Delightful African Literature

“I am no fan of Shakespeare”

Many students can quote Shakespeare, but have not heard of African literary giants such as Athol Fugard and Ngui wa Thiong’o. African fiction is about us, writes a young University of the Free State student Anathi Nyadu before asking the following pointed question: If you don’t read your own writers, who will? With Africa Day coming up Anathi’s questions need solid answers.

Only a few people in my circles know the genius that is Athol Fugard. And only a handful have the advantage of knowing that there’s an African writer by the name of Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Needless to say, these friends are not ashamed of their lack of enlightenment about who the great Africans of our generation are. On the flipside, almost all of them know who Shakespeare is.

Out of the more than ten friends I asked, not even one knew who Athol Fugard was.

The plan was to ask at least ask 50. I would’ve carried on with my asking had my friends not given me the ‘you-think-you-are-smart’ looks. Some of them on hearing my questions would be quiet for a little while as if pondering –searching the caves of emptiness for a name, familiar but foreign – and then they would ask ‘who the eff is that?’
It is only when you tell them that Athol Fugard is the man who wrote the novel Tsotsi, from which the award-winning screenplay was adapted, do they say ‘Oh! There’s even a book? I need to get myself a copy.’ Interesting enough, they all knew Shakespeare and without any provocation whatsoever they would even name some of his works. If you are lucky they might even quote a few lines of his poetry, but can they do the same with Shakespeare’s namesake, their very own Keorapetse William Kgositsile? No! This tells you something about how much people know themselves, their own continent and its legends, so to say.

Needless to say, I’m no big fan of The Bard of Avon. In fact, when I learnt that I will be doing Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice for my second year English I wanted to kill myself! No, no, no – make no mistake, the guy is a good writer! Or at least that’s what people, including our education system, believe.

Unfortunately, the Shakespeare bug never bit me! To begin with, I cannot relate to his setting and storylines. His archaic way of using words is a speed bump; his round-about way of saying even the simplest things makes reading a complex issue. Which is why I prefer my Gordimer, my Achebe, my Mphahlele—my African literature! African literature is not important only because of its relevant setting and relatable storylines. It also increases our social consciousness, and raises awareness of social, political, and economic crises that the African continent is facing.

What makes African fiction even more interesting is the fact that it is about us – Africans. It explains the mysteries, intricacies, ironies, and tragedies of life in a language we understand without going the extra mile of checking Google. In it we encounter ourselves; we come face-to-face with the truth of our continent. The ups and downs. We learn the histories of our people; learn African proverbs; learn African values.

The other day I was reading Siphiwo Mahala’s African Delights. Good timing, I have to say, because I was starting to wonder where the hell the writers of our generation are. As a result I ended up reading works by fresh young African writers such as Wame Molefhe’s Go Tell The Sun, Thando Mgqolozana’s Hear Me Alone and I was convinced that indeed African tales are delightful.

Now, there’s only one question, I would like to ask my non-reading friends, and the youth at large: if you don’t read your own writers who will read them? I mean there’s no harm that can be done in investing in a book that will open your mind to the complexities and pleasures of being an African.

This article first appeared in Y-Not Culture Magazine