The National Writers Association of South Africa (NWASA) is deeply concerned that, at a time when all around the world, millions have taken to the streets in the fight against racism, the 2020 Media24 literary awards reveal a distressing lack of diversity – in a country in which the majority of people are black. It is of grave concern that the winners of this year’s prize are all white authors (and very predominantly male), and that the panel selecting the winners only had two black judges out of a total of 18. NWASA notes too, that in 2019 the judging panel of 18 contained just two people of colour and only one black author was awarded a prize. This is a blatant disregard of the wealth of black authors in South Africa who should be being recognised both as judges and as authors.
We welcome the concern showed by Media24 in response to the criticisms raised in the media and on social media, and their commitment actively addresses the issues to avoid a ‘repeat of this oversight’. NWASA remains concerned about the phrasing of such a failure to be merely an ‘oversight’ rather than the recognition that it is a manifestation of deep and structural racism that still plagues the publishing and literary industry in South Africa.
Part of this structural racism can be seen in the fact that the awards are only for publications in English and Afrikaans. We recognise that the awards are only for publications by the various publishing arms of Media24, but what this indicates is a failure of Media24 to sufficiently recognise and publish works in the indigenous languages of South Africa. We call on Media24 not only to address the inherent racism in their awards process, but also to look long and hard at the issue of publication of books in indigenous languages.
NWASA is committed to the development of a truly non-racial, non-sexist literary tradition in South Africa. We recognise that to do so, we must tackle head on the issues of discrimination and white privilege that still dominate this sector so that the full and rich literary talent of South Africa can be recognised and rewarded.
29 June 2020