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Top award for city writer

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‘One day I took a decision to stop writing in English and did the unthinkable, I wrote my first novel in Setswana’

Sabata-Mpho Mokae

RENOWNED writer and lecturer in Creative Writing in African Languages at the Sol Plaatje University, Sabata-Mpho Mokae, recently received a South African Literary Award (Sala) for his novel, Moletlo wa Manong.

Mokae, who is also a former DFA journalist, thanked his readers, who have shown acknowledgement and appreciation for his work through the years.

“It feels great to be acknowledged as a writer by the public. An acknowledgement and great appreciation drives one as an artist,” said Mokae.

Moletlo wa Manong is a sequel to Ga ke Modisa (I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper) which came out in 2012 and won the M-NET Literary Award for Best Novel in Setswana as well as the M-NET Film Award in 2013.

Mokae wrote the first draft of Moletlo wa Manong when he was a writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa in the USA in 2014.

The novel has gained a great deal of recognition to the extent that it is taught at Central University of Technology(CUT) and used by a Masters’ degree student for a thesis at the University of North West.

Moletlo wa Manong means “Feast of the Vultures” in Setswana and is a political thriller set in a newsroom in Kimberley in the post-apartheid South Africa. The protagonist is an investigative journalist who probes high-level corruption in government.

Apart from dealing with threats on his life and that of his wife, he also battles racism in the newsroom.

The novel underwent a tight race in the novel category competing against Die Troebel Tyd by Ingrid Winterbach and Die Ongelooflike Onskuld van Dirkie Verwey by Charl-Pierre Naude.

Sala is fast becoming the most prestigious and respected literary accolade in South African literature.

His other novel, Dikeledi, is being adapted for theatre.

The Sala is awarded to South African writers who have distinguished themselves as ground-breaking producers and creators of literary excellence in the depiction and sharing of South African history, value systems, philosophies and art as inscribed and preserved in all eleven official languages.

The awards are funded by the national Department of Arts and Culture and the adjudicators are mainly publishers and academics.

Mokae said it is a good start and he hopes the novel will do better than his previous book, Ga ke Modisa.

“It took me four years to complete this novel as it had to be rewritten six to seven times,” revealed Mokae.

During his acceptance speech he said: “One day I took a decision to stop writing in English and did the unthinkable, I wrote my first novel in Setswana, the language suckled from my mother’s breast.

“It was a moment of sheer madness. I tasted freedom and I never looked back. I think what encouraged me to carry on was the appreciation from the speakers of Setswana, but also the idea that one could create art in an African language in Africa and be mainstream.”

He further dedicated his award to the generation of artists who made music called Motswako, popular.

“They made Setswana fashionable and storytelling in their own language possible,” he said.