Thursday, 30 October 2008

Anti-apartheid writer, Es’kia Mphahlele, dies

by Kathryn Hadley

The prominent South African academic and writer, Es'kia Mphahlele, died on October 27th, aged 88. He was particularly famous for his autobiography Down Second Avenue (1959) about his life as a herdsman, teacher and journalist for the magazine Drum.

He became a teacher, but was banned from teaching in the early 1950s as a result of his opposition to the 1953 Bantu Education Act, which notably enforced the separation of races in all educational institutions.

In 1957, Mphahlele went into exile from apartheid South Africa. During his twenty years of exile he spent time in France, Nigeria, Zambia and Kenya. In 1968 he gained a doctoral degree in the United States from the University of Denver in 1968 and became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1969 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Upon his return to South Africa in 1977, he became the first black professor at the University of Witwatersrand and founded the school’s African Literature Department. In 2002, he founded the Es’kia Institute for the development of the arts and the preservation of African heritage.

In 1994, after the end of apartheid, President Nelson Mandela awarded Mphahlele the Order of the Southern Cross, one of the highest recognitions granted by the South African government.
“African literature is an awakening. It represents moments of consciousness when
we have been jolted into awareness of what Europe did to us and what we have
been doing about this disinherited personality we now possess”.
Mphahlele, in 1983.

For more on Britian and apartheid see the article in the History Today archive
When the Boycott Began to Bite

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