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Soyinka hails poets' role in struggle for freedom

Published Jun 1, 2016

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Johannesburg - Autocratic and greedy African leaders and ordinary people perpetrating the atrocities plaguing the continent, including xenophobia, are impeding Africa’s progress.

And factional, terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram are no different from “modern-day slave masters'.

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This was the among the themes of world-renowned author, poet and Nobel Literature Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka when he addressed the audience at the Soweto Theatre in Jabulani on Monday evening.

He also condemned factional and terrorist groups such as Boko Haram.

Soyinka, who is Nigerian, was part of a panel at the Colloquium on Politics, Culture and the New African hosted by the Department of Arts and Culture in partnership with the African Independent and Press Club South Africa.

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He spoke on negritude, a concept he calls the cousin of the local concept of ubuntu, among his themes.

Soyinka talked at length about how the voices of poets marked the liberation struggles of every era, including through slavery in the US.

He spoke of poets like Phillis Wheatley and Leopold Sedar Senghor at length, even reading Senghor’s New York.

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He also read a poem called Breaths by Birago Diop from Senegal.

“Listen more often to things rather than beings. Hear the fire’s voice, hear the voice of water. In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees, it is our forefathers breathing,” he quoted Diop’s poem to a cheering crowd.

Soyinka also warned of the urge that governments may have to favour poets who write only about topical matters.

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"The issue of the muse is something that is very personal. We, the consumers would be arrogant to question the selection of what really moves a writer or poet to create. It’s a very personal thing but it shows through the writer. It would be very arrogant to impose on one’s choice,” he said.

Following Soyinka on the podium was his close friend, Professor Muxe Nkondo.

“Wole Soyinka is perhaps Africa’s most famous writer. He inspires profound friendship,” Nkondo said.

The night ended with a performance by songstress Simphiwe Dana.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa delivered a keynote address.

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