Zakes Mda is a South African novelist, poet and playwright. He has won major South African and some American and one Italian awards for his novels and plays. In addition to writing novels and plays, Zakes has taught English and creative writing in South Africa. He is currently a professor in the English Department at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
GEOSI READS: Let me start with the other activity you do apart from writing. You own a bee farm in the Eastern Cape. When did you engage yourself with this activity?
ZAKES MDA: More than ten years ago I started a beekeeping project with a rural community in the Eastern Cape. It is not my farm but is owned and operated by the community.
GR: What does it take to be a beekeeper? Does one need any special training?
ZM: I went for training at a beekeeping school in Gauteng. I trained under a well-known beekeeper, William Dinkelman of the Blessed by the Bees Apiary, who also trained some members of the community as well.
GR: You were born in Herschel in the Eastern Cape. The first place I lived when I first came to South Africa was Lusikisiki in rural Eastern Cape. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood in rural Eastern Cape?
ZM: I was born there, but I only spent about two years of my childhood there. Most of my childhood was in Soweto, Johannesburg, and in Lesotho.
GR: Apart from farming, you also run the Southern African Multimedia AIDS Program which trains HIV positive people to write. How is the project doing?
ZM: It’s not doing well at all. Since I now spend most of the year in the USA where I am a migrant worker. I am using the United Nations definition here of a migrant worker, namely “a person who is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.”
GR: When did you begin your writing career?
ZM: I dabbled in writing from the age of six or seven. I was first published at thirteen or fourteen.
GR: You serve on the board of African Writers Trust. What specifically does the trust seek to achieve? Has the aim for which the trust was established been achieved?
ZM: To promote African writing. It is a process.
GR: In your opinion, has South Africa produced enough writers in recent times?
ZM: Enough? I don’t think so. There can never be enough writers anywhere in the world.
GR: What is your take on the new literature’s coming out of Africa?
ZM: Some of it is great, but as could be expected in any country some of it is pedestrian and mediocre.
GR: Your books have widely been translated into other languages. What does this mean for you?
ZM: It means that people in other countries have access to my world.
GR: Has any of your books been translated into (any of) your home language(s)?
ZM: My plays have been translated into all of the official languages of South Africa except Afrikaans.
GR: You are yourself an idol many budding writers look up to? But let me serve you with this question: Do you have any idol you also look up to?
ZM: No. I like specific novels by specific writers.
GR: Let me leave you with this question: Do you have a favourite among the books you’ve written so far?
ZM: I like all of them.