When Lewis Nkosi died on the 5th of September 2010, his reputation as one of South Africa's great literary figures was already cemented. Obituaries in The Guardian (UK), the Sunday Times (ZA), The Sunday Independent, and several other newspapers combined the warmth of personal remembrances with fulsome appreciations of his literary range and extraordinary achievements. Two posthumous doctorates - awarded by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban Institute of Technology - followed in due course. A veteran of the 1950s generation of Drum journalists, Nkosi emerged in the 1960s as one of the most important critics and theorists of the relatively new field of African literary studies, and he continued to help shape debates on issues like realism, African language writing, and post-modernism over the next forty years.
On 5 September 2010, Lewis Nkosi died in a hospice in Johannesburg as a result of a slow decline occasioned by a debilitating fall he had sustained the previous year. At the time of his accident, Nkosi was working on a novel after which, he assured us, he would start on his memoirs provisionally titled Memoirs of a Motherless Child. The fact that these memoirs did not get written is a greater tragedy than the unfinished novel as there is no one from the Drum era that one can think of who had as rich and long an intellectual life as Lewis Nkosi. Recently, others too have bemoaned the fact that Nkosi's memoirs were not written - various Letters to the Editor written in response to the profile on Nkosi which appeared in Wordsetc (Third Quarter 2011) make mention of this.
One evening in the late 1950s, Lewis Nkosi and his friend Nat Nakasa were walking through downtown Johannesburg when, as both later recalled, they decided to stop into a whites-only restaurant called The Texan. They ordered their coffees at the bar, knowing that the American man behind the counter expected them to take their cups outside and drink on the pavement. But as he prepared the drinks, they exchanged a quick smile. Then Nkosi gestured to a grinning portrait of Dwight Eisenhower hanging above the bar. "Look at that bum," he said loudly to Nakasa. "There is something seriously wrong with America's choice of its heroes." This caught the ear of the barman and suddenly a debate was raging. As the arguments bounced back and forth, Nakasa and Nkosi slowly drank their coffees. By the time the conversation ended, their mugs were empty and the two men paid and left. "Nobody seemed to remember the colour bar," Nakasa later recalled slyly (Nakasa, "Johannesburg" 20).
In Nkosi's writing it is quite rare not to encounter a reference to one term or more in the triptych of exile, alienation and psychiatry; this is for reasons to do with his place, and that of his writing, in South African political and cultural history. The first two terms, namely exile and alienation, bring into relief the material and psychic situations of his protagonists (including, often, the figures of Nkosi and his peers). "Exile," he writes in Home and Exile, "was a 'complex fate'" (ix): cast adrift from the (dis)pleasures of "home." Throughout his writing, Nkosi dramatises the ambiguity of these two terms at the same time that he holds them up for close scrutiny. For home and exile are as much spatial as they are psychical designators and the etymologies that they carry in their train form part of their mobility. The terms exile and alienation accumulate considerable, if constantly evolving, intellectual capital - and debt - in Nkosi's conception and deployment of them.
Lewis Nkosi left South Africa in 1961 on a permanent exit visa on his way to study at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow. During his seventy-three years, he lived in England, America, Zambia, Poland, and Switzerland, and he transitioned from denying homesickness (because he had no home) to feeling it acutely (because he had no home) whilst ever taking issue with the concept of it.
After the first part of the workshop on Lewis Nkosi, a small number of people who had vivid memories of specific moments in his life came together and shared anecdotes of Nkosi. Our panel was made up of novelist and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, the poet Oswald Mtshali, best known for his groundbreaking collection of poetry Sounds of a Cowhide Drum, and the veteran photographer Alf Khumalo. Also present was Anna Hamlyn, who had known Lewis as part of the group of African intellectuals, writers and broadcasters in London in the 1960s. She, too, gave the audience a sense of a moment in his life that would otherwise never have been a public memory. Sandile Ngidi, devoted companion to Nkosi in his later South African years, and himself an editor, translator and literary man, chaired the session with a magisterial joviality which hid, as he put it, his nervousness in being in such eminent company. What we have captured below are moments in this larger conversation. We offer it to the reader in the hope that it provides a series of images, perhaps a screen of dissonant images, where Lewis Nkosi moves before us. We offer it to the reader as a script, incomplete but present.
Never judge a book by its title? I must admit that I selected this book from a number proffered for review because of its title. The Postcolonial Unconscious suggested that here at last was the long-awaited systematic unhinging of psychology from Freud's normative nuclear family and its re-situation within the social organisation and values of non-Western cultures.
The Bayreuth African Studies series is renowned for its promotion of Cameroonian literature through the publication of doctoral research theses by Cameroonians who have studied in Germany. One of the publications for 2011 is Mforbe Pepetual Chiangong's Rituals in Cameroon Drama: A Semiological Interpretation of the Plays of Gilbert Doho, Bole Butake and Hansel Ndumbe Eyoh. At first glance, there seems to be nothing original about the subject matter of Chiangong's book. Investigations into ritual drama in Africa have been part of literary scholarship as far back as the 1960s. Various authors have discussed the subject from various perspectives and have reported on case studies of ritual performances in different communities.