- Early years
- Vilakazi the educationist
- Vilakazi the novelist and poet
Benedict Vilakazi was born on January 6, 1906 at Groutville Mission Station on the north coast of kwaZulu-Natal, where he attended the local Groutville Mission School up till his 10th year. He completed his school career at St Francis College, at the Mariannhill Catholic Mission south of Pinetown. There he was baptised ‘Benedict Wallet’, but kept his Zulu family name of Vilakazi.
In 1923 he completed his teacher’s certificate and for some time taught at St.Francis College, his alma mater, and later on also at the Roman Catholic Seminary at Ixopo, south of Pietermaritzburg. In 1934 he completed his BA degree at the University of South Africa.
Vilakazi the educationist
Vilakazi began lecturing in the Bantu Studies Department at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in 1935. While at Wits he collaborated with the linguist CM Doke to compile a Zulu-English dictionary. Vilakazi’s teaching position made him the first black South African to teach white South Africans at university level. Vilakazi is noted for his scholarly work on oral traditions and the Zulu and Xhosa languages, for which he was awarded the first PhD by a black South African in 1946.
Vilakazi the novelist and poet
In the early 1930s Vilakazi began to publish his poetry in various journals, including ILanga lase Natal, UmAfrika, The Bantu World, and The Star. Three novels of his appeared in the 1930s: Nje nempela (Really and Truly) and Noma nini (Forever and Ever) and UDingiswayo ka Jobe (Dingiswayo, Son of Jobe). Vilakazi continued to write both novels and poetry, exploring daily Zulu life. In his later life his poetry became increasingly political, depicting the exploitation of black Africans generally. Vilakazi’s novels and poetry were well-received in his own lifetime and still are today.
He died on 26 October, 1947 in Johannesburg at the age of 41.