May 19, 2009

AWRF 2009: Mandla Langa


Mandla Langa is from South Africa. During apartheid he spent 19 years in exile, in Africa and in Europe, mostly working for the ANC. His bookThe Lost Colours of the Chameleon is a satiric allegory about the nature of power and it won Best Book for Africa in the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. I'm not sure what intuition led me to seek an interview with him, but as soon as he walked up to where I was sitting in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel and smiled at me, I knew I had lucked out. This extraordinary man exudes gravity, lucidity, strength, and shines with generosity, grace and delight in life. He gave me a full hour of his time, and then went looking for his wife so I could meet her.

The next day when I told Christos Tsiolkas, explorer of "the dark crevices of the Australian suburban landscape" and de facto star of the Festival, how I had been blown away by Mandla Langa, he looked at me with joy. "You know!" he said. "He's my wise old man!"

I said to Mandla Langa, as we considered the horrors of the African continent, "It must be very frustrating... Do you manage to still wake up in the morning and say 'Let's see what we can get done today'? You have a very strong character I think."

Here is how he answered me -- I'm formatting it to show the rhythm of his speech:

I think despair, despair, despair, it is a natural emotion – reaction --
but at the same time it is a very self-indulgent emotion
in the sense that life cannot really be sustained on despair.
I don’t think so.
That is the truth, and when I look at South Africa
I also look at other countries on the continent
and in October of last year we were in Algeria
and I was watching on television the stampede which was happening
when the food parcels were being distributed
the same way as in Darfur
and you look at kids who are being pressed against gates and fences
and then you say to yourself
which is the thing that I try to say in Lost Colours of the Chameleon
that once you have dysfunctional leadership
you will have an accumulation of corpses
you will have people dying. And when you then say,
What do I see being wrong in other countries
some of it is wrong in our country.

And it is that lack of connection
and creation of the logical connection between dysfunctional leadership and poverty
because there is just too much in all of our countries to feed everyone
but what has to happen is that there are people who are willing to say
"this is how we should go
and this is how we can go
and this is what we should do"
and be willing to take sometimes
that unpopular step
of curbing the excesses
curbing the greed.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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