Zakes Mda returned from exile in America in 1995. He has since given up teaching African literature to write novels. His latest novel, The Heart of Redness, is due to be translated into French by Editions Dapper, who already translated Ways of Dying in 1995. A London production company is also currently adapting the book to the screen.
Is it more difficult to write since the end of apartheid?
If you’re a writer, you’re a writer! On the contrary, it’s a lot easier for me. The end of apartheid freed my imagination. I see stories everywhere. Young writers are emerging too, such as Sello Duiker, whom I admire a great deal. Apartheid dominated our lives; we could not write honestly without talking about it. The system was such that all you had to do was go into a township and take a slice of life to turn into a wonderful piece of theatre of the absurd. Writers could be reporters then. Now that apartheid is dead, those writers are dead too. I don’t regret them.
You don’t suffer from writer’s block then?
I spend all my time writing novels. I’ve got four or five to write in a row. My next novel, The Madonna of Excelsior, returns to the South Africa of today, to Excelsior, a little town in the Free State province whose racial sex scandal hit the headlines in the late Sixties. The town dignitaries’ partner swapping with black women came to light after a whole load of mixed-race children were born. This was illegal at the time under the Immorality law, which banned sexual relations between black and white people. The affair embarrassed the government of the time so much that it was forced to drop the case. Two of the defendants tried to commit suicide, one of whom managed. Today, the children have grown up and the women remember. It’s a good lesson for South Africa, at least in terms of reconciliation
Have you ever taken inspiration from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
No, I want to create. The TRC doesn’t enable me to create. It went beyond the boundaries of the imagination, there where there is no place left to create a thing, only to report.
You occasionally write articles in the South African press expressing your point of view. You have notably denounced the ruling elites’ corruption. Are you an exception?
No, I’m an independent thinker. I think that the government is doing a wonderful job, that it has progressive policies which sometimes even go against the majority of the population’s ideas. I write about corruption because it is unacceptable. Certain people have betrayed us through horrible acts, by not treating all South Africans equally.
Have such stances made things more difficult for you?
I don’t care how my criticism is taken. My family comes from a long line of anti-apartheid fighters. I’m not dependent on anyone to live.
See interview with Zakes Mda on Ways of Dying in Africultures 24, p.30.///Article N° : 5516