Mazisi Kunene, who has died aged 76, was one of Africa's greatest poets, inspired by the history of the Zulu people, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the oral tradition of African literature. He was as cosmopolitan as he was nationalistic, espousing an African literary and cultural ethos along with Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiongo and Wole Soyinka. He also worked for the ANC in London during the apartheid years and taught African poetry in the United States.
The Guardian obituary, 17 October 2006
Kunene's works were originally written in Zulu. He believed that true African literature must be written in African languages. The problem about writing in a foreign language, he said, is that one is not in control of it and its psychology. He regarded the affirmation of an African aesthetic, especially with regard to poetics, as an important dimension of the freedom of African people - on the continent and in the diasporas - from the degrading stereotypes and literary pretensions of the west. Kunene stressed that his literary goal was the retelling of African history in a way he believed would make it relevant and authentic to the non-African.
Born in Durban, South Africa, he spent his childhood in Amahlongwa on the Kwa-Zulu Natal south coast, where he had his early education. His father, Mdabuli Albert Kunene, came from the Royal Swazi clan and his mother, Eva, was a gospel singer. As a boy, he struggled to reconcile the history of his Zulu nation with the oppressed state of black people in South Africa under apartheid. He said he often cried, saying to himself "My gosh, imagine these were once great people."