Mzwakhe Mbuli, known as “The People’s Poet”.
Mzwakhe Mbuli, also known as “The People’s Poet”, is a popular poet and mbaqanga singer in South Africa. He was born in Sophiatown in 1958, but his family was forced to move to Soweto when the government bulldozed his home town. His work includes a book of poems, Before Dawn (1989), and albums Change is Pain (1986), Unbroken Spirit (1989), Resistance and Defence (1992), and Africa (1993). His poems are mainly in English but draw on his native Zulu as well as traditional praise poetry and rap. His best-known poem is Change is Pain, a protest piece about oppression and revolution, which was initially banned until growing pressure forced South Africa to allow more freedom of speech. His first performance group was called “Khuvhangano”.
Not an easy road
Throughout the 1980s Mzwakhe was repeatedly detained by the authorities and denied a passport to travel while playing a leading role in the Cultural activities of the United Democratic Front. His international career began in 1990 in Berlin, Germany when he shared the stage with Youssou N’dour, Miriam Makeba and Thomas Mapfumo. An imposing figure, standing well over 6 foot tall, he performed at the funeral of Chris Hani, the assassinated head of the South African Communist Party, and at the presidential inauguration of Nelson Mandela in 1994. In 1996 Mbuli was invited to London to co-host, with British poet and activist Benjamin Zephaniah, the Two Nations Concert at the Albert Hall to honour President Nelson Mandela on his visit to London. Later that year, he returned to the UK to join Peter Gabriel, Youssour N’dour and other prominent African artists to record the fundraising Aids album.
Mbuli was convicted in March 1999 for armed robbery and possession of a hand grenade – crimes he has consistently denied committing; he and his supporters have always insisted he was framed by the government for speaking out against corruption. He was held at the Leeuwkop Maximum Security Prison, until his release in November 2003. His most recent album release is ‘Mbulism’.
Before Dawn (1988) Cosaw Publishers
Change is Pain (1986) Shifty (Rounder – USA)
Unbroken Spirit (1988) Shifty Records
Resistance is Defence (1992) Stern’s Earthworks
Afrika (1993) CCP/EMI South Africa
Izigi (1994) CCP/EMI, South Africa