Last week we wrote about the book, Emperor Shaka the Great, which is finally being published in its original isiZulu. This week we thought that we would focus on its author, Professor Mazisi Kunene, freedom fighter, literary icon and poet.
Kunene spent much of his adult life abroad, but never lost ties with his fellow activists back home, actively campaigning for the ANC in Europe and America during the 1960s. Over time Kunene became one of the ANC’s main representatives abroad, at one point holding the title of Director of Finance for the ANC. At the same time Kunene continued with his academic career. Initially working as a cultural advisor for Unesco, Kunene eventually became Professor of African Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, a post he held for nearly two decades. In 1992 Kunene returned to South Africa taking up a professorship at the then University of Natal, where he worked until his retirement.
Kunene is most famous for his epic poem on King Shaka, but was a prolific author. In 1993 Unesco named him Africa’s poet laureate, and in 2005 Kunene became South Africa’s first poet laureate. The Kunene Foundation, which was established just months before Kunene’s death in 2006, has dozens and dozens of Kunene’s original writings that they are in the process of digitising so that the work of this incredible South African can be preserved for future generations.
In 2012 King George V Ave in Glenwood was renamed Mazisi Kunene Ave as part of Durban’s street renaming project.