College of Humanities

UKZN Hosts Annual Mafika Gwala Lecture

Award-winning author and journalist Mr Fred Khumalo delivered the fifth annual Mafika Gwala Lecture on the Howard College campus.
Scenes from the annual Mafika Gwala lecture.
Scenes from the annual Mafika Gwala lecture.

Hosted by the College of Humanities together with South African History Online (SAHO) and the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), the lecture coincided with the fifth anniversary of the death of Gwala and was part of a research programme led by SAHO to critically evaluate the role of the Arts in the struggle against apartheid.

Speaking at the event, Dean and Head of the School of Arts, Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, said: ‘The lecture is fitting as it dovetails into UKZN’s strategic plan in which research excellence and transformation are key.’

The CEO of SAHO and good friend of Gwala, Mr Omar Badsha, said the lecture series ‘seeks to reclaim and popularise the work of Gwala and his contemporaries’ who shaped the discourse on issues of race, gender and the aesthetic sensibility of so many of today’s artists.

In the lecture, Khumalo shared anecdotes and fond memories of being mentored as a writer by Gwala, known for his books: Bitches Brew and Dancing the Death Drill.

‘Gwala had explained to me in detail how the writing game worked,’ said Khumalo. ‘You don’t just become a writer. You have to live, before you can write. The best entry point into the writing game, he suggested to me, was to start out as a journalist,’ said Khumalo.

He immediately understood that for Gwala, writing and political activism were the two sides of the same coin. ‘In Gwala’s hands, literature (his poetry and essays) was a weapon, a tool to carve a future for his people,’ said Khumalo. ‘You could argue that his stance was simply that: you cannot write normal poetry in an abnormal society.’

Khumalo said he viewed Gwala’s work and that of his contemporaries as a direct response to the socio-political conditions of his time – ‘his work will continue to appeal to the discerning literary historians interested in the complex interconnections between history and literature’.

In later years, as Khumalo’s confidence as a writer grew, Gwala would every now and then ask him to write about Hammarsdale. ‘He had enjoyed my autobiography Touch My Blood, which paid tribute to the township. But he expected a bigger book, a more ambitious tome. He said that by writing such a book, we would begin to unshackle ourselves from the monster of apartheid. While he agreed that the system of apartheid was dead, our minds, our souls were still in the clutches of the ghost of apartheid. In order to free ourselves from those clutches, we had to free our history.’

Khumalo said cultural reclamation was imperative for him as a writer and was a lesson he had learned from Gwala, adding: ‘He taught me how to write from a black consciousness perspective.’

In October this year, Khumalo began a walk from Johannesburg to Durban to commemorate 7000 Zulu men, women and children who had walked from Johannesburg to Durban during the Anglo-Boer war.

Khumalo’s walk – aligned to his recently published book The Longest March –  started  at Wits University in Johannesburg.  He said during the journey he thought what his friend and mentor Gwala would have thought of the walk and told the story in his book ‘from the black perspective to bring a semblance of justice and closure to the narrative.

‘Thanks to the inheritance left to us by Gwala, we have made the choice to continue with the journey towards finding and celebrating, through our literature, the elusive human spirit. The choice we have made today projects itself backwards and changes our past actions and inactions. This is the time for our redemption,’ said Khumalo.

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