Monday, May 26, 2014

SONNET FOR ‘DADA’ (Sobriquet of a Pan-Africanist)

He soaks in a melange of information with elan    

As if part of a well-orchestrated plan 

Scrupulous research is his forte
Dada is certainly here to stay!  

Of proud nigh-imperious IsiXhosa progeny    

Hark at him for all to see
Bastion of Quintessential learning and predilection.  

Nothing to prise him away from his vision

Dada! The intellectual world salutes you  

As you fasten to literature like glue

Author, essayist, Pan-Africanist  

To boot an over-arching humanist

Let's toast to Dada's health  

And to the hoard of his intellectual wealth
-      O Bolaji

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Review by Ishmael Mzwandile Soqaga

Book: Free State Writers Talking

Editor: Molebogeng Alita Mokhuoa

First published in  2002

When one begins to imagine the idea of ‘black African literature’ one might tentatively ask oneself: “Does it really exist?”  Many times we read and hear how African history has been fabricated and probably be arrogated for European civilization.  The expression that writing in black’s man mind only exists when white people arrived in Africa has been jibed at by emerging African thinkers and intellectuals.

Decades ago one of the modern black thinkers Marcus Garvey had the question to ask after he came across a copy of Booker T Washington’s autobiography “Up from Slavery.”  He asked… “Where is the black man’s government?  Where is his king and his kingdom?  Where is his president, his country and his ambassador, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs?”  Up from Slavery is the very fine book written by black intellectual; a thing that was not usual at that time.

However, Africa has plethora of important writers who have produced excellent African literature that reveals a conspicuous true identity of the Africa’s art and culture.  Apparently, the whole idea that white people are the catalyst of writing in Africa has been dramatically refuted.  Primarily, their mission it is argued was to promote white culture (through colonialism) where literacy was not known among the Africans. 

The delusional argument (African literary pundits believe) is easily adumbrated by Ahmed Baba centuries ago (1556 – 1627).  One of the greatest scholars in Africa and he also studied and taught in Timbuktu.  The present day library at Timbuktu (Mali) is named after him.  He himself had a personal library of 1.600 volumes.   Patently, Africans can say proudly that indeed African literature does really exist.  Other notable African writers for example are Leopold Senghor, Patrice Lumumba, Chinweizu Ibekwe, Obi B Egbuna, Kwame Toure to name but few.

After I completed to read and re-read the book Free State Writers Talking put together by a female author Alita Molebogeng Mokhuoa I was absolutely fascinated.  Alita Mokhuoa has done a great wonderful thing to write such a mind-blowing book; the book encompasses extraordinary interviews with Free State black writers.  Her questions to the writers are appealing and arresting.  Here are some outstanding interviews by Alita Molebogeng Mokhuoa with Free State Writers:

Alitta:  Mr Bolaji, you have stated publicly that your latest work Thought on Free State Writing probably gave you more satisfaction than your fiction.  Many of your readers might be horrified to hear this:  Many do not particularly like “essays”…

Bolaji:  People will always say one thing or the other anyway.  I’ll like to see black readers appreciating essays.  Not all readers love fiction you know.  Some of them prefer to read something aesthetically, intellectually challenging or pleasing.  I’ve wanted to do (write) this book for a long time so I am pleased.  As Britain’s Julie Burchill say:  “I am an essayist, and essayist sit in their rooms and write profound thoughts”!

Alitta:  When did you think you could be a writer?

Lebuso:  It started just a few years ago.  I read a few books, mainly Bolaji’s many times, exchange ideas and books with Qoopane… then African Renaissance has always fascinated me.  People who should know better seemed confused so I decided to highlight the real “Africanism” the way I felt it should be.  I was born and shall die in Africa I do not want to see our culture going down the drain.  I love my culture and I don’t believe it should be “modernized”.  Children should be brought up the right way.

Alitta:  How and when did you start writing?

Thabo Mafike:  I discovered that I was writing a lot, obsessively by the time I was in the secondary school.  Nobody really encouraged me, even my teacher laughed at me.  It seems cruel, then.  I plodded on learning from the books I was reading myself.  Over the years I added more and more pages to my major work.  Tjhe bo Bophelo.  I wrote and wrote, learning a lot in the process, thinking, creating till I passed over 20 years of age.


Alitta:  You are a fine poet…

Mohanoe:  For me poetry is non fiction, feelings.  I can realize myself in poetry.  You realize feelings are universal, permanent; poetry is always relevant.

Wally Serote is a great poet who has done a lot for literature.  His style is good though some of his poems seem to be too long.  I prefer short poetry.  Dambudzo Marechera was a genius with his poetry.  The poetry of our Job Mzamo is revelatory.  Skilful.  His choice of words.  Lebohang Thaisi is promising, the talent is there.


Alitta:  How did you start writing, and what are your future literary plans?  How did you published your first book?
Mzamo:  My inspiration firstly comes from the Bible, I love the proverbs of King Solomon.  But my main, if not chief inspiration is “Frustration”.  You can imagine how frustrating it is to roam the streets without a job, and the next thing they want experienced people with a std. 8 or matric certificate, so I turned to writing poetry out of desperation.  My other inspiration is my ex-girlfriend Boetie.


Alitta:  Is it true that we blacks do not read much?

Nthejane:  Many of us we are guilty of this.  Many do try to read but they are just getting used to this.  It seems our ladies read much better particularly magazines and the like.  I remember Achebe fascinated me when I was younger and of course Mr Bolaji; who by local standards is a great, great black writer.  We had very few books we could relate to children.  It is shocking that many of us know very little about great writers from this country.  Like Peter Abrahams, Zakes Mda, Mphahlele, Richard Rive etc; not to talk of the white writers like Gordimer!  People like Ntate Qoopane are opening our eyes now…  I understand young writer Lebohang Thaisi reads in an incredible way considering his Township background.  I for example am so busy that I just can not read much; it is frustrating.


Alitta:  Sir, one is well aware of your commitment to writing.  How important are writers?
Qoopane:  Writers are very important and feared in Africa; they are visionaries, even the conscience of (their) societies.  Writers have perception, mission and vision and it is difficult to bribe the very good ones!


Alitta:  How did it all start for you as a writer?

Thaisi:  As a boy of around 14 I read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and it had a great impact on me; I could relate to the people, the village, headmen, the proverbs etc.  Then I read Aluko’s “Wrong ones in the Dock” and it increased my awareness of the Yoruba people.  I even began to think I was Yoruba!  That’s the great thing about literature. ..

Ben Okri is a great writer, his style is engaging; you are consumed; feel part of everything.  Es’kia Mphahlele – one of the pioneers of black African literature.  I love his Down Second Avenue, an absorbing of our African women…

Literature is a wonderful gift, you always learn something, assorted characters become “your friends” Mentally you develop a lot.  Whatever your colour.  Look at Alrina le Roux (Free State Libraries) who has read many African books, she does not look down on black people… Mrs. Schimper too... great people all…


Grippingly, Alita Mokhuoa in Free State Writers Talking, has done a very impressive work to produce such humongous, inspiring book.  Although published over a decade ago, it is one of the few exhilarating books that are produced by black female writers.  Definitely I am greatly pleased with how she chose questions for interviews with Free State writers.  There is nothing more exciting than when African writers share their profound experiences and remarkable understanding about literature.  

Monday, May 5, 2014


Prof Toyin Falola is a most distinguished, internationally heralded scholar and historian. He is
the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas in America.

Falola, who is the author or co-author of dozens of books published over the years, has been conferred with a major Chieftaincy title by the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Odulana Odugade. Prof Falola, together with his wife, Bisi, was physically present as he was formally bestowed with the award.    

Falola was conferred with the title of "Bobapitan of Ibadanland" by the Olubadan-in-Council.    

Expressing his gratitude for this sterling accolade, Prof Falola said, inter alia: "I am very proud
of the Olubadan (King). I have to accept this honour, coming from the highly revered King. I know that he does not just dole out chieftaincy titles anyhow. He's a man of impeccable achievement with lofty

Some of the published works of Falola over the decades include: A history of Nigeria, Britain and Nigeria, Exploitation or Development?, Mouth Sweeter than Salt, Yoruba Warlords
of the 19th Century, and The Power of African Cultures.


Ah, the pre-colonial era again in west Africa! Pristine life in the villages, "rudimentary" approach to life complete with simple customs and tradition, belief in fetish et al.    

Author Asare Konadu depicts all this well in his quite well known work of fiction, A woman in her
prime. Of course the village life (at Brenhoma) here knows nothing about the white
man, never mind electricity and all its marvels...      

The story is weaved around a woman in the village, POKUWAA, whose life is blighted for
donkey years by an inability to have children. This is not only an
anathema but a disaster in this society; as we read:     

'The first year, then the second year passed and there was no child. She remembered that this
had made her heart sad because of the people of Brenhoma. To them, to
be barren was the worst to happen to a woman. The approach of her time
(period) caused her apprehension every month. Seeing her blood
saddened her very deeply...'

Not that the female protagonist has no rights, or is completely suppressed in her society. In fact she has formally divorced her first two husbands because of her inability to have
children by them. Her latest man (husband) is Kwadwo, by all accounts
a good man, though he is already married to another woman (his first

Kwadwo goes out of his way to support Pokuwaa in her nigh-forlorn quest to
at last get pregnant. We learn early in this work that he's prepared
to spend a whole week with her during special rites designed to make
her pregnant; but his choice is not as easy as he makes it sound (as
if his first wife is compliant):  

 ‘He knew he was lying. The talk with his (first) wife had only resulted in a quarrel. She had protested vehemently against his spending all that week with Pokuwaa saying that she would
not sell her rights to any barren woman. Kwadwo had left the house in
anger. Even as he told his lie now, he was looking for shadows,
fearing that his angry wife could rush in at any minute now to make

Although women characteristically take a back seat in the village (not
being allowed to attend serious meetings) it appears their powers are
more subtle than meet the eye, as we read:

‘Pokuwaa was there in the area of the meeting of the elders which decided this. She knew
that the men's decisions had really come from the women and travelled
with them to the meeting place...’.

In the end Pokuwaa loses all faith in the alleged all-powerful
deity, Tone, and decides that if she be childless, so be it:

"I am a woman," Pokuwaa said. "And a woman does want a child; that is
her nature. But if a child will not come, what can I do? I can't spend
my whole life bathing in herbs..."

Ironically this is when she becomes pregnant, at long
last. The exhilaration over this is initially shared with her mother
and her best friend:          

‘While Pokuwaa was setting her pot down, her cloth came loose and fell
 away. Her mother, who was watching her, caught her breath at the
sight of her breasts and exclaimed, "Adwoa! Let me see. Let me see
something." She seized her daughter's breasts in her trembling hands.

"What is this?" She exclaimed. "Do you feel pain in them? Are they

"Hei! She is pregnant," Koramoa (her best friend)
exclaimed. "Pokuwaa!"...’

So all's well that ends well, even if some pundits might deem this as rather
simplistic. The novel ends on a happy, hopeful note with a
nigh-certainty that all would be well in the end. Pokuwaa is at last a very
happy woman..

The author, the late Asare Konadu was a significant and prolific Ghanaian writer during his lifetime; works like A woman in her prime show why.
- Review by O Bolaji