Fortescue Helepi is no longer on the Sunday Times Literary Awards 2019 judging panel after he was dropped by the awards.
The Sunday Times Literary Prize was founded in 1989 by South African newspaper The Sunday Times. It is divided into two with the Barry Rouge Prize focusing on fiction and the Alan Paton Award focusing on nonfiction. It has been won by some of the best writers in the Southern African country including Bongani Ngqulunga and Harry Kalmer (2018), Zakes Mda and Greg Marinovich (2017), Pumla Dineo Gqola and Nkosinathi Sithole (2016), Jacob Dlamini and Damon Galgut (2015) and a host of others.
The longlist for the awards were announced on April 21, 2019 and the South African writing community was celebrating those who were honoured until they noticed a curious name on the judging panel; Fortescue Helepi. The bookstore owner was set to judge the Alan Paton Award 2019 which is the nonfiction side of the coveted award.
The problem for many South African writers who were following this is that Mr Helepi isn’t anyone’s favourite bookstore owner right now. It has emerged that he had taken many people’s books and then failed to remit the monies to their rightful owners.
The announcement led to writers and other literary players coming together and signing a letter to remove Mr Helepi from the judging process in solidarity with the affected. Signing the letter were Dudu Dumisani-Dube, Vangile Gantsho, Cynthia Jele, Thabiso Mahlape, Rofhiwa Maneta, Lebohang Masango, Mahale Mashigo, Lebogang Mashile, Niq Mhlongo, Lerato Mogoatlhe, Rosie Motene, Sihle Mthembu, Koleka Putuma, Malebo Sephodi, Yamkela Tywakadi, Flow Wellington, and Zukiswa Wanner.
The Award ceremony decided to listen to the writers and has since suspended Helepi. No word on who will be replacing Helepi at this time is known.
The Sunday Times has learned with regret of the difficulties being faced by African Flavour Books and its proprietor Fortiscue Helepi, and hopes that the situation will be resolved.
— Sunday Times (@SundayTimesZA) April 25, 2019
You can read an excellent chronical of how this whole mess unfolded at our friends at Brittlepaper.com.