ENGLISH ACADEMY OF SOUTHERN AFRICA
PRESIDENT’S REPORT 2012-2013
Professor Rajendra Chetty
It has been an eventful first year for me as President of the English Academy.
We are guided by our vision of a multilingual democratic society that respects language rights, where English is available to all who wish to use it and where good quality teaching of English is fostered. The Academy continues to recognize scholarship, creativity and achievement in English writings and in so doing, we also encourage best practices through our range of prizes and awards in English literature and English studies. When we reflect on past winners of our awards, we are proud to note the role we have played in rewarding the excellence, creativity and scholarly talents of prize winners like Nadine Gordimer, Sipho Sepamla, Lionel Abraham, Alan Paton, J M Coetzee, Douglas Livingstone, Oswald Mtshali, Zakes Mda, Antjie Krog and John Kani.
We note our appreciation to the convenors of our adjudication panels for the past year and they include Rosemary Gray, Elaine Ridge, Karen Batley, Lynda Gilfillan, Denise Newfield and Rangarirai Musvoto. As a token of appreciation, the Executive Committee decided that conveners should get two years complimentary membership and their teams one year.
- The Percy FitzPatrick Prize for Youth Literature, 2012, has been awarded to Edyth Bulbring for her richly entertaining book ‘Melly, Fatty and Me’ published by Penguin Books. The book weaves an amusing and refreshing form of storytelling through the deliciously over-the-top quality of the narration.
- The Thomas Pringle Award 2012 for a portfolio of reviews has been awarded to Mary Corrigall for her reviews published in the Sunday Independent during 2011. Mary is a second time winner, and is known for her verbal acuity and sharpness of perception. The panel of adjudicators proposed that, in future, this award should be expanded to include “inter-reviews” as well as art reviews that are not confined to exhibitions.
- Charles van Renen, joint winner of the Thomas Pringle 2011 award for best educational article “Dahl’s Chickens: How do they roost in the 21 Century” received his award in Grahamstown in March 2013.
- Two awards will be presented in October at a function in Cape Town. The Olive Schreiner Prize 2012 (Prose) would be awarded to Peter Dunseith for his novel The Bird of Heaven. The Thomas Pringle Award 2012 (Short Story) will be awarded to Lauren Van Vuuren for “Duel over a dear” published in New Contrast.
- The Thomas Pringle award 2012 for a scholarly/academic article will be presented to Lara Buxbaum in October 2013 at the University of the Witwatersrand.
- The Gwen Knowles- Williams bursary for 2014 will be awarded to Soraya Abdulatief, a master’s student at UCT, during the Cape Town awards function scheduled for October.
The English Academy Gold Medal for outstanding service to the English language was awarded to Malvern van Wyk Smith and Mothobi Mutloatsi for 2012 and 2013 respectively.
- In a long and distinguished career as a university teacher of English, academic, and literary scholar, Malvern van Wyk Smith has contributed generously to the enhancement of English studies in South Africa. His special interests have been contemporary poetry, South African literature, and the origins of European conceptions ("images") of Africa. His contribution to the Joint Matriculation Board as Chairman of its English Committee represents a major investment of time and commitment in the service of English through its national influence on the school system. The award function was held at the National English Literary Museum in Grahamstown in March 2013.
- Mothobi Mutloatsi received the Gold Medal for his contribution through Skotaville Publishers, which he founded in 1982, and which provided a publishing avenue for aspirant writers and academics during the time of government literary censorship. It was the first publishing house in South Africa to focus on literary and scholarly works by and about black people during the time when apartheid was at its most severe. Skotaville’s list included Desmond Tutu, Neville Alexander, Don Mattera, Frank Chikane, Fatima Meer, Tim Couzens, Oswald Mtshali, Jonathan Jansen and Sipho Sepamla. In 1996 Skotaville Publishers expanded into Mutloatse Arts Heritage Trust, broadening the scope of the publishing house to make it a vehicle through which Mr Mutloatse continues his publishing activities as well as several other interests in the development and growth of the arts. The award function took place at Northwards, Johannesburg, in May 2013.
The English Academy 2013 Commemorative Lecture was held in honour of Professor Margaret Lenta. Prof Margaret Daymond presented the lecture at the University of KwaZulu Natal. The title of Daymond’s presentation was ‘Home, Exile and Resistance in letters from Bessie Head, Dora Taylor and Lilian Ngoyi.’
Prof Lenta is known internationally as a founder-editor of the journal Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa. She helped to create the success of this journal, now in its 24th year, by guiding its policy and practices. By the mid-1980s Lenta’s scholarly work responded to developments in South African society, and she turned her attention to Feminism and Black Township Writing and researched the writings of Sheila Roberts, Miriam Tlali and Elsa Joubert. In the 1990s her scholarly interests extended to Lady Anne Barnard, André Brink, Yvette Christiansë, J M Coetzee, Herman Charles Bosman and the Botswana writer, Unity Dow,
The 2013 Percy Baneshik Memorial Lecture will be hosted by the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, on 18 September. Prof Jonathan Jansen will deliver the keynote address entitled: “Not even colonial born": England, the English and the problem of education in South Africa.
The English Academy 2014 International Conference will be held on the 25-27 September 2014 at Howard College, University of KwaZulu-Natal. The main theme of the conference is “Hot topics in the Subtropics”. The subthemes include multicultural writing, English literature and language in the African diaspora, Literature and social justice, Recent Southern African writing, Linguistics in the Southern African context, Indian Ocean studies, Cities in flux, Literary tourism, Literature and historiography, and Autobiography and auto-ethnography. The first call for papers has been posted on the Academy website. We note with appreciation the sterling work of Professor Ayub Sheik and his committee at UKZN as well as the financial support pledged by the university for the conference.
The KwaZulu Natal region of the Academy hosted A Shakespeare Retrospective jointly with the Consulate General of India on 26 October 2012 in Durban. Engaging with narratives of Shakespeare tells as much about ourselves as it does of Shakespeare. The seminar addressed issues around cultural translation, re-contextualisation, transfiguration and contestation that have taken place, and continues to, in relation to Shakespeare. Chaired by Professor Graham Stewart, the ‘Shakespeare in Africa’ session featured presentations by Hugh Thompson (Shakespeare Society of KZN); Brian Pearce (Shakespeare in Southern Africa) and Kriben Pillay (‘Not an Angry Ape: Shakespeare and Consciousness’).
The highlight of the year was the function on 25 May 2013 at Northwards, Johannesburg where the Academy in association with the publishers of our accredited journal – Taylor & Francis and Unisa Press – celebrated thirty years of production. The occasion enabled us to network with Language Matters, which has been in print for twenty years. A short address was given by our publishers, and this was followed by brief overviews of the two journals by the Editors-in-Chief, Professors Michael Williams and Lawrie Barnes. Both journals now publish two issues per annum, with Barnes considering moving towards a third issue each year. Referring to the ongoing commitment to production on time, Williams described himself as a 21st century Sisyphus, while Barnes explained that his journal had spent its early life as English Usage, an in-house journal which, in effect, was forty-four years old. Michael Williams’ contribution as Editor of The English Academy Review has been distinguished and, along with the fine work of Rosemary Gray as Managing Editor, is doing a great deal to take the standing of the journal to higher levels.
Teaching English Today, our on-line journal for teachers, has continued to thrive under the editorship of Malcolm Venter. It has attracted interesting contributions around current debates in the teaching of English. Dr Venter has also been responsible for updating our website and this has certainly made a difference to the Academy’s profile.
Rosemary Gray is once again commended for her unyielding hand on the purse-strings, her dedication to ensuring that our bills are paid and we have enough funds to survive. Her careful management of the Lotto grant has ensured our credibility as a non-profit organization and led to our receiving another grant this year. Funding has been secured for our major awards as well as the international conference scheduled for next year. The Academy is indebted to Rosemary.
Some of the strategic issues that the Academy needs to seriously consider are:
1. The sustainability of any organization depends on funding. We have leaned too heavily on the Lotto and need to give attention to corporate membership as well as seek grants from other sources of funding. I am optimistic that the Development Committee will be revived and will place this matter high on its agenda. Hopefully, the Development Committee will also explore ways in which we could secure bequests from members and patrons of the Academy.
2. Vice Presidents of the different regions are encouraged to ensure that they establish a stronger regional presence for the academy in their provinces. Members are eager to participate and special events in the different regions will encourage and strengthen the work of the Academy. The work of Colin Gardner, Betty Govinden and Thayalan Reddy in KwaZulu Natal is an example of imaginative, enthusiastic and successful regional events. Exco looks forward to innovative plans for Academy activities in each of the regions from the Vice Presidents.
3. We are challenged, yet again, with an Academy office that is far from efficient and effective and this does not augur well for the standing of the Academy. Exco is hopeful that we can address this problem soon and thus ensure a fully-functioning office.
4. As we embark on a new era in the intellectual and social life of the Academy, it is fitting to shift the emphasis to recent debates about literacy. The training of teachers of English needs far greater consideration. The crisis of decreasing literacy levels in the public schools should be addressed more seriously. For this to happen, creative solutions (and massive expenditure) would have to be applied to the teaching of English, particularly in disadvantaged and rural schools. If well managed, mastery of English in disadvantaged settings may be an invaluable tool of exchange between those living on the margins of society and those who are part of the global village.
We bid farewell to Colin Gardner who has indicated that he is not available to continue as Vice President of the KwaZulu Natal region as well as member of the Council. We acknowledge with appreciation the tremendous contribution Colin Gardner has made to the Academy and his commitment to quality English studies in our country. The role that he played in the success of the events held in the KwaZulu Natal region is noted with gratitude. Warm good wishes to him and we are hopeful that his health will improve.
I am sad to report the passing of Professor Herby Govinden, Betty Govinden’s husband and a member of the Academy. We wish Betty strength during this difficult time.
I am grateful to the Executive Committee for their consistent support. The Cape Town team: Barbara Basel, Stan Ridge, Malcolm Venter and Laurence Wright worked wonderfully together, with strong input from Rosemary Gray and David Robinson. Rosemary Gray, a skilful and talented colleague, was most generous with sharing her knowledge of the Academy and the tricks of the trade. I thank David for his warm collegiality and willingness to assist during difficult times.
It takes great courage and hard work to forge new beginnings, to look ahead and question our histories with sincerity. How we always did things is not necessarily the best way to do it. Our own notions of value are sometimes but an interpretation of what is valuable. We need to be creative and innovative as we take the Academy forward. It takes true humility to recognise the myriad other voices on the margins. Are our notions of English stuck in the imperial centre, or do we acknowledge the variety of englishes? Do we decentre the canon in our publications and do we engage with writings on the periphery beyond the lens of tokenism? How do we share the tremendous knowledge and skills within the academy with those on the outside? Difficult questions, but relevant if we want to forge new beginnings.
I thank you all for the risk you took in electing me as President and for the confidence you have placed in me. I look forward to a year of renewed contribution to the mission of the Academy.