On 31 July at the Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town, pay-TV broadcaster M-Net paid tribute to five South African novels in its M-Net Literary Awards. The novels are Plaasmoord; Small Moving Parts; Santa Gamka; Ga di mphelele! (Let Them Live for Me!); and Iingada zibuyile endle (Wildcats have Come Home).
Karin Brynard’s Plaasmoord was judged as having the most potential for adaptation into a screenplay and won the Film Category prize. Plaasmoord is set against the backdrop of a small town on the outskirts of the Great Kalahari. On one level, a spine-chilling plot unfolds, centered around a gruesome double murder, while on another level the author provides unique insight into a rural society in the grip of change. The murderer is exposed by the changes sweeping through the town, changes which also bring to light the avarice and greed with which everything in society is cloaked.
The judges felt that Brynard had brought something new to the table of the murder mystery genre, mixing history and extraordinary insight into contemporary society to produce a quite intoxicating novel.
Jan du Plessis, Director: Content Strategy at M-Net, felt that Plaasmoord had vivid texture, which could be transferred to the silver screen. “We were blessed with some great books this year, many of which would have worked well as screenplays,’ he says. “Plaasmoord stood out from the pack because of the richness of its characters and the way the author brought new life to the murder mystery genre’.
The winner of the English Category was Sally-Ann Murray’s Small Moving Parts, recognised by the judges for its lush textures of language and minutely-observed narration. The judges said of Small Moving Parts: ‘Seldom has any piece of South African writing in English rendered the bildungsroman form with such lyrical beauty and complexity, combining both the imaginative and the real, in ways that are unique and outstanding. Detailed it may be, but if the devil is to be found in the detail, the detail surely also harbours redemption. There are so many examples of little things remembered, things that are common to the essence of being South Africans – the small parts make up a wondrous whole. Small Moving Parts is about the fabric of society and the fabric of a mind, life in South Africa and life itself.’
Winner of the Afrikaans Category was Eben Venter for Santa Gamka. The judges felt that Santa Gamka had all the hallmarks of a worthy winner of the M-Net Literary Awards because of its innovative use of language, in the same vein as pervious winners Marlene van Niekerk (Agaat) and Etienne van Heerden (30 Nagte in Amsterdam).
With a touch that remains light despite the often-desperate circumstances of the inhabitants of the town of Bethesda, the reader is taken on a journey by an attractive 21-one year-old rent-boy who grew up in the heart of the Karoo. Here the impact of the "new" South Africa has not been felt, apart from cosmetic changes. His hometown remains a place of contrasts. It is a place where you could well find yourself in a potter’s oven with only seven minutes to live if you’re not careful. Santa Gamka is a rich testament to an equally rich imagination.
The 2010 M-Net Literary Awards also recognised winners in two of the African Language categories – Sotho and Nguni. Debutant novelist Mokhale Machitela scooped the Sotho prize for Ga di mphelele! (Let Them Live for Me!), written in Sepedi. The judges praised Machitela for his tale of thwarted passion and murder most foul that kept them glued to their seats: “The author touches on relevant issues such as infidelity and the impact of cultural beliefs in modern society. The language is rich and powerful, laced with idiomatic expressions and humour to soften the blows. Ga di mphelele! is based on the notion that all human beings have shortcomings that affect their lives, none more so than the main character who spends most of his life trying to correct his mistakes, while simultaneously making even worse decisions – with devastating consequences.’
The winner in the Nguni category is a political allegory about the emergence of our rainbow nation, written in isiXhosa. The prize was awarded to Professor Peter Mtuze for his novel Iingada zibuyile endle (Wildcats have Come Home). The judges lauded it for introducing a bold new strain in African-language literary tradition. Iingada zibuyile endle provides an acute reflection indicative of issues of readership, thematic explorations, aesthetics and a range of issues which link African-language writing in South Africa with African writing practices in the rest of the continent and in the African diaspora. “The novel is written with sensitivity and pathos, introducing various animal characters to present an all-encompassing plot. The author, deftly weaving allegory, humour and satire, succeeds in showing how the characters grappled with one another in a South African political landscape with all its unpredictability.’