Mda, a creative writing professor at Ohio University in the US, backed Mgqolozana’s claim that black writers are treated as anthropological subjects. “You feel like you’re a dancing monkey … You are some figure that is being scrutinised and studied. Some amazing animal. ‘Oh look, they can write too.’ And even the questions they ask you are very patronising … A place like Franschhoek replicates that kind of situation and I can understand how he felt.”
The faultlines were exposed this week during a panel discussion at Wits University in Johannesburg. Corina van der Spoel, an Afrikaner who organises literary festivals, prompted anger and accusations of racism from the audience by questioning whether black parents provide books to their children.
One audience member responded sharply: “Here we all sit thinking, ‘That was so racist,’ right? I think part of the reason why [Van der Spoel] has to do what she’s doing is kind of propping up the establishment she defends, because it needs to be an establishment that protects white hegemonic culture, so that she can continue to purport that black people aren’t readers and therefore not good producers of literature.”
She added: “Everything that we hear from that lady is indicative of what is in the colonial subconscience of this country, which is blacks don’t read, black parents don’t do a good job of making readers out of their children, and if you kick out white people then literature is not literature.”
Fellow author Siphiwo Mahala told the audience: “My rejection of the white literary system does not mean I will embrace black mediocrity.
“Franschhoek is the embodiment of all that is white. It is a private initiative. They created that festival for themselves. And after they created it, they thought, ‘Ha, so we will also need maybe some black monkeys to come and entertain us.’ And then they extend invites to us. So it was on those grounds that I declined the invite in 2011. But the circus will not stop because of the absence of one monkey.”
More here Zakes Mda: I feel like a dancing monkey at European literary festivals (Guardian)