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UKZN Press

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S.E.K. Mqhayi, Iziganeko zesizwe reclaims and assembles a chronological sequence of Mqhayi’s occasional poems

Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi (1875–1945) was the most prominent South African imbongi of his day, a Xhosa oral poet who declaimed his impromptu poetry on occasions of significance to his people. The author of numerous works of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, biography, autobiography and translation, Mqhayi’s contributions to Xhosa-language newspapers remains unparalleled in scope and volume.

This book reclaims and assembles a chronological sequence of Mqhayi’s occasional poems, for the most part now unknown – 60 poems celebrating significant events in the calendar, on occasions of national or international importance. They constitute Iziganeko zesizwe, a chronicle of the nation, between 1900 and 1943: poetic responses to events from the perspective of the greatest figure in Xhosa literature. Wars feature prominently in these occasional poems – the Boer War, the First World War, the invasion of Abyssinia, the Second World War – as do political deputations to England, visits from British princes and the death of British kings, the appearance of Halley’s Comet and meetings with Ministers of State. Running through the collection is Mqhayi’s proud and fierce determination to maintain an identity rooted in custom and history in the face of territorial dispossession, the loss of title deeds and the vote, and the steady erosion of human rights.

Throughout these years, Mqhayi remained constant in offering praise and encouragement to his people, in celebrating their achievements, and in expressing Christian consolation and an unflinching faith in the future liberation of South Africa’s black population from foreign control.

Jeff Opland commenced his academic career as a medievalist, but for the past 40 years he has assembled a collection of oral and printed poetry and has devoted himself to defining and restoring the heritage of literature in the Xhosa language. Opland is currently Visiting Professor in the School of Languages: African Language Studies at Rhodes University.

Peter T. Mtuze is the most prolific living isiXhosa writer. He has authored and co-authored no fewer than 30 books. His main contribution is in creative writing: he has produced novels, short stories, essays, drama, poetry, autobiography and language books. Mtuze’s first book, UDingezweni, which appeared as far back as 1966, is regarded as a classic novel. One of his singular achievements was his translation of former President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, into isiXhosa. He worked on the University of Fort Hare Xhosa Dictionary Project, at the University of South Africa and at Rhodes University, where he retired as Professor Emeritus.

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