Es'kia Mphahlele – a doyen of African literature

  • Hein Willemse University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Es'kia Mphahlele – a doyen of African literature [English]

[First paragraph] Es'kia Mphahlele is one of the doyens of African literature. Throughout Africa, Europe and the United States of America he has played a major role in the development, teaching and promotion of African literature. He has written autobiographies, criticism, works of fiction, poetry, plays and essays. Throughout his career he has brought dynamism, individuality and an unremitting clarity of purpose to African Letters. In a profound sense he has promoted through his own life, his writing and his often-controversial career the dignity of ordinary people and specifically the well-being of black South Africans. Chabani Manganyi, Mphahlele's biographer, in his introduction to Bury me at the marketplace, characterizes his subject as “a voice in the prophetic mode” (1983: 1). Indeed, from his earliest writings Mphahlele has attempted to grapple with and define the essential humanity of people. In this sense he became one of the most eloquent formulators of intellectual resistance to apartheid. Although he wrote exclusively in English he has through his writings transcended the narrow confines of ethnicity and language to promote what he has called African Humanism – Ubuntu, Botho, Vumunhu, Vhuthu – an awareness of African values and the generosity of ordinary human beings, reaching beyond voyeuristic glances through the keyhole – in contradistinction to his own experience: “In Southern Africa, the black writer talks best about the ghetto life he knows; the white writer best about his own ghetto life. We see each other, black and white, as it were through a keyhole” (Mphahlele, 1962: 81).

Tydskrif vir letterkunde Vol. 41(2) 2004: 157-162

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2309-9070
print ISSN: 0041-476X