and which some say it was sort of autobiographical. Mpe died, after a long illness, closely after his wife. Paying tribute to him Siphiwo Mahala borrowed a line from Mpe's book about a character that died, "He (you) died, poor chap; of what precisely, no one knew"
That said, Words Gone Two Soon is a tribute to the two great men. They are afforded an honour many people only dream of. The book is made up of contributions from today's literature heavyweights and prospects. It is edited by Professor Mbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane and contains contributions from no less than 50 writers who all took time off their busy lives to afford the two soldiers a 249 page salute. To emphasize the importance and richness of this book one needs not look further than its makers. While Mzamane was at pains to sell the story that it was largely 'their' peers who were taking the honour to salute them, the list includes Niq Mhlongo (Dog Eat Dog), Gabeba Baderoon (The Dream in the next Body), Keorapetsi Kgotsisile, Kgafela oa Magogodi (Thy Condom Come), Lebogang Mashile (In the Ribbon of the Rythmn), Don Mattera, Abdul Milazi etc.
One of the most important poems in the book was written by Marcia Nonkululeko Tladi titled Dear Death, "...where shall we meet though/ i was thinking on the bottom of that/ 37 floor sky-scraper in town/...I would ask you to steal me in the middle of the night/ while I lie asleep on my bed/ but that's not your style anymore is it/ you were kinder to my ancestors/ and I understand/ it must have become boring for you". Tladi's painful lament is defeatism at its best. It is the whining of a person that has been fed-up with death's treacherous behaviour to the extent that she decided that she was no longer going to fear it but rather befriend.
Other notable statements in the book come from Mzamane who writes in the editorial about the reluctant writers still lurking in the shadows, yet quoting Monica Arac de Nyedo, "'a story that must be told never forgives silence". Think again, because it suggests that the two deceased writers told their stories. Mzamane goes on to write, "when the young begin to spice their talk liberally with proverbs, you know the time to dress them in diapers is past".
His soothing words are punctuated by McQueen Motuba who pleads with the authorities to give the young voices a platform, "I am impatient to see schools allowing learners the opportunity to read works by Africa's new literary lions". To which Mzamane responds by quoting Duiker and Mpe when he writes, "you cannot be an accomplished writer if you are not a voracious reader". Duiker is a man who told an interviewer that he had three manuscripts rejected before Thirteen Cents was accepted.
Finally the most painful tribute comes from Duiker's publisher Annari van der Merwe who had the enviable task of working on his last manuscript and sending it back and forth. She wrote in the book, "The manuscript never reached him. His mother collected it from the post office on the Wednesday, the day of his death". In his own words Duiker once said, "I think the book (Quiet Violence of Dreams) is not 'politically correct' although it is a sensitive account of what I think is happening in South Africa right now. It's also a young black man's view of what is happening - perhaps that is its strongest selling points considering that very few black writers have gotten the kind of critical acclaim that our white counterparts have had"
For Mpe, Mahala provides a telling note, "You talked about Heaven and Hell as imaginary places of continued existence located in our collective consciousness". Mpe also said about his own book, "I had to do something, if only to reassure myself that my life was worth living. Only a week before that, some friends had gently talked me out of suicidal intentions. I with to encourage you to be patient and to resist being put off by rejection slips"
The book has lots of writers and nectar to last you not only past the winter, but for many more years. I guess it's undoubtedly on its way into the school system. All proceeds from the book go a Trust Fund established on behalf of the writers. It is published by Umgangatho Media and Communications, supported by the Department of Arts and Culture and should be available at your nearest bookstore.