Mzobe closes 4th Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa

Posted: September 13, 2012 in arts/culture

Lumina Foundation CEO, Dr Ogochukwu Promise (r) and the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa winner South African writer/journalist, Sifiso Mzobe, at the finale of the 4th edition of the awards at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, Saturday

With performances by the famous contemporary jazz Afrobeat artiste Lagbaja, top theatre acts such as the Crown Troupe of Africa, highlighting the grand finale of the 4th Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, the awards closed Saturday night with the unveiling of debutant South African writer Sifiso Mzobe as eventual winner.

The prestigious biennial prize for literature in Africa, also likened to the African Nobel had earlier in the month shortlisted three novelist;  Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo from Nigeria, Bridget Pitt, Zimbabwean-born South African writer and the eventual winner Mzobe, for the $20, 000 cash prize provided by major sponsor, Globacom Nigeria.

Administered by the Lumina Foundation in Nigeria, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for this 4th edition received 402 entries from 26 African countries as the judging panel evaluated a longlist of 15 works from 9 African countries leading to the final 3 shortlisted novels.

Mzobe surprisingly emerged winner considering that his winning entry, Young Blood, remains his first published literary work till date, against the much more established competitions like Pitt and Adimora-Ezeigbo.

Mzobe, born in Umlazi township of Durban, studied journalism at Damelin Business Campus in Durban. He won the Sunday Times Literary Award in 2011 and currently works for a community newspaper in Durban as a journalist.

Receiving the award, Mzobe who was accompanied to the podium by the Counsel General, South African High Commission (SAHC) in Lagos, Ambassador Mokgethi Sam Monaisa, expressed gratitude to the prize for what he described as ‘opening a window of opportunity for writers to tell their stories about Africa.’

“I’d like to thank the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for encouraging writers in Africa. There are so many stories to be told in Africa and I’d like to thank you for opening this door for us so that we will continue to tell our stories,” Mzobe said.

The event at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, attracted top functionaries from the private and public sectors from within and outside of the country, which also provided a tacit endorsement to one of the richest literary prizes on the continent.

Remarking at the occasion, Chairman, Globacom Nigeria, Chief Mike Adenuga, expressed the hope that the prize would indeed lead to the emergence of many other Nobel laureates from Africa, just as he commended the Lumina Foundation for sustaining the awards since its establishment in 2005.

•(From left) CEO/MD Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia; former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke; Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN; Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka; Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Director of Sales, Globacom, Mr. David Maaji; and Lumina Foundation CEO, Dr Ogochukwu Promise; at Saturday’s grand finale of the prize won by South African writer/journalist, Sifiso Mzobe, at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos

“I wish to commend the Lumina Foundation for keeping the flag of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa flying since it was established in 2005 as a biennial award for the best literary work produced by an African. It has within its short span carved a niche for itself in the literary circle by recognizing and encouraging professionalism and excellence,” said Adenuga, who was represented at the occasion by the Director of Sales, Globacom, Mr. David Maaji.

Chairman of the occasion and former president of the Republic of Ghana, Mr. John Kufour, on his part, noted that the literary prize presented a veritable platform for Africans to present their own side of their stories following decades of marginalisation which tended to portray Africans as uncivilised  by accounts of the colonialists.

The Ghanaian statesman, however, urged the continent’s achievers to assume leadership roles in order to fully actualize the transformation process of the continent, just as he commended Nigeria for pioneering development on the continent through the information technology, film and other industries.

“I’m happy to be associated with this year’s Wole Soyinka prize and the way it seeks to unearth and reward excellence on the continent. However, excellence does not necessarily translate into achievement or achievers as they must first volunteer to do so.

“Africa therefore needs these achievers to transcend to greatness. Nigeria must also be commended for producing the likes of Wole Soyinka. Nigeria also sets the pace in producing world achievers whether in the ICT, filmmaking or Nollywood as it is called, and who are making great strides throughout the continent. Their efforts will hopefully restore Africa to its rightful place,” Kufour enthused.

For Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, the occasion presented him with an opportunity to clear the air on the extent of his involvement with the prize, as according to him, it had become imperative, just as he further noted his involvement does not go beyond sharing a common cause with the awards.

“I am not anything to the Wole Soyinka Prize. I am not a member of the judging panel. I do not contribute to the foundation. In fact I am even a deficit factor to the Wole Soyinka prize. But what I know for sure is that I am one hundred per cent in support of the aims and objectives of the prize as it pertains to restoring the essence of the book culture in the face of the threat confronting the book today in Nigeria.

“Even if I’m not involved with the prize, seeing the destruction done to literary and artistic works by religious fanatics all over the continent is enough to make me join in the fight to restore the arts. Nigeria is at war. Whether the government acknowledges it or not but the earlier it does the better. Not a political or religious war but a cultural war. There is need to stand up for that fight to protect the book by standing up for culture,” Soyinka stressed.

Also remarking, Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, assured of his government’s continued support for art as, according to him, art and literature serve as mirror of ‘who we are which is symbolised by the state’s welcome statue that announces to the visitor ‘this is Lagos’.

“So it is a delight to always host events like this because art is who you are. It tells about you more than anything else. You cannot remove a man from his culture. Lagos is in tune with culture,” the governor stressed.

On her part, Chairman of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa Committee, Mrs Francesca Yetunde Emmanuel, while restating the commitment of the prize to continue in its quest for excellence, solicited for support from the corporate sector to sustain the biennial literary awards.

“The objective of the Wole Soyinka Prize is not only to honour those who bring great pride to Africa, but also to honour Africa’s great writers and cause their works to be appreciated all over the world. We therefore cannot afford to fail; this prize must continue for the celebration of excellence and the edification of Africans. For this, we will need the support of Governments, corporate bodies and individuals like you and I,” she said.

In her remarks, Lumina Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Ogochukwu Promise, expressed profound gratitude to individuals and corporate organisations that contributed to the success of the 4th edition of the awards, noting further that ‘not only does this give us a solid platform to advance the cause of African literature, but also offers us a brilliant showcase of African corporate success and social engagement.’

Chief Executive Officer/Managing Director of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia, Governor of Ogun State, Mr. Ibikunle Amosun, former governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke, were among other dignitaries who graced the occasion

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