UKZN Hosts Inaugural Annual Mafika Gwala Lecture
The first annual Mafika Gwala lecture was delivered at UKZN by Sociologist, writer, dramatist and civic activist Professor Ari Sitas who spoke on: “Are the Children of Nonti Resilient? - Mafika Gwala and the Arts of Resistance”.
The Lecture in the Howard College Theatre was hosted by the College of Humanities together with South African History Online and the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences. It coincided with the first anniversary of the death of poet, writer, editor and member of the Black Consciousness Movement, Mafika Gwala.
Gwala’s family, his nephews and his eldest sister, Rosemary, were in attendance. Their joint message read: ‘Thank you for bestowing this honour upon Mafika, our family and the community that he came from. Mafika represents the marginalised voice and we thank you for coming together to remember him and to stand for freedom, love and unity.’
Retired academic in the School of Education, Dr Betty Govinden, who recited a poem in honour of Gwala, said: ‘He wrote against the grain of society. He made us realise that poetry is an expression of the imagination, of the lived experience.’
Sitas then provided a critical reflection on The Children of Nonti, one of Gwala’s most anthologised poems and a tribute to Black resilience. ‘Remembering Gwala brings with it a haunting sensation. It is about the landscape that threads together, Umlazi, KwaMashu, Inanda, Mpumalanga, Edendale, Dambuza, Sobantu and Mpophomeni.
‘There is song, truth, oneness, laughter and struggle in The Children of Nonti. There is a metanarrative and an intra-narrative of liberation. There is art and resistance,’ said Sitas.
He noted that there was discomfort with writing such as Gwala’s as Black poetry had warranted inclusion in South African collections with the dominant view that its ‘artlessness’ was explicable and a serious marker of the harshness of apartheid.
Sitas spoke about Gwala’s literary role during the struggle, his life and involvement in the Black Consciousness Movement, in trade unions with good friend Omar Badsha, and his time with the ANC.
He said Gwala existed within a continuum of poetry in KwaZulu-Natal, sharing with the audience an in-depth analysis of more poems from Gwala including New Dawn, Jol’inkomo, No More Lullabies and others which have appeared in Exiles Within.
In closing, Sitas said: ‘The landscape we are left with is still harsh and many of our poets are experiencing a new “exile within” as the Black/White discourse gains prominence and the dashiki that Gwala laughed at with such guttural joy has been replaced by the penguin suit. Many too, are still waiting for the “tornado or for something to snap”. We need to restore Soho Eckstein and the Fuhrer with the black mask again.
‘We have to revisit the meanings of liberation and their metanarratives and craft, because there is a future to be wrested away from greed and need. It has always been the poet who has allowed us to dream of the festival. Gwala, often jazzhappy, often black and furious, needs to be remembered for such a social service in the arts of resistance.’
CEO of South African History Online and good friend of Gwala, Mr Omar Badsha, said the lecture was significant as it reclaimed and popularised the work of Gwala, who he feels shaped the sensibility of so many artists today.
‘He was well-known in academic and artist circles but not in the broader community. This Lecture allowed the public to revisit his work and reflect also on the work of artists who were prominent in the apartheid struggle. It also allowed for a discussion on contemporary issues relating to artists,’ said Badsha.