Speaking in Tongues - the Baobab Has a Story to Tell

Veteran wordsmith and poet Sandile Ngidi was never really lost to literature but in the trenches after others dusted their army boots and fatigues and swapped them for Versace suits and comfortable offices in skyrise buildings.

I used to meet Bra Sandile at book launches and other literature functions, but never really had enough time to engage him on what he was up to until I found a beautiful journal of South African New Writing in my mailbox titled Baobab.

Now Baobab is not really a journal of new writing as that title might be suggesting, that belongs to wordsetc, though not exclusively ‘new’ writing. Baobab is what the literary community of this country ordered in 1994 to articulate everyday literature issues but was only delivered fourteen years later – courtesy of visionary Dr Pallo Jordan’s progressive Department of Arts and Culture.

The one that bumped into my mailbox was the launch issue which was for Autumn 2008 and featured on its cover winner of the inaugural Daimler Chrysler Award and poet Gabeba Baderoon.

As if that teaser alone was not enough to get me hooked it featured fresh writing from prolific gifted wordsmiths such as the man who advises the minister of Arts and Culture and our poet laureate Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile, Chairperson of the South African Literary Award (SALA) Adjudication Panel Vusi Mchunu and all those you thought were lost in the annals of our literary maze.

This is a well of unadulterated wisdom, where you go to quench your literary thirst after 40 days in the desert. I would strongly prescribe this journal for Julius Malema, because this is where he’ll get his overdue initiation into manhood and unconditional respect for adults.

In his essay The Ideology of Reconciliation acclaimed author of Mandela’s Ego and many books Lewis Nkosi looks at our selective amnesia and subjective spirit of forgiveness. We forgive the Boers and fail to forgive ourselves. His essay takes the reader into a self-introspective journey where you should ask yourself what’s the point of whispering every morning ‘forgive us our trespasses’ while you can’t forgive yourself.

Nkosi writes, “however, even more disturbing is the suspicion that these days to be ‘consecrated’ as a true representative of our country’s literary culture you must promote what has become the state ideology of ‘reconciliation’. It is unlikely that any work that does not embody this ideology can ever win any of our major prizes”. That’s his gripe while also acknowledging that Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull deserved every award it won, without really indicting it of falling squarely into this category of ass-lickers.

Scholar Andries Oliphant takes a trip into the making of modern literature, which borrows a tremendous lot from earlier authors of Africa’s hunger for freedom and self-determination – the original patriots. He, like a surgeon fresh out of medical school cuts through Wole Soyinka’s Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems with a precision last seen in circumcision schools.

In concluding his analysis he writes, “in a world that remains charged with the archaic and stubborn will to dominate, old-style imperialism has given way to supranational reconfigurations of the world as a space of finance, labour, resources and markets. This is the world into which Mandela was released”.

Actually there is more nectar in this book to brew 50000 litres of an alcoholic drink, enough to get the whole ANC Youth League conference sloshed. Between these pages you engage with literary brewmasters like Janice Warman, Hugh Mdlalose, Ntongela Masilela, Kole Omotoso, there’s also a feel good factor with Bra Sandile’s profile of Afro-Chic sensation Lira and many more.

Baderoon wonders in Suddenly Everything, “in a country of raw, torn divides, this is not a simple assertion. In writing poetry, we turn our insides out. This exposure makes poets vulnerable. What if people think our interior is indulgent? Or dangerous? Or absurd? Should we protect ourselves, cover up the emotions?

Without giving everything away there’s a classical Kgositsile poem titled, I know a Few Things. “my sister who knew/ that just trying to stay alive/ in the streets of Chitown/ was like guerilla warfare says/ if the shoe fits/ it might be yours…my brother says/ silence is death by default/ and so I know I am alive/ because it is my voice/ that startles me now with/’DAAR IS KAK IN DIE LAND’”

I know how this book got to me, through the mail but I truly don’t know how it can get to you because while it claims to retail at R20, I haven’t seen it at Exclusive, CNA or any of the many bookstores where I enjoy my espresso. Drop them an email at editor@baobabjournal.co.za

However, truly Bra Sandile put together an extraordinary title that should stand its own against the tens of titles clattering shelves out there. Honestly I still wonder how Daily Sun still manages to sell when South Afrika has such thought-provoking writings in circulation.

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