OBITUARY: Literature professor Mbulelo Mzamane

2014-02-19 00:00

THE former director of the Centre for African Literary Studies at the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN), Professor Mbulelo Mzamane, died on Sunday after falling ill a few days earlier.

Mzamane (66) had retired from the centre and had moved from Pietermaritzburg, where he had previously lived, to the Free State. He was travelling from the Free State to Johannesburg to visit family there when he fell ill and was rushed to hospital, where he died a few days later.

At the time of his death, he was the project leader and general editor of the Encyclopaedia of South African Arts Culture and Heritage (ESAACH).

President Jacob Zuma sent his condolences to the family.

Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile said that former President Nelson Mandela had described Mzamane as a visionary leader and one of South Africa’s greatest intellectuals.

A committed proponent of Black Consciousness, Mzamane was a board member of the movement’s Umtapo Centre in Durban. The centre’s Arun Naicker described him as intellectual giant who remained humble, nurturing and who was a great mentor.

Born in Brakpan, Johannesburg, he spent 30 years in exile and studied at the universities of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland where he was taught by writer and journalist Can Themba.

Mzamane wrote both children’s and academic books. His works were banned in this country during the apartheid era.

In 1993, he returned to South Africa and took up the post of vice chancellor of the University of Fort Hare. Mzamane was appointed by Mandela and then Thabo Mbeki to serve on the SABC Board and the Heraldry Council.

Naicker said that he was chairperson of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, patron of the Freedom of Expression Institute and a director of the Book Development Council of Africa. Matshile said he worked closely with Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Nawal El Saadawi as co-chairs of BUWA! — African Languages and Literatures into the 21st Century.

Naicker said Mzamane believed that history would one day judge the Black Consciousness movement as being a major force on the South African political landscape.

She noted that at the inaugural Strini Moodley Commemoration lecture, he said, “What history should record, therefore, is that Black Consciousness was not just an intellectual movement: it was the premier black intellectual movement of 20th century South Africa. It took the country by storm, and transformed the thinking of blacks and whites in less than a decade. There is nothing in South African history in any period to compare with its mass impact and radical reorientation.”

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