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Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Awards 2014 Winners Announced at the Goethe Institute

Winner of Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Awards 2014: Thabo Jijana


Thabo Jijana was named the winner of the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award 2014 during a celebration ceremony at the Goethe Institute on Tuesday, 4 November 2014.

Rochelle Jacobs came in second place and third place went to Jim Pascual Agustin. Head of the European Union delegation to South Africa, Ambassador Roeland van de Geer, made the announcements and congratulated the winners. Margaret Fish covered the event for Books LIVE:

Nobody’s BusinessThe rain finally having abated in Joburg, guests enjoyed a lovely warm evening mingling under the trees in the courtyard of the Goethe Institute before being ushered to their seats for the eagerly awaited announcement of the winner of the 2014 award.

Ester Levinrad from Jacana Media told the audience that 2014 is the fourth year of the competition, held in honour of Sol Plaatje, thinker, artist and activist, who died in 1932. There were 303 entries this year from 121 people and included poems in five of South Africa’s official languages, demonstrating a rich South African vernacular. The anthology contains a selection of 82 poems.

Van de Geer outlined the EU’s support for the award, saying multiculturalism is an important issue shared by South Africa and the EU and praised Jacana for leading this initiative. The EU support to other cultural initiatives in South Africa includes the Tri Continental Film Festival, the Oral History Conference and the Rise and Fall of Apartheid photographic exhibition currently on at Museum Africa in Newtown.

He emphasised that multilingualism is very much part of the EU experience, which includes 24 languages. The poetry award and anthology has been an EU-Jacana flagship project for the past four years. The poems in the anthology describe South Africa and how its people capture the world they live in today, a complex country that can be difficult to understand.

The audience was then treated to a poetic interlude, where the three finalists read their poems. First up was Agustin, a prolific poet who grew up in the Philippines and now lives in Cape Town. His poem was entitled “Illegal, Undocumented” and deals with the experience of mining underground. Next was Jacobs, a final year Stellenbosch student who started an awareness campaign with some friends about rape, the subject of her moving poem “Something Other”.

Jijana read his poem, “Children Watching Old People”. He is a journalist and lives in Port Elizabeth. Apart from writing poetry, he has just published his first book about the Eastern Cape taxi industry, Nobody’s Business.

The jury for this year’s competition were three South African poets: Ingrid de Kok (English), Johann de Lange (Afrikaans) and Goodenough Mashego (African languages). They send their shortlist to Dr Mongane Wally Serote, who selected the winner.

In his address, Serote talked about how each of the three finalists’ poems had touched him. They provide a very broad tapestry of life in South Africa. He felt that the anthology as a whole contains “the writing on the wall about this country”. “Art interweaves with our consciousness and I hope it can touch the human note in us to enable us to confront our challenges,” he said. He raised the question of why this book and the other three in the collection are not prescribed works in schools and universities. It is vitally important that South African literature is part of the school and tertiary curricula.

Van de Geer then made the long-awaited announcement. After the certificates were handed out, there was more interaction over drinks and snacks in the courtyard.

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