The 2020 Mafika Gwala Annual Lecture, launched in 2015 as a collaboration between the College of Humanities and South African History Online (SAHO), was featured this year at the opening of the Poetry Africa Festival as a livestreamed panel discussion themed: Poets, Artists and the Voices of Resistance in the 1970s.
Centre for Creative Arts Director Dr Ismail Mahomed said: ‘It’s logical to locate UKZN’s annual lecture prominently at the Poetry Africa Festival. Mafika Gwala’s legacy while remembered by an older generation, resonates louder with a new generation of poets, writers and intellectuals who are inspired by his message that ‘you cannot divorce language from power’.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize said, ‘Gwala is a poet and a prominent member of the Black Consciousness Movement. His poetry and writings are considered to be cultural and emancipatory weapons. We are proud as the College of Humanities to host this annual lecture and will continue to offer our support.’
Mr Omar Badsha, CEO of SA History Online and a good friend of Gwala who died in 2014, believes the lecture series seek to ‘reclaim and popularise the work of Gwala and his contemporaries’ who Badsha feels shaped the discourse today on issues of race, gender and the aesthetic sensibility of so many artists. ‘For the last five years, the students and community of Mpumalanga have been one of the most enthusiastic and loyal supporters of the Mafika Gwala Annual Lecture Series,’ he said.
Poet, writer and distinguished sociologist Professor Ari Sitas moderated the panel discussion featuring cultural and political activist in the Black Consciousness Movement Mrs Sumboornam ‘Sam’ Moodley; award-winning author and journalist Mr Fred Kumalo; poet, musician and cultural activist Mr Eugene Skeef; filmmaker and activist Ms Bridget Thompson, and writer and columnist for the Sunday Times Mr Ndumiso Ngcobo.
Moodley spoke of her memories of Gwala and lessons she had learned from him. ‘Gwala continues to inspire me and remind me to always fight for a just cause.’
Khumalo located Gwala within the broader society, focusing mainly on what he saw as the role of the writer, or the artist in society. He shared anecdotes and fond memories of being mentored by Gwala as a writer, saying Gwala’s work and that of his contemporaries were a direct response to the socio-political conditions of his time. ‘His work will continue to appeal to discerning literary historians interested in the complex interconnections between history and literature.’
Skeef said: ‘This lecture series is the deepest portrayal of our cultural heritage in honour of the memory of Mafika Gwala and the legacy of his poetic gifts. Some of his poetry reflects the ideology of the Black Consciousness Movement that Gwala was also involved with.’
As a strong believer of the BCM ideology, Skeef said the current political dispensation was completely the opposite of what Gwala and others comrades had given their lives for. ‘Black consciousness in its simplest form is all about raising people’s awareness to know that under any circumstances they are equal to anybody else. They are not beneath any race. I’m deeply inspired by young people communicating with me who are very inspired by my music and poetry.’
Thompson added, ‘Gwala propelled me to embrace and explore my own country and initiated a journey out of the white cultural Bantustan into the wider black world intellectually, politically, socially, culturally and spiritually. This wider black world gave my life meaning and coherence and filled it with richness beyond measure.’
Ngcobo, who is Gwala’s nephew said, ‘My uncle knew that I loved reading. He told me to put away those James Hadley Chase novels and read something worthwhile. He said whatever I did; I should never lose connection with the average citizen.’