Sony Labou Tansi : OBITUARY

Africa has produced some first-rate dramatists and novelists like Wole Solynka and Athol Fugard, but in the field of francophone African writing there was no greater genius than Sony Labou Tansi.

Tansi was Congolese, but I was introduced to his work by two French Guinean writers, the late Camara Laye and Tierne Monenembo, whose books I had translated. Tansi was a man of many parts - teacher then professor of English, he was also dramatist, novelist, theatre director and actor. He was one of the outstanding literary figures of the Eighties. His dramatic works, numbering at least a score, form one of the most important bodies of creative literature in Africa.

His first play, Conscience de tracteur, won the Concours theatral interafricain de Radio-France Internationale in 1979. Its theme now seems very topical, and uncannily prophetic. Like many of Tansi's plays, it is a dramatised fable on corrupt politics. A mysterious epidemic suddenly starts killing the inhabitants of a small town in the tropics. It turns out that the plague has been brought upon the town by an old man of 95 who wanted to save the human race with a new Flood and a new Noah's Ark. But only the very old survive.

Sony Labou Tansi's next plays are again political fables. La Coutume d'etre fou appeared in 1980, followed in 1981 by two important works, Je soussigne cardiaque and Parenthese de sang. The former tells of a teacher whose ideas on liberty and self-respect are in conflict with an absurd but murderous dictatorship, and his beliefs lead to his execution. The latter play is an apocalyptic vision of the hunt for another rebel, Libertashio, whose friends and relatives are subjected to pitiless repression and become unable to distinguish between living and dying. Another dictator appears in Antoine M'a vendu son destin (1986) and puts himself in an absurd Lear- like situation by pretending to have been made destitute by his two most faithful generals, in order to save himself from the plots against his authority. Naturally, the generals seize this golden opportunity to overthrow him, but this has the paradoxical effect of making Antoine change sides.

Another Shakespearean theme appears in Moi, veuve de l'Empire (1987) in which Julius Caesar conquers Kula-Mutu, an imaginary state on the Nile. He falls in love with a black princess, Cleopatra, but his army leaders do not want the Roman Empire to fall into the hands of a negress, so they assassinate Caesar. This re-reading of antiquity gives the author an opportunity to meditate upon the disasters of history: "History always stinks. It excludes not only blacks, as Cleopatra thinks, but often excludes both common sense and reason. In such cases politics is just a way of going to extremes with closed eyes."

In 1989, Sony Labou Tansi played a dictator in his Qui a mange Madame d'Avoine Bergotha? presented with great success at the Sixth International Festival des Francophones inLimoges. Tansi toured the world with the theatrical troupe he founded, the Rocado-Zulu Theatre de Brazzaville. At the same time, he wrote a number of excellent novels couched in delightful French that breaks the rules of grammar and syntax with hilarious effect. In this, Tansi was greatly influenced by South American magical realists and by Caribbean authors of fantastic fiction like the Haitian Jean Metellus and the Martiniquais Aime Cesaire.

In January, I was alarmed to hear that Sony Labou Tansi and his wife had sought refuge in Paris for the treatment of an unstated disease. He returned home to Brazzaville in April, encouraged by the fervent support of a large group of French writers and intellectuals who formed the "Association des amis de Sony Labou Tansi". But his wife died of Aids shortly after returning home, and her husband followed her only a few days later.

At present, only one of Sony Labou Tansi's novels is in print in Britain: L'Ante-peuple (The Antipeople, translated by J.A. Underwood, published in 1988 by Marion Boyars). In October Seuil will bring out an unpublished novel, with the ominous title Le Commencement des douleurs.

p

Sony Labou Tansi, dramatist, novelist, poet, theatre director, actor: born Kimwanza, Congo 1947; died Brazzaville 14 June 1995.

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreEXCLUSIVE The Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
News
news
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor