Kunene, Mazisi 1930-2006

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Kunene, Mazisi 1930-2006

(Mazisi Raymond Kunene, Mazisi Raymond Fakazi Mngoni Kunene)


See index for CA sketch: Born May 12, 1930, in Durban, South Africa; died of cancer, August 11, 2006, in Durban, South Africa. Educator and author. One of the most prominent and acclaimed African poets of the twentieth century, Kunene composed epic poems to reclaim the glory of the Zulu past and lived in exile for many years. A Zulu himself, he grew up in the KwaZulu-Natal region and even as a young boy felt outraged that his once-great people had been subjugated by European colonists. He earned a master's degree from the University of Natal and taught at the University College of Rome in Lesotho, where he was head of the department of African Studies. He also studied in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1959. Politically active, while still in England he helped found the antiapartheid movement and was director of education for the South African United Front. Kunene's political beliefs and writings did not sit well with South Africa's white government, and he went into exile in 1959. He became a cultural advisor for UNESCO, teaching at various universities, and by 1962 was chief representative of the African National Congress in the United States and Europe. By the 1970s, however, Kunene was focusing his attention on writing. He composed verses in his native Zulu language, which in some cases he translated into English. Among his translated works are Zulu Poems (1970), Emperor Shaka the Great: A Zulu Epic (1979), and Anthem of the Decades: A Zulu Epic (1981). Some literary critics considered this second work in particular to be on a par with such classic epics as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. In 1975, Kunene accepted a professorship at the University of California at Los Angeles, and he remained on the faculty there until his retirement in 1992. By this time, the white government had fallen in South Africa and the African National Congress was in power. Kunene returned to his homeland and taught in the Department of Zulu Language and Literature at what is now the University of KwaZulu. In 2005, he was named the poet laureate of South Africa. Kunene was also the author of The Ancestors and the Sacred Mountain: Poems (1982), and his works appear in anthologies. However, at the time of his death many of his verses still remained unpublished.



Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2006, p. B11.

New York Times, September 22, 2006, p. C10.

Times (London, England), September 23, 2006, p. 78.