Zakes Mda – Profile interview

Weekend Breakfast host Phemelo Motene, could not contain her excitement as she profiled literary legend Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda, commonly known and referred to as Zakes Mda.

Mda was born in Herschel, Eastern Cape, South Africa, in 1948. When he was 15 years old, his first short story, Igqira lase Mvubase, appeared in a youth magazine called Wamba. Mda then adopted the pen name Zakes Mda when he began writing. He mentions that the name Zakes is nostalgic and reminds him of his youth and growing up in Dobsonville, Soweto.

Zakes Mda (ZM): My full names are Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni, Kizito is a Ugandan name, Mda. For a long time, I was just ZK Mda.

Mda is known for telling stories that have a magical aspect in them. The much-acclaimed novel, Ways of Dying (1995) depicts Toloki, a self-proclaimed mourner, wandering from one township funeral to the next. Slowly, the reader learns that the victims’ ways of dying were inflicted on them by their own fanatic, greedy and violent communities.

ZM: For me, there was that fluidity between the living and the dead. The living, the dead and even the unborn.

From 1995, Mda became a full-time writer, painter, and filmmaker. He formed his own company, Thapama Productions CC in Melville, Johannesburg, and launched into film and television production. The company’s aim was to take part in international co-productions and produce programmes for SABC and e-TV.

His plays have been awarded numerous prizes. The plays of Zakes Mda have been translated into South Africa’s eleven official languages. Mda’s novels reflect the collective internal conflict of tradition and materialist consumerism prevalent in post-Apartheid South Africa. They are told from a black perspective and whites only play a peripheral role.

ZM: I was just telling stories the way I thought stories are told or should be told.

Mda has been involved in HIV/AIDS activism for over twenty years. He initiated the Southern African AIDS Multimedia Trust with a core of fifteen HIV-positive people in 1994. Each year he holds workshops and continues to train this group to write their own stories, adapting them as radio dramas for distribution to community radio stations, and then as video dramas.

Mda has an extensive knowledge in literature, arts, television and theatre. From 1973 to 1976, Mda followed a course with the International Academy of Arts and Letters in Zurich, Switzerland, adding the degree of Bachelor Fine Arts (Visual Arts and Literature) to his Cambridge Overseas School Certificate. He had opted to study with this Swiss academy as it specialised in distance education. He achieved a Master’s degree in Theatre in 1982 and another Master’s Degree in Communication and Television in 1983.

ZM: A lot of the jobs that I do, I’m employed by my former students. People I supervised for their MAs or PhDs, who are now Professors or Deans, they are the ones who invite me to be a visiting lecturer. I have produced my own employers.

Phemelo asks Mda various topics around his life story, from poetry to plays and even politics. Mda expresses his disappointment around the government and more especially the voters.

ZM: There’s a long history of voters voting against their own interest.

Mda has won a number of awards in South Africa, the USA and Italy, including the Amstel Playwright of the Year Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa, the M-Net Prize and the Sunday Times Literary Prize.

Source: 702, interview with Weekend Breakfast host Phemelo Motene, 22 October 2017.  Click here for the article