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Biography of Es'kia MPHAHLELE

South Africa > Literature : Es'kia MPHAHLELE

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Born on 17/12/1919 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Es'kia Mphahlele (December (17, 1919- October 27, 2008), was a South African writer, academic, arts activist and Afrikan Humanist. He was also one of the most prolific authors on themes of education, literature, culture and social commentary in South Africa and the continent.

In 1945, Mphahlele married Rebecca Mochadibane, a social worker; they had five children.

His first book of short stories, Man Must Live, was published in 1947. His critical writings include two books of essays, The African Image (1962) and Voices in the Whirlwind (1972), that address Negritude, the African personality, nationalism, the black African writer and the literary image of Africa. He co-edited the anthology Modern African Stories and contributed to African Writing Today. His novels include The Wanderers (1971) and Chirundu (1979). He also wrote two autobiographies: Down Second Avenue and Afrika My Music. Es'kia and Es'kia Continued are collections of essays and other writings.

Es'kia Mphahlele was born on 17 December 1919 in the Marabastad area of Pretoria, South Africa. He grew up in Pretoria and attended St. Peter's Secondary School in Rosettenville, and later the Adams Teachers' Training College in Natal. Mphahlele's early career as a teacher of English and Afrikaans was terminated by the government as a result of his strong opposition to the Bantu Education Act. He left South Africa to teach in the British Protectorate of Basutoland, but once back in South Africa he became the fiction editor of Drum Magazine. During this time, he was also studying for a Master's degree through the University of South Africa.

Mphahlele became increasingly politicized during the 1950s, and in 1955 he joined the African National Congress. However, disappointed in ANC approach to matters of education, he later disassociated himself from the organisation. In 1957, Mphahlele went into voluntary exile, first arriving in Nigeria where he was offered a teaching job in a Church Mission Society school in Lagos. This was followed by stays in Kenya, Zambia and the United States. He returned to South Africa in 1977 and became head of the department of African Literature at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

In 1969 Mphahlele was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature and in 1984 he was awarded the Les Palmes Academiques by the French Government. In 1998 he received the Order of the Southern Cross, the highest recognition granted by the South African Government; and in 2000 he was acknowledged as 'Writer of the Century' by Tribute Magazine. He also has honorary degrees from Rhodes University, The Universities of Natal, South Africa, Pennsylvania and Colorado, among others.

Mphahlele retired as Professor and Head of the Division of African Literature in the Department of Comparative and African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1987. Es'kia Mphahlele passed away on 28 October 2008 in Polokwane, South Africa, shortly before his 89th birthday.


Last update : 04/10/2009

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