Mohamed Mbougar Sarr: Senegalese novelist’s win is a landmark for African literature


Mohamed Mbougar Sarr on a TV show after winning the Prix Goncourt.
Photo by Eric Fougere/Corbis via Getty Images

Caroline D. Laurent, American University of Paris (AUP)The Prix Goncourt – the oldest and most prestigious literary prize in France – has been awarded to 31-year-old Mohamed Mbougar Sarr from Senegal. He’s the youngest winner since 1976 and the first from sub-Saharan Africa. Critics have been raving about The Most Secret Memory of Men, his novel about a young Senegalese writer living in Paris. The jury made a unanimous decision to award Mbougar Sarr the prize after just one round of voting, calling his work “a hymn to literature”. The prize will bring him literary fame and huge book sales, says Caroline D. Laurent, a specialist in Francophone African literature in France. We asked her more.


Who is Mohamed Mbougar Sarr?

Author of the 2021 Prix Goncourt-winning novel The Most Secret Memory of Men (La Plus Secrète Mémoire des Hommes) Mbougar Sarr is a young Senegalese author who grew up outside Dakar and moved to Paris to continue his studies. At just 31, he has already published three other novels, his first in 2015: Encircled Earth (Terre Ceinte), Silence of the Choir (Silence du Chœur) and Pure Men (De Purs Hommes).

Starting his studies in Senegal, he began his doctorate at the prestigious School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris, working on poet and Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor. Writing got in the way and prevented him from ever finishing and graduating. He now lives in Beauvais, a city north of Paris.

What is the novel about?

The Most Secret Memory of Men plays with reality and fiction. It tells the story of a young Senegalese author, Diégane Latyr Faye, who lives in Paris. In high school in Senegal he had come across mentions of a mysterious novel published in 1938 by a Senegalese author called T.C. Elimane, The Labyrinth of the Inhuman. Unable to find a copy, he had put his quest aside, considering it to be one of the many lost books of literature. But, by chance a few years later, he meets a Senegalese writer, Siga D, who gives him a copy of the book. The reading (and numerous re-readings) of what he considers to be a masterpiece revives his desire to find out what happened to the mysterious T.C. Elimane.

Why does the book matter?

The Most Secret Memory of Men is a novel about writing and literature. It is full of literary references – like to celebrated Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño and prolific Polish author Witold Gombrowicz. But it’s the obscure references that are probably the most interesting: the fictional T.C. Elimane’s book and his fate echoes that of real-life Malian author Yambo Ouologuem – who Mbougar Sarr’s own novel is dedicated to.

Winner of the 1968 Prix Renaudot for Bound to Violence (Le Devoir de Violence), Ouologuem sparked controversy after a 1972 article in the Times Literary Supplement claimed he had plagiarised several authors, including Graham Greene and André Schwarz-Bart. He returned to Mali and never published again. Just as the narrator of Mbougar Sarr’s novel, Diégane Latyr Faye, is his alter ego, T.C. Elimane is Ouologuem’s.




Read more:
Damon Galgut’s Booker-winning novel probes white South Africa and the land issue


As much as it is about writing, The Most Secret Memory of Men is also about reading. The work is polyphonic (with many narrators besides Faye), it is transcultural (set in Europe, Africa and South America) and it mixes different literary genres (letters, articles, conversations), encouraging many different types of readings. Some may focus on the historical events depicted – the novel alludes to colonialism, the World Wars, Nazism and the Holocaust, the dictatorship in Argentina and recent Senegalese demonstrations against state corruption. Others may focus on the mysterious elements that recall some features of magical realism. Or on the literary references, both African and global, that punctuate the text. Or all of the above.

A book cover with a brown and black illustration of an African man with turquoise written words in old-fashioned italics behind him.

Philippe Rey

It needs to be read for what it is – a great novel – and not because of the origin or the skin colour of its author. This is exactly why T.C. Elimane disappeared: hurt by some reviews, he felt misunderstood because his work was read through the lens of the work of others, notably that of French poet Arthur Rimbaud (he was called a “Rimbaud nègre” or black Rimbaud).

Why does this Prix Goncourt win matter?

For these reasons, winning the Prix Goncourt should be viewed as African literature finally being recognised for its literary qualities. One should focus on this (late) recognition and perhaps question why, faced with the many great novels by African writers, Mbougar Sarr’s win is so rare. The Most Secret Memory of Men is quite subversively brilliant in denouncing, through literature, the literary capture of African writers by former colonial powers.




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Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah: an introduction to the man and his writing


Jointly published by two small publishing houses, Philippe Rey in France and Jimsaan in Senegal, the novel is truly transnational. The recognition of these publishing houses on two continents will, hopefully, enhance and help rebalance African countries’ role in publishing and distributing the works of their authors. Mohamed Mbougar Sarr is not only denouncing colonial and neocolonial practices, but also encouraging new ways of publishing and reaching readers.

The Most Secret Memory of Men is a powerful text not only because of its writing, its themes, and what it says about the place of African literature in the world, but also because of how it opens up future possibilities for Francophone authors.The Conversation

Caroline D. Laurent, Assistant Professor, American University of Paris (AUP)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Booker Prize: Damon Galgut’s The Promise is a reminder of South Africa’s continued and difficult journey to a better future


Daniel Conway, University of WestminsterThis article may contain spoilers.

Damon Galgut, a white South African playwright and novelist, has won the 2021 Booker Prize for his novel The Promise, a satirical portrait of a white family living in Pretoria in post-apartheid South Africa. The story is a very personal one for Galgut, who grew up in Pretoria and witnessed late apartheid and its demise.

The novel follows the decline of four generations of the Swart family over 40 years and starts at the end of apartheid. It focuses on the pledge made by a dying family member to bequeath the family’s property to their black domestic worker. This promise goes ignored by future generations of the family. And it becomes an allegory for the broken promises made to black South Africans at the dawn of the country’s non-racial democracy in 1994.

As an academic who has focused on South African society and history, I first came across a photo of Galgut when I was researching the End Conscription Campaign – a white anti-apartheid movement formed in 1983 that aimed to abolish compulsory military service.

Like all white men at the time, Galgut was legally obliged to serve for two years in the South African army enforcing apartheid rule. Galgut was featured as “National Serviceman of the Month” in a 1983 edition of the apartheid military’s propaganda magazine, Paratus. This is a broader subject he has explored in his 1991 novel, The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs.

A troubled history

The majority of white South Africans are descended from Dutch settlers and speak Afrikaans. During apartheid, racial separation was legally enforced and many white people saw themselves as a superior race. Whites were given the best jobs and education – creating a wealthy white elite. After a lengthy Liberation Struggle with widespread protests and leading to a violent State of Emergency in the 1980s, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and negotiations began.

The African National Congress has been in power in South Africa ever since the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. But under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma (2009-2018), the party badly let down the country – with a decade of endemic corruption.

Today, more than 25 years since the first democratic elections, white South Africans continue to dominate the economy, higher education and much of the media. And white South Africans continue to wield significant political power.

At the same time, many in the country’s white community have ignored their role in ongoing racial inequality and are resistant to meaningful social, economic and political change. Large numbers of white families have emigrated or retreated to fortified luxury compounds within the country – and continue to profit from systems of structural racism. It is maybe no surprise, then, that white supremacist movements in South Africa are thriving.

White resistance

As I discovered in my research, many white liberals who once opposed apartheid have become reactionary critics in the new South Africa.

Politician and former journalist, Helen Zille, for example, who served as the national leader (2007–2015) of the Democratic Alliance – South Africa’s official opposition party – has gone from being a liberal anti-apartheid and anti-conscription campaigner in the 1980s, to controversially describing South Africa as ‘a modern constitutional democracy’, imposed, ‘on what is largely a traditional, African feudal society’ and reproducing culture war discourses for a South African audience in her latest book #Stay Woke: Go Broke.

Despite Zille, who is also the former mayor of Cape Town and premier of the Western Cape, being publicly called out, suspended and investigated by her own party for numerous tweets that defended colonialism, claiming it was “not all bad”, she remains the party’s Federal Chairperson and played a leading role in the recent provincial and municipal elections.

Farm land and a sunset.
Aerial view of farmland east of Pretoria, South Africa, where the novel is set.
Salt Rock Digital/Shutterstock

Research has also found that many white people who lived through apartheid minimise the suffering and racism of the time. It has even been claimed by some that white “suffering” post-apartheid could be worse than the experiences of black people during apartheid.

But while racism is still deeply embedded, with South Africa’s simmering social and class divisions continuing to play out, there are some signs of racial reconciliation. Just as during the traumatic years of apartheid, intelligent and humane cultural critics, artists, academics and activists, continue to be deeply committed to achieving meaningful change.

Indeed, with the success of The Promise, Damon Galgut joins a distinguished line of South African authors. Those such as Herman Charles Bosman, Andre Brink, Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee, all of whom grappled with the complex dynamics of the country’s white community in their writing. And in this way, Galgut’s Booker win serves a crucial purpose in illuminating, questioning and exploring the country’s continued difficult journey to a better future.The Conversation

Daniel Conway, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Studies, University of Westminster

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Damon Galgut’s Booker-winning novel probes white South Africa and the land issue


Damon Galgut at a photocall for this year’s Booker Prize in London.
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Sofia Kostelac, University of the WitwatersrandSouth African writer Damon Galgut has won the UK’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize, for his work The Promise. It was Galgut’s third shortlisting for the career-defining award, which has evaded him until now. In 2003 he was shortlisted for The Good Doctor and in 2010 for In a Strange Room. So what is it that makes his latest novel The Promise so special? We asked Galgut expert Sofia Kostelac to fill us in about the writer and his tale of a white South African family’s reckoning with a racist past – and why the book is important, especially in South Africa where it is set.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.


Who is Damon Galgut?

Damon Galgut is a South African writer born in Pretoria in 1963. He now lives and works in Cape Town. He made his literary debut at the age of 18, with the publication of his first novel, A Sinless Season, in 1982. The Promise is his ninth novel, and the third to be shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize. Although best known for his novels, Galgut has also authored several plays, screenplays and short stories.

Like many readers, I was first made aware of Galgut’s writing when The Good Doctor was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003. That novel encompasses many of the themes that Galgut has become best known for, including his searching meditations on the devastating legacies of apartheid and white-minority rule in South Africa. Yet his literary range also extends well beyond forms of politically engaged realism. It includes experiments with fictionalised memoir or ‘autrebiography’ (In a Strange Room), biographical fiction (Arctic Summer) and metaphysical crime writing (The Quarry and The Impostor).

What is The Promise all about?

The Promise is a carefully layered novel that spans just over three decades in the lives of the Swarts, a white South African family living on a farm just outside of Pretoria. The promise of the novel’s title refers to the commitment that Manie makes to fulfil his wife Rachel’s dying wish: to give their domestic worker Salome, who has worked for the family for decades, the house on the Swart farm in which she lives. The promise remains unfulfilled for the next 31 years as successive inheritors of the land refuse to cede the property to Salome.

The novel is divided into four parts, each focused on the death and funeral of a member of the Swart family. The deaths occur roughly a decade apart from each other. This is a structuring device that allows Galgut to hold three decades of South African history – from the violent state of emergency in the mid-1980s to the tumult of contemporary times – in view. While the dramatic socio-political changes of these years are apparent in every aspect of the Swart family’s lives, little changes for Salome, whose wait for the dignity and safety represented by land and property endures.

Why does the book matter?

At the heart of the novel – and the unfulfilled promise to Salome – lies the question of what sort of restitution is possible in the context of South Africa’s brutally iniquitous history? The bitter irony on which the story rests is that Salome’s house is entirely undesirable, consisting of “three rooms and a broken roof. On a tough piece of land.” It holds almost no material value for the Swarts, yet the family is torn asunder by their disagreements over its fate.

What would it take, the novel implicitly asks, for a family like the Swarts to give up a modicum of their privilege to nudge us towards a more equitable society? The Promise attends, with meticulous detail and insight, to the pathologies of racism, pride and fear that make such acts unlikely.

Galgut has rightly been praised by reviewers and the Booker judges for the formal skill with which he handles these vexing themes. The narrative voice is a remarkably inventive one that ranges between diverse characters with apparent ease, and delivers a rare combination of irony and empathy that wryly critiques the novel’s deeply flawed and afflicted characters without dehumanising them.

Does the Booker Prize matter and what will it do for Galgut’s career?

The Booker Prize is almost unparalleled in the attention and esteem it affords its winners. The prize has played a significant role in shaping the South African literary canon, and Galgut is now likely to take up a well-earned place alongside pantheons like J.M Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer as among the most recognised, studied and anthologised of the country’s writers.The Conversation

Sofia Kostelac, Lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai has reinvented the idea of a library


The Johannesburg version of the library.
Anthea Pokroy/Courtesy Kudzanai Chiurai

Tinashe Mushakavanhu, University of the WitwatersrandZimbabwe born artist Kudzanai Chiurai is a phenomenon. He is one of the most challenging and inventive figures in contemporary African art. From large scale photos of fictional African dictators to experimental films and protest posters, rich oil paintings and minimal sculptures, his work is housed in the world’s top galleries and collections.

Chiurai, though, frequently shrugs off gallery spaces to show in warehouses, on the street or in urban locations. His latest project, The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember, is housed in a boutique shopping complex, 44 Stanley, in Johannesburg. It is built around his collecting practice focused on preserving archives and memorialising social and cultural history from southern Africa. He’s turned his own personal library and archive into a public art project.

It’s an idea informed by Chiurai’s obsessive interest in history and accumulation of artefacts such as books, pamphlets, zines, newspapers, vinyl records, political posters, audio recordings and other ephemera – materials that explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements.

The work takes a pointedly nontraditional approach to archivism. The selection and acquisition is determined by interaction. It is managed as a kind of commons where people can share and benefit from the artist’s collection and what is donated by others. Whereas most archives and libraries stress the preservation of materials, Chiurai’s library promotes access, physical engagement, and active use of the materials to maintain their continued relevance.




Read more:
How artists have preserved the memory of Zimbabwe’s 1980s massacres


The library reflects Chiurai’s artistic repertoire, which deploys the use of mixed media to address social, political and cultural issues. It calls to mind his groundbreaking 2011 exhibition State of the Nation which explored conflict by constructing an African utopia that enabled him to merge forms and mediums, juxtapose political ideas, evoke historical figures – like a speech by slain Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba delivered by artist Zaki Ibrahim – alongside a performance by contemporary musician Thandiswa Mazwai.

In his work Chiurai imagines new ways to activate, share, present and reinvent the archives, as he does with his latest project, the library.

The library

Initially, in 2017, The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember was of no fixed abode, usually incorporated into the artist’s own exhibitions. But the concept of a mobile library was altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted movement and live events. The library is about gathering, not just materials, but people. It is supposed to be a meeting place.

Now, Chiurai also invites others to curate this archive, to re-arrange it for regular public viewing in a rented space. He considers the library to be:

Itself a form of liberated zone. It functions independently – I find a different librarian every time … and different people see the process of cataloguing differently. Some look at it visually, and some aurally – and so different librarians bring different things to my attention.

a structure within a room, two smaller rooms. One contains a large filing cabinet and the other a couch, record player and political posters. A man sits on the couch listening to a record.

Anthea Pokroy/Courtesy Kudzanai Chiurai

The library includes the artist’s extensive collection of vinyl records associated with liberation movements in southern Africa from the 1970s-80s, notably Zimbabwean Chimurenga and South African anti-apartheid struggle music. There are also recordings of speeches by historical political figures such as Ian Smith, Kwame Nkrumah, Mobutu Sese Seko, Dr Martin Luther King and even a dramatic re-enactment of the trial of Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale.

The collection has continued to grow. In 2018 it obtained digital recordings from the US-based educational project, Freedom Archives – radio interviews with political figures and women involved in the liberation movements in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Guinea- Bissau, as well as the US civil rights movement. Other materials are donated by individuals and institutions.

Accordingly, Chiurai treats these traces of struggle with great care. Some of these historical documents and posters are now framed and hung on the white walls. Once, these materials chronicled life in Black Africa or Black America as it happened. Now, they are artefacts of frozen moments in history. His library is conceived as a place of contemplation and reflection. There is a big green couch and listening stations.

against a backdrop of angular colour block paintings, a bald bearded man in glasses smiles as he talks into a microphone.
Kudzanai Chiurai in Accra, Ghana, 2018.
Linus Petit, CC BY-SA

The art of remembering

The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember is part of an effort to expand ideas of what a library can be and its decolonisation. It is an extension of new ways people are using the ‘library’ as a place of inquiry and conversation with the past.

Perhaps, what is fascinating is that Chiurai’s library is not static, but re-arranges in the hands of a guest librarian, and has travelled from its first iteration in Harare, to Cape Town, Kalmar, Södertälje and Johannesburg. Previous librarians have been the political writing platform Chimurenga in Harare, writer and DJ El Corazone in Cape Town, and film director and deejay Sifiso Khanyile in Johannesburg.

A depiction of The Last Supper with a black female Jesus figure.
A still from Kudzanai Chiurai’s film Iyeza.
Screengrab courtesy Kudzanai Chiurai

What Chiurai is doing is to incubate a new model for artistic creation and knowledge production that interferes with the circulation, display and preservation of cultural objects. Who has a right to assign value? Who decides what is history? What kinds of materials should be collected? How can access be expanded to new publics?

Visitors also have a responsibility. They are not just passive observers, but collaborators, interpreters, and readers. The library becomes a place of provocation that allows multiple registers of value, because value is negotiated. It’s also about the reinvention of the library as a space for multiple forms of contemplation. It is still a destination for artists, scholars, curators, and collectors to research and engage with southern African history.

Remembering is a virtue that Chiurai extols. In Black communities it is often an expensive luxury, a privilege. But through this new space arranged in the form of a hybrid gallery, community center, library and archive, remembering is translated into a collective process of reimagining and of sharing heritage. It is also testament of the generosity behind Chiurai’s art practice, of care and community.The Conversation

Tinashe Mushakavanhu, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The first-ever dictionary of South Africa’s Kaaps language has launched – why it matters


Graffiti artist Falko Starr finishes a mural in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images

Adam Haupt, University of Cape Town

It’s been in existence since the 1500s but the Kaaps language, synonymous with Cape Town in South Africa, has never had a dictionary until now. The Trilingual Dictionary of Kaaps has been launched by a collective of academic and community stakeholders – the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research at the University of the Western Cape along with the hip hop-driven community NGO Heal the Hood Project. The dictionary – in Kaaps, English and Afrikaans – holds the promise of being a powerful democratic resource. Adam Haupt, director of the Centre for Film & Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, is involved in the project and tells us more.


What is Kaaps and who uses the language?

Kaaps or Afrikaaps is a language created in settler colonial South Africa, developed by the 1500s. It took shape as a language during encounters between indigenous African (Khoi and San), South-East Asian, Dutch, Portuguese and English people. It could be argued that Kaaps predates the emergence of an early form of Kaaps-Hollands (the South African variety of Dutch that would help shape Afrikaans). Traders and sailors would have passed through this region well before formal colonisation commenced. Also consider migration and movement on the African continent itself. Every intercultural engagement would have created an opportunity for linguistic exchange and the negotiation of new meaning.

Today, Kaaps is most commonly used by largely working class speakers on the Cape Flats, an area in Cape Town where many disenfranchised people were forcibly moved by the apartheid government. It’s used across all online and offline contexts of socialisation, learning, commerce, politics and religion. And, because of language contact and the temporary and seasonal migration of speakers from the Western Cape, it is written and spoken across South Africa and beyond its borders.

It is important to acknowledge the agency of people from the global South in developing Kaaps – for example, the language was first taught in madrassahs (Islamic schools) and was written in Arabic script. This acknowledgement is imperative especially because Afrikaner nationalists appropriated Kaaps in later years.

For a great discussion of Kaaps and explanation of examples of words and phrases from this language, listen to this conversation between academic Quentin Williams and journalist Lester Kiewit.

How did the dictionary come about?

The dictionary project, which is still in its launch phase, is the result of ongoing collaborative work between a few key people. You might say it’s one outcome of our interest in hip hop art, activism and education. We are drawn to hip hop’s desire to validate black modes of speech. In a sense, this is what a dictionary will do for Kaaps.

Quentin Williams, a sociolinguist, leads the project. Emile Jansen, Tanswell Jansen and Shaquile Southgate serve on the editorial board on behalf of Heal the Hood Project, which is an NGO that employs hip hop education in youth development initiatives. Emile also worked with hip hop and theatre practitioners on a production called Afrikaaps, which affirmed Kaaps and narrated some of its history. Anthropologist H. Samy Alim is the founding director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Language at Stanford University and has assisted in funding the dictionary, with the Western Cape’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport.

An album cover with the title 'Afrikaaps', an illustration of assorted cool looking young people with a mountain in the background.
CD art from the musical Afrikaaps.
Courtesy of Afrikaaps/Dylan Valley

We’re in the process of training the core editorial board in the scientific area of lexicography, translation and transcription. This includes the archiving of the initial, structured corpus for the dictionary. We will write down definitions and determine meanings of old and new Kaaps words. This process will be subjected to a rigorous review and editing and stylistic process of the Kaaps words we will enter in the dictionary. The entries will include their history of origin, use and uptake. There will also be a translation from standard Afrikaans and English.

Who will use the dictionary?

It will be a resource for its speakers and valuable to educators, students and researchers. It will impact the ways in which institutions, as loci of power, engage speakers of Kaaps. It would also be useful to journalists, publishers and editors keen to learn more about how to engage Kaaps speakers.

A Kaaps dictionary will validate it as a language in its own right. And it will validate the identities of the people who speak it. It will also assist in making visible the diverse cultural, linguistic, geographical and historical tributaries that contributed to the evolution of this language.

Kaaps was relegated to a slang status of Afrikaans?

Acknowledgement of Kaaps is imperative especially because Afrikaner nationalists appropriated Kaaps in order to create the dominant version of the language in the form of Afrikaans. A ‘suiwer’ or ‘pure’ version, claiming a strong Dutch influence, Afrikaans was formally recognised as an official language of South Africa in 1925. This was part of the efforts to construct white Afrikaner identity, which shaped apartheid based on a belief in white supremacy.




Read more:
Afrikaner identity in post-apartheid South Africa remains stuck in whiteness


For example, think about the Kaaps tradition of koesiesters – fried dough confectionery – which was appropriated (taken without acknowledgement) and the treats were named koeksisters by white Afrikaners. They were claimed as a white Afrikaner tradition. The appropriation of Kaaps reveals a great deal about the extent to which race is socially and politically constructed. As I have said elsewhere, cultural appropriation is both an expression of unequal relations of power and is enabled by them.

When people think about Kaaps, they often think about it as ‘mixed’ or ‘impure’ (‘onsuiwer’). This relates to the ways in which they think about ‘racial’ identity. They often think about coloured identity as ‘mixed’, which implies that black and white identities are ‘pure’ and bounded; that they only become ‘mixed’ in ‘inter-racial’ sexual encounters. This mode of thinking is biologically essentialist.




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Of course, geneticists now know that there is not sufficient genetic variation between the ‘races’ to justify biologically essentialist understandings. Enter cultural racism to reinforce the concept of ‘race’. It polices culture and insists on standard language varieties by denigrating often black modes of speech as ‘slang’ or marginal dialects.

Can a dictionary help overturn stereotypes?

Visibility and the politics of representation are key challenges for speakers of Kaaps – be it in the media, which has done a great job of lampooning and stereotyping speakers of Kaaps – or in these speakers’ engagement with governmental and educational institutions. If Kaaps is not recognised as a bona fide language, you will continue to see classroom scenarios where schoolkids are told explicitly that the way in which they speak is not ‘respectable’ and will not guarantee them success in their pursuit of careers.

This dictionary project, much like ones for other South African languages like isiXhosa, isiZulu or Sesotho, can be a great democratic resource for developing understanding in a country that continues to be racially divided and unequal.The Conversation

Adam Haupt, , University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Book review: Sindiwe Magona’s devastating, uplifting story of South African women


CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images

Lizzy Attree, Richmond American International University

Reading South African author Sindiwe Magona’s latest novel When the Village Sleeps reminded me of my time researching and teaching in the country’s Eastern Cape province a decade ago. While involved in community engagement for Rhodes University I heard stories of young people who would deliberately contract HIV in order to receive government disability grants.

When the Village Sleeps spans three generations of women in one family and the central role of ancestral belief and ancient custom – or a lack of it – in their lives. It initially focuses on Busi, a promising young student who benefits from an education at a good school due to the hard work and friendship of her grandmother with her former white employer.

It reveals the devastating motivation behind Busi’s teenage pregnancy orchestrated to produce a financial reward in the form of a child support grant from the state.

The shocking story at the centre of Magona’s latest novel is as heartbreaking as it is cruel – and yet the character of Busi’s daughter Mandlakazi (or Mandla) completely overturns the notion that her birth is a tragedy. She becomes the heroine who unites her family.

A book cover showing the title 'When the Village Sleeps' inside an illustration of a giant moon, trees and lands in the foreground and the name of the author, Sindiwe Magona.

Pan Macmillan/Picador Africa

Magona is a pioneering writer who, with this new novel, continues to feature challenging contemporary issues in her work, with incisive commentaries on power, masculinity and the role of women.

The old and the new

Mandla’s great grandmother, Khulu, who takes baby Mandla to the rural Eastern Cape to recuperate from birth disabilities and strengthen her, is central to the story and it is her unending devotion that seems to bring about such a significant change in the “broken bundle” she brings home to Sidwadweni.

Referencing the poetry and teachings of celebrated isiXhosa-language author and historian S.E.K. Mqhayi, the narration frequently shifts into poetry to enable the voice of Mandla to articulate her nascent consciousness which seems fused with her ancestors, “the Old”. From her earliest moments she would:

fall asleep to the ministrations

of her hands infused with care

and into that sleep

the lyrics of songs pouring from an ancient throat

sink deep into my mind

into my brain, my heart, my limbs.

No wonder Mandla is so transformed by the years she spends under Khulu’s care. She returns to Kwanele township in Cape Town with a divine gift that enables her to access the ancestral realm, and predict the future.

Central to the novel is abenzakalise (those who have harmed) and the consequences of their actions. On a personal level this relates to Busi’s strained relationship with her mother Phyllis and her estranged father, and then, as a teenager, the alcohol and the street drug tik she imbibes in order to deform her baby and receive the state’s disability allowance.

However, all of these characters are shown to be capable of redemption and change, as long as they adhere to Khulu’s wisdom – which is by no means a fixed regurgitation of “tradition” but a practical, living faith. So the resilience and strength of all the female characters shines through, as it does in Magona’s celebrated 2008 novel Beauty’s Gift.

A devastating critique

On a wider allegorical level the novel reads as a critique of South Africa itself, the impact of colonialism and the ruling African National Congress (ANC), who have harmed the people through corruption and a failure to tackle inequality, stunting the growth of a healthy, prosperous nation.

Explicit critique of the government and particularly government handouts which do nothing to really alleviate poverty, but just entrench feelings of helplessness, is evident throughout the novel.

Magona makes incisive judgements, through her characters – especially the elder Khulu and young Mandla – and offers possible solutions, which include honouring the earth and returning to self-sufficiency. This idealism can feel naïve at times but there’s something very seductive and straightforward about the self-care, and self-respect that comes from citizens helping themselves and transforming their communities from within.




Read more:
Learning from the story of pioneering South African writer Sindiwe Magona


Towards the end, the book tips into a kind of disabled girls’ manifesto or set of instructions for how to set up community-based support for disabled and marginalised young people. However Magona expertly shifts the narrative at that point back to a dialogue with the ancestors and manages to transform the didactic elements of the tale into wisdom that reaches up to the present day and the threat of COVID-19.

Very recent commentary on the difficulties of enforcing social distancing in communities which rely on food parcels during the pandemic, forcing locals to gather together to collect much needed help, is painful to read. The mistakes are so preventable and obvious and yet are made time and again.

The prophecy

Most interesting to me is the way in which the novel manages to balance the re-introduction of neglected female initiation rites alongside the magic realism of Mandla’s prediction of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the 15-year-old Xhosa prophetess Nongqawuse’s 19th century prophecy – which led to a millennial movement that culminated in the cattle-killing and famine of 1856-7 – Mandla’s foretelling that “the world will die”, comes true, although perhaps not on the scale the “voices” decreed:

The ground will not be able to swallow all the dead!

O-oh! The multitudinous dead!

There will be none left to bury the dead.

In many respects this prediction blurs, in my mind, with the scale of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that killed more than 2 million South Africans, with 7.7 million currently infected with HIV. Magona has written searingly on this topic before.

Once again excoriating the corruption and failures of government, the Fields of Hope project, which young Mandla initiates to grow food for the township, shines like a beacon when “what government help does for the poor is cement them in poverty… Here comes help that is real!”

Ending on a shockingly blunt and abrupt note, Magona leaves us, as always, with a lot to think about.The Conversation

Lizzy Attree, Adjunct Professor, Richmond American International University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hustler literature sheds light on the world of internet fraud in Nigeria


Internet crime has become attractive as a form of ‘hustle’ to many young Nigerians.
Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

Daniel Chukwuemeka, University of Bristol

Hustler narratives have emerged as a genre in world literature since the mid 1960s. It is an expansive genre, but deals broadly with the shortcomings of any given political economy as seen from the perspective of characters who position themselves as both victims and villains.

There have been groundbreaking hustler narratives from the US – like The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) written by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, and Donald Goines’s Dopefiend (1971). In recent times, critics have described the work of African American writers in this field as a type of crime fiction. They carry the expressions of people’s response to inner city problems such as de-industrialisation and police repression. The books represent individuals who operate outside the bounds of what American society might consider acceptable, just to survive.

Nigeria has made its own contribution to this field with its stories of political and religious hustle, sex worker narratives and many others about roadside hawkers, destitution, petty theft, and internet fraud. Notable examples include Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Trafficked (2008) and Igoni Barrett’s Blackass (2016). Other African entries include South African novelist Niq Mhlongo’s Dog Eat Dog (2004) and Congolese author Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses (2017).

African hustler narratives represent the way people survive at the margins of postcolonial African economies. A distinct kind of African hustler narrative is the Nigerian e-fraud story, portraying characters who engage in cybercrime trying to make scam e-mail recipients part with their money – locally called “Yahoo Boys”. The narratives show how people attempt to overcome geographic and economic disadvantages by creating alternative networks.

In a recent paper, I analysed some of these e-fraud novels – and one in particular, I Do Not Come To You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani – to show that they fit the literary canon of hustler novels and to find out what they have to say as a critique of the Nigerian state and its economy.

Between Afropolitans and hustlers

In my study I looked at Nigerian hustler narratives in relation to another common trend in African literature today: Afropolitanism.

Afropolitanism describes the experience of African subjects who attain the status of global citizenship. They do this by connecting to other non-African expressions of identity, community and sense of belonging.

Both hustler and Afropolitan narratives highlight the possibility of migration as a way to move socially. But whereas the privileged Afropolitan has a real chance of migration, the African hustler can only access it through a backdoor channel.

For example, In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Ifemelu’s migration to the US is through a legally documented process. In contrast, the female hustlers in Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street pay a pimp to smuggle them from Lagos to Antwerp.


Hachette Books (2009)

However, instead of physical migration, the hustlers (e-scammers) in Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come to You by Chance resist poor economic conditions by creating an alternate digital universe. This they navigate by e-mail, for access to global locations of capital.

Nigerian hustler narratives establish e-fraud practice as an alternative economy and show how and why such economies emerge. They can also be a potent critique of young Nigerians’ exclusion from the postcolonial economy.

I Do Not Come to You by Chance

The protagonist of Nwaubani’s book, Kingsley, turns to e-fraud as a way out of poverty.

After independence in 1960, Nigeria continued to adopt the colonial model of an extractive economy, with its dependence on crude oil. Following the fall in global oil prices in the 1980s, Nigeria adopted a neoliberal economic policy called the Structural Adjustment Programme. But this failed to improve the lives of ordinary citizens and encouraged them to engage in capitalist pursuits.




Read more:
Meet the ‘Yahoo boys’ – Nigeria’s undergraduate conmen


Kingsley yearns to perform the traditional duties of a family’s opara (firstborn son), which include taking care of his siblings and widowed mother. He applies for work at Nigerian oil companies but none employs him. So he joins his uncle, Cash Daddy, in the informal economy of online fraud. He declares:

I was not a criminal. I had gone into [internet fraud] so that my mother could live in comfort and my siblings have a good education.

E-fraud and the Nigerian state

But in embracing e-fraud as an alternative to his economic exclusion, Kingsley recreates the same exploitative economic landscape that he seeks to avoid.

In one of his scam letters, he exploits the decadent image of Nigeria’s political economy and positions himself within it as a victim. He pretends to be the widow of former Nigerian head of state, General Sani Abacha, describing the persecution of the widow’s household following his death:

I have been thrown into a state of utter confusion, frustration and hopelessness by the current civilian administration. I have been subjected to physical and psychological torture by security agents in the country…

What Kingsley has done above is to weave his personal experience of economic deprivation into a scam e-mail. Terms like “hopelessness” and “psychological torture” serve to appeal to the scam target’s pity and earn their trust. But they simultaneously hold true about Nigeria’s economic uncertainties and Kingsley’s economic vulnerability. In this way, readers are introduced to the degenerate world of Nigeria’s postcolonial economy, one that emasculates the postcolonial subject.

In another scam e-mail he writes:

There is a lot of corruption in Nigeria and people get up to all sorts of devious things.

Kingsley’s class-climbing manoeuvres are therefore a by-product of a failing Nigerian economic system in which a parasitic state exploits the masses. It does so by privatising government assets and converting the common wealth to its advantage, excluding most citizens.

Kingsley’s story forms a critique of the Nigerian economic culture in which he is allowed first to starve and then to prosper.The Conversation

Daniel Chukwuemeka, PhD Candidate in African Postcolonial Writing, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New Kiswahili science fiction award charts a path for African languages


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Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Cornell University and Lizzy Attree, Richmond American International University

The 6th edition of The Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature, suspended last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is back. Founded in 2014, the prize recognises writing in African languages and encourages translation from, between and into African languages. Kiswahili is widely spoken across the east coast of Africa. This year’s prize also offers a special award designed to promote and popularise a Kiswahili vocabulary for technology and digital rights. We spoke to the prize founders – literary academic Lizzy Attree, also of Short Story Day Africa, and literature professor and celebrated author Mukoma Wa Ngugi – on the challenges of growing literature in African languages.

What’s the idea behind the special Nyabola prize?

Lizzy Attree: The Nyabola prize gives us the opportunity to work in a new area that is really exciting for us. Nanjala Nyabola, the Kenyan writer and activist, approached us with the idea and the funding to target vocabulary for technology and digital rights. This was particularly interesting to us for two reasons. Firstly, we have long wanted to offer a short story prize, but have stuck with longer works because of the opportunity it gives us to focus on Kiswahili literature as a fully mastered form. But we are aware that a short story prize is a good place to start for those who are only beginning to write. Secondly, Kiswahili is often considered to be steeped in archaic, or historically poetic technical words and forms. These must be updated to accommodate the modern language of science and technology. It has been an interesting adventure to find out which words can be adapted or amended to fit with modern digital and technological advancement.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi: There is also the idea that African languages are social languages, emotive and cannot carry science. Most definitely not true. All languages can convey the most complex ideas but we have to let them. There is something beautiful about African languages carrying science, fictionalised of course, into imagined futures.

Mukoma, you also write speculative fiction; what is its power?

Mukoma Wa Ngugi: At the height of dictatorship in Kenya under president Daniel arap Moi, when writers and intellectuals were being detained and exiled, and their books banned, it was the genre writers who kept the politics alive. In fact I dedicated my detective novel Nairobi Heat to two such Kenyan writers, David Mailu and Meja Mwangi. We inherited a hierarchy of what counts as serious literature from colonialism, the division between minor and major literatures. It is important for us to blur the lines between literary and genre fiction – they are both doing serious work but in different styles. And the same goes between written literature and orature (spoken literature). Orature is seen lesser-than but, as writers and scholars have argued, orature has its own discipline and aesthetics.

How has African language publishing changed since the prize began?

Lizzy Attree: Sadly I don’t think African language publishing has advanced very much in the last seven years or that there are enough academic studies focusing on this area. The demise of the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa was part of the decline, or indicative of it. However, book festivals are growing, and we hope that in time this will lead to more awards and more publishing in African languages. Mukoma’s father, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, is a pioneer in this area, and it’s been wonderful to see his novel shortlisted for the International Booker Prize recently. Although there are many other good examples of where changes are happening, considering the size of the continent and the number of languages, there is still a huge gap.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi: Jalada Journal is a good example of how attitudes to writing in African languages have changed for the better. In 2015 Jalada took a short story written by Ngugi in Gikuyu and self-translated into English and had it translated to close to 100 languages. This made it the most translated African short story. But the genius of their initiative was that most of the translations were between African languages. The Jalada example is important for two reasons – it shows that innovation can happen when African languages talk to each other. And that for the younger writers, African languages do not carry the same sense of inferiority – English is just another language. All in all I don’t think the Nyabola prize, for example, would have been possible 10 years ago. A lot has changed where it matters the most; the ideology around African languages is shifting.

Do awards work and why are there so few major literary prizes in Africa?

Lizzy Attree: I think awards certainly work in raising the profile of writers and their work, but it is difficult to find funding for these kinds of projects.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi: It is all about setting up a viable and thriving literary ecosystem for writing in African languages. Literary agents, publishers, readership, critics, literary prizes and so on. Prizes are just one aspect. We realised that from the onset so our winners, in addition to the monetary awards, have also been published by Mkuki na Nyota Press in Tanzania. We have been trying to get them translated into English but as Lizzy points out, funding is a huge problem. We were lucky to partner with Mabati Rolling Mills and the Safal Group. We have a de facto slogan: African philanthropy for African cultural development. But all the living parts of the African literary ecosystem have to be thriving. In this, we all have work to do.

Why is African language literature so important?

Lizzy Attree: It’s been clearly demonstrated that learning in one’s mother tongue brings huge advantages to students. And where else must we find ourselves reflected if not in our own literature, in our own languages?

Mukoma Wa Ngugi: You can think of language as the sum total of a people’s history and knowledge. We store history and knowledge in language. To speak only English is to be alienated from your past, present and future. It is a pain we should all feel deeply. In my book, The Rise of the African Novel: Language, Identity and Ownership, I give the example of how early writing in South African languages remains outside our literary tradition. I talk about how that leads to truncated imaginations. We write within literary traditions, but what happens to your imagination when you cannot access your literary tradition?

The shortlist will be announced in October/November 2021, with the winners announced in Dar es Salaam in December 2021.The Conversation

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Associate Professor of literatures in English, Cornell University and Lizzy Attree, Adjunct Professor, Richmond American International University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

An intellectual love letter to Bhekizizwe Peterson, a South African literary giant


Bhekizizwe Peterson.
University of the Witwatersrand

Isabel Hofmeyr, University of the Witwatersrand

Bhekizizwe Peterson was one of South Africa’s foremost humanities scholars. Internationally renowned as an award-winning film writer and producer, he was a leading practitioner of community theatre, a literary and cultural critic and a public intellectual. His work straddled the academy and the community, foregrounding the knowledge of ordinary people.

In a round table discussion on his award-winning and acclaimed film Zulu Love Letter, Peterson observed:

It was created as a love letter to those who passed on and those still tasked with creating a better future for all.

For him, black cultural production always stands athwart past and future. Its makers are located in the midst of things, thrust into violent and unequal plots not of their own making. He believed that the black humanities offered unique resources for negotiating these contradictions. Literature, performance, theatre, film, music and art could, as he said:

facilitate dialogic and critical deliberations on individual and collective experiences and dreams.

The astonishing corpus that he created across his career – comprising film, television and theatre-making, creative writings, scholarly and critical works – were guided by these lode stars. The range of genres and media that he mastered speak to an important point: for him, what one created was as important as how and where one worked. Theoretical reflection went hand-in-hand with practice; knowledge had to be made in and outside the academy. Means and ends were inseparable; means became ends through the ethical practice they enacted.

Theory and praxis

I first met him in 1985 when he signed up for an Honours degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in the recently established Department of African Literature, headed up by Es’kia Mphahlele. He had completed a drama degree at the University of Cape Town and was working with Benjy Francis at the Afrika Cultural Centre, creating community theatre.

Like everything he did, this work wove together different domains, uncontained by any one realm. In his graduate work, he brought a Black Consciousness lens to white-dominated Marxist revisionism which used class to trump race, and in turn imported his ideas into his theatre-making.

After completing a Masters in the UK, he joined the Department of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1988. He soon established himself as a prominent voice in African theatre studies, his scholarship made distinctive by the mix of theory and praxis that he brought to it.

Always deeply interested in those who had come before, he explored the histories of black theatre practice in South Africa, the topic of his PhD and his monograph, Monarchs, Missionaries and African Intellectuals: African Theatre and the Unmaking of Colonial Marginality.

Set between Mariannhill mission in Kwa Zulu-Natal, and Johannesburg, the book explores how a range of figures used theatre practice and debates about drama to negotiate and contest white hegemonies. The volume is due to be republished in August 2021.

The monograph drew on extensive archival labour, and demonstrates Bheki’s talents as an adept archival scholar.

The idea of the archive became an important focus in his thinking, and was informed both by his hands-on experience and his desire to create a substantial archive for teaching and researching the black humanities.

The builder

Part of this scholarship is what we might call infrastructural intellectual labour, the painstaking and unglamorous work of making important texts available, producing scholarly editions, writing encyclopedia entries and handbook chapters, editing special issues of journals.

It also involved a dedication to projects that would move black literary traditions from what he called “the anteroom of history”. In all of them he cultivated a meticulous scholarly craft, keeping his head down and doing the work.

A systematic builder, he eschewed the limelight and would have no truck with careerism, academic vanity or posturing. For similar reasons, he was repelled by social media with its speed and superficiality, its dialogue of the deaf.

He, by contrast, was an exceptional listener. For anyone who ever had a serious conversation with him, one will always remember the deep sense of being heard, seen and understood.

His scholarship was likewise a mode of deep listening, a dedicated and respectful attentiveness to what writers and cultural producers were attempting to say.

His intellectual orientations were always broad and generous, looking out to the continent, the diaspora and the world. The bookcases in his office sported two shelves of the African Writers Series, with their unmistakable orange and white spines. Over the course of the 1980s, he had garnered this collection, despite the fact that several titles were banned. He had read them all, one sign of his deep engagement with African literary traditions across the continent.

His knowledge of Caribbean and African American literary and cultural forms was legendary.

He possessed a particular gift for analysing popular cultural forms whether kwaito, popular television, or “swagger in Soweto youth culture”. This emphasis formed part of his unwavering commitment to placing the quotidian and the everyday at the centre of the black humanities. As he explained, he was concerned with:

the lives of ordinary people … in ways that celebrated their knowledge, agency, resilience, hopes, and fears.

In his theatre, film-making and scholarship, he foregrounded their “everyday senses and ways of being that are often ignored, downgraded, or erased by the lenses favoured by parochial and patriarchal nationalists, capitalists, and whiteness in society and culture”. These themes undergirded the Mellon project on Narrative Enquiry for Social Transformation which he co-directed.

The teacher

Central to his vision of the black humanities was his teaching, mentorship and supervision. A demanding supervisor, he sought to teach graduate students the craft of serious research. At the same time, he was generous with his time, spending hours listening to students, understanding them and their interests.

As a scholar and creative practitioner, he enjoyed a huge international reputation which sought him out, rather than the other way around. There were many awards, prizes and keynote addresses.

He was deeply beloved by those who worked closely with him. We loved his profound wisdom, his brilliance, his amazing wit, his generosity, his integrity, his commitment to equality. We even loved his famously untidy office, his stubbornness, and his determinedly casual dress code – not least his hallmark leather jacket from the 1980s.

It was one of the good fortunes of my life to have worked with him for more than three decades.

Bheki has left us to join the ancestral realm. We now owe him the attentiveness and care that he showed to his literary forebears. We need to think of the intellectual love letters we can write about his work and how we can take his vision for the black humanities forward.The Conversation

Isabel Hofmeyr, Professor of African Literature, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Philip Ochieng: Kenyan editor and author who did it his way and inspired a generation


Philip Ochieng, the Kenyan journalist who made his mark across East Africa.
Author provided

Elizabeth Gitonga, Moi University

Philip Ochieng – who has died at the age of 83 – was a celebrated Kenyan editor, author and hard-hitting columnist who made his mark across East Africa. He was an East African par excellence who counted former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa and revered Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani among his circle of friends.

Ochieng began his journalism career in 1966 when he joined the Nairobi-based Nation newspaper group, which was then only a few years old, at the invitation of then editor-in-chief George Githii. Within a year he was entrusted with a regular column debating the social, political and economic issues of a country that had gained independence from Britain only a few years earlier in 1963.

Mastering his environment in such a short space of time was typical of Ochieng. In Awendo, Migori County, close to Lake Victoria where he was born in 1938, his classmates remembered him as a genius who topped his class from the time he set foot in primary school. This fast-tracked him to the prestigious Alliance High School, a national school for high achievers near Nairobi.

Soon after he finished school, he joined the pre-independence airlift of young Kenyan students to the US. These students were being prepared to take over positions of leadership in anticipation of the country’s independence. The programme was organised by the former politician and trade unionist Tom Mboya and his colleague Julius Kiano.

In the US, Ochieng joined Roosevelt University but he did not complete his degree. He moved on to France and East Germany as well but he never graduated with a degree. On the eve of independence, Ochieng returned home, where he was employed as an English teacher in Migori. Later, he would be employed as a protocol officer in the ministry of External Affairs. While here, the letters he wrote to the editor of the Daily Nation caught the attention of Githii, who hired him as a cub reporter. This would mark the beginning of his life-long journey in journalism, which took him back and forth between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

East Africa reach

Ochieng emerged as a towering figure in the three East African countries. His brilliance was matched only by his willingness to mentor young journalists in the profession, many of them untrained as he had been. Wherever he worked, he helped many improve their writing skills through constant drilling – but also straight in your face memos delivered in his stern newsroom manner.

In the course of this, Ochieng wrote two books. The first, The Kenyatta Succession, was co-authored with fellow journalist the late Joseph Karimi. The second was I Accuse the Press: An Insider’s View of the Media and Politics in Africa.

But he was dogged by controversy in his early years. In 1970 he was forced to resign his Nation job after poking a colleague with the burning end of a cigarette.

He was then already being wooed by the Tanganyika Standard after President Julius Nyerere had nationalised it from its private owners, Lonrho. The Standard Tanzania, as it was first renamed, was merged with The Nationalist, a party newspaper belonging to the ruling Tanzania African National Union party. The title was later changed to Daily News in 1972.

Ochieng made his presence felt as soon as he arrived in Dar es Salaam, beginning a column weekly soon after. He resigned and left Tanzania in 1973.

After another stint at the Nation in Nairobi, Ochieng appointed the editor of the Sunday Times of Uganda in 1981. But it was short-lived. After only three weeks he was incarcerated after one of his sharp, take-no-prisoners pieces.

Upon release from the cells, he was hosted by his friend Mamdani, who arranged his flight out to East Germany.

Mentor and confidante

Mamdani, who hosted him in Kampala after his release from prison in Uganda, told me of Ochieng’s contribution to journalism:

People who were literate and of age in the 1980s in Uganda certainly remember his role in Ugandan journalism and his writing. I have no doubt that Ochieng would have played a noteworthy role in advancing the cause of political journalism in Uganda had he been able to stay longer.

John Agunda, a Kenyan journalist who worked with Ochieng in Kenya for decades, remembers him too as the mentor of many.

He came across as a very meticulous and creative man and a workaholic. He was always at his typewriter either writing something to go into the following day’s paper or working on his manuscripts. He was also a very good teacher of up-and-coming journalists.

In the final years of his life – and with his poor health beginning to slow him down – Ochieng persisted in his love for teaching. His long running column, Mark My Word, was aimed at the general public as much as it was at journalists.The Conversation

Elizabeth Gitonga, PhD Candidate in Communication Studies, Moi University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.