Kunene, Mazisi


Kunene, Mazisi
▪ 2007
Mazisi Raymond Fakazi Mngoni Kunene 
      South African poet and educator (b. May 12, 1930, Durban, S.Af.—d. Aug. 11, 2006, Durban), explored the culture and history of the Zulu people in verse that reflected the influences of traditional Zulu poets. He was named poet laureate of Africa by UNESCO in 1993 and in 2005 was appointed the first poet laureate of South Africa. Kunene began writing in the Zulu language as a child, and by age 11 he had published poems in newspapers and magazines. In his masters thesis (1959) at the University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal), Kunene criticized modern Zulu literature's reliance on European stylistic techniques, unanalytic documentary writing, and slide toward sentimentality and escapism. He went to the University of London to pursue his doctorate, but he became involved in the political activities of the African National Congress and never completed his studies. Kunene in 1975 accepted a position at the University of California, Los Angeles, African Studies Center, where he remained for 17 years. Although he had been banned in 1966, he finally returned to South Africa in 1993 and joined the faculty at the University of Natal. Kunene's collection Zulu Poems (1979) was praised by critics for the freshness of his English translations, with patterns and imagery successfully carried over from Zulu vernacular traditions. Again translating his work from the original Zulu into English, Kunene published two epic poems—Emperor Shaka the Great (1979) and Anthem of the Decades (1981). His later books included Isibusiso sikamhawu (1994) and Umzwilili wama-Afrika (1996). In 2006 the Mazisi Kunene Foundation was established to promote his work and other indigenous African literature.

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▪ South African author
in full  Mazisi Raymond Kunene 
born May 12, 1930, Durban, S.Af.
died Aug. 11, 2006, Durban

      South African-born poet, whose work reflects the influences of traditional Zulu poets.

      Kunene began writing in the Zulu language when he was still a child and by age 11 had published a number of his poems in newspapers and magazines. In his University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal) master's thesis, An Analytical Survey of Zulu Poetry, Both Traditional and Modern, Kunene criticized several tendencies in modern Zulu literature: its reliance on European stylistic techniques rather than adaptation of traditional ones; its unanalytical documentary writing; and a slide toward sentimentality and escapism that he saw as an influence of the Christian and Romantic traditions.

      After earning an M.A. in 1959, Kunene went to the University of London to complete his doctorate, but he soon found himself involved in politics and never completed his studies. He was an official representative of the African National Congress. He taught at the University of Iowa, Stanford University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1966 the South African government banned Kunene, and he did not return to the country until 1993. That year he joined the faculty at the University of Natal.

      Kunene's Zulu Poems (1970), a collection of his poetry translated from Zulu into English, was praised by critics for the freshness of the English translations, with patterns and imagery successfully carried over from Zulu vernacular traditions. Again translating his work from the original Zulu into English, Kunene published two epic poems—Emperor Shaka the Great (1979), a history of the Zulu leader, and Anthem of the Decades (1981), a work dealing with Zulu religion and cosmology. His later books include Isibusiso sikamhawu (1994) and Umzwilili wama-Afrika (1996). The recipient of numerous honours, Kunene was named poet laureate of Africa by UNESCO (1993) and the first poet laureate of South Africa (2005). In 2006 the Mazisi Kunene Foundation was established to promote Kunene's work and other indigenous African literature.

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Universalium. 2010.

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