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The highest respect for Sello Duiker: Read! Write!

Raks Morakabe Seakhoa

The memorial service for South Africa's leading literary prodigy, world-renowned and multi-award-winning novelist and SABC Drama Commissioning Editor, K Sello Duiker, took place at the SABC on 26th January, 2005.

Billed "Celebrating The Life and Times of Sello Duiker", the service was a mixture of sombreness and subdued celebration.

Among those who attended and spoke were Prof Keorapetse Willie Kgositsile, the internationally acclaimed poet, activist, former exile and now Special Advisor to Minister of Arts and Culture, Dr Pallo Jordan. He spoke on behalf of the minister, saying that if anyone wants to pay tribute to Sello, that tribute consists of only two words: Read! Write!

Novelist, poet, essayist, author, scholar and former Vice-chancellor of Fort Hare University, Prof Mbulelo Mzamane, challenged the SABC to honour the legacy and memory of Sello by establishing a K Sello Duiker Literary Award for first-time publishing writers of 30 and under 30 years of age.

The master of ceremonies, Raks Morakabe Seakhoa, concurred and said that it must be a partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), the SABC and the wRite associates, the latter playing a management, administrative and award-ceremony event organiser role. He informed the audience that the wRite associates were currently in negotiation with a number of government departments and other stakeholders to establish a South African Literary Award that would be made up of all literary categories, under fiction and non-fiction streams. It is in this spirit that the wRite associates, in partnership with government and private sectors, are launching the SA National Poet Laureate Prize on 5th March, 2005.

A number of Sello's SABC colleagues paid moving tributes to Sello, eulogising him as a rare gem, brilliant, highly talented, gifted author and an SABC Drama Commissioning Editor par excellence who also was a convention-breaker, especially with his dreadlocked hairdo and utter refusal to imprison himself in suits and ties. He was a strict taskmaster, disciplinarian to the T and always meeting his deadlines, said his colleagues Clara Nzima, Kethiwe Ngcobo, Yvonne Kgame and Erica Anyadike.

The service was punctuated by readings of poetry by Lebo Mashile (of Feela Sista fame and presenter of the L'Attitude television programme); gender activist, poet, mentor and motivational speaker, Mmatshilo Motsei; Sello's confidante, music composer, academic, playwright and poet Xoli Norman; journalist, film-maker and literary events organiser Peter Makurube; and fellow author Siphiwo Mahala.

Judah Duiker, Sello's father, spoke very eloquently about his son, who, he said, "showed tremendous interest in books from a very early age: he was focused, but also always giving unreservedly of himself whenever anyone needed his help".

Some of those who could not attend the service because of distance sent tributes via e-mail and facsimile; these were read out to the audience.

Among these was Prof Zakes Mda, who said, "I live in the USA where I work as a writer and a professor of creative writing. I was devastated to hear of the death of K Sello Duiker. Sello and I were very close. We have travelled the European literary festival circuit together and have spent wonderful moments in, for instance, the Netherlands. We have shared great moments on panels, talking about writing in South Africa and reading from our works. We have laughed together. Oh, how we have laughed! He was like a son to me. What a beautiful human being! What a great writer of the post-apartheid era! I cannot pretend that I am not angry as well. At what? At whom? I don't know. I am just angry! Many critics said Sello was treading on my footsteps: but I say he was going to be much greater. He had achieved greater things than I had at his age. I genuinely admired him. We all know that when someone has passed on we always gush out praise for him even if he was the worst scoundrel. What I am saying about his writing now, and about him as a human being, is what I said when he was still alive. It is on record. I am glad that I didn't wait for his death to eulogise him."

A young South African author living in the Canada, Kagiso Lesego Molope, had this to say in her e-mailed tribute to Sello: "Heita Sello!I read about your passing and thought: 'We shouldn't be here yet.' I thought that we should be writing some more and telling the world about our heritage, our people, our lives. I felt angry and cheated when thinking that the world has been robbed of a great mind … And then I remembered that you were already here. You stayed as long as you felt you could. You poured your heart into your work and have left your own invaluable notes on the state of our country and the many complex issues of us, young Black South Africans. You took your chances and breathed new life into African literature and changed how the world saw us. You gave me - a young Black female South African author - so much more than most people can give in the short time that we have known each other … Before I met you being an author was a job I was not sure I could handle. I didn't know if I could hang on and live with this incessant urge to create, but you changed that. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn't met you and if you hadn't spoken to me the way you did. So I will, in the tradition of my people, cut my hair and mourn your passing. But then I will celebrate the life and work of a genius. The passion and humour of the Great Travelling Salesman. O tsamae sentle Sello."

Other tributes came from Cape Town, the Netherlands, Ghana, from individuals as well as organisations such as the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Booktrust and London Arts Council.

As the parting shot the audience was treated to a moving, tear-jerking retrospective/nostalgic documentary of Sello Duiker.

LitNet: 01 February 2005

If you would like to share your memories of K Sello Duiker, or comment on this tribute, email

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