PRESIDENT'S REPORT 2013 – 2014
My aim with this report is to first mention a few of the highlights that have happened during the year. Thereafter, I provide a few pointers toward a strategic shift in Academy activities to ensure a relevant, sustainable and creative Academy.
The Academy notes with sadness the passing away of our Patron, Nadine Gordimer. Gordimer was an ardent supporter of the Academy. She achieved lasting international recognition for her works, most of which deal with political issues, as well as the moral and psychological tensions of a racially divided South Africa. Virtually all of Gordimer's works deal with themes of love and politics, particularly concerning race in South Africa. Always questioning power relations and truth, Gordimer tells stories of ordinary people, revealing moral ambiguities and choices. The Academy commemorative lecture for 2015 will be in memory of Gordimer. Professor Michael Titlestad will deliver the lecture on 'The fiction of Nadine Gordimer and historical presentiment' and we plan to hold it at Wits.
We welcomed the new Administrator, Ms Annette Meklis, in January 2014. On all the evidence available to the Executive she seems to have been getting her head around the complex task of running the office, particularly picking up outstanding issues in the aftermath of several years of serious dysfunction. We are seeing progress on a number of issues and she has made a positive difference to the Academy’s administration. She is dedicated, motivated and brings appropriate knowledge and skills to the Academy.
The Academy commemorative lecture was held at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Pietermaritzburg on 30 August 2014, in honour of the late Professor Colin Gardner who served the Academy as Vice President of the Kwa-Zulu Natal region. The lecture titled, ‘Transformation and the intellectual’, was delivered by Professor Stanley Ridge. The event was well received and a fitting tribute to Colin Gardner who was pre-eminently an intellectual. The Academy had the benefit of Gardner’s incisive but generous contributions and his deep commitment for many years. We note with thanks the hard work of the coordinators of the function, Darryl David and Betty Govinden and we are heartened that Prof Cheryl Potgieter, the DVC Humanities at UKZN and many of Colin Gardner’s colleagues were present.
I am glad to note that the 2014 International EASA Conference is on track. The conference is being co-hosted with the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and
will be held at the Garden Court South Beach Hotel. Keynote speakers include the internationally respected post-structuralist theorist, Gayatri Spivak and South African writers Ronnie Govender and Malika Ndlovu. The Academy has sponsored five postgraduate students for their conference fee. Thanks to the conference committee at UKZN, Prof Ayub Sheik, Dr Ansurie Pillay, Prof Mbongeni Mlaba and Annette Meklis.
A very successful award ceremony was held on 8 April 2014 at the Institute for Renaissance Studies in Pretoria. The Sol Plaatje Prize for Translation was awarded to Sekepe Matjila and Karen Haire for the book Lover of His People: a biography of Sol Plaatje, published by Wits University Press. The panel was convened by Prof Russel Kaschula from Rhodes University. This prize reflects our commitment to English as a South African language in a multilingual context, and is made for a translation from another SA official language into English.
The Thomas Pringle Award for best Educational Article (2012/13) was awarded to UNISA academic, Professor Elizabeth Pretorius for her paper, ‘Butterfly effects in reading? The relationship between decoding and comprehension in Grade 6 high poverty schools’ published in Journal for Language Teaching 46 (2) 2012. The paper uses a butterfly metaphor to show the ‘sensitive’ dependence in high poverty schools between academic competency in later learning stages and the acquisition of reading skill in earlier learning phases. Dr Rangarirai Musvoto was the convener of the panel.
Special thanks to Rosemary Gray for organising the award ceremony in Pretoria at short notice.
A successful awards function was held in Cape Town on 8 May 2014. The function was a great success. In spite of the rain, over 50 people attended.
The Olive Schreiner Prize for Poetry was awarded to Rustum Kozain for his volume, Groundwork, published by Kwela in 2012. This is the second time that Mr Kozain has won this prize. Rustum Kozain’s poetry is perfectly crafted, and at the same time speaks accurately and sensitively to the South African experience. He talks about the pain of the past of this country without any slogans and clichés with a deep personal involvement and experience, because “To deny bitterness is no release”.
Beverly Rycroft was awarded the Thomas Pringle Award for Poetry in Journals for her poem, ‘Letter to the other side’ published in Carapace (93) 2012. The judges called Rycroft’s poem ‘Quite an achievement!’ In ‘three short verses’, ‘twenty-two lines’ Rycroft lays bare a family’s history.
Dr Sindiwe Magaona was the co-ordinator of the panel. In her acceptance speech, Ms Rycroft thanked the Academy for the role that it plays in encouraging poetry and that she was honoured to receive this prestigious award and presented a lively acceptance speech.
The second part of the Cape Town function was the Percy Baneshik memorial lecture delivered by Prof Laurence Wright. Prof Wright’s speech on ‘South African education and the form of the humanities’ was most inspiring and the audience received it very well. A sumptuous finger supper and
refreshments were sponsored by the Percy Baneshik Trust.
The Kwa-Zulu Natal region hosted the Aziz Hassim Memorial Lecture in Durban in June 2014. I delivered a paper titled, ‘Aziz Hassim’s Durban: Re-mapping, resistance and memory’. Our gratitude to Thayalan Reddy and Betty Govinden for coordinating a successful function.
The Percy FitzPatrick Prize will be awarded to Kagiso Malope, for the book, This book betrays my brother. The panel was convened by Dr Elaine Ridge with Prof Shaun Viljoen and Dr Eva Hunter. The Executive Committee recommended that the prize be awarded for an original literary work in English published in Southern Africa and either set in Southern Africa or written by a person domiciled in Southern Africa at the time of publication.
Our most significant publication is The English Academy Review: Southern African journal of English Studies which has become an internationally recognized publication of standing, published on our behalf by Unisa Press and Taylor and Francis. We acknowledge the excellence of its editing and management under Council members Michael Williams and Rosemary Gray. We are proud of our flagship publication.
Teaching English Today, our online journal under the editorship of Malcolm Venter, has experienced a few challenges, chief of which is financing of the journal. The journal is targeted at teachers of English and it is evident that the demands from the new curriculum, CAPS, leave the teachers very little time to contribute to the journals. It is unfortunate that the research game in the academe, and the monetary reward for publishing in accredited journals by the state, draws academics away from journals like TET.
Although the Academy website has been updated, there is still the need for constant monitoring to ensure that data is accurate, and that information on Academy events is included in the webpage immediately after an event.
Now a few pointers for the year ahead to ensure that the Academy fulfills its mandate. We clearly need to give greater consideration to budgeting and financial reports so that we are able to make informed decisions and exercise our fiduciary responsibility. The finance sub-committee, together with members with financial skills should think strategically around financial management, projected and actual income and expenditure and investment performance. An updated data base of the membership is urgent together with a more efficient subscription renewal system. Sincere gratitude to Rosemary Gray for her stirling work with the finances of the Academy. It is heartening to note the projected income from our bequests and the increased membership from universities like Unisa where large numbers of academics have joined the Academy. We need creative fundraising initiatives. The Development Committee was set up with just such a purpose in mind, and it is hopeful that the Finance Committee under the leadership of the Treasurer would look at ways in which this committee can be revived. We would value suggestions from all members of Council with a view to our making real progress with regard to financial sustainability.
My sense of all the South African literary journals is that they need to work to support the ideal of South Africa as an independent intellectual centre within a global academic system. This requires encouraging more international authorship (not only expat. South Africans), including African, Australasian, Eastern, European and American participation. This can be achieved by advertising themed issues well in advance on appropriate academic websites and news-listings, and consciously inviting international participation. EAR needs to support scholarship on African, South African, traditional ‘English’ literature and international literatures in English. We would not advocate a narrowly Africanist agenda, which would be stultifying; but neither would we like to see it become a journal predominantly devoted to ‘foreign’ English literatures. I would particularly favour publishing scholarship of quality from the rest of Africa, even on non-African literatures. We need to be very careful that EAR is not seen to favour tertiary institutions in Gauteng, or ‘English Academy’ authors. The wider our repertoire of articles and authors, the better. With nepotism a hot topic in every sphere of national life, we must be rigorous in ensuring we are seen to be free of it.
Awards like the Thomas Pringle Award for Ad hoc reviews should consider a wider catchment. Reviewing in newspapers has become so perfunctory that we would favour changing the rules governing this award to focus on book and theatre reviews in English in South African literary journals for a particular year. It will be a watershed event if we would put forward the idea of offering the award for reviews in any official South African language, but the practicalities seem to be too daunting.
I believe we should consider turning the Newsletter into a twice-yearly digital publication, mailed electronically to all paid-up members, with back-numbers archived on the Academy website. There would then be no hard-print edition and it would be far cheaper too. There are many skilled young digital natives that will be able to do this task at reasonable cost.
The Academy’s strength is its members. We should give careful consideration with regard to the Executive committee and Council succession. We need to renew leadership in the Academy, thinking strategically about local accessibility i.e. Gauteng members, gender, and geographical spread. While on the one hand we have long serving and dedicated members that serve as anchors for the Academy, on the other hand, a steeply ageing profile staying on too long may lead to a situation of ‘more of the same’. All Council members should assist in identifying new members to serve on Council and to graciously invite younger academics to replace them. University units and NGOs that work with English literature and language matters should be approached to serve on Council. We also need to include
colleagues from universities that are not represented on Council. This would also break the silence in some of the regions, a deafening silence with almost no Academy activity. It would be valuable if the vice-presidents created a branch of the Academy in each region to facilitate activities, networking and growth of the membership. We should follow the good example of the KwaZulu Natal region with outreach work and awareness of the Academy. Each region should provide a plan of activities that make a concerted effort to collaborate with university English departments, FET colleges, schools and the community. Events like summer schools, symposia, or lectures provide a basis for ongoing activity of the Academy in the various regions. Networking with the Provincial Language Committees would ensure we participate in the larger language debates in the country.
Stanley Ridge captures the notion of transformation succinctly. Transformation is the process of change leading to a more or less profound improvement. It involves form and substance, external features and internal disposition, material conditions and frame of understanding. How can we transform this august body and lead it to greater heights. It is a collective venture, we need more robust debates with regard to our future, and as we look inwardly, we need greater honesty in assessing our individual contribution to the Academy. We are intellectuals, people that make sense. What is the nature of our engagement with the Academy? Are we engaging with the hegemonic stance against English in the current South African society? The training of teachers of English leaves much to be desired. The declining quality of English usage in schools is cause for concern. Our low achievement with international audits on reading has to be juxtaposed against the visual literacy of our digitally native children who do not read.
What does it mean to serve on the Council and how can each one of us foreground the verb ‘serve’, as a member who is engaged with the Academy which he or she serves, making it a priority to participate in activities and generate ideas for creative activities in our region. It’s time for Council members to be effective with introspection and wise action.
The Academy flourishes through the support and dedication of its members and I am appreciative of all of you that serve on Council. To Annette Meklis, Rosemary Gray and David Robinson, warm thanks for your efficient and proactive management of the administration. Our gratitude to the University of the Witwatersrand for hosting us for so many years. To the editors of EAR, Michael Williams and Rosemary Gray and Malcolm Venter of TET our sincere appreciation for work of the highest quality. To my EXCO colleagues in Cape Town Barbara Basel, Stan Ridge, Laurence Wright and Malcolm Venter my appreciation and respect.