By Frederick Philander
Literature is an essential part of the education system in the country and should be recognised and celebrated as such.
With these words the Rector of the Polytechnic of Namibia, Dr Tjama Tjivikua, on Monday morning officially launched a historic first academic effort to recognise and acknowledge 15 selected and worthy Namibian writers since independence.
“This event provides a unique opportunity for all of us to be jubilant about Namibian literature in view of the fact that African oral history is dying, losing the essence of our own existence. We all like to quote important writers from around the world, but not our own writers,” Tjivikua said.
He urged Namibian writers to make sure they capture the country’s oral history in writing.
“I know writing is a very difficult process, but through this creative process we can rejuvenate our creative skills and our literature for the sake of better communication. Through writing we can ensure and perpetuate the country’s culture for the future,” he said.
For the past four days the selected writers shared their writing experiences and writing styles with the student community and the general public under the auspices of the library of the Polytechnic of Namibia.
The master of ceremonies and deputy head of the English Department, Fred Opali, in his welcoming speech took the audience on a historic literature back in time.
“June 1962 was the holding of the first conference on African Literature/Writing held in the continent. Kampala was chosen as a venue so as to address the matter of East Africa being then “a literary desert” in the sense that whereas literary voices had been heard from South and West Africa, no voice had been heard in East Africa in particular. The region was thus, creatively, considered dead and it was necessary, therefore to awaken it from its slumber,” Opali said.
He said a number of published writers, largely in their twenties, among others from West Africa, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, John P Clark, Obi Wali, and Gabriel Okara, came to the conference.
From South Africa, Ezekiel Mphahlele and Lewis Nkosi came. Nkosi, in fact, acted as rapporteur for part of the conference. From East Africa Okot p’Bitek, Pio Zirimu, and David Rubadiri and others attended the conference. James Ngugi [now Ngugi wa Thiong’o, then a high school student travelled to Kampala to meet, especially, Chinua Achebe, who had published Things Fall Apart (1958)].
“The conference discussed issues such as: The definition of African literature, the content and style of African literature, who the writers of African literature were, what genuine African literature was, the language of African literature and the criticism/evaluation of African literature. I want to look at the celebration of Namibian authors/writers in the same terms. It is the first event of its kind in Namibia. The venue, like that of the first conference of African literature in the continent, is a higher educational
institution,” he said.
In Opali’s view many African authors have been either nurtured as such or have been trained in institutions of higher learning in Africa.
“Others were exposed to writing in secondary schools that fed their relevant universities. The step that the Polytechnic is taking is thus instructive in the development of Namibian literature. I believe that the debates that will be undertaken this week will reflect significant issues in the establishment of Namibian literature and I hope that the result will help to diversify the nature, form, and content of African literature today,” he said.
“African and Namibian literature had in the past been laughed about, mocked at and scoffed at as bantustan literature and was considered to be merely an appendix to English literature. Unfortunately it is still considered as such.
That is why I consider this five-day event as a watershed for Namibian and African literature,” he concluded.
Writers who this week shared their experiences include Carol Kotze, Matthew Gowaseb, Petrus Haakskeen, Vickson Hangula and others.
In a statement the library of the Polytechnic of Namibia stated that: “The Polytechnic Library, being the repository of literary thought and creation, took to heart its mission to promote a reading and writing culture among its patrons by hosting an event celebrating Namibian authors.
“Through this event the Library will strive to bring to the attention of its patrons, the tremendous literary talent that exists in Namibia and to encourage them to become a dynamic part of it. Not only would we like Namibians to become avid readers, but to also feel the freedom to pen down their thoughts.
“Even though Namibia has a small population, it still has quite a number of excellent authors. Unfortunately, they are not as visible as the widely publicised international ones. One of the goals of this event is to offer some of them a wider audience and the acknowledgement they deserve.”
The event ends today with a publisher that will be advising writers and would-be writers on how to get their works published, a big problem for writers in the country.