Mazisi Kunene: Google Doodle celebrates iconic South African poet

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates Mazisi Kunene, an anti-apartheid activist and South African poet laureate, who would have been 92 today.

Kunene’s work recorded the history of the Zulu people and their traditions, the preservation of which he advocated for passionately throughout his life.

He wrote some of his seminal works in the UK, where he fled into exile after the South African government violently repressed the resistance movement.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why did Google choose this?

Mazisi Kunene was born on 12 May 1930 in Durban, in an eastern province now called KwaZulu-Natal. As a child, he loved writing short stories and poetry in Zulu.

By age 11, he was publishing his writings in local newspapers and magazines. As he grew older, he became a strong advocate for the preservation of indigenous Zulu poetic traditions.

His master’s thesis notably critiqued how Western literary traditions were diluting Zulu literature.

What is he known for?

In exile, Kunene went on to publish monumental works of literature such as “Emperor Shaka the Great,” “Anthem of the Decades” and “The Ancestors and the Sacred Mountain”.

His work explores South African culture, religion and history in the context of colonialism, apartheid and slavery.

In 1975, Kunene became an African literature professor at University of California, Los Angeles, where he taught for nearly two decades. He also served as a cultural advisor to Unesco during this time.

Post-apartheid, Kunene returned to South Africa to continue writing in isiZulu. In 1993, Unesco honoured him as Africa’s poet laureate. He later also became the first poet laureate of democratic South Africa.

What happened to him?

Mazisi Kunene died on 11 August 2006 in Durban. His legacy lives on not only in his poetry, but also the Mazisi Kunene Foundation Trust, which is dedicated to nurturing Africa’s next generation of literary talent.

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