Literature is food for the mind

LITERATURE is the food of the mind. It is an integral aspect of our food for thought menu and a vital ingredient in the diet of all free, democratic and open societies worldwide.

South Africa is no exception, given the role of literature in the freeing, development and nourishment of societies; it is important that we recognise, acknowledge and reward excellence in this craft.

One major challenge we face as a country, nation and an emerging, democratic society, is ensuring that unsung emerging and established artists are placed in their proper places in people's minds and hearts and in the proper annals of history.

Honouring our writers will help to reintroduce and popularise our literary icons and - at the same time - lend a hand in reconnecting our present to our past literary history and heritage.

This is why we should celebrate the uniqueness of our literature in its peculiarity as a product whose germane features echo, without apology, the roots of the oral base that has developed, and perhaps transmogrified over centuries of imposed and voluntary evolution.

The rich and textured experiences of our indigenous people should also be chronicled within the nuance of their culture and languages.

In doing this, we should endeavour to paint and celebrate the vivid landscapes of our people in tales across time and cultural diversities.

Writers are the foremost custodians of our historical and cultural heritage, and serve as an almost bottomless well of inspiration, information and knowledge from which both the young and old should drink deeply, imbibing untold wisdom.

Are we doing enough as a society to accord our writers their deserved place of pride? Have we resurrected and placed our literary greats and giants in their proper place, not only in people's minds and hearts, but in the proper annals of history?

We should also ask ourselves why we are finding it hard to successfully inculcate a culture of voracious reading in the majority of South Africans?

It is also time to rise to the challenge, and honour an entire body of work by writers on the basis of their contribution to our literature, especially along the lines of linguistic diversity, because literary works penned in indigenous languages are equally important and should be afforded their rightful place in the pantheon of our literary heritage.

When we recognise, acknowledge and reward our writers, we are celebrating and embracing our country's literary excellence and its attendant depiction and sharing of South Africa's histories, value systems, philosophies and art as inscribed and preserved in all our official languages.

This mammoth task cannot be fulfilled without strong and sustainable public-private partnerships, with the corporate world playing the role of the griot: that is the record, the archive and the mirror of a people's excellence in the art of all time.

Our society is poorer in soul and mind if works worthy of merit remain unacclaimed, and when the beauty of the written words of wisdom are not duly and deservedly appreciated and recognised.

  • This is a shortened version of the wWrite speech of the project director of the South African Literary Awards, Morakabe Seakhoa. This project is organised and sponsored together with the Department of Arts and Culture, National Arts Council, Nutrend Publishing, Sowetan and the Aggrey Klaaste Nation Building Foundation.