Achmat Dangor urges young people to “free their imagination” and leave behind pessimism about Africa´s future and the world

Achmat Dangor, durante su presentación en la ULPGC.

Achmat Dangor, durante su presentación en la ULPGC.

Achmat Dangor, a South African writer, decided to take advantage this morning of the Professor Training Faculty´s Assembly Hall at the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in order to send an optimistic message to the students that filled the room. We tend to think that the African continent is condemned to failure, and although it´s true that there is war, poverty, and disease, there is also progress. We must remember the past, but without letting ourselves be held back by it, and we must free our imagination, stated the author, president of the Mandela Foundation and participant of Casa África´s Letras Africanas (African Letters) programme, which today brought him before a student audience in the capital of Gran Canaria. Think about what you can do to make the world a better place, suggested Dangor, before insisting that the past is important and must be remembered, but we must not let it shape our future.

Achmat Dangor explained to an audience of 400 people that after his involvement in the International Conference on African Literature (SILA, Salón Internacional del Libro Africano) and his participation with other African intellectuals in a debate about the continent´s independences, he decided to set aside his eight-page speech, carefully typed and titled The Silence of My Kind, and replace it with a direct discussion that had a more informal and relaxed tone that could have been titled My Hope for Africa. It´s time to start thinking in a different way about what we can do. Africa can do it, and the change will come from younger people who are open to new ideas and do not operate in terms of race or nationality, who see the humanity in others. In this sense, literature is powerful, he explained.

Dangor described his origins and his family history in order to explain his passion for literature and how he became the foreigner of Camus. I come from a matriarch line that descends from Holland and Indonesia, and patriarch line that descends from India.  I grew up with my grandmother, who converted to Islam when she married my grandfather, and she was more conservative than him. I grew up in a Muslim home, he informed, before stating that books are what saved him from an environment that was oppressive because of a fundamentalist conception of the religion. I went to a school where they introduced me to literature. At home, I read when no one was watching me. I would read until falling asleep or when everyone else was sleeping, and I would read everything from fairy tales to Camus or Hemingway. An Imam hit me when he discovered a copy of The Stranger in My Backpack, he recalled, and criticised a vision of the world that divides everything into good and bad or black and white, without accepting that there is a middle ground. Literature helped me reach a much bigger world, stated Dangor, who ran away from his grandparents´ home at the age of 18 and moved to Cape Town to write his first novel, Waiting for Leila. I freed myself from my society and I became the foreigner, the author concluded.

Achmat Dangor also recalled the fight against apartheid and activism through words. I don´t believe that literature can be enslaved, even for a noble cause, he said while describing the years when he tried to transform bullets into words that would end segregation, without success.

Achmat Dangor has written well-known fiction novels, development reports and documents that mention racism and races, aimed at eradicating poverty and that favour community development. Three of his novels (Z Town Trilogy, Kafka´s Curse and Bitter Fruit) have been published in Spain. Z Town Trilogy inaugurated the editorial line of Casa África, in collaboration with ElCobre El Aleph, dedicated to African literature of reference.



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