Mphahlele, Es'kia 1919-2008 (Bruno Eseki, Bruno Esekie, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Zeke Mphahlele)

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Mphahlele, Es'kia 1919-2008 (Bruno Eseki, Bruno Esekie, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Zeke Mphahlele)


See index for CA sketch: Born December 17, 1919, in Pretoria, South Africa; died October 27, 2008, in Lebowakgomo, South Africa. Educator, novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and author. Mphahlele was venerated as both a voice and a critic of South African literature. He told the story of his own life in fiction and memoir; in so doing, he spoke for the millions of black South Africans who were pushed into apartheid by the National Party of South Africa in the late 1940s. His books earned praise from critics around the world. Mphahlele spent his childhood in rural South Africa and his teen years in a slum township of the capital city of Pretoria. His first memoir, the best-seller Down Second Avenue (1959), evokes the violence, oppression, and injustice meted out to black South Africans in the segregated townships where they were forced to live. His fiction, first collected in Man Must Live and Other Stories (1947), explores similar themes through characters that he generally presents, not as victims, but as survivors. Mphahlele grew up with certain advantages. He received a university education and worked as a schoolteacher until his opposition to the separate-and-decidedly-unequal directive of the Bantu Education Act cost him his job. Banned from teaching in 1952, he pursued a writing career until 1957, when he decided to seek his fortune elsewhere. Mphahlele was permitted to leave the country if he promised not to return, and his twenty-year exile began. He worked his way northward through Africa to France and eventually to the United States, where he earned a doctorate and taught at the universities of Pittsburgh and Denver. He continued to write short stories, essays, nonfiction, and criticism. His novel The Wanderers (1971) depicts the life of an exile not unlike himself, and readers could discern that freedom from oppression does not necessarily lead to spiritual fulfillment. In 1977 Mphahlele changed his given name of Ezekiel to its African equivalent, Es'kia, and returned to South Africa, where the evils of apartheid had been somewhat reduced, at least on the surface. He became the first black professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he taught African literature for several years. While there, he noted that political and social upheaval in his country, while necessary, had the unplanned effect of diluting the rich tribal traditions of the very people who were intended to benefit from the cataclysmic change. In 2002 he created the Es'kia Institute in hopes of preserving and nurturing the black cultural and artistic heritage of his people. Mphahlele was honored around the world for his contributions to African literature, but never more so than when the legendary South African leader Nelson Mandela presented him with the Order of the Southern Cross. Mphahlele wrote several books after his return to South Africa, including the novels Chirundi (1984) and Father Come Home (1984), and Renewal Time (1988), a collection of short stories and autobiographical vignettes.



Barnett, Ursula A., Ezekiel Mphahlele, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1976.

Mphahlele, Es'kia, Down Second Avenue, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1959.

Mphahlele, Es'kia, Afrika My Music: An Autobiography, 1957-83, Ravan Press (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1984.

Mphahlele, Es'kia, Bury Me at the Marketplace: Selected Letters of Es'kia Mphahlele, edited by N. Chabani Mangayani, Skotaville (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1984.

Mphahlele, Es'kia, Renewal Time, Readers International (London, England), 1988.


Los Angeles Times, October 29, 2008, p. B6.

New York Times, November 1, 2008, p. B10.

Times (London, England), October 31, 2008, p. 78.