Lewis Nkosi: A Commentary Piece
AS A STUDENT OF AFRICAN THEATER in the 1960s, I became acquainted with Lewis Nkosi through his short play The Rhythm of Violence (1964), which dramatized the irrationality of apartheid and its random destructiveness. In the ensuing years he has kept my attention with his provocative and astute critical observations on African writers and literature, more than has his creative writing. The earliest of those observations to come to mind occurred in 1962; it was quite succinct, yet à propos. It was the time of independences, when many sub-Saharan Africans were fully convinced that "the beautyful ones" had already been born. Who they were was for some a matter of conjecture, but one group that had no apparent doubts about their status as "beautyful" were the generation of writers who became prominent in those years. They were sustained in their self-assessment by the sudden spotlight trained on them from practically all corners of the Western and Eastern worlds, the clamour to lure them to performances as honoured and celebrated guests on stages in those worlds, and their own evident assurance of election.
The assurance and its effects were palpable at the Conference of African Writers of English Expression held at Makerere College, Kampala, 11–17 June 1962, about which Nkosi made the comment I have referred to above. In his report on the proceedings, published in the Guardian of 8 August 1962, he recalled the writers "talking endlessly about the problems of creation, and looking "…" as though they were amazed that fate had entrusted them with the task of interpreting a continent to the world." He further described them, especially the younger ones, as "a company of literary cut-throats, out to get one another at the slightest provocation." He exempted the older ones, like Ezekiel Mphahlele and Chinua Achebe, whom he regarded as "by far the