The Durban University of Technology (DUT) Writing Centre in partnership with St Francis Productions, DUT International Education and Partnerships and DUT Library hosted the much anticipated launch of Zakes Mda’s novel, AROLA-A journey into 10 Ancient African Civilisations on Wednesday, October 29, 2021 via Microsoft Teams.
Prof Mda is a revered African author, painter, filmmaker and music composer, who spoke on his exciting new book, AROLA-A journey into 10 Ancient African Civilisations. He has been awarded honorary doctorates in literature by the University of Cape Town, Wits University, and the University of the Free State; in technology by the Central University of Technology; and in art by Dartmouth College and Durban University of Technology.
The book launch was facilitated by DUT’s Professor Michael Chapman, a prominent South African literature scholar and had Dr Maboreng Maharaswa from St Francis Productions and Mr Zwakele Ngubane, Director, Advancement and Alumni Relations, serving as the programme moderators.
Dr Maharaswa welcomed all the guests to the webinar, especially Prof Zakes Mda, whom she explained, has a special relation with the Durban University of Technology.
Ngubane also expressed his gratitude to the distinguished guests and literary giant, ‘son of the soil of South Africa’, Prof Zakes Mda, who launched his book, AROLA which is an amazing read.
“We are also very excited to indicate that we as the DUT community, as Dr Maharaswa had indicated earlier, that we have a special relationship as the DUT with Prof Mda because he is an honorary doctorate recipient from DUT, in that regard. We also hope to have many future engagements with him,” he said.
Mr Ngubane conveyed on Prof Mda’s biography, saying that his portfolio includes his writings which have been translated into 22 languages, including Estonian, Catalan, Korean, Serbian, German, Swedish, Dutch, Turkish, Norwegian, and Italian.
“They have won many awards in South Africa, the USA and Italy, including the Amstel Playwright of the Year Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa, the M-Net Prize, Sanlam Prizes (twice), The Pringle Award, the Sunday Times Literary Prize (twice), the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award, Premio Narrativa Sud del Mondo, the University of Johannesburg Literary Prize, and the American Library Association Notable Book. He is a recipient of Ikhamanga Order in Silver, a national award of the South African government,” he said.
He indicated that Prof Mda commutes between the USA, where he teaches creative writing at John Hopkins University and is also Professor Emeritus at Ohio University, and South Africa, where he is a beekeeper in the Eastern Cape (running a project he established in 2000 with rural women), and a director of NeoZane, an animation film production company.
Giving the official welcome via a prerecording at the launch was Prof Nokuthula Sibiya: Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning.
“I’m excited to be part of this book launch of AROLA-A journey into 10 Ancient African Civilisations which focuses on African history, African Civilisations and Africa’s contribution to humanity,” she said.
Prof Sibiya also explained that the book resonates with the call for decolonisation at universities and curriculum.
She further stated that the book AROLA-A journey into 10 Ancient African Civilisations provided people with a platform to think critically of what it means to be an African.
“It gives readers the opportunity to appreciate African histories, traditions, values, fears, and aspirations,” she said.
Relaying the international dimension of the launch was Dr Lavern Samuels, Director: International Education and Partnerships.
He gave insight on the author’s international prominence and linkagisms, and his significant experience in international education as an international student.
“His latest book, AROLA – A journey into 10 ancient African Civilisations offers a fictional portrayal of civilisations that have existed in the past. Whilst this book is fiction, he relies on historical facts, writings and works of art for his portrayal of these civilisations. The book introduces some of the most important African contributions to global humanity. This is an important book coming at a time in South Africa and where many other parts of the world are grappling with the issue of the need of colonised knowledge,” he said.
Literary icon Prof Mda, a revered African author, painter and filmmaker and music composer, then spoke on what the context setting of his book, AROLA – A journey into 10 ancient African Civilisations, as well as on the main character of the book.
“First, I want to mention that I’m very happy that DUT is launching this book because its genesis in fact is at DUT, many people may not be aware of that. I was invited at DUT a few years ago before you guys gave me that wonderful, honorary PHD. I was there to talk to students, I gave lectures and so on. I was invited particularly by Prof Gift Mheta and Dr Rene Smith, who I think is very important to mention because they were part of that genesis. The lecture that I gave was on Ancient African Civilisations and after that lecture many students who attended the event had asked me to consider writing a book on this topic. At that time, I had no plans to write a book, it was just a lecture scribbled on scrap paper that I was giving to the students using slides and things like that. So, some of them felt that if there was a book on this material it would be very useful, which meant that I had to go back then and do further research since the book would be much more detailed than that lecture,” he explained.
Prof Mda highlighted that the book is less theoretical, in other words, he does not deal with any theory at all, he just tells a story.
He further relayed that he had been to various places like Karima in Sudan and discovered quite a few things about the Nubian civilisation, 3000 years ago; and that’s where he started from, 3000 years ago.
“I was really interested in those ancient civilisations like the Nubian civilisation which is also known as the Kingdom of Kush which at the time I’m addressing also ruled Egypt, it had actually colonised Egypt for a few centuries and then the Aksum Kingdom in what is today known as Eritrea and parts of Utopia and so on,” he said.
He also spoke on his interest in historical fiction as opposed to fictionalised history.
“The distinction that I made here is my historical fiction attempt to teach history in a much more entertaining way. I have fictional characters who interact with history and by history I’m talking of history according to historical records. History as researched by historians and recorded by historians without attempting to sublet it, that is what my historical fiction attempts to do,” he added.
Prof Mda explained that that in AROLA, the main whereas we have this little girl who is of the age group of the primary target of the age group of readership of this book what the book trade calls the middle grade, this girl using the time machine of the imagination visits these civilisations. Now the fictional aspect of the book, there’s a reason for her to go to each civilisation beginning with the Nubian empire. What we find in this book is that the fictional part of it is very thin and is there to make the story entertaining and enjoyable to the reader, whilst at the same time they learn about history.
The aim is that, the fiction aspect, the little girl interacts with various people, some of whom who had really existed then. And others are fictional, who are immediately created to show how people lived during those times.
An interactive question and answer session ensued which was followed by the vote of thanks given by Prof Gift Mheta, DUT Writing Centre Manager.
He expressed his thanks to the international partners, and all those who were involved in ensuring this success of the webinar launch of Prof Mda’s book, AROLA-A journey into 10 Ancient African Civilisations.
“I would like to thank our guest speaker Prof Zakes Mda for liberally sharing his ideas and for sharing his knowledge of Africa’s contribution to humanity as creatively expressed his book AROLA-A journey into 10 Ancient African Civilisations,” he said.
He conveyed that Prof Mda is such an inspiration to writers and readers who enjoy reading good stories.
“Let me also say that it was heart-warming that your visit to the Writing Centre, way back in 2018, galvanised you into writing the book, AROLA-A journey into 10 Ancient African Civilisations,” he expressed jubilantly.
He further thanked Prof Chapman for his interactive participation in sharing more content into what the book is all about, the partners who worked behind the scenes to make this launch possible, St Francis Productions who published the book, AROLA-A journey into 10 Ancient African Civilisations, and for proposing launching this exciting book at the DUT. He also thanked the DUT Writing Centre for promoting reading and writing, giving a special mention to Ms Shahieda Kraft and her team for their hard work in putting the event together.
For direct book orders please visit: www.stfrancisproductions.org.
Pictured: Zakes Mda, an esteemed African author, painter and filmmaker and music composer. (Google Images)