Pivotal South Africa poet, Dr. Mongane Wally Serote has been lauded as the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) Literature Lifetime Achiever for 2016. This Award, sponsored by Media24 Books, aims to acknowledge Serote’s significant contribution to South African prose.
“The Romantic notion of poets is that they are the prophets of society – sometimes with more justification than in other cases,” says Managing Director of Media24 Books, Eloise Wessels. “It is undoubtedly true that good literature critically reflects on the dominant issues in any society and provides an ethical perspective which is necessary for the health of the social order.”
Over the years, Serote’s writing has done just that. Renowned as one of the Soweto poets who embodied the literary revival of black voices in the 1970s, his work expresses the injustices and harsh realities of life for black people under apartheid.
Serote graciously received his Award at the 19th annual ACT Awards held at Sun International’s The Maslow Hotel on 21 October. He says about receiving this Award; “I feel honoured. To be honoured in one’s country, by one’s countrymen and women, is a very important achievement.”
During his fruitful career Serote has received a number of prestigious awards. In 1973, after having published his first anthology of poems called Yakhal’nkomo the year before, Serote won the Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize. The following year, he was granted a Fulbright Scholarship and travelled to Columbia University to complete a master’s degree in Fine Arts. His poems, particularly those from his first two anthologies, have been hailed as pivotal to the rise of the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa.
He has also been the recipient of many other national and international awards, including the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa (1993); the Pablo Neruda Award from the Chilean government (2004) and the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, here in South Africa.
As an active member of the Liberation Army, Umkhonto We Sizwe, Serote’s work has inspired, and continues to inspire generations of youth throughout South Africa, Africa and the world. His thought-provoking poetry not only expresses the effects that oppression had on South Africans, but it also stands as a timeless body of work that marks an important period in South Africa’s history.
The poet, who believes now is the time that South African literature should feature more heavily in South African curriculums at both school and university level says that “arts and culture can be the tapestry which weaves our nation together”. And he believes that in order to grow as a writer it takes both practice and perseverance. “Write and write and write,” he says, “but also, find a manner to put your ear on the ground.”