By: Yazeed Kamaldien
As one of the country’s top universities bestows an honour on Cape Town poet James Matthews, he has criticised several institutions for failing to include his anti-apartheid writing in their curriculum.
This comes after Rhodes University in Grahamstown decided to award Matthews an honorary doctorate. The University of the Western Cape has previously done the same.
In an interview with Weekend Argus, Matthews, 86, said he was not “flippant” about his awards from universities, governments and others.
But he wanted to see anti-apartheid writing taught at high schools and universities.
“I am grateful for awards. It means a lot to me.
“None of our youth reads our stuff (writing). If our stuff is not accessible how will they know what happened?
“Our stuff is not on the curriculum. It should be on shelves at schools. It should be at universities. Schools should teach anti-apartheid writing.”
He added: “There are people who are well remembered in their countries for fighting injustice. We seem to be the only country where we suffered but our writing is unavailable.”
Matthews was detained in 1976 for his protest poetry which was banned for many years. He was also denied a passport after his release from prison. While jailed, Matthews wrote a collection of poetry, Pass me a Meatball, Jones. It was published in 1977.
Matthews said he still regarded himself to be a dissident poet, as he was referred to in a 2014 documentary film Diaries of a Dissident Poet by Cape Town-based film-maker Shelley Barry.
“I am still a dissident poet. That is someone who is against the present state,” he said.
“All my earlier stuff was extremely critical towards the apartheid government... I should now go back to writing dissident poetry attacking corruption in certain sectors of our government.”
Matthews said under apartheid he could not “write art for art’s sake”, but he had explored other topics beyond protest and pain since then.
“I refused to write about the flight of a bird or growing of a flower (during apartheid). I could not write about that when people are being killed by the system. I looked at people who are jailed or maimed.
“I am now a poet concerned about myself and people my age. You respond to different things at different times.
“You find yourself growing and writing poetry of a far different nature.”
Matthews last year published a poetry book titled Gently Stirs My Soul.
Cape Town poet James Matthews is set to receive an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University. Picture: Ian Landsberg