Friday, October 26, 2012



Landscape so attractive

And pregnant with massive heritage and history

On the rocks of Kalahari

Lingo so bit rigid but action utter all

And red sand so polite and beautiful

With dimples on its chicks

With Pan Fields that steal world down to Reitfontein

To feed eyes with a beauty of nature and leave scar of un-erase memory

Nam stap reminisce me of namagua

Which is blessed with a catchy eye of flora

And produce rich wine.

Exquisite nature of Kalahari

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Book: African Delights

Author: Siphiwo Mahala

Publisher: Jacana

Reviewers: Flaxman Qoopane and O Bolaji

The literary landscape of South Africa continues to be the richer with the presence of outstanding Black wordsmiths of the younger generation. Unequivocally one of such writers is Siphiwo Mahala who has taken the literary world by storm with his excellent works of fiction.

His collection of stories titled African Delights (2011) further adds cubits to Mahala’s glittering reputation. His outstanding talent is showcased throughout these cleverly woven stories of his. As Mandla Langa states in the Foreword: “The book consisting of twelve short stories grouped in threes, explores the whole gamut of modern South African life. Most of the stories are told in the first person, with the ones using the third person point of view tending to be longer including the title story”

The work kicks off with “The Suit stories” (made famous by Can Themba). Indeed the author Mahala confesses that the stories are a tribute to the illustrious Can Themba “I revisited The Suit and after reading it several times I started asking questions about what happened to the man who escaped half-naked out of the window…”

The stories have extraordinary range and depth; based in disparate places like Sophiatown, the idyllic rural of Eastern Cape, opulent Johannesburg homes, Eastern Cape. Themes covered seem endless including crime, zany fixations; contemporary issues like adultery, sex and hiv aids; the nouveau riche, and ‘tenderpreneurship’!

The references to aids are strikingly presented, even through dialogue. On page 152 for example we read:

‘There is this disease that’s ravaging young people’

‘It’s killing them old man’ I felt a pang of guilt cut across my chest as I uttered these words. The thought of the disease and its mysteries weighed me down. My estranged daughter, Nosipho remains the only person I know for sure who has died of it. Many other people are rumored to have suffered it, but they never admit publicly. I am still haunted by my own position – thinking of my third test result, which is taking so long to arrive.

‘We are running out of young people, my son’

‘Young people are getting finished, old man’

‘It’s the things they do these days that bring about these kinds of diseases,’

(What do they do?)

‘Things that we see in the streets are shocking my son.’ He started complaining about the youth of today who made a public display of their affections…

The empathy, and even keeling of the author can be seen throughout; perhaps reaching a peak when one of the narrators assumes the form of a woman who muses:

“I’m looking forward to the day the creator turns things around and puts men in our shoes. Won’t that be great, having several men to yourself, and they all know that you are cheating, and your weapon of defence is denial…in the meantime these men clean the house, bathe the children and bring you food while you are busy watching soccer and drinking beer with friends. Afterwards you get to bed late with cold feet, start caressing them and demanding your conjugal rights. You force them to kiss your ashtray-smelling mouth while they are trying to catch up with sleep after a long day of taking care of you and your children…could they (men) ever stand the menstrual pains that we are subjected to every month? What about labour pains? They can’t even watch you giving birth to their own children…’

(page 132)

That the author appreciates the role of women – his wife and kids in particular – is made clear when he tells the readers directly:

“They (these stories) are a celebration of love. In 2001 I met and fell in love with a woman (Miliswa) who was later to become my wife and the mother of our two daughters…I cannot forget our two daughters, my self-appointed editorial assistants, Mihlali and Qhama…”

(Page 242)

There is haunting, even poignant humour and irony dotted throughout this work. No topic is too banal or sublime for the author not to exercise his creativity upon; for example the fascination with a toe (Bhantsi’s toe); or the black world and ballet:

‘And Thembi?’ I probed further.

‘She’s doing all right. She’s doing ballet and she really is enjoying it’ she spoke with a mixture of confidence and pride.

‘Ballet! Black kids do ballet these days?’

‘Why not? She does it better than many white kids…’

(Page 148)

This is a rich steaming marsh of a work that reinforces the place of the author, Siphiwe Mahala as one of Africa’s most fecund writers churning it out in English. There can be no doubt whatsoever that much more is still to come from his vibrant, accomplished pen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012



(Speech delivered during MACUFE WORDFEST 2012, BLOEMFONTEIN, FREE STATE)

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an epoch making occasion, and I must confess that the topic, I am adumbrating on today is one that titillates my intellectual buds.

The topic for those not in the know is titled Writings for Excellence, Fusion of Journalistic and Fictitious Writing. In my mind thank to this topic I can feel the snippets and glimpses of world class writers like Tom Wolfe, Alex Haley, J.P Clark, Ola Rotimi, Gomolemo Mokae, Aryan Kaganof, Kole Omotoso, e.t.c and of cause my own sundry contributions to these genre over the decades.

I do not want to go in to boring, tedious details at this juncture, but I am sure we all know that in essence journalism is anchored on fact, whilst, fictitious writing brings in the quality of imagination despite the encouragement of artistic licence.

When we talk of fusing journalism and fiction, we owe a debt to the extra-ordinarily vibrant writing in the United States of America. It was American writer like Tom Wolfe, who started to combine features normally associated with imaginative fiction in journalism.

When we talk of literary, imaginative features, what do we have in mind? I am sure our young poets like Dr Cool, Skietrekker and others will appreciate the figures of speech, metaphors, similes, personification, litotes and meiosis, e.t.c.

The interesting thing is that as Africans our writers, journalists, and essayists have always been taking a cue from American trends- that is why Africa already has quite a number of powerful writings which are fusions of journalism and fiction.

In South Africa we are familiar with the distinguished Professor of English Kole Omotoso who has been based here for about 20 years. Those of us in the literary fraternity however realise that perhaps Omotosho’s greatest published work is titled- Just Before Dawn.

What makes the work Just Before Dawn remarkable is that it is an extraordinary fusion of historic journalistic and fictitious writing, a very remarkable book indeed which I recommend for everybody to read, Just Before Dawn.

Interestingly we see vignettes of this in the work of Prof Njabulo Ndebele in his mesmerising book titled The Cry of Winnie Mandela.

What about one of the greatest African/American writers the world has ever seen: Alex Haley? He has gone down in history for his masterpiece titled Roots, which combines a lot of journalistic and fictitious writing.

But not many of us might know when Haley, was younger (before writing Roots), he mainly was famous for writing, superb interviews and features for American newspapers and magazines.

Let us also look at the great African writer, J.P Clark, famous for his plays, and the superb work - America their America. Clark was one of the early black African writers who were highly educated, imaginative, yet he was also a journalist at the time!

This essay can not be complete without reference to the extraordinary contributions of early South African Drum magazine writers with their sparkling fusion of journalism and fiction. Indeed this has entered history and folklore as part of our literary heritage. The likes of Bloke Modisane, Lewis Nkosi, Can Themba, Es'kia - kudos to them!

Another writer worth mentioning in this wise is Dr Gomolemo Mokae, the other day I was doing some research on him at the National English Literary Museum in Grahamstown, and I was very impressed to see how Mokae did very well in journalism, essays and imaginative writings early in his career. Hence these elements can be seen in Mokae’s celebrated two works of fiction -The Secret In My Bosom and Short Not Tall Stories.

We also see some fusion of journalism and imagination in Aryan Kaganof’s work. In Uselessly, the detail of treatments for chemotherapy; cancer e.t.c. allied to other excellent prose, Is very admirable.

I was also exceedingly impressed to read Omoseye Bolaji’s 2011 book, titled Miscellaneous Writing, as a critic, this is a work which is tantalising; it is no surprise that critics around the world seem confused as to how to categorise this work. Some call it essays, some call it short stories, some call it journalism; others call it features. But inline with our topic today, I think it is useful to describe Miscellaneous writings as an impressive fusion of journalism and fictitious writings.

I am also satisfied that many literary critics have been bemused by my book titled Reneiloe Mpho Story. They always ask how can a 2 year old girl write a book (Laugh……..) as the author of this well famous book I can reveal that a useful approach to examining the book is to take it as fusion of journalistic and fictitious writing. Short works of mine like the Quack Of Qwa-Qwa (2003) also to a certain extent combine elements of journalism and fiction.


It is exhilarating that our times have been witnessing an accretion of the best in writing- journalism and fictive techniques... long may it continue!


  PHOTO: (left to right) R. Magic Khotseng, O Bolaji, Pule Lechesa, and Flaxman Qoopane

Friday, October 19, 2012

Literature in mother tongue, tantalising translations, ebb and flow of pertinent literature, et al...

By Pule Lechesa
(with Dr Wally Serote above)

Ladies and gentlemen, let me take this opportunity to greet our honourable MEC for Sports, Heritage, Culture and Recreation Ntate Dan Kgothule.

Not forgetting the Director of Heritage, Museum, and library services Ntate Vincent Khetha, Deputy Director of Library services Mathene Mahanke, and The manager of wordfest the enterprising and innovative Tseliso Masoloane

Ntate Khotso Maphalla and one of the Patriarchs of Protest poetry Mongane Wally Serote...

Let me start by expressing my exhilaration! I was on cloud nine when some years ago i learnt that one of the all time greats of African literature Ngugi wa Thiong'O had published his latest novel in Kikuyu titled Murogi wa kagogo. Of course the whole literary world was excited. But there was a problem.

It is a problem that assails our entire continent and continue to perturb our great minds and pundits. Kikuyu is one of the many hundreds spoken languages in Africa, so how am I as a proud Sesotho writer comprehend this latest literary offering of Ngugi?

Or if you want to stretch this a bit further. I have always admired Chinua Achebe novels but if they were published in his mother tongue Igbo languages would I have been able to read them? Of course not!

We should not even go too far, can I even read books published in Zulu? So, the problem can be alleviated through translations hence Ngugis Kikuyu books are now available through out the world. I have in mind The Wizards of the Crow and Matigari. Many Kikuyu readers will appreciate the African version more than the international version hence the significance of our mother tongue. We have also seen this practice in Sesotho literature when Azariele Sekese who lived between 1849 and 1930 translated the Sesotho heroic poetry into English.

Many educators have pointed out that when a child gets his/her medium of knowledge via the mother tongue their cognitive ability is enhanced. This can be a template upon which advanced knowledge is built; that is to say, under an ideal situation we should all be able to appreciate and be fluent in our particular African language(s) and also in so called international languages which these days is mainly English.

On my own part, i have very happy and satisfied, I derive maximum satisfaction by reading both in English, Sesotho and Afrikaans. The same way I relished reading Sesotho as a youngster I still enjoy them to date. Despite absorbing hundreds of books in English i still appreciate in totality the literature in my mother tongue.

That is the way it should be for all of us.

There will always be polemics over whether literature in a particular language is plummeting, or is developing in a consistent manner. We must remember even in euro-centric books that are regarded as classic some where deemed failures when they were initially publishing their books. We have to contend with the trends fashions, pertinent criticism and what is referred to as retrospective judgement.

Hence it might not be fruitful to churn out definitive statements claiming or suggesting the Sesotho literature is vibrant or is dying. During our era, now for example, we have witnessed a great literary icon Ntate Khotso Maphalla publishing dozens of books over three decades or so. If there were no other writers on the scene, the prodigious output of Maphalla alone shows that Sesotho writing is healthy in-deed. We must strife to have audit of our books as it will provide us with a proper yard stick to measure if Sesotho literature is developing or plummeting

Let us go back to England, the era of Charles Dickens over 150 years ago there were many superb literary works of Dickens then over the decades when he was alive was enough to prove that literature was at its peck in England. This does not mean that there were no other writers operating, it was just that Dickens shone and still shines virtually over every writer.

To put things in perspective the greatness of Ntate Maphalla does not mean we do not have many other good writers. We have the likes of Wiston Mohapi, Suzan Sefatsa, Letshase Nakeli, the Mokoenas and so forth.

Sesotho literature also has the fascinating features of many illustrious names over the last century or so. For example do we look at the past with rose tinted spectacles? Now that they are no longer with us the achievements of JJ Moiloa, Machabe Khaketla, KE Ntsane, Thomase Mofolo, Lesoro seem bigger than they are?

Literature world wide has indeed shown that great writers become bigger after they had departed. Why is William Shakespeare regarded now as literary god, when he was alive many regarded him as something of a half-baked writer!

I also look at the career of the fantastic Thomas Hardy who was forced by the critics to stop writing novels – after their dissatisfaction with Jude the Obscure which at the time was viewed as controversial. But this is no longer the case!

I venture to say that our contemporary writers are free to write about anything. In the intriguing work, titled Tutudu ha e patwe, roughly translated you can not keep a good man down author Mathene Mahanke allude to the accusation of rape by a protagonist who is a teacher, I am not sure that the author would have done it hundred years ago.

But before we go on let us pay tribute to the emergence of now literary talent new Sesotho literary talent do not emerge. Two examples will suffice here who are keeping the flag flying. i have in mind Mr Thabo Mafike and Teboho Letshaba.

How many of us have seen the work of Thabo Mafike? Because of constraints of time I will just mention his major work, Tjhe bo bophelo, which was published when he was in his early twenties.

This is a full length work which is experimental in its own way with a mixture of graphic monologue, flashbacks, interesting conversation and panorama of characters that make the book come alive.

Now we come to Teboho who was classically described as having “the type of transcendental literary talent that makes fellow writers wince with jealousy. The young man is a worthy successor to the world time greats like KE Ntsane, JJ Moiloa, KPP Maphalla and many others. One of his masterpieces, Pelong ya Lerato is prescribed for high schools in South Africa. His other works are Lejwe la Kgpiso, Ntsunyakgare, Mehlolo e tsamaya le badumedi.

Can we suggest that other literary gems are waiting to be discovered and be published? My experience as a publisher, as people used to provide me with manuscripts, some were very promising indeed. It is very easy enough to suggest as people are fond of doing that talented writers will always get published sooner or later. In fact many potentially great writers have been frustrated over the years. Some of them even having their books published post-humously perhaps even by luck in the end.

This brings me to the subject of self publishing which many people are denigrating as if the world is coming to an end when you self publish. And incredibly large number of all time great writers have more or less self published during their careers. The Bronte sisters all paid for their books, Initially Thomas Hardy had to guarantee printing expenses before his early books could come out, Mark Twain in America was famous for self publishing, Virginia Woolf started her own printing press and even published other authors. The late Saro Wiwa of Nigeria started his printing press too and many of his books are available in our local libraries. These were all celebrated writers and are still the greatest.

I am not saying that people must not try to improve themselves or go to the mainstream publishers. As Zakes Mda, one of the all time great writers in the African literature says in his latest book Sometimes there is a void,: "If you believe that what you have written is good you must not allow anyone to change it as people are different." Some publishers rejected Madonna of exelsior but the others accepted it. This teaches us that One man's meat is another man poison. Just because one publishers do not like a book that does not mean that that book is badly written.

Let us briefly consider one of the all time great writers in the English Literature George Orwell, author of Animal farm and Nineteen Eighty-four. His books where always rejected but now he is one of the best writers the world has ever seen. So, who has the right to say a book is great or not?

My experience as a publisher, as people used to provide me with manuscripts, some were very promising indeed. it is very easy enough to suggest as people are fond of doing that talented writers will always get published sooner or later. In fact many potentially great writers have been frustrated over the years. Some of them even having their books published post-humously perhaps even by luck in the end.

Before I round off I think it is pertinent that we should look at the subject of literary criticism. It is a pity that as African writers we confuse criticism with negativity; that is "trashing and slashing" a book. It also bothers me that many of us claim that criticism is 'fault finding', this is simply not true! The evaluation of a book necessarily included pointing out what a particular reviewer or critic does not like about the work.

Need we repeat that world wide writers ranging from Shakespeare to the Nobel award winning author Tony Morrison these days are criticised thousand times over and over again? If we are true writers we should be envious that countless books have been published on the great writers world wide.

As Africans, Sesotho writers, how will our legacy be passed on when we are afraid of criticism? When we are not evaluated by reviewers or critics who are we writing for?

Let us face it: our goal should be to have whatever we have written evaluated stringently on a regular basis. Free State writers forum and Free State PanSALB must be seen on the vanguard.

The other day, I was at UFS Library and I counted about ten critical books written about Omoseyi Bolaji. This is what we Sesotho writers must strive for. How many studies have been published on our distinguished writers?

At least, the greatness of Doctor Khotso Maphalla can be further proven or illustrated by the fact that he has quite a number of critical books published on his books. They include the following; Stylistic analysis of novels of KPD Maphalla by Yvonne Makhubela, Art and Ideology of poetry of KPD Maphalla by the same writer; and Study of some aspects of KPD Maphalla's poetry by Professor Moleleki Moleleki.

I was also happy that there is a special book; a critical study written on Wiston Mohapi titled Race relation in post-apartheid Sesotho farm novels. This study is written by MP Mokhele and is a must read.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to embark upon a brief treatise; I believe we have touched on certain salient aspects of Sesotho literature with some emphasis on the Free State here. This is a dynamic genre that we Sesotho speakers, readers, can do all we can to ensure that our body of literature continues to increase both, in quality and quantity!
Text of a speech - its English equivalent here - delivered by Mr Pule Lechesa at the MACUFE wordfest in Bloemfontein city

PIX ABOVE: Lechesa, poet Skietreker (Seape) and O Bolaji at the wordfest

Sunday, October 14, 2012


A short story by Omoseye Bolaji

Tebogo Mokoena was quite elated to see his old friend, Biggie - even as darkness encroached upon them. Tebogo was visiting "his" Botshabelo after a long time and to his shock had chanced to see Biggie. They had
agreed to have a drink to celebrate their serendipitous encounter!

Tebogo, more familiar with the terrain guided Biggie to a nearby pub hoping that it would still be open. "If Charles is there he'll keep the place open for us alright" he said. "Charles is the guy who takes care of the pub...cleans, serves people. A friendly, if lugubrious person,"

Biggie grinned. "Lugubrious, eh? That's a word I like!"

Charles was indeed delighted to see Tebogo and could hardly believe his eyes. "Ntate!" said he. "It's been a long time. I was just about to close this customers...but now it'd be my pleasure to serve you.
How's your wife?"

"Khanyi is fine," Tebogo said. He knew Charles was most likely still alone; sadly in his relative poverty. So Tebogo just said: "And how's your boss? (the owner of the pub)"

Charles grimaced. "You know how it is. I am a slave, but no complaints..." He went on to serve both young men who were now ensconced behind one of the tables. As Tebogo took in the news briefly on a TV set, Biggie perused a newspaper.

"Come and join us," Tebogo said generously to Charles. "You are my malome and by rights you should be on your way home by now...let me buy you a drink...come and sit with us" Soon Charles was beside the other two, drinking.

Biggie suddenly laughed. "Hey Tebogo!" he said. "I have always liked this word, or rather phrase...the expression: pyrrhic victory, I'm sure you know what it means," Tebogo nodded.

"What's a pyrrhic victory?" Charles asked.

Tebogo replied: "I think it is a type of success, a type of victory so costly and terrible that one cannot be happy about it. Eh, Biggie?"

Biggie grinned. "Yes more or less. Legend dates it back to King Pyrrhus of Epirus who 'won' a war at such cost that he said something along the lines: 'if I have another victory like this I will be completely ruined and finished!'" He and Biggie laughed.

But Charles was strangely quiet; a saturnine, mournful expression on his face. His mien embarrassed the other two. Presently Charles said: "Pyrrhic eh? Interesting. It reminds me of my life, my fate. I never
told you before, Ntate Tebogo why my life was ruined. You can say it was a pyrrhic victory for me..."

Both men, startled and moved by the genuine pathos in Charles voice stared at him, listening as he went on: "You don't know my background, but for once I will talk about it. Obviously you must have heard from
others that I used to be quite comfortable, with a business I was doing - the family business I inherited. I had a decent house and cars. All was going well till I fell crazily in love - or lust - with a certain woman. She was the most beautiful, sensational woman I had ever met.

"The point is I told myself that I must have her at all costs. I was told by many that she was a mercenary, she ruined men with all her demands but I did not care. I was quite ready to be destroyed for this gorgeous woman to be my own. I did not care whether she liked or loved me or not. I just wanted her the way a man wants a woman...

"At the time I had the resources and set about the task. Although I had been warned she was a very 'expensive and greedy' woman I was still surprised at the extent of her greed. Nobody could buy so many useless expensive clothes etc and make financial demands like she. But as long as I kept on dishing out the money she pretended to like me and at a point even moved in with me. I got what I wanted - but at what cost!

"I neglected the company and spent all the profits and savings...but at that time I did not mind, so long as Betty - that's her accursed name - was with me. Well - the truth must be told (we are all men) it
got to a stage where I was bankrupt. Completely. Betty sensed this and started becoming cut a very painful story short, she finally announced (when there was no more money to spend) that it was
better we ended it and just remained friends. Friends! Even that was a  lie; she could not wait to be rid of me!

"Meanwhile I lost everything...I was alienated from my family, my company liquidated, I lost the house, cars...everything. But this does not really pain me. What will always haunt me is the despicable way I
treated my mother when i was crazy over Betty. At a stage I heard my own mother cursed me. She died before I could make up with her. The funeral was hell a thousand times over for me as the story spread
about how I, extraordinary buffoon that I was, had let a woman destroy my life. It was terrible..." At this stage tears came into Charles' eyes.

Tebogo, always empathetic, turned his face away with sadness. Biggie seemed rooted to the spot, his face implacable and now rather haunted too. Almost unconsciously Tebogo squeezed Charles hand. Tebogo
thought: Everywhere men are complaining about how women are ruining and using them these days; I am so lucky to have a wonderful, good, caring wife. Poor Charles...

"Ah I was a laughing stock for years my friends..." Charles went on. "It is a pity when one is crazy over a woman one is just that - crazy. One becomes like a wilful dog refusing to heed the whistle of its is like a curse. I lost everything. I was close to suicide when two things happened to keep me alive somewhat: firstly a distant cousin of mine, knowing my plight gave me his small mukhukhu to stay in. It is a beastly, disgusting place, but I appreciate it. Then I was given this job by another man who had heard what had happened to me,"

Biggie was thinking that yes, Charles' plight was unfortunate but it was not the end of the world. He should move on. He is a defeated man psychologically, Biggie thought. That hang-dog expression of his and
the sickly, weak way he carried himself. What he needed was some spirit! Charles must bounce back!

Biggie said diplomatically: "Eh Ntate, you know it is not really the end of the world. Whilst we are still alive great things can happen to us again. At least you are still alive..."

Charles' mournful look became accentuated. "Actually I am not really alive. I am a dying man. There is no fight left in me. I must just wait till the inevitable end comes. You see, Betty also gave me herself died from it a couple of years ago,"

Tebogo winced. Biggie felt an overwhelming sense of frustration. Nobody deserves this, he thought.

Charles sighed. "So you see, I understand what a 'pyrrhic victory' can be. I wanted Betty at all costs...I got her, and I was ruined in the process. Suke..."
Above photo: Omoseye Bolaji

Thursday, October 11, 2012

THERE WAS A COUNTRY. New book by Chinua Achebe

  A review of Achebe's new book  
    'In more ways than one, Chinua Achebe in his new book, There Was A Country, returns to the very beginning, that is, his beginning. From that beginning he succeeds in completing an unfinished circle which for long has been left hanging in the air.

The 1967-1970 Nigerian-Biafran war in which an estimated three million

people died, most of them Achebe’s Igbo people, was a tragedy. What

would have been a greater tragedy was Achebe not providing for the

unborn generations his pivotal view of the event, and a sharp

cross-examination of the actors. In There Was A Country, Achebe does

it the Achebe way.

In Part One, Achebe reveals the golden days of Nigeria and how through

hard work and support from his family he positions himself to receive

the baton from exiting colonialists at the dawn of Nigeria’s

independence. Achebe’s story in this regard is the story of how the

Igbo, in only 30 years, were able to bridge the educational gap that

the people of the then Western Nigeria had as a result of early

exposure to Western education. Achebe’s early childhood story and path

to success mirror the drive that has propelled the Igbo since they

became part of Nigeria – a drive that came from the republican nature

of Igbo society that abhors royalty, encourages competition, and

rewards personal achievement. In stories about personal struggle,

rugged determination and unique foresight, Achebe makes it known that

there is no magic wand behind the Igbo emergence and attainment of

preeminent position in the Nigerian project other than by sheer

industriousness. The consequence of this accomplishment was an

immediate fear of Igbo domination. That fear quickly took hold in the

psyche of other Nigerians and practically truncated the Nigerian dream

of Achebe’s generation.

It was this fear of Igbo dominance that made much of Nigeria and their

British cheerleaders to interpret the 1966 coup as another phase of

Igbo domination. The majority of the coup plotters were Igbo officers;

their number included Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu who, as Achebe reveals,

was Igbo by name only because he regarded himself as a Northerner. The

perception that the Igbo had an agenda of domination also accounted

for the ferocity of the atrocities unleashed against them – to a

degree that had never been witnessed anywhere in Africa before, and

hardly since. Achebe, ever a believer in Nigeria, at first wanted to

stay put in Lagos. It was only the systematic killing of Igbo in Lagos

that forced him to return to the East.

For those who have not read most of Achebe’s essays, he discloses how

the conflict between the old Igbo culture and the emerging Christian

society became the source of his masterpiece, Things Fall Apart. From

his mother, he learns how to bring out changes in a gentle manner

without being intimidating. He narrates how his mother fought and

achieved victory for Christianity and women’s right and freedom by

merely challenging the taboo of a woman harvesting a kola nut. Ominous

feelings creep through a reader as Achebe unwraps, layer after layer,

how the middle class of his time were basking in the illusion of

independence and the promises of a new great nation, totally missing

the signs of its impending doom. I find it a timely lesson for members

of today’s middle class Nigerians that do not see the shaky foundation

of the Nigerian nation. The similarity is very striking.

When Achebe delves into his life story, he is ever the teaser. He

will, like a priest, let the wine in the cup glaze the readers’ lips

and then he will pull the cup away. When he tells you about how a

group of vacationing students working at the Nigerian Broadcasting

Corporation, NBC, came to his office to demand equal pay, he tells

readers that their leader was Christie Okoli from Awka, his mother’s

hometown. He volunteers to readers that his interest in her grew after

the articulate way she spoke. As you wait for more, he informs you

that, “two years into our friendship, Christie and I were engaged.”

The Part Two of the book deals with life in Biafra. For those still

wondering what happened in Biafra, this section is a gift from

providence. Using personal stories, Achebe paints a vivid picture of

what life was like in Biafra. He exposes the actors in the war and the

roles each played. He quotes extensively from several sources as he

presents the assessment of Ojukwu and Gowon, the primary actors in the

war. He even quotes sources opposed to Ojukwu’s position and point of

view, like Ambassador Ralph Uwechue. Achebe argues that some questions

will be debated for generations. One of such questions has to do with

the security reasons behind Ojukwu’s rejection of Nigeria’s federal

government’s proposal for a road corridor for food and the federal

government’s rejection of Ojukwu’s alternative. Every now and then, he

interrupts the theories of several schools of thought to have his own

say. For instance, Achebe has no doubt that, following the ethnic

cleansing of Igbos in the North and the federal government’s

connivance in the drastic act, Biafra’s secession from Nigeria was

inevitable whether Ojukwu was there or not.

Achebe writes with great moral authority. Often he writes a phrase

like, “forty years later I still stand by that assessment.” When

Achebe makes his summations, they are as apt as his press releases.

When he tells stories, they are as succinct as any of the novels that

made him famous. Through the stories of his friendship with

Christopher Okigbo, including their effort to run a publishing company

during the war, Achebe recasts that extraordinary poet and educates

those who hold the poet in contempt of literature due to his decision

to go to the war front. Like so many surprises in the book, Achebe

reveals that he, too, would have been lost during the war in several

instances, including in a plane mishap while on a diplomatic mission

for Biafra to Senegal.

Achebe describes meeting Aminu Kano for the first time during peace

talks in Kampala, Uganda in 1968. Aminu Kano was part of Nigeria’s

delegation led by Anthony Enahoro. The Nigerian delegation, Achebe

recalls, espoused the total “crush of Biafra.” He writes that Aminu

Kano was not pleased by how the matter was being handled. “That

meeting made an indelible mark on me about Aminu Kano, about his

character and his intellect,” Achebe writes. Achebe will later in life

take a failed detour into politics, joining Aminu Kano’s political


In Part Three, Achebe makes an indisputable case against Nigeria in

the way the war was prosecuted. He raises the question of genocide,

makes hard-hitting arguments and levels his case against the Nigerian

government. Ever unapologetic, Achebe does not spare the heroes – be

it Awolowo or Gowon. As always, his moral message is “resolute.” He

slams Obafemi Awolowo for allowing his political ambition to diminish

his humanity. He holds Awolowo responsible for “hatching up a

diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly

through starvation – eliminating two million people, mainly members of

future generations.” He cites Awolowo’s policies as the minister of

finance during and after the war as evidence that his desire to secure

permanent advantage for his Yoruba people superseded his inner good

angel. Achebe does not spare Anthony Enahoro and Allison Akene Ayinda,

supposedly intellectuals who backed Awolowo and, of course, the naïve

Gowon who was in charge. Achebe points out the irony of it all – that

all those who had hoped to benefit from the emaciation of Igbo people

ended up becoming victims too. The British lost investments through

the indigenization decree; the Yoruba and Gowon’s Middle Belt people

are still trapped in a dysfunctional country, all suffering from its


In offering solutions, Achebe suggests a series of questions about

“ethnic bigotry,” corruption and pure impunity that will keep Nigeria

busy for a long time. He has no problem describing characters

operating in the Nigerian political arena as “bum in suit,” “poorly

educated,” “half-baked,” and “politicians with plenty of money and

very low IQs.”

Throughout the chapters, Achebe punctuates the stories with interludes

of poetry. They stand as exhortations, as hanging tears, flags, stop

signs and as asterisks. Most of the poems are from his past

collections. He preserves for generations yet unborn the role played

by the likes of Dick Tiger, Gordian Ezekwe and Carl Gustaf von Rosen

during the Biafran war.

By going beyond the Biafra war in this memoir Achebe shows how the

fear of Igbo dominance led to the dethronement of meritocracy and the

enthronement of mediocrity. In that single move, Nigeria opens the

flood gate for corruption, impunity and failure that has remained the

trademark of Nigeria to date. Beneath the crisis playing itself out in

Nigeria’s landscape today - most especially in cities like Lagos,

Abuja and Port Harcourt- is still that fear of Igbo domination.

In Part Four, Achebe performs a reappraisal of Nigeria’s sordid

journey. He connects the failure of the Nigerian state and the rise of

terrorism to Nigeria’s long history of condoning violence.

“Nigeria’s federal government has always tolerated terrorism.

For over half a century the federal government has turned a

blind eye to waves of ferocious and savage massacres of its

citizens – mainly Christian Southerners; mostly Igbos or

indigenes of the Middle Belt; and others – with impunity.”

Achebe finds a solution in good leadership as exemplified by Nelson

Mandela. In the postscript, he spotlights Mandela as the epitome of

the kind of leadership that Africa needs. He urges Africans to seek

“sustenance and inspiration from Mandela.” No one will disagree with

that. However, he does not mention the Arab Spring or the possibility

of its replication in sub-Saharan Africa. He, therefore, maintains his

conclusion in The Trouble With Nigeria that leadership is squarely the

problem. For younger readers not conditioned to wait indefinitely for

change, the question left unanswered is, if leadership fails to come,

then what?

Achebe’s memoir is not just an epitaph for Biafra. It is also a

warning to Nigeria. If Nigeria fails to find its purpose and achieve

it for all of its people, a new generation of writers may have the

misfortune of writing a similar epitaph for Nigeria – There Was A

Country Called Nigeria. And for Biafran babies and their upcoming

generations, the idea that there was a country carries a subtle

message that what was could still reincarnate.

In There Was A Country, Achebe like a priest, illustrates to Nigerians

how to partake in the Biafran Communion. To be a partaker, one must

drop all malicious intents and repent. In briefs, citations,

exhortations and excommunications, Achebe maps out the path for

Nigeria to figuratively come to the Lord’s table.

Chapter by chapter, as it is dramatized in the Book of Common Prayers,

Achebe, son of a catechist, beseeches Nigerians to kneel humbly. He

proclaims the sins and he guides them as they confess their sins. He

pronounces absolution of sins for those who repent. In flashes of

dramatic interludes, like a priest, Achebe then picks the bread; and

when he has given thanks, he raises it up and breaks it and gives it

to Nigerians, saying; take, eat, this is the Biafra which is given for

you, do this in remembrance of Biafra. Likewise, after admonishments,

he takes the cup and when he has given thanks, he gives it to

Nigerians saying, drink you all for this is the blood of Biafra, which

is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins, do this as

often as you can in remembrance of Biafra.

It is not clear whether this burdened generation of Nigerians still

crippled by its non-reconciled history will understand the essence of

this Achebe doctrine. What is clear is that Achebe has drunk the

remaining wine after communion. One gets the feeling that what is left

is for him to turn to the congregation and say, go home for the mass

is over. Because of what Achebe has achieved in this book, we cannot

let Biafra go even if we want to. Just like Biafra, because of this

personal history, centuries from now when the novel is dead and

buried, the new generation that will inhabit the territory currently

called Nigeria will always remember that there was a writer named

Chinua Achebe...'

Monday, October 1, 2012


By Pule Lechesa

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to express my profound gratitude to those who facilitated this epoch-making FREE STATE WRITERS FORUM (FSWF) WRITERS INDABA. I believe that the future and legacy of our culture, linguistic, social and of course literary trends can only be further enhanced by workshops like this.

I do not want to encroach on the territory of any other speakers today; hence I shall try to be concise and economical; in the process I hope I will be able to provide glimpses into Sesotho literature in particular and if possible African literature in general.

It is always good to start with the provenance of things, to wit the genesis – the very beginning. How did what we call “formal literacy” start. The general picture all over Africa is that, the early missionaries were pivotal in introducing this element of western writing orientation. This was also the case when the missionaries arrived in Lesotho shores sometime towards the end of 1833. They built schools where they taught Basotho who to read the bible and write so that they could help them propagate Christianity.

That is when we saw the sudden emergence of pioneering figures in Sesotho Literature. I have in mind the generation that dominated the 1907 to 1930 period. Thomas Mofolo, author of the following books: Moeti wa botjhabela (1907), Pitseng (1910) and lastly the most controversial book that was translated into so many languages Chaka (1925). Motsamai who wrote a book called, Mehleng ya madimo - The era of the cannibals. Mofolo’s former school teacher, Lechesa Segoete also registered his name in the literary circles with a didactic book called, Monono ke mohodi ke mouwane, roughly translated Riches dissipate like mist or vapour.

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the African scholars, Ntate Moloi has rightfully pointed out that, “To appreciate Sotho creative writing one must understand the socio-economic and political milieu in which Sotho writers find themselves.”

You will remember that out of these books that I have mentioned it is only Chaka and Mehla ya madimo that were not hailed as perpetuating the pagans’ beliefs and customs. It was crystal clear that the teaching of the missionaries was that the African customs and religion were to be rejected out-rightly. They used the quarterly newspaper Lesedinyana la Lesotho that they founded in 1863 to criticize them. This paper also played a pivotal role in promoting literature as books like Chaka were serialized in it before they could be published in a book form.

The other generation of writers with a different mindset emerged between 1930 and 1960. My mind goes to the names such as A Nqheku known for his novella, Arola naheng ya maburu- Arola in a whiteman’s land. BM Khaketla Meokgo ya thabo - Tears of joy. GM Guma and many others. This generation had to tap into genres such as poems, short stories, historic novels and so forth. Guma curves a niche for himself as the outstanding historic novel writer.

Between 1960 and 1990 the writers were writing mainly about industrialization and urbanization. Books that were highly political in content were suppressed. The censorship could not stop writers like Jac Mocoancoeng and KE Ntsane from writing their counterparts who were writing protest poems in English.

Let us scrutinize Ntsane poem titled Dumedisa Base from his book called Mmusapelo. It reads thus:

Dumedisa Base

Dumedisa Base, o kgore,

O kgore makumane a weleng tafoleng,

Tafoleng ya Base ho tletse difannora,

Fannora tsa sekgowa hase ho kgadisa…

Here is my rough translation of the poem

Greet a white master!

Greet a white master for you to be satiated to plenitude,

To be satiated to plenitude with leftovers fallen from his table,

On his table is a surfeit of delicious assorted food,

Wow! You will feel like devouring this food,

They tantalize the taste buds of a passer-by Kaffir…

This poem was met with mixed feelings, as some were saying that he wanted blacks to accept being under a white master. But I beg to differ as the last sentence of the poem he urges Blacks to do something about this situation. White people realized the impact it made and they had a second edition that omitted this poem.

It is astonishing the travails that African female writers went through before they made their mark in the literary world. Even in the seventies and eighties, Mama Miriam Tladi who is the first black female writer to publish a novel in South Africa went through hell to get her book out. Even in the sophisticated countries like England, it was initially a mission impossible for Buchi Emecheta an internationally acclaimed female writer to set her feet on the writing path; read her memoir called Head above the water.

Thus we can imagine how incredibly difficult even further back for female writers including Sesotho writers to have their books published. You will remember how Buchi Emecheta talks about how her ex-husband tore her early manuscript. When I used to be a publisher myself, one female writer once shared with me a similar story of how her parents destroyed her manuscript. Virginia Woolf says for a woman to be a writer she must first have a “big house and money before thinking of writing.”

Mama Tladi says “everywhere where black women used to work their masters would lose their temper if they could see them reading; not to talk of writing!”

She also pointed out that Black women do not have time to think and analyse things properly. To write a novel, one has to be able to analyse the situation or circumstances they are living under. Another problem which is still prevailing even in this dispensation is that most women do not have confidence in themselves.

Hence, those few women who were able to publish their books despite daunting obstacles should be commended. It is no surprise that these female writers are particularly concerned with the plight of children and women. Sesotho female writers, just like their world female counterparts, Buchi Emecheta, Mariam Ba (Senegal) relentlessly lament through their creative work the travails women faced.

Let us look at Mme Suzan Sefatasa in her book of short stories called Makomo. In a short story, called Joo nnaa, bohlolohadi wee, she chronicles how widows used to be discriminated against in the society. In another one she laments the lack of respect for the grannies in our community. It seems to me that the difficulties of such women in Sesotho writing in no way rises to the terrible level of the female protagonist in the book of Lauretta Ngcobo which are rather heart-breaking.

I call upon the young budding writers to acquaint themselves with the writings of Mme Albertina Makgokolotso Mokhomo, Mamothibeli Sehlabo, Dr Maramane Matabane Tshabalala and Susan Sefatsa.

Literary museums are a thing of beauty. It is a repository of the literary legacy of the past, present and future. And South Africa is lucky in particular to have the best national English Literary Museum in Africa.

Visiting this museum leaves one spellbound by the manner in which every literary material is kept, filed away and even computerized over there. I have in mind primary products which are the books, then critical works on every writer, supplementary clippings by way of newspapers, journals, magazines, interviews, with different writers.

There is no doubt in mind that we should strive to ensure that our Sesotho literary Museum should be brought to the sophisticated and convenient to the level of Grahamstown. These days we no longer have to travel to Grahamstown physically, we just send an email; an enquiry. We are thereafter sent a stunning comprehensive and literary profile on the protagonists.

How nice will it be if our proliferating students can go to the literary museums here in the Free State and do electronic researches on our outstanding writers such as Ntate KPD Maphalla, Winston Mohapi, Professor Nhlanhla Maake and many others And everything can be computerized, including the bibliographic details, supplements etc...

• Excerpts from a speech delivered by Lechesa at the Workshop in Bloemfontein on 27th Sep 2012