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Date: 29 Oct 2008
Title: SA mourns death of Prof Mphahlele

Pretoria - South Africa is mourning the death of an African literature maestro and world renowned novelist, Professor Es'kia Mphahlele, who passed away on Monday of natural causes in the Lebowakgomo Hospital in Limpopo.

Prof Mphahlele was an illustrious author of two autobiographies, more than thirty short stories, two verse plays and a number of poems.

The Minister of Arts and Culture, Pallo Jordan has described Dr Mphahlele as soft-spoken, humble, urbane, cosmopolitan, erudite and a person who exuded 'Ubuntu' throughout his life.

"Es'kia Mphahlele embodied in his person and in his work what he described as 'the personification of the African paradox - detribalised, westernised but still African," he said on Tuesday in a statement.

The minister said Prof Mphahlele's sudden death has left his colleagues and many aspiring writers reeling in shock.

Prof Mphahlele was born in Marabastad, Pretoria on 17 December 1919.

He received his high school education at the St Peter's College in Rossetenville, where he encountered different personalities whose lives would run a close parallel to his.

In 1940 he studied at the Adams College in Natal [KwaZulu-Natal] where he qualified as teacher.

The author received a BA degree in 1949, followed in 1956 by a BA Honours degree and in 1957 by an MA degree with distinction.

He studied for his three degrees by correspondence with the University of South Africa and in 1968 he received his directorate from the University of Denver in the USA.

Prof Mphahlele also worked for Drum magazine as a political reporter, sub-editor and fiction editor.

According to the minister, it was in West Africa that Prof Mphahlele began to blossom as a literary figure.

"Having broken out of the constraints of apartheid racism he was able to rub shoulders with other African writers and intellectuals.

"He had a brief association with Ulli Beier, a German Africanist whose literary journal, Black Orpheus, made a huge impact among African writers in the English language," the minister said.

Prof Mphahlele launched his literary career with the publication of "Man Must Live" in 1946. It was the second collection of short stories in English by an African writer after "Dark Testament" by Peter Abrahams, who had been his classmate at St Peter's.

His literary and academic career took off in exile while his career as a novelist produced "The Wanderers", a novel of exile originally submitted as a dissertation for his PhD in creative writing.

In a career spanning sixty years, Prof Mphahlele received many international awards, among them, several honorary doctoral degrees and the Les Palmes Academiques medal from the French government recognising his contribution to French language and culture.

In 1968, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature and in 1998 former President Nelson Mandela awarded him the Order of the Southern Cross.

Prof Mphahlel's funeral service will be held at Seleteng village in Ga-Mphahlele outside Lebowakgomo on Saturday. - BuaNews
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