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REVIEW | New and vibrant biography of the ‘intellectual tsotsi’ Can Themba

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Can Themba: The Making and Breaking of the Intellectual Tsotsi by Siphiwo Mahala (Witwatersrand University Press)
Can Themba: The Making and Breaking of the Intellectual Tsotsi by Siphiwo Mahala (Witwatersrand University Press)

BOOK: Can Themba: The Making and Breaking of the Intellectual Tsotsi by Siphiwo Mahala (Witwatersrand University Press)

There are many things to like about this book. Perhaps the most important is that Siphiwo Mahala has given us a serious, carefully researched biography of Can Themba, written with the style and verve of his subject himself. He brings together what seems to be everything known and written by and about this writer, journalist and teacher whose life was so tragically short.

All of this is put into a beautifully produced paperback, published by Wits University Press, on heavy paper, with many photos, endnotes and an index. Mahala has been writing about Themba in various ways for twenty years or so, including his doctoral thesis, and is a great authority on his life and work. In this biography he has produced what must be, at this point, the definitive work on Themba. It is focused more on the social, political and intellectual side of Themba, with few personal details, even though it is more than 50 years since he died. Mahala leads the reader to decide: Was it a bottle or a book that distorted his jacket pocket, both significant addictions?

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