Today’s Doodle honours Mazisi Kunene, a 92-year-old anti-apartheid activist and South African poet laureate whose writings chronicled the Zulu people’s history.
Kunene grew up in Durban, which is today known as KwaZulu-Natal in eastern South Africa. He enjoyed creating short stories and poetry in Zulu as a child. He began publishing his writings in local newspapers and publications at the age of eleven. He became a staunch supporter for the preservation of traditional Zulu poetic traditions as he grew older. His master’s thesis focused on how Western literary traditions diluted Zulu literature.
Kunene utilised his art to fight the government’s racial segregation system at the commencement of apartheid. When the South African government reacted violently to the resistance movement in 1959, exiling Kunene, he fled to the United Kingdom (and then the United States), where he assisted in the founding of the anti-apartheid movement. His work was banned in South Africa during this time.
Kunene went on to write great works of literature in exile, including “Emperor Shaka the Great,” “Anthem of the Decades” and “The Ancestors and the Sacred Mountain.” His work is notable for examining South African culture, religion, and history through the lens of colonialism, apartheid, and slavery.
Kunene began teaching African literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1975, and stayed there for over two decades. During this period, he also acted as a cultural advisor to UNESCO.
Kunene returned to South Africa after apartheid to continue writing in isiZulu. He was named Africa’s poet laureate by UNESCO in 1993. He later became democratic South Africa’s first poet laureate. His poetry, as well as the Mazisi Kunene Foundation Trust, which is dedicated to cultivating Africa’s next generation of literary talent, bear his name.
Happy birthday, Mazisi Kunene!