Mazisi Kunene: Why today’s Google Doodle is marking South African poet and anti-apartheid campaigner

His work examines the nation’s culture, religion, and history of colonialism, apartheid, and slavery.

Today’s Google Doodle honors anti-apartheid campaigner and South African poet laureate Mazisi Kunene, who would have turned 92 today.

Kunene’s work documented the history and traditions of the Zulu people, whose preservation he fought ardently throughout his life.

After the South African government mercilessly repressed the resistance movement, he produced many of his important works in exile in the United Kingdom.

Why did Google choose this?

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

By the time he was 11 years old, his writings were published in local newspapers and journals. He became a staunch supporter of preserving indigenous Zulu poetic traditions as he aged.

His master’s thesis attacked how Western literary traditions were polluting Zulu literature.

Kunene used his works to protest the government’s discriminatory segregation system during the onset of apartheid.

When the South African government exiled Kunene in the late 1950s for his participation in the resistance movement, he fled to the United Kingdom (and then the United States), where he helped launch the anti-apartheid campaign.

Throughout this period, his art was banned in South Africa.

What is he known for?

In exile, Kunene produced major literary masterpieces such as “Emperor Shaka the Great,” “Anthem of the Decades,” and “The Ancestors and the Sacred Mountain.”

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

In 1975, Kunene began teaching African literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, for nearly twenty years. During this period, he also acted as a cultural advisor for Unesco.

Kunene returned to South Africa after apartheid to continue writing in isiZulu. In 1993, he was named Africa’s poet laureate by Unesco. He later became the country’s first poet laureate under its democratic government.

What happened to him?

Mazisi Kunene died on 11 August 2006 in Durban. In addition to his poetry, his legacy continues through the Mazisi Kunene Foundation Trust, which is dedicated to supporting the next generation of literary talent in Africa.

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