Sabata-Mpho Mokae, a Lecturer in Creative Writing in African Languages, at Sol Plaatje University, won a South African Literary Award (SALA) on 8 November for his novel, Moletlo wa Manong.
It was a tight race in the novel category where his novel was up against “Die Troebel Tyd” by Ingrid Winterbach and “Die Ongelooflike Onskuld van Dirkie Verwey” by Charl-Pierre Naude.
The SALA is fast becoming the most prestigious and respected literary accolade in South African literature.
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 histories, values 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.
Moletlo wa Manong which means “Feast of the Vultures”, is in Setswana. It 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 the threats on his life and that of his wife he also battles racism in the newsroom.
Rre Mokae in his acceptance speech 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 dedicated his award to the generation of artists who made music call Motswako, who made Setswana fashionable and storytelling in their own language possible.
Moletlo wa Manong is a sequel to Ga ke Modisa (I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper) which came out in 2012 and has won the M-NET Literary Award for Best Novel in Setswana as well as the M-NET Film Award in 2013.
Rre 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.
Rre Mokae’s novels, Moletlo wa Manong and Ga ke Modisa, are taught at universities around SA. Moletlo wa Manong is a subject of a master’s thesis at North West University, while his other novel, Dikeledi, is being adapted to theatre.