Mphahlele, first black professor at Wits, dead at 88

Ezekiel Es’kia Mphahlele, author and African literature professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, died on Monday. He was 88.

Mphahlele died of natural causes at the Lebowakgomo hospital in Limpopo, said his son-in-law Shibe Maruatona.

Mphahlele was born in 1919 in Marabastad. As a boy he herded cattle in the Northern Transvaal and then was educated at Adams Teaching Training College.

He qualified as a teacher but was banned from classroom in the early 1950s because of his opposition to the Bantu Education Act of 1953.

In the mid 1950s he worked as an editor for Drum, and in 1956 obtained a master’s degree from the University of South Africa.

Mphahlele went into exile in 1957 and subsequently lived in Nigeria, where he was an editor of the Black Orpheus periodical.

He also lived in Kenya and Zambia and later attended the University of Denver and obtained his PhD. He then taught at the University of Pennsylvania.

He returned to South Africa in 1977 and later became the first black professor at Wits and founded its African Literature Department.

He was a best known for his novel Down Second Avenue (1959), which portrays his early life as a black South African.

The Azanian People’s Organisation on Tuesday offered its condolences to Mphahlele’s family. Azapo secretary general Strike Thokoane said his death was a great loss.

Referring to the 2006 Steve Biko Colloquium which Mphahlele addressed, Thokoane said: ”Among some of the concerns raised by Ntate Mphahlele was the deterioration of African cultural norms in our society, which has led to the disrespect shown to the elderly people of our country.”

Thokoane added: ”You [Mphahlele’s family] are not the only ones who have lost, but the entire nation of South Africa. Azania will miss this gifted son of the soil.” – Sapa

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Test cricket is dead, but not for the eager Proteas

Even before the demise of this format of the game was predicted, the women’s team had little opportunity to experience and enjoy it

Where are the anti-racism accountability bodies?

The field of such NGOs is crowded but who and what are they holding to account and who are they mollycoddling?

South Africa’s factory gate inflation set for another rise

Producer price inflation reached 13.1% in April, marking the highest print since 2012

Electricity for all in Africa in eight years a possibility...

The Africa Energy Outlook 2022 report charts how the continent can get electricity to everyone by 2030.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…