PAUL LOTHANE, who originally hailed from the Free State, is one of the unsung literary heroes who have put the Free State on the literary map. His perceptive essays and studies have been published all over the world; with his essay on Saint George Vis’ book – “Indaba with Free State Writers” (2009) being particularly celebrated. He was recently in Mangaung for “some family business” where Jerry caught up with him for a chat...
JERRY: Skhokho! Great to see you after such a long time. Why is it that people like you who have done wonders for our (Free State) Black literature over the years, prefer to be in the background in these days when what we might call “flashy literature”, the love for acclaim, is so much in fashion?
LOTHANE: There is nothing like flashy literature, only ignorance or and immodesty. I don’t know any real great writer who is “flashy” anywhere in the world. Ideally, writers and people like us that you call “critics” – I prefer “reviewers” – should be in the background, with the media seeking us out, not vice versa. But the real focus should be on worthy writers. I mean – we know overseas, Gerald Moore has published great studies on Wole Soyinka, but nobody knows anything about Moore; similarly, Adele King has published one or two great books on Camara Laye, but the world knows almost nothing about King. Here in South Africa, the white scholar, Prof Mackenzie, has published over FIVE books on Bessie Head, but hardly anybody knows who Mackenzie is. That’s the way it is supposed to be. People like myself, Raphael Mokoena, Rebaone Motsalane, etc should be read and not seen!
JERRY: Critics – or reviewers – like Lechesa have expressed unhappiness about what they have called the lure for “cheap fame” by younger writers these days. What do you think about this?
LOTHANE: There is no cheap fame in literature, you can’t deceive the experts. Of course, among people of low mentality in a restricted community who might think seeing a writer in a local paper makes him or her great, one might receive such ”fame”, but it is not the real thing; it is illusory, shoddy, very local, even illiterate. But what Lechesa said is not in any way original; the great Mazisi Kunene said it long ago that what kills young writers these days is “cheap fame”, they get carried away before they have even really started.
JERRY: So how do you feel that a writer like Hector Kunene came miraculously onto the stage, became famous quickly and is now “Free State Author of the Year”? Do you feel any hostility towards him? Can his “fame” last?
LOTHANE: What you mean is, can Hector continue to grow by leaps and bounds? It is up to him if he focuses on what real literature is about, and keeps his feet firmly on the ground as Ntate Flaxman has advised him. There is this crass illiteracy these days amongst younger writers that modern stuff like facebook etc enhances literature, but it is actually the opposite; these are just social networking gimmicks for people who have really nothing important to do in their lives. I can not feel anything negative towards Mr Hector as I hardly know him, and I was happy to have at least THREE essays written by me used in his book on Mr Bolaji. I can’t be jealous of creative writers, as I am not one of them. The simple truth is that Hector has a long way to go before he can get anywhere near real greatness in literature. He must produce some powerful fictional works, for example
JERRY: How important is the role of critics, reviewers etc?
LOTHANE: I have discussed this in the Free State context in my essay on Saint George Vis: Indaba with Free State Writers. Those interested can check the internet! All I’ll say here is that a writer who is ignored by critics etc is not a writer at all, and is wasting his/her time.
JERRY: So you support Lechesa’s robust criticism?
LOTHANE: It’s not about supporting or not. People tend to exaggerate things – Lechesa, as far as I know essentially concentrates on his career as a journalist. In the recent past he did great things for literature by publishing books for other writers etc which we must always commend in this era of greed and selfishness. As far as I am concerned, Lechesa was doing special favours recently by reviewing two or three new FS books – you check the internet, and see how celebrated his reviews or critiques are. You can even say he made such books world recognised; so many writers in Africa have published works which are never properly reviewed for the international market...
JERRY: You have seen the special Chimurenga Online Tribute to Free State Black Literature Online?
LOTHANE: It shows how much FS Black Literature is respected all over the world. Ntate Bolaji, Ntate Flaxman, even the younger Saint George Vis, have done great things for the Province. The Chimurenga website is one of the best in Africa, and the world. And the main reason why FS Black Literature is respected is because of the quality of essays, critiques, reviews etc on these published books.
JERRY: So the writers owe people like you, Lechesa, Ntate Moroe, George Rampai, Rebaone Motsalane etc a great debt; perhaps they do not even realise this. It is part of the ignorance as regards literature locally; writers do not want to be criticised; yet they want to be famous. They can’t have it both ways! By the way, what do you think about Mme NMM Duman’s debut work (Deepest Springs)? I have heard one or two local writers criticising the book in a petty way. And I must stress personally here that I think these writers are much inferior writers to Duman. What do you say?
LOTHANE: I have said it before, and I will say it again – Mme Duman is a world class writer. Her novel, Deepest Springs is actually more than world class. Anybody who has anything against the work is either jealous, narrow minded or completely ignorant; I suspect such people, if they are writers, can never attain even ten percent of the skill and talent of Duman. Bolaji likened Duman to Charlotte Bronte and I can understand why. What made the Bronte sisters so world-famous? What made Charles Dickens so great? The main reason was their fantastic, realistic IMAGINATION which Duman has a-plenty. Forget about fine writing skills, grammar, big words and the other extras. The most important ingredient for any good writer is a wonderful imagination. In Duman’s case she has a great imagination and very fine writing skills...she just needs to be better exposed to the western world and I can tell you she will be regarded as one of Africa’s finest.
JERRY: Thanks so much. I really do feel that people like you, Raphael Mokoena and Pule Lechesa etc who have been the real pivots behind publicising our writing to the great intelligent world out there, should be getting the awards. But as you said earlier, if world class white critics like Gerald Moore and Adele King can be in the background, then we can understand and still appreciate how imortant people like you are
LOTHANE: Thanks. But the creative writers actually do the major work. Let them enjoy the limelight!