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Xhosa Literature in the Spotlight: William Wellington Gqoba and DLP Yali-Manisi Come to Life at Clarke’s Bookshop

Duncan Brown, Pamela Maseko and Jeff Opland

The intimate gathering of poets and scholars, friends and family who joined to celebrate the latest titles to be published by UKZN Press upstairs at Clarke’s Bookshop was a delightful affair. At what is arguably the oldest independent book shop in the country, the two volumes, William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembali: Xhosa histories and poetry (1873–1888), edited by Jeff Opland, Wandile Kuse and Pamela Maseko, and DLP Yali-Manisi: Iimbali Zamanyange: Historical Poems, edited by Opland and Maseko, were celebrated enthusiastically.

The editorial and translation team of Maseko and Opland were joined in conversation by Duncan Brown, Dean of the Arts Faculty at the University of the Western Cape. He described these books as “very significant texts that will be points of reference for many decades to come”. Brown observed the terrific coincidence that the Cape Town launch of these books occurred on the birthday of the late Glenn Cowley, founding publisher of UKZN Press.

Jeff OplandDLP Yali-Manisi: Iimbali ZamanyangeWilliam Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembaliOpland said his private collection, The Opland Collection of Xhosa Literature, represented some 40 years of research, and has always been available to those who needed to consult it for work on PhDs, books or documentary films. He said it was important to return it the people from whom it came.

“Xhosa literature is marginalised in this country,” he said. “If you go into any bookshop, you do not see Xhosa books. If you ask the question ‘where is Xhosa literature?’ you’re justified in being doubtful. We wanted to restore the integrity of the literature which was printed for the first time in 1823.”

Opland spoke about the long history of gestation and production of Xhosa literature, which precedes the development of Afrikaans by at least 50 years, and articulated the reality of the dearth of Xhosa literature.

“People don’t read it because there isn’t anything worth reading,” Opland said. “Under apartheid, under the missionaries that preceded apartheid, and even today, the vast majority of material published was prescribed for use in schools. Most of the material published in Xhosa were designed for reading by children.”

Opland discovered an extraordinary amount of Xhosa material published in newspapers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“There you have adult authors writing for adult readers. You have a reflection of the confrontation with colonialism, the response to it, the wrangling of the Christian church trying to accommodate the introduction of Christianity, very often on a hostile basis by the missionaries. This adult literature that exists in newspapers is luminous. What we’re trying to do is to bring back into the public domain works of literature of some standing by authors of some standing who are not recognised because the history of Xhosa literature has not been written and nobody teaches it.”

Opland said these books aim to present the work as it was written in the time in which it appeared.

Maseko joined the conversation by acknowledging their co-editor, Wandile Kuse, who could unfortunately not attend. She recalled her early introduction to South African history as a university student in the late 1980s at UWC where there were those who attempted to provide an alternative to the dominant historical narrative.

“We were made aware of a summary of a poem by Gqoba, and the great education debate,” she said. “This was presented in English as somebody who sought to present a counter-argument to the benefits of Western education. What remained was the knowledge that there was a voice from where I came from.

“I grew up in Engcobo where storytelling was a form of educating in the highest way. You were taught, not indoctrinated, in the ways of life.”

The authors continued with an inspired and warm-hearted discussion about the process of collating the work, sharing their real concerns about the loss of archival material, and the future publications on which they are currently collaborating. This fascinating talk enriched all who could attend and is available as a podcast below.

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Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:



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Two new UKZN Press titles were launched at Clarke's Bookshop: William Wellington Gqoba: Isizwe esinembali: Xhosa…

Posted by UKZN Press on Monday, 1 June 2015

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