Too silent this parting
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By Niren Tolsi
A relevant and sensitive voice in South African literature was silenced recently. Kabelo Sello Duiker was found hanged in his Northcliff, Johannesburg, home on Wednesday, January 19, having committed suicide.
According to a press statement released by Duiker's family, the tragedy occurred at a time "when he felt his mood-stabilising medication was taking too great a toll on his artistic creativity and joie de vivre". Duiker was 30 years old.
As South African literature struggled to emerge from its protest past and find authentic voices for a newly evolving country, Duiker, who published two books - Thirteen Cents (David Philip) and The Quiet Violence Of Dreams (Kwela Books) - stood out as a young writer who explored unconventional themes and confronted issues relevant to the new democracy.
For his debut novel, Thirteen Cents, which was awarded the 2001 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book in the African region, he spent time living on the streets of the Mother City - adding realism to his account of a streetchild named Azure's attempts to survive in Cape Town's seedy underbelly and fleshpots.
The Quiet Violence Of Dreams, which explored and challenged the mythology and stereotypes surrounding African sexuality and maleness was awarded the 2002 Herman Charles Bosman Prize and was translated into Dutch last year.
He was working on his third novel, which will be published posthumously later this year.
In a comment for the Dutch publishers of The Quiet Violence of Dreams Duiker said he was writing for people between 23 and 30 years old - a generation "confronted with different changes happening around us, and I wanted to communicate something of the pressures and contradictions facing us.
"I think the book is not politically correct, although it is a sensitive account of what I think is happening in South Africa right now. It's a young black man's view of what is happening - it explores youth culture and what it means to be young," he wrote.
He also said that while it was a South African novel, he felt the themes transcended national boundaries, that it would make Dutch readers "realise that young people in South Africa have to deal with the same challenges that people in the North do. We in Africa are not all that different," he wrote.
One of the most exciting young writers spewed forth by the new South Africa, Duiker, who had a penchant for the graphic, was held in high regard by the literary establishment.
Writer Zakes Mda, currently Professor of Creative Writing and World Literature at Ohio University in the United States, said he was "devastated" by the death of someone he considered "a son" and with whom he shared special, often funny, moments on literary panels on the European literary circuit.
"I am, as I said, absolutely devastated. What a beautiful human being. What a great writer of the post-apartheid era," he said.
"I cannot pretend that I am not angry as well. At what? At whom? I don't know. I am just angry.
"Many critics said Sello was treading in my footsteps, but I say he was going to be much greater. He had achieved greater things than I had at his age. His literature explored new themes that had up to that point not been dealt with by black writers. I genuinely admired him.
"We all know that when someone has passed on we always gush out praise for him, even if he was the worst scoundrel. What I am saying about his writing now, and about him as a human being, is what I have said when he was still alive. It is on record. I am glad that I didn't wait for his death to eulogise him. South African literature, nay, world literature, is poorer for his passing."
Annari van der Merwe, his publisher and long-time friend, said Duiker was "fun-loving and enormously talented and perceptive. He was blessed with equal measures of gentleness and kind-heartedness on the one hand, and unflinching honesty and a fearless pursuit of what he saw as essential human experience on the other."
She felt his one shortcoming was "an inability to protect himself from life".
The eldest of three brothers, Duiker was born on April 13, 1974, in Soweto, where he spent a large part of his childhood. He also received a Catholic missionary school education in East London and in England, where his father worked for an international company.
He studied at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, where he obtained a BA degree, with majors in journalism and art history. At Rhodes he co-founded Seeds, a poetry society which, in an interview with Q online, he jokingly admitted "was more for drinking and getting laid".
Duiker worked as an advertising copywriter, a scriptwriter for local soapies and was a commissioning editor at the SABC at the time of his death.
He is survived by his mother, father and two brothers.