Poetry takes Jesús Sepúlveda to South Africa
Sylt Foundation Invites Jesús Sepúlveda to South Africa
Chilean poet and senior instructor Jesús Sepúlveda just returned from a three-week writer’s residency in Johannesburg where he met South African writers, poets, and artists.
Sponsored by the Sylt Foundation, Sepúlveda visited renowned poet Vonani Bila and his wife Gudani Ramikosi, an author of children’s books, at the Timbila Writers’ Village in the Northeastern province of Limpopo. Bila completed in 2016—in collaboration with poet Max Makisi Marhanele—the edition of the first comprehensive monolingual Xitsonga dictionary, Tihlungu ta Rixaka. Xitsonga is one of the ten vernacular languages in South Africa and the 920-page dictionary represents a great recognition of the importance of South African native languages. Sepúlveda will donate his personal copy to the UO library, so the dictionary can be available in the Pacific Northwest library system.
While in Johannesburg—also known as Joburg or Jozi, the two most common abbreviations for this city, the largest one in South Africa—Sepúlveda met with Aragorn Eloff, a member of the bolo’bolo collective and responsible for the publication of his book The Garden of Peculiarities reprinted in Cape Town in 2016. On the occasion of Sepúlveda’s visit to South Africa, Eloff published an interview, “A Mockingbird in the Garden,” in the online publication Medium on December 15, 2016.
Indra Wussow, art critic and collector, translator, writer and director of the Sylt Foundation, organized several literary tertulias to connect Sepúlveda with local writers and poets such as Xoli Norman, Charl-Pierre Naudé, Phillippa Yaa de Viliers as well as pianist Jill Richards and painter Jaco van Schalkwyk. Wussow also organized visits to sites of cultural, historical, and political interest. Tumi Mokgope, project manager of the Sylt Foundation, guided Sepúlveda through these sites: the Township of Soweto, home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu where the uprising of 1976 triggered the social movement that ended apartheid in 1990; the Cradle of Humankind and the Sterkfontein Caves in the outskirts of Johannesburg, where the finds of ancient hominin fossils are exhibited. Sepúlveda also visited the Apartheid Museum in Joburg and the Freedom Park Museum in Pretoria to learn about the systematic and hideous regime of racial segregation installed in the country from 1948 to 1990.
During his stay, Sepúlveda also met with writers Zaide Harneker and Frank Meintjies, active members of the South African literary and political milieu, and discussed the development of the Abantu Book Festival, activism in Johannesburg, and the social and educational crisis in the country, with a 26.6% unemployment rate in 2016. Sepúlveda also discussed the current situation with Angie Kapelianis, broadcast journalist of SABC National Radio, who has been covering political news since Mandela’s presidential election in 1994.
While writing about the Soweto uprising, Sepúlveda found intriguing similarities between Chile and South Africa. “I was surprised to realize how close the recent political history of both countries are. Chile and South Africa ended their cruel regimes through massive demonstrations and civil disobedience at the end of the 1980’s, while transitioning toward modern, stable and yet neoliberal democracies. Rampant neoliberalism produces abyssal social gap and class segregation, which is the cause of huge problems in both countries. Another similarity is the nature of the extractive economies based on mine exploitation—with its negative ecological impact on the natural environment and people’s health. Another parallel is how South Africa and Chile have become in the last decade magnetic poles that attract economic immigration. While Chile has the fastest growing immigrant population in South America, receiving people from neighbor countries as well as from Colombia, Haiti, and Spain; South Africa is the second African country after Ivory Coast to receive people, making the immigrant population 4% of the total inhabitants in the country. After this residency, I have learned a great deal about South Africa, helping me to reflect with a wider perspective on Chile as well as the US, and reaffirming my conviction to honor linguistic diversity and cultural differences as the only way to build up tolerant societies for a harmonious world. I’m extremely grateful to the Sylt Foundation and Indra Wussow for this great opportunity.”