Abantu Besizwe

Historical and Biographical Writings, 1902-1944, S E K Mqhayi
Contributor(s): , , ,
  • Publication Date: 2009
  • Dimensions and Pages: 230 x 150 mm, 648 pp
  • EAN: 978186814501
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 290.00
  • Recommended Price (USD): 39.95

‘Our Shakespeare! Our Laureate!’ eulogized former ANC President Alfred Xuma when he unveiled S.E.K. Mqhayi’s tombstone in 1951. And the young Nelson Mandela, seeing Mqhayi in action at Healdtown in 1938, compared the experience to ‘a comet streaking through the night sky’.

Unbeknownst … to almost everybody, substantial fragments of Mqhayi’s history survived for decades hidden deep within innumerable reams of old newsprint, buried in obscure locatio­ns at home and abroad. Jeff Opland has performed an immense task of rescue and recovery, akin to digging through the rubble with a toothpick in search of earthquake survivo­rs. His diligence has been rewarded by the discovery of warm bodies, still very much alive and just as vigorous and articulate as they were on the day that they disappeared. Mqhayi qualifies not only as a great literary figure but also as a great historian.
— From the Preface by Jeff Peires, historian.

Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi (1875-1945) was born in the Eastern Cape. He was educated formally at Lovedale, but absorbed the traditions of his people under his grandfather’s uncle Nzanzana in rural Centane. Under the patronage of Walter Benson Rubusana, he taught in and near East London, and at Lovedale, and helped to edit two local newspapers, Izwi labantu and Imvo zabantsundu before retiring to devote himself to social upliftment schemes, to writing and translating. Prominent in literary, educational and political circles, Mqhayi was familiar with many of the leading African intellectuals of the previous generation.

S E K Mqhayi is one of the greatest figures in the history of South African literature, yet his achievement is not fully appreciated because he wrote only in isiXhosa. He was the greatest of all isiXhosa praise poets, whose concern with all the people of South Africa earned him the title Imbongi yesizwe jikelele, ‘The poet of the whole nation’. A few of his published works are among the most popular in the Xhosa language, yet many more are out of print, obscure, unpub­lished or lost. Abantu Besizwe, The Nation’s People, the first new volume of Mqhayi’s writing to appear in over 60 years, is the twenty-third volume in Wits University Press’s African Treasury Series. It contains 69 historical and biographical essays contributed to newspapers between 1902 and 1944 as originally published, with facing English translations.

The essays, many of them enhanced by Mqhayi’s incomparable poetry, present South African personalities and events ranging from the early nineteeth to the mid-twentieth century, recording climactic battles and intimate conversations, the growth of national movements and the lives of lifelong friends. Here you will find Mqhayi’s humane and incisive portraits of men and women, royalty and commoners, the great and the obscure, black and white, isiXhosa, isiZulu, SeSotho and Setswana.

This collection of largely unrecognised material will necessitate a reassessment of the history of the isiXhosa-speaking peoples, establish Mqhayi’s reputation as a significant South African historian, and confirm his status as a major South African author.

Jeff Opland is Visiting Professor of African Language and Literature­s at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Univers­ity of Londo­n, and Research Fellow in the Department of African Langua­ges, University of South Africa, Pretoria

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