Friday, 6 March 2015

Mwelela Cele's introduction to Mandla Langa

Launch of The Texture of Shadows by Mandla Langa at Rhodes University in Grahamstown (eRhini) on Thursday the 5th of March 2015 at 17:00pm. 

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Greetings to Academics and Students. As has been mentioned, my name is Mwelela Cele and I am the Librarian at the Steve Biko Centre Library and Archive, where our concern is with both the past and the future, honouring the legacy of Steve Biko, and facilitating the application of his philosophy to help improve the current conditions and prospects of the disadvantaged, and the prospects of future generations. The Steve Biko Centre is situated in Ginsberg King William’s Town (eQonce). I greet you all, and all protocol observed.

I would like to begin by thanking Rhodes University’s Unit for Humanities (UHURU) for organising this launch and giving me the opportunity to introduce Mandla Langa. Similarly I also thank most sincerely Siphokazi Magadla from the Rhodes University Politics Department, and Dr Richard Pithouse for inviting me to this launch, and for giving me this honour.

As a brief aside, while greeting my friend Dr Richard Pithouse I will take this opportunity to say it is a pleasure to be with Richard and his wife, my friend Vash, here at Rhodes University, because we all come from far away in terms of distance, and from way back in terms of time. We come from KwaZulu Natal, and we have known each other since the days when the University of Durban Westville and the University of Natal existed independently, before the establishment of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I have known Richard from the year 2000 when he used to organise the Frantz Fanon Memorial lectures, bringing respected international scholars like Professor Mahmood Mamdani to the University. I have known Vash from the days when I was working at the UDW Documentation Centre and she would come there to do research, and from our participation in the famous UKZN History Seminars. And I was at their wedding celebrations in mid-2007. Hence I am saying our friendship goes a long way back.

Thus I have been given the honour to greet and introduce Bhuti Mandla Langa. I would like to begin this formal introduction by recalling his days within the South African Student Organisation (SASO) and remembering that he was a participant in the post-Sharpeville cultural and political renaissance that 3 became associated with the rise and spread of Black Consciousness.

According to Professor Saleem Badat in his book, published by the Steve Biko Foundation and STE Publishers, entitled Black Man You Are On Your Own "At the 1971 General Students’ Council (GSC) a lengthy resolution was adopted which defined culture as á dynamic [occurrence] involving all activities of a people’ and asserted that [Black Consciousness] BC was ‘a supremely cultural fact’. The resolution called for a ‘cultural orientation’ that made blacks realise they were united by a common experience of political and economic oppression and ‘insult to human dignity’, and for the appointment of an organiser who would be responsible for organising and promoting black cultural activities and disseminating literature… SASO and BC played a major role in stimulating and facilitating black cultural production during the 1970s. In 1972 GSC included an art exhibition, a poetry reading, and a drama and music festival, and cultural activities were to become a vibrant on-going feature of SASO national and local meetings and events, and of campus life. SASO forums provided platforms for BC cultural production and exposure for emerging black artists, while SASO 4 publications carried numerous articles on culture and also featured black poetry. SASO members were instrumental in establishing a number of cultural formations, played an active role in various theatre, art and music bodies, and a number of them were to go on to establish national and international reputations as novelist, poets and playwrights.”

During this period of heightened politico-cultural awareness and activity, Bhuti Mandla Langa, from 1972 to 1976, was Director of SASO Cultural Affairs, responsible for organising and promoting black cultural activities and disseminating literature. Indeed, Bhuti Mandla Langa is one of the distinguished alumni of the SASO Black Consciousness movement era who “were instrumental in establishing a number of cultural formations, played an active role in various theatre, art and music bodies, [is one of the poets and writers of the black consciousness era that] established national and international reputations as novelist, poets and playwrights.”

When it seemed that the apartheid establishment had gained an overwhelming victory over its opponents, courageous and creative writers and poets, such as Bhuti Mandla Langa, came to the fore, inspired to write poetry of resistance, proclaiming an alternative philosophy against that of the dominant regime.

In his introduction to the collection of short stories entitled Hungry Flames and other Black South African Short Stories, the editor, Professor Mbulelo Mzamane writes about what he describes as a cultural renaissance in black South African writing. According to Mzamane “Black consciousness and the literature it inspired emerged in the midst of political and cultural repression after Sharpeville. The new wave of writers who emerged in South Africa after 1967 appeared to shy away at first from the more explicit medium of prose and took up poetry, after the manner of established literary figures such as James Matthews. Between 1967 and 1974 the cultural renaissance which accompanied the rise of Black Consciousness produced, at an unprecedented rate in the literary history of South Africa, many outstanding poets of the calibre of Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim), Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Mongane Wally Serote, Sipho Sepamla, Mafika Gwala,  Mafika Mbuli, Mandlenkosi Langa and Njabulo Ndebele.

Having pointed out these brief glimpses into his life, I am sure you will agree with me that it is indeed a formidable task to attempt to introduce, in a few brief words, a person who has made so great a contribution to the public life of South Africa, and who continues, through his writing and through his current commitments, to make a unique difference in society.

Bhuti Mandla Langa was born in Stanger (KwaDukuza) (the home of Chief Albert Luthuli, Ngazana Luthuli of Ilanga Lase Natal and Professor B.W. Vilakazi of Inkondlo kaZulu and the Vilakazi Age in African Literature), an area situated inland from KZN’s north coast, and spent his childhood and teenage years in Durban’s vast KwaMashu, vibrant, yet with all the challenges and connotations of township life in mid-20th century South Africa. In due course he moved south to this area of our country, with which all of us here are certainly familiar, the Eastern Cape, in so many ways the crucible of South Africa’s colonial history. At the iconic Fort Hare University, Bhuti Mandla Langa studied for a Bachelor Arts degree, and thereafter became increasingly involved in the struggle against apartheid.

In 1976, that year of such significance, Bhuti Mandla was arrested on a charge of planning to leave South Africa illegally, and endured imprisonment for 101 days until he managed to jump bail and escaped into Botswana, the beginning of a long and painful exile. During this time he devoted his life to furthering the struggle in various ways, including military training in Angola, and cultural activism in numerous centres throughout Africa and beyond. He managed to fit some writing into his demanding schedule and he was recognized in 1980 for his short story 'The Dead Men Who Lost Their Bones', when he won the Drum short story contest. He was the first South African to be awarded, in 1991, the Arts Council of Great Britain Bursary for creative writing. He also represented the ANC in cultural affairs in both Western Europe and the United Kingdom.

As well as being a celebrated writer, his output having included a musical opera, Milestones, which was featured at the Standard Bank Festival in Grahamstown, Bhuti Mandla Langa has continued his involvement in the practical realities of culture, communication and the 8 arts. He has served as Programme Director for Television at the SABC, and has been Chairperson of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) (1999-2005). Bhuti Mandla Langa has also served on numerous boards and as Chairman of MultiChoice Africa and a trustee of the Nation's Trust, Read Educational Trust and the South African Screenwriters' Laboratory. Currently he is a member of the ANC Archives subcommittee.

It is indeed a great privilege and honour to present to this distinguished audience a truly eminent South African, Bhuti Mandla Langa.

Mwelela Cele