Obituary: Lewis Nkosi, writer and academic

2010-09-08 00:00

SOUTH African writer and academic Lewis Nkosi died at the weekend in a Johannesburg hospice. He was 73. He had been in poor health since suffering a stroke last year.

Nkosi was born in Chesterville, Durban, and educated at the M.L. Sultan Technical College. He worked for Ilanga Lase Natal before going to Johannesburg to join Drum magazine where he was part of the famous generation of young black writers he described as “the new Africans … urbanised, eager, fast-talking and brash”. In 1961 he was awarded a fellowship to study at Harvard and left his home country on a one-way exit permit, which led to a long exile.

He worked at one time for the BBC in London and taught literature at universities in Europe, Africa and the U.S. In later years his home was in Switzerland, although, after 1994, he regularly spent time back in South Africa.

Professor Lindy Stiebel of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who with Elizabeth Gunner co-edited Still Beating the Drum, a collection of critical essays on Nkosi’s work as a novelist, playwright, essayist and newspaper columnist, said yesterday that she considers he was very underrated in South Africa due to his long exile.

“He was a fearless critic, a clear analytical voice. He didn’t have to align himself with any group and spoke his mind on both literary and wider cultural issues.”

Nkosi’s 1986 novel Mating Birds, which dealt with sex between a black man and a white woman and with rape, was banned by the apartheid government.

His most recent novel Mandela’s Ego, which was published in 2007, dealt in a humorous way with the consequences of excessive hero worship.

Nkosi leaves his wife, Astrid Starck, and twin daughters. His funeral will be held in Durban on Friday.

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