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Handsome in his prime, snowy white and venerable in age, Es'kia Mphahlele had a natural gravitas. To some extent this

disguised his internal demons. He did not find writing easy and there were long silences. He often felt misunderstood

and he certainly found it hard in the late 1970s to adjust to a South Africa in which injustice seemed even more entrenched

than when he had moved abroad 20 years before. Independent



The Passing of South African Writer Ezekiel Es’kia Mphahlele

Excerpts compiled by Rudolph Lewis


Ezekiel Mphahlele (Es'kia Mphahlele), writer and teacher: born Marabastad, South Africa 17 December 1919; Professor of African Literature, University of Witwatersrand 1979-88 (Emeritus), Head of African Literature 1983-88; married 1945 Rebecca Nnana Mochedibane (died 2004; four sons, and one daughter deceased); died Lebowakgomo, South Africa 27 October 2008. Independent

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1957: He went into exile when the government banned him because of his stand against apartheid.

1968: He received a PhD from the University of Denver in the US and left a full professorship at the University of Pennsylvania to return to South Africa in 1977.

1978: He became a professor at the University of the Witwaters-rand.

His Down Second Avenue (1959) is a moving, vivid account of growing up in South Africa. Of his novels, The Wanderers (1969) was banned for many years . Another novel, Chirundu (1980), takes place in an imaginary African country. Sowetan

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Mphahlele was born on December 17, 1919, in Marabastad, a ghetto in Pretoria that was mainly populated by blacks alongside some poor Indians and people of mixed blood. His father Moses was an alcoholic who abused his own mother and wife. Mphahlele’s mother was Eva Mogale, the daughter of a cobbler cum minister of the Lutheran Church.

Since his father took no interest in their education, it fell on his mother and grandparents to raise the young Mphahlele and his siblings. Working several jobs, they found the money to send Mphahlele to a good local school. The pressure of expectation led to a nervous breakdown just before his final high school examinations.

He passed easily however, and after working as a messenger for a year enrolled at Adams College, a teacher training college in Natal. It was during this period that he discovered his creative streak, managing to start work on a collection of short stories while studying and doing odd jobs at the same time. 

After several rejections, the book, Man Must Live, was published in 1946 by African Bookman, the only black publishers at the time. The book not only brought Mphahlele to the limelight with mixed reviews from major newspapers, it was also the first published collection of short stories by a black South African.

These were tumultuous times in South Africa, Mphahlele had just completed a correspondence degree from the University of South Africa and the architect of apartheid D.F. Malan, had just being elected Prime Minister.

In 1952, just when he was settling to life as a secondary school teacher at Orlando, a Johannesburg Township, the government introduced the segregationist Bantu Education Act. Mphahlele, now one of the senior members of the local teaching union joined the protest against the law, he was arrested, jailed and on released was banned from teaching at government-controlled schools.

Initially, he was unable to find stable means of income, until he joined Drum magazine, South Africa’s most prominent radical publication at the time, as a reporter and sub-editor. Drum published some of Mphahlele’s short stories and his activism and literary bent at this period also brought him into contact with other up-and-coming South African artists and writers, including the young Nadine Gordimer.

Mphahlele’s banning and his disillusionment with political developments in South Africa made him decided to leave South Africa for Nigeria in 1957. He taught briefly at C.M.S Grammar School in Lagos, before joining the University of Ibadan, where he not only made friends with such rising literary talent as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Christopher Okigbo, but he helped launched two literary magazines.

From 1957 to 1977, Mphahlele was a restless man in self-imposed exile. The present, he told his biographer N. Chabani Mangayi, was an ephemeral place to be. He renounced his South African passport for a British passport and he often referred to the “itch to move”. He was a teacher at the University of Denver, Colorado, where he earned his PhD in 1968, and later at the University of Pennsylvania.  He also worked in several universities in Africa and served as an artistic director in Paris. TheNewbBackMagazine

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Mphahlele's main published works often draw from autobiographical experience. Down Second Avenue is one of the classic African expositions of growing up in hardship. His third book of stories, In Corner B (1967), reflected some of his experiences and encounters before and after exile, including the final tale, "Mrs Plum", one of the most damning indictments of white liberalism in South Africa; a revised edition appeared as a Penguin Modern Classic in 2006. The 1971 novel The Wanderers reflects his own nomadic life at the time. Another novel, Chirundu (1979), drew from his observation of the dynamics of politics in Zambia, though it purports to be set in an imagined country. Mphahlele was also a trenchant literary critic. The African Image (1962) wrestled with issues of African identity, countering the Francophone concept of "negritude". Voices in the Whirlwind and Other Essays (1972) was a bold collection of six pieces positioning himself in relation to the burgeoning discourse of African aesthetics. Independent

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Mphahlele spent twenty years in exile: first in Nigeria, and subsequently in Kenya, where he was director of the Chemchemi Cultural Centre; Zambia; France and the United States, where he earned a doctoral degree from the University of Denver and taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Mphahlele returned to South Africa in 1977 and joined the faculty of the University of the Witwatersrand. Wikipedia

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In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 15 November 2008




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