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M-NET LITERARY AWARDS (article first published : 2008-06-17)

World-renowned literary masters J.M. Coetzee and Etienne van Heerden and a group of talented new names, who skilfully used their pens, typewriters or keyboards to entertain readers and dissect contemporary social and moral issues in their mother-tongue, received top honours at this year’s M-Net Literary Awards.

The winners of the prestigious M-Net Literary Awards, now in their 17th year, were announced ON June 14 at which time, M-Net CEO Patricia Scholtemeyer revealed plans to introduce a new category to the awards next year which will benefit the local movie and television industry.

The M-Net Literary Awards are unique in the sense that they are currently the only book awards which reward the publication of original novels in all South Africa’s indigenous languages. This year’s awards are handed out in the following language categories: English, Afrikaans, Nguni, Sotho, and Xitsonga.

In the English language category, two times Booker Prize winner and Nobel Prize laureate J.M. Coetzee received the M-Net Literary Award for his latest masterpiece, Dairy of a Bad Year. In this ground-breaking novel, which has received critical acclaim around the globe, Coetzee takes on a new topic – world politics – which allows him to embark on a scholarly, yet highly entertaining, philosophical interrogation of modern-day morality and the role of the writer in our times.

The act and art of writing also features prominently in the winning entry in the Afrikaans language category, Asbesmiddag, in which narrative engineer, lecturer and Hertzog Prize winner Etienne van Heerden exposes the writer as voyeur, parasite and copycat in his story about a novelist whose life intercuts with that of a prominent asbestos tycoon.

In the Nguni language category - which includes isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiNdebele, and siSwati – a riveting detective novel in isiXhosa, written by Phakamile Gongo, scooped the M-Net Literary Award. Set in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth in the 1970’s, Ukutshona kweHotjazana, loosely translated as “The Death of a Maiden”, probes avarice, greed and schizophrenia in a black community.

The winner of the Sotho language category (Sesotho, Sepedi and Setswana) has been described as a “moving tale of discrimination and vengeance which succeeds in entertaining its readers while imparting age-old wisdom.” Written by Mafori Charles Mphahlele in Sepedi, Dilo tšela ke, loosely translated as “These are not people” addresses the moral degeneration of the so-called African Renaissance.

The Xsitonga language category delivered a moving coming-of age novel in which a young man in search of his roots has to survive by his wits. The judges were impressed by the author’s impressive, sophisticated plot structure and knowledge of current trends. The novel is called Xijahatana, loosely translated as “The Boy”, and the author is M.C Lubisi.

Each of the winning authors received R30,000 from M-Net, but next year there will be an even better incentive for novelists who would like to see their stories bounce from paper onto the big screen. In addition to the existing language categories, M-Net will introduce a special category for books that show the potential to be reworked into movie scripts. On top of that, M-Net is planning to produce a full-length motion picture, based on the winning novel. “The magic of literature and the magic of movies share the same golden thread – storytelling. Without stories, there would be no movies or television – or any worth watching, at any rate. So, we see this as a fantastic opportunity to bring South African stories to a wider world audience,” says Patricia Scholtemeyer.

In what proved to be a glorious year for the South African novel, M-Net received a record-breaking number of entries for the Literary Awards. With the total number of entries tallying to 130 (from 87 the previous year) the Afrikaans entries more than doubled from 13 to 32, the English entries jumped from 40 to 56, and entries for the African languages increased from 34 to 42.

Diary of a Bad Year was published by Random House; Asbesmiddag by Tafelberg; Ukutshona kweHotyazana by Bard Publishers; and Dilo tšela ke batho and Xijahatana by MaskewMiller Longman.




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