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“You can recite a poem. It’s better than a three-hour speech”

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image LINDIWE MABUZA, SOUTH AFRICAN POET

South Africa’s ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza took part in the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and paid a visit to Macau. In an exclusive interview with MDT’s Viviava Seguí the poet, writer and activist - who has an extensive background as a radio journalist - reflects on the realms of literature, politics and journalism

This year’s Hong Kong’s International Literary Festival included the special participation of Lindiwe Mabuza, a woman who can be credited with many attributes. The former South African ambassador has been an important figure in the struggle against apartheid. Born in 1938 as the daughter of a truck driver and a domestic worker, she grew up in poverty as most black families did under apartheid in a coalmining town called Newcastle. She finished high school as the only one of her family of five but was laughed at when she said she wanted to go to university. Nevertheless she did so in Lesotho and later embarked upon a master’s degree in English literature at Stanford University in California, followed by a second master’s degree at the University of Minnesota, where she taught sociology.
Being the African National Congress’ (ANC) chief representative in the USA in 1986 her efforts on college campuses all across America galvanized huge companies like Coca-Cola, General Electric and General Motors into withdrawing their investment in South Africa and closing their facilities. She also worked as an editor for the feminist journal VOW, a radio journalist for the ANC, an assistant professor and a much-published poet and short story writer. After the abolition of apartheid Ms Mabuza became the first black South African ambassador in Germany. She received an Honorary PhD from the University of Durban-Westville, South Africa, as well as the Yari Yari Award for contributions to Human Rights and Literature from New York University. In her function as a writer, last week she participated in the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, which runs from October 5 to 14 and organizes readings with authors from all over the world. The Festival offers a ten-day program of literary events annually in October. It has become an important and significant event on the international arts calendar, including hosting winners of the world’s leading literary prizes: the Man Booker, the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Costa Whitbread Book Award, the Carnegie Medal, the Kiriyama Prize, the Prix Goncourt and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. The festival includes participants such as Viki Holmes, a prize-winning British poet and performer, Nury Vittachi a Hong Kong-based journalist and author, and Luka Lesson, the current Australian Poetry Slam Champion and Co-director of The Centre for Poetics and Justice based in Melbourne amongst others.

We are only 18 years away from [the abolishing of apartheid]. Do you think everything would be ok? Of course not!

After her participation at the festival Ms Mabuza paid a visit to Macau where Macau Daily Times met the impressive former ambassador. During her struggle against the racist regime, the activist had decided to also use poetry as a weapon and stated: “You can recite a poem. It’s better than a three-hour speech. It gets to the heart of the matter. It moves people.”

MDT - Why did you come all the way from South Africa to join the festival?
Lindiwe Mabuza – Because I write sometimes. They wanted me to share my experiences. I used one of my poems, “Voices that Lead”, and also read in collaboration with a Palestinian, whose foundation is “Daughters for Life”. The title of his book is, “I Shall not Hate”. The topic of the session was forgiveness, reconciliation and my statement in the poem “Africa speaks” is that after all I’ve gone through, revenge is not what I seek.

MDT – You’ve had many jobs but your main task was always fighting apartheid.
LM – Yes, I was always fighting apartheid, whether I was a professor in the United States, teaching against racism, if they were white students and reinforcing the desire to get rid of racism if they were black. When I was a member of the ANC our major struggle was apartheid but it also meant mobilizing people around the world to work together with us.

MDT – How do you think one can contribute to this struggle in journalism?
LM – I worked with journalists all over the world. And if it was not for the journalist with conviction we would not have gotten as far as we did because they were our mouthpieces. The articles they wrote were the lessons that people got to get them engaged in the struggle against apartheid.

MDT – So you think it’s possible to mobilize people through this profession?
LM – I think with any profession, you have to use it to benefit humanity. Journalism is perhaps the one that immediately addresses issues and sends them to the public, which immediately consumes them and turns the things in their mind and makes a decision on the basis and strength of what the journalist has written.

MDT – But today you receive so much information from so many sources, maybe people read and forget about it the next day?
LM – I don’t think so, because I saw how the struggle of the world community against the war in Vietnam worked out. You had lots of journalists, some were just photographers, some worked for television, other were writing. American journalists who went to Vietnam and sent out horrendous things they had seen there. And that had an impact on people! That mobilized people against the war in Vietnam. Similar to my situation, we had journalists in South Africa, who observed what apartheid was doing to black people and sent out articles. Also tourists would see for themselves and came out with fantastic articles. The power of the word is something I believe in. I’m talking about the age before twitter and Google. But the media is still an important vehicle that you can use in the struggle for gender oppression, in many situations – used properly and correctly, in the hands of good, sound journalists.

MDT – Did you face any racism in Germany, which also has its past?
LM – It’s very difficult for an ambassador to face racism in any part of the world, because you are protected, you are representing your country and therefore immediately have so much respect around you. I went to Germany when it was in the process of reuniting and we in South Africa were also in the process of reunifying a divided society. So, it was very useful to be in Germany in that period. At the same time our primary reason for being there was to attract investment for South Africa. And I saw investments rising up during the period I was working there. There was so much optimism and good will among the German business people. And we also had had anti-apartheid groups in Germany who were too happy to now have a representative from the new government who happened to be black but also a woman.

MDT – How are black-white relations today in South Africa?
LM – When we say that apartheid was destroyed in 1994, that is after over 300 years of racism. We are only 18 years away from that. Do you think everything would be ok? Of course not! We’ve just made a scratch. We had to get rid of the apartheid laws and put new ones. We had to write a new constitution and implement it. You can’t say you have harmony between black and white in 18 years. But there is more harmony today than we’ve ever had in our country. There is no blood letting between black and white, no mass killings of white people by black people because of what happened. But there is still so much to be done. We haven’t got to the roots of apartheid, only to the obvious signs of it. There is no discrimination on the basis of color; people can take any bus they want… You have the laws but it takes a long time before you actually get rid of the boil.



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