- Category: PA 2006
MAFIKA GWALA was born in 1946, grew up in the semi-rural township of Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal. His working life there and in Johannesburg included stints as secondary school teacher legal clerk, factory worker, and industrial relations officer. He wrote his MPhil on Politics in 3rd World Developing Countries at the University of Natal. He also worked in England as a researcher on adult education at the University of Manchester.
Gwala emerged as a significant writer in the 60’s and 70’s during his association with the black South Africans Student Organization and the Black Communities Project in Durban, which was banned in 1977.
A prominent activist and writer of that era expressing the political, needs and aspirations social, cultural, and emotional of all those victimised by apartheid, he was closely associated with the 'Soweto Poets’s', Mongane Wally Serote, Mbuyiseni Mtshali, James Matthews, and Mandla Langa. In 1973, he edited Black Review, and his short stories, essays and poems have been published in numerous journals and anthologies. His poetry collections include Jo’Liinkomo (1977) and No More Lullabies (1982). He also worked with Liz Gunner and co-edited Musho! Zulu Popular Praises (1991), a literary commentary on Zulu poetry which includes two of his praise poems. Mafika Gwala has performed his work nationally and internationally.
One of his best-known poems is Children of Nonti, written in one morning at the request of his friend and one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement Strini Moodley. Gwala says “the poem uses the flexibility of English and has the beauty of Zulu meters, which are not easily accessible to non-Zulu speakers.” Ari Sitas writes in Traditions of Poetry in Natal “[Nonti] is an Africanist affirmation of pride and dignity” and adds that “every subsequent poet in Natal … has been writing in his shadow” (Journal of South African Studies, 1990).
“His poetry touches on the continuities between the urban-new and the rural-traditional” write Douglas Killam and Ruth Rowe, editors of The Companion to African Literature. “He is acutely conscious of sound and movement, with a particular feeling for jazz rhythms.
Throughout there is a focus on emotions and experiences with a human authenticity and power that will make them ultimately liberatory”