The 7th European Union literary award ceremony was recently held at IFAS – French Institute in South Africa – in Johannesburg. Sponsored by the publishing house Jacana Media, the European Union and various European countries, the award aims to promote fresh, original South African literature that speaks to local and international audiences. First time novelist and professor of psychology at Stellenbosch University, Ashraf Kagee was awarded the prestigious prize for “Khalil's Journey”.
Giving a voice to the voiceless
“Khalil's Journey” tells the ordinary, yet moving story of Khalil, a South African man from Indian descent born in early 20th century Cape Town. Khalil means “the companion”, referring to “The One Above”. Despite the evidence of this divine concern, Khalil's 80-plus years of life will remain mostly normal – if one considers as “normal” the conditions of the South African racial system the biggest part of his lifetime was spent under. Lauding Kagee's writing that favours the poesy of everyday life to sensationalistic developments, chairperson of the jury Rehana Rossouw described the novel as “beautifully and differently written. It traces the real history of South Africa through minor, ordinary details of a family's life and a few extraordinary experiences of not-very-powerful people.” Novelist and fellow member of the jury, Morgan Wally Serote noted that “the voice of the voiceless has been emancipated with great skill”.
Promoting new writers
The result of a collaboration between independent publishing house Jacana Media, the European Union and various EU member countries, the European Union literary award has been created in order to promote new South African literature. To feature in its selection, authors must never have published before and the novel they present must be their début one. The award was first attributed in 2004 to Ishtiyaq Shukri for “The Silent Minaret”; it has since proved a driving force in the uncovering of new South African literary talents with previous winners such as Fred Khumalo's "Bitches' Brew", James Clelland's “Deeper than Colour” and Kopano Matlwa' “Coconut”, all best-selling novels. This year again, support to winner Ashraf Kagee materialized in a substantial cash prize and the publishing of “Khalil's Journey” by Jacana Media.