A UNIQUE nation-building campaign that recognises, acknowledges and rewards local artists has seen one of its privileged moments being scuppered by a freak of nature.
International air travel snags caused by huge ash plumes from a massive underwater volcano in Iceland have scuppered the London Book Fair, which was due to focus on South Africa's established and emerging writers and the country's publishing industry.
Flights in and out of London were adversely affected, including those of five SA Literary Awards recipients Keorapetse Kgositsile, André Brink, Njabulo Ndebele, Sindiwe Magona and Chris van Wyk, and the the awards' 2007 nominees Zukiswa Wanner and Nig Mhlongwere were scheduled to participate in the fair, which was to have taken place from Monday to today.
Paying due and deserved homage to living literary practitioners, legends and, where appropriate, to others posthumously, the SA Literary Awards are sponsored and organised by wRite Associates, Sowetan, the Arts and Culture Department, Nutrend Publishers, and the Aggrey Klaaste Nation Building Foundation.
wRite Associates director Raks Seakhoa this week said it was an honour that a large contingent of South Africa's cream of literary talent had been invited to the fair and that its market focus was due to hone in on South Africa.
"The invitation is in itself a rare privilege," Seakhoa said. "It has shown that the world recognises our worth as a deep, rich well of creativity and literary wealth, with most of our talented authors being included in seminars, workshops and other crucial cultural exchange sessions which were due to have taken place at the fair."
Glen Mafokoane of the Department of Arts and Culture said: "Even the Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana was to have graced the fair, but nature seems to have dictated otherwise."
Mafokoane said that fortunately, several authors, led by Kgositsile - who had left earlier - were expected to put up a promising show for South Africa.
Other SA writers who were supposed to take part in the fair include Zakes Mda, JM Coetzee, Antjie Krog, Lebo Mashile, Jonny Steinberg, Mark Gevisser, Ivan Vladislavic, Gillian Slovo, John van der Ruit, Mamphele Ramphela and Achmat Dangor.
More than 200 seminars, workshops and other events were to be attended by 6000 delegates and industry professionals - including 2500 publishing professionals from more than 110 countries.
This means that South Africa's big and small publishers as well as old and new generation writers would have benefited greatly from the related publication, sale and distribution deals and rights.