Mazisi Kunene, an epic Zulu poet, is remembered during Poetry Africa

Writer, poet and academic Es’kia Mphahlele wrote about the damage that the television series Shaka Zulu caused, saying it made a mockery of the image and the history of the Zulu monarch by presenting his life as an orgy of violence and grotesqueness.

He makes particular mention of the use of the dead as decorative corpses, and the presentation of the “witchdoctor” as a repulsive ghoul, rather than as a healer and adviser.

Long before this destructive, apartheid regime-sponsored TV series Mazisi Kunene’s epic poems, such as Emperor Shaka the Great and Anthem of the Decade funtioned as works of corrective history that not only sought to reground the historical legacy of the Zulu, and therefore the African, but were also an expression of the African as cosmological being.

In the publication The Thinker, Ademola Araoye cites scholar Ntongela Masilela: “It seems to me that Mazisi Kunene’s unsurpassed poetic act was a desperate and dramatic attempt to resurrect African cosmology in the modern world … While he appears to us as a great poet of African spiritual crisis, he may appear to posterity as the last great diviner of African cosmology.”

Mazisi Raymond Kunene was born in Durban in 1930 and grew up in Amahlongwa, on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. An early writer, Kunene was already publishing his works in newspapers and magazines at the age of 11.

He earned his master’s degree in the arts from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1959 for a paper titled An Analytical Survey of Zulu Poetry, Both Traditional and Modern.

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