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MDA rekindles tale from past

By Mamodima Monnakgotla | 2013-06-07 07:35:14.0

ACCLAIMED author, poet and playwright Zakes Mda needs no introduction.

Mda has created influential titles such as Ways of Dying, The Madonna of Excelsior, Whale Caller as well as award-winning theatre productions We Shall Singfor the Fatherland and The Hill.

Following his memoir, Sometimes There is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider, published in 2011, Mda will release his new novel, The Sculptors of Mapungubwe, later this year.

Mda says the book is set in the ancient kingdom of Mapungubwe in the year 1223.

"It is about the conflict between two master sculptors over the nature of art itself, culture and its reverence, and over a woman they both love, whose power lies in being the Rain Dancer," he says.

Driven by his fascination with Africa's ancient civilisations, Mda had the need to rekindle yet another tale from the past.

"In my novella Melville 67, for instance, I re-create life in an ancient Soninke empire in West Africa in the 4th century AD.

"Here I re-create life in the town of Mapungubwe 800 years ago when it was just beginning to decline.

"To achieve this I use scholarly writings of South African ethno-archaeologists, the oral traditions of the peoples of the region - especially the VhaNgona people - and one or two writings of the ancient Arab and Swahili people who visited and traded with the southern east African coast when Mapungubwe was at its prime."

Mda says he has no tricks or secrets for his writing process; instead, "I just sit down at the computer in the morning and write. You can only be a writer by writing. Since I write a lot of historical fiction I also do a lot of research, both from primary and secondary sources," he says.

Like many artists, Mda's work is inspired by life.

The characters he uses are usually conscious and strangely attractive to the reader's mind. He says each character depends on the story.

Based in the US as a professor of English at Ohio State University, Mda, who comes back home several times in a year, says his home will always be South Africa.

His view of the country from the outside?

"There are many wonderful things that we have achieved, but there are many negative developments too. The good, the bad and the ugly."

About the current generation of writers? Mda describes them as "Wonderful". He proudly adds: "There is more writing today of both book-length fiction and non-fiction than ever before."

An independent observer, Mda, however, says he does not read anything written about him.

"I write about myself too, for instance in my autobiography. I rarely read what people write about me and my work."

  • The Sculptors of Mapungubwe will be published by Kwela Books. -