By Yinka Olatunbosun
There was so much to talk about last Thursday when authors from Nigeria and South Africa met at the literary event organised by Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) as part of its Nigeria-South Africa Week at the Freedom Park, Lagos. The event which had as its theme, A Tale of Two African Cities- Las Gidi and Jozi in the Imagination saw two writers from Nigeria, Toni Kan and Jumoke Verissimo as well as Siphiwo Mahala from South Africa. The writers situated the core of their conversations on the cities that informed their artistic creations, namely Lagos and Johannesburg. Both cities are essentially the commercial and cultural capitals of their respective countries and invariably share similar peculiarities.
Verissimo, author of I am Memory and focused on telling through her poems the stories drawn from her observations made through direct experience of living in different parts of Lagos. She remarked that the most interesting stories are drawn from the regular people who can be found in commuter buses like Molue where different activities take place and on the streets. She said her daily experience in Lagos constituted a wealth of resource for her works. Citing the example of her Mushin neighbourhood where she grew up, Verrisimo observed that although the temperament of Lagosians may vary according to class distinction, the spirit of a Lagos patriot is unmistakable in every Lagos.
Verissimo argued that that Lagos is a very fast-paced city where everyone seems to be in a hurry. This position is captured in This is Lagos, a narrative poem which reflects in brief on some aspects of the writer’s background and its root in black history, a colonial twist and cultural framework.
Toni Kan, the author of Nights of the Creaking Bed was criticised by some in the audience for always painting a bad image of a woman in his works. In reaction to this, the writer explained that his perception of the city woman is one that shuns the moral sex code brave-faced in other to survival. He equated the sexuality of a woman to a tool for economic returns and challenged anyone to argue otherwise. Verissimo responded to the argument by stating that Kan’s depiction of a woman is a negative stereotype which does not necessarily apply to all women. Kan remarked that the women in the rural communities may be more timid in their sexual escapades than the urban women but it does not mean that such “sexual liberation” does not exist in the communal setting.
On his part, Siphiwo Mahala addressed the issue of social insecurity, crime, unemployment and xenophobia in post-apartheid South Africa with particular reference to Johannesburg. While downplaying on the frequency of crime in the city of Jo’burg, Mahala admitted that he had been robbed once and by a white. His encounter with the robber, he said, reinterated the danger of unemployment of the white South Africans who have often suggested that the Apartheid system had only been inverted, with the “black” oppressing the “white”. Mahala attempted to compare Lagos and South Africa as two busy cities where some kinds of people are predominant in a given area.
His view, which was supported by Akin Adesola of Lowe Lintas who drew the parallel between the Egba-Ijebu predominated areas in Lagos and the white-black predominated areas in Johannesburg, attested to the fact that the two cities share a common African story.