Mandla Langa’s The Lost Language of the Soul was declared the winner of the University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing 2022 on October 4, 2022. The UJ Debut Prize was shared by A’Eysha Kassiem and Lisa-Anne Julien.
The University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing in English, also known as the UJ Prize, was instituted in 2006. It comprises the main prize and a debut prize, given annually for “the best original creative work in English published in the previous calendar year”. The prizes are judged by a panel of four members of the Department of English at the University of Johannesburg, two academics from other universities, and one member of the media or publishing industry. They are not linked to a specific genre. Some of the previous winners have been Nthikeng Mohlele and Mohale Mashigo; Gabeba Baderoon and Mphuthumi Ntabeni among many others. Jacob Dlamini, Jamil F Khan, and Rešoketšwe Manenzhe won the prize in 2021.
The adjudication panel for 2022 was Sikhumbuzo Mngadi (chair), Ronit Frenkel (coordinator), Thabo Tsehloane, Minesh Dass, Marzia Milazzo, and Rebecca Fasselt. They announced a shortlist of Mandla Langa, Zakes Mda, and Ashraf Kagee for the main prize while the debut prize featured A’Eysha Kassiem, Lisa-Anne Julien, and Tshidiso Moletsane. The revelation was made on September 28.
The winner of the main prize was revealed to be Mandla Langa’s The Lost Language of the Soul which gets the cash prize of R70,000. The debutants’ award and a cash prize of R35,000 are shared by Suitcase of Memory by A’Eysha Kassiem and If You Save Me by Lisa-Anne Julien.
Mandla Langa is the author of among others Tenderness of Blood (1987), A Rainbow on a Paper Sky (1989), The Naked Song and Other Stories (1997), The Memory of Stones (2000), the award-winning The Lost Colours of the Chameleon (2008) and the bestselling The Texture of Shadows (2014). The Lost Language of the Soul which was published by Pan MacMillan South Africa has the following blurb;
The Lost Language of the Soul is the story of the coming of age of Joseph Mabaso, who is a mere 14 and 15 years old in the course of the novel.
‘If I disappeared, I’d expect my children to search for me high and low. A mother disappearing goes against the laws of nature. Fathers disappear all the time; it’s their speciality.’ Joseph Mabaso is used to his father Sobhuza’s long absences from the family home in Lusaka. Sobhuza is a freedom fighter and doing important work, and Joseph has learned not to ask questions. But when Chanda, his mother, disappears without a trace, leaving him and his siblings alone, Joseph knows that something is terribly wrong.
And so begins a journey, physically arduous and dangerous and emotionally fraught, that no 14-year-old boy should have to undertake alone. Following the most tenuous of threads, Joseph finds some unlikely guides along the way: courageous Leila and her horses; Sis Violet and the guerrilla unit she commands; Mr Chikwedere, stonecutter and illicit trader; Madala at the Lesedi Repatriation Camp, who helps him find his voice; and Aunt Susie Juma, unofficial Zambian ambassador in Yeoville, Johannesburg, whose detective skills are legendary.
As Joseph navigates unfamiliar and often hostile territory in his search for his parents, he is on a parallel journey of discovery – one of identity and belonging – as he attempts to find a safe house that is truly safe, a language that understands all languages, and a place in his soul that feels like home.