2019 EASA President’s Report

The Academy has had an eventful year, among the notable events were the ceremonies held to honour two winners of The Academy’s highest award, the Gold Medal. On 14 March, Prof. Chris Zithulele Mann received his medal, in honour of his life-time service to English studies, at a wonderful gathering at the National English Literary Museum’s beautiful premises, in Grahamstown. Chris and his wife, Julia Skeen, a gifted artist, provided a video presentation featuring their work, Lifelines and a display of some of Chris’ numerous publications.

The ceremony was combined with the award of the Gwen Knowles-Williams Bursary to Mr Bruce Bushula, a postgraduate student at the Institute for the Study of Englishes in Africa at Rhodes University. He is conducting doctoral research on promoting reading in rural and township schools. He was handed his certificate by a long standing and dedicated member of EASA, Prof. Laurence Wright, who had taught him when Prof. Wright was the Director of the Centre.

The Academy is indebted to Prof. Rosemary Gray, who coordinated the preparations for the ceremony; along with Prof. Samantha Naidu, who handled the arrangements with various institutions in Makhanda; and Ms Beverley Rycroft, who kindly hosted the event at NELM.

Prof. Rajendra Chetty was awarded his medal after the English Academy Percy Baneshik Memorial Lecture at Northwards in Johannesburg, in recognition of his considerable service to English Studies over many years. Three generations of the Chetty family attended the event. Our Patron, Prof. Pitika Ntuli, graced the occasion and the lecture on “The Significance of mist in the art of Selby Mvusi” was delivered by Dr Sope Maithufi, a member of our Council. We are grateful for the gracious hospitality extended to us by the Curator of Northwards, Dr Neil Viljoen, who entertained us with his knowledge of the history, art, sculpture and design of the establishment, as well as the colourful characters who lived there.

This year’s English Academy Commemorative Lecture celebrating the life and work of Prof. Margaret Raftery was held at the University of the Free State, where she taught for more than thirty years. Dr Idette Noomé’s lecture, “Embodying Temptation: The Representation of Choice in Medieval and Early Modern Drama” paid homage to Prof. Raftery’s contribution to the study of medieval literature, and included an erudite discussion of contemporary performances of the plays in question. We are grateful to Prof. Rosemary Gray, who deputised for the President, and the event organiser, Dr Rick de Villiers, for the successful meeting.

The Sol Plaatje Prize for Translation was awarded to Leon de Kock and Karin Schimke at Stellenbosh University, for their translation from Afrikaans into English, of Flame in the Snow: The love letters of Andre Brink and Ingrid Jonker, edited by Francis Galloway and published by Umuzi. Deputy President, Prof. Rajendra Chetty presided.

The Olive Schreiner Prize for Drama was awarded to Neil Coppen for his play, Tin Bucket Drum, by the Chairperson of the panel of judges, Prof. Owen Seda, at Ike’s Bookshop, in Durban, on 22 May. We wish to acknowledge the contribution made by an EASA veteran, Thayalan Reddy.

Thayalan played a leading role in arranging a very successful celebration of the Nobel prize winner and literary icon, Rabindranath Tagore, which was hosted by Mr Anish Rajan, the Indian Consul-General, in Durban, on 10 May. I thanked him and his staff for the sustained collaboration between the Academy and the Consulate. Gifted students from Sastri College impressed the guests by the manner in which they read poems and extracts from Tagore’s works. The Consul-General, who arrived this year, expressed a desire to link the Academy with tertiary institutions in India. I will follow up on this in the coming months.

As I stated when I assumed the Presidency last year, I am convinced that we can grow the membership of the Academy if we reach out to teachers and other institutions at the provincial level, through local Chapters. The sustained growth of the attendance of the Maritzburg College – EASA Conference (MC-EASA Conference) bears eloquent testimony to this. A hundred and fifty teachers and Guest Speakers attended the conference held on 14 May. Some teachers came from Kokstad to attend the Conference and many from various schools in the Midlands. Among the EASA Council members who presented papers were Prof. Peter Titlestad, Dr David Robinson and me. The presentations were well received and generated lively discussion.

I will, during the course of this month, follow up with Dr Hilda Israel and Thabisani Ndlovu on the deliberations that have taken place regarding the setting up of a similar project in the Eastern Cape.

On 23 August I attended a meeting with Rodelle Govender, Head of Languages, Arts, Maritzburg College; Mr Mpumelelo Thobela, Provincial Language Coordinator: FET (Grades 10 – 12) and Mrs Betty Smith, the Acting Chief Education Specialist: Teacher Development to discuss the imminent launch of the KZN English Language Teachers’ Association in September 2019. Based on the success of the MC-EASA Conferences, the DBE officials initiated exploratory discussions regarding what assistance / links ELTASA can establish with EASA, and how we can assist in the development of this Association, as the DBE has declared that raising the standard of English with regard to both the teachers and leaners is a national priority. Key areas that need to be developed include reading and proficiency. A constitution for ELTASA has been drafted, at national level and will be ratified at provincial and district levels. Rodelle and I will meet with the above mentioned officials on an ad hoc basis. We will keep EASA in the loop and the final decision on the extent and nature of the cooperation will, of course, be taken by the EASA Council. I believe that this provides us with the impetus to revitalise local chapters of the Academy, so that we can draw on the collective expertise of our members, academics and colleagues who have retired, but still wish to play a pivotal role in raising educational standards in this country, and contribute meaningfully, in a structured way. We can also boost our membership.

I would like to thank members of EXCO for the diligent attendance of our meetings, and in particular Dr David Robinson, the Honorary Secretary, Prof. Rosemary Gray, Vice-President and Honorary Treasurer, who has boosted the EASA funds admirably; Karin Basel, our dedicated Administrator. Prof. Michael Williams indicated that he will be resigning as the Editor of EAR. On behalf of the EASA, I wish to thank him for the years of devoted service, I particularly enjoyed working with him on my article on Namibian literature. Prof. Rajendra Chetty indicate that he will not be continuing as Editor of EAR. Dr Naomi Nkealah has served faithfully as the editor of our Newsletter, ably supported by the Deputy Editor, Dr Aghogho Akpome.  Dr Candice Livingston has kept us connected with our Facebook network admirably. Dr Malcolm Venter has served with distinction as Editor of Teaching English Today.

Mbongeni Malaba, President