Media statement by Alan Khan, Senior Director: Corporate Affairs at the Durban University of Technology
The Durban University of Technology will confer a posthumous honorary Doctor of Technology Degree in Arts and Design on Professor Lewis Nkosi in recognition of his significant contributions as a prolific and profound South African writer and essayist.
The award will be accepted by Professor Nkosi’s Literary Executor Professor Astrid Starck-Adler at the Graduation ceremony at the DUT Midlands Campus on Thursday April 12 2012. Prof Starck-Adler is also expected to be guest speaker during the ceremony.
Born in Chesterville, Durban, on 5 December 1936, Professor Nkosi died on 5 September 2010. He attended local schools before enrolling at the then M. L. Sultan Technical College, Durban. He joined Drum magazine as a writer in 1956, a magazine founded in 1951 by and for African writers. In his book “Home and Exile and Other Selections” published in 1965, Nkosi described Drum’s young writers as “the new Africans cut adrift from the tribal reserve, urbanised, eager, fast-talking and brash” a description writer Neil Lazarus felt fitted Nkosi as well.
In its motivation letter for Professor Nkosi’s posthumous doctoral degree, the Durban University of Technology’s Convocation said Professor Nkosi, a former member, endured severe restrictions on his writing due to the then publishing regulations found in the Suppression of Communism Act and the Publications and Entertainment Act passed in the 1950s and 1960s.
“In 1961, he received a scholarship to study at Harvard. This scholarship was to mark the beginning of a life in exile following refusal by the then apartheid regime for him to re-enter the country after his studies. Professor Nkosi is regarded as one of the great essayist to come from the continent of Africa and we at Convocation feel it is befitting for the university to honor and preserve his legacy,” said Convocation.
Professor Nkosi is chiefly known for his scholarly studies of contemporary African literature. He authored the book “Mating Birds” in 1986 where he was critically acclaimed for his prose style and narrative structure. The work has also been compared with Albert Camus’s ‘The Stranger’ by several others.
Mating Birds tells the story of Ndi Sibiya who spots a white woman across a fence on a segregated beach in Durban. Although the rules of apartheid forbid them from speaking to each other, they begin a wordless flirtation across the fence. Soon Sibiya becomes obsessed with the woman and follows her everywhere. He learns that her name is Veronica and that she is a stripper at a local nightclub. One day Sibiya follows Veronica to her bungalow. Seeing him, Veronica undresses in front of the open door and lies down on the bed. Sibiya enters her bedroom and has sex with her. The two are discovered shortly after and Veronica accuses Sibiya of rape. Sibiya is then beaten, arrested and sentenced to death. Many critics viewed Mating Birds as a commentary on South Africa’s system of apartheid. Other commentators, however, attacked the novel’s ambiguous depiction of rape.
Exiled after leaving South Africa to study at Harvard University, Lewis Nkosi has written short stories, plays, and criticism from his adopted home in England. Much of his work, however, deals with African literature and social concerns. His bibliography includes plays The Black Psychiatrist (2001) and the Rhythm of Violence (1964), novels Underground People, Mandela’s Ego as well as sharing the writing credits on Come Back, Africa, a film filmed mainly in Sophiatown.
Professor Starck-Adler said Professor Nkosi regarded Durban as his home although he lived everywhere and was at home everywhere. To bestow the honorary degree on him acknowledges, if only belatedly, his rootedness in this South African region although his spirit continues to be everywhere, she said. “Most of his books relate to his home region and we touched down in Durban many times during his last years. I feel honoured to be brought back to the home of Lewis once more and I am sure Lewis would have appreciated your efforts in the most laudable forms,” she said.