Read it & don't weep: Durban is a Unesco City of Literature

01 November 2017 - 15:00 By Shelley Seid
Durban has been named Africa's first Unesco City of Literature.
Durban has been named Africa's first Unesco City of Literature.
Image: 123RF/Leon Swart

Take it as read: Durban has become Africa’s first official Unesco City of Literature.

The coastal KwaZulu-Natal city joins the other 20 Cities of Literature around the world that include Reykjavík in Iceland‚ Dublin in Ireland and Milan in Italy.

Durban-based writer ZP Dala‚ who helped spearhead the initiative‚ said that a representative committee had been working on the concept for more than a year.

“I was selected last year to take part in the United Nations of Writers residency programme in the US. This is how the idea of making Durban a City of Literature arose and it is where we gained the mentorship of Iowa city‚ itself a City of Literature‚" she said.

Durban’s mayor Zandile Gumede will be making an official announcement and appointing a board to run the initiative within the next few days.

The Unesco programme was launched in 2004‚ when Edinburgh became the world’s first City of Literature. The growing network of cities aims to encourage literary exchanges‚ creating cross-cultural initiatives and developing local‚ national and international literary links.

According to the Unesco website “each City [of Literature] is dedicated to pursuing excellence in literature on a local level‚ engaging citizens in a dynamic culture of words”.

Dala said the designation will be used as a vehicle for social upliftment. “We are working with the province‚ the municipality and a variety of NGOs. Our first tabled project is to raise levels of literacy in the city. This will include sending teachers from Durban to Iowa for training in basic literacy education.”

There are also plans to run translation workshops to translate English writing into local languages and visa versa‚ as well as broaden translation to include the languages of refugees and foreign nationals.

“There are many francophones and Pakistani nationals in the city‚” said Dala. “We don’t want to become elitist literati. We want to take literature to the people.”

Dala added that becoming a Unesco City of Literature put Durban firmly on the agenda. “We will see opportunities for the transference of technical skills and knowledge; we will be included in exchange programmes and we will be able to plug into networks of philanthropists. Having the designation of Unesco means funding becomes more accessible.” - TimesLIVE