Media24 Books apologies over literary awards ‘mistake’

By Edward Tsumele

What was meant to be a normal literary award ceremony that publishing giant Media24 Books has held for over 60 years turned into a nightmare within 48 hours this year.

The long running literary prize ceremony was held virtually this year due to COVID-19 on Thursday night. However what followed the announcement was not the celebration of the winning books and their authors, but an embarrassing scrutiny by critics who accused the organisers of gender and racial insensitivity. The predominantly white panel of judges selected a predominantly male and  white crop of writers published in the past year by Media24 Books’ various imprints, including Jonathan Ball, Kwela Books and NB, as winners. There was a negligible number of female writers and not a single black writer in the ranks of the winners this year, and therefore the composition of the winners and the composition of the panel of judges, stand accused of lacking diversity. This point was flagged by critics who made their views known on various social media platforms as soon as the announcement was made.

By Saturday, Media24 Books had already conceded that it had made what it called a” mistake” that it was prepared to correct in future.

This mistake could not have come at an unfortunate time as activists around the world led mainly led by Black Life Matters Movement are putting the spotlight on white racism on blacks. This follows the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man by a white police official in the US a few weeks ago.

However it must also be pointed out that the organisers’ quick response and admitting that indeed a mistake was made this year, should go a long way in protecting the integrity and the image of these awards.

Ironically Media24 Books, especially through one of its imprints, Kwela Books is respected for having embraced the idea of publishing black authors early in post Apartheid South Africa ahead of many publishers that followed their path later.

“We acknowledge that the lack of diversity in the judging panels of the Media24 Literary Prizes is unacceptable. We take the feedback and criticism from our fellow citizens and the literary community to heart and we will actively address the issues to avoid a repeat of this oversight in future.

We strongly condemn any form of discrimination and remain committed to promoting a workplace and a society that is inclusive and diverse.

We made a mistake for which we sincerely apologise and are committed to setting it right in future,”Media 24 Books said in a statement over the weekend.

Winning authors

The authors that have been judged winners in various categories are Header image: Jonny Steinberg, Trevor Sacks, Zirk van den Berg, Loftus Marais, Edyth Bulbring, Fanie Viljoen,  and Theodore Key. The six judging panels were: For the Recht Malan Prize: Pierre de Vos, Johanna van Eeden and Pauli van Wyk; for the Herman Charles Bosman Prize: Johan Jacobs, Molly Brown and Karl van Wyk; for the WA Hofmeyr Prize: Francois Smith, Sonja Loots and Bibi Slippers; for the Elisabeth Eybers Prize: Rustum Kozain, Charl-Pierre Naudé and Andries Visagie; for the MER Prize for Youth Novels: Naomi Meyer, Henriëtte Linde-Loubser and Magdel Vorster; and for the MER Prize for Illustrated Children’s Books: Jaco Jacobs, Aldré Lategan and Magdel Vorster.
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