Google often uses its homepage to honor influential or important people with a Doodle. If you open the search engine today, you will be greeted with a graphic that pays tribute to the South African poet, writer and civil rights activist Mazisi Kunene. Even as a young boy he loved writing poems and short stories.
Already at the age of eleven he published his first texts in local newspapers and magazines. Throughout his life he campaigned for the preservation of indigenous poetic traditions of the Zulu.
Today would be Kunene’s 92nd birthday. We’ve rounded up three facts about the extraordinary artist and activist.
Kunene belonged to the Zulus. With more than eleven million inhabitants, the Zulu are the largest ethnic group in South Africa today. Most of them live in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, where Kunene grew up. The Zulu language is isiZulu. They belong to the Bantu, a collective term for over 400 different ethnic groups in Central, East and South Africa.
Kunene was born on May 12, 1930 in southern Natal. He grew up there and then studied Zulu literature at the University of Natal. In 1956 he won the writing competition “Bantu Literary Competition”.
After the start of apartheid, Kunene went into exile in London, where he began to do his doctorate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1959.
In exile in London he founded the local anti-apartheid movement and wrote numerous poems examining South African culture, religion and history in the context of colonialism, apartheid and slavery.
In 1964, at the age of just 34, he became the United Nations representative for Europe and Africa at the African National Congress. He was also the chief representative of the African National Congress (ANC) for Great Britain and Western Europe. At the University of California in Los Angeles, he taught on behalf of UNESCO as a professor for African languages and literature.
After the end of apartheid in South Africa he returned to his home country in 1993. There he worked as a professor at the University of Natal, later the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he himself had studied literature.
His poems, written in his native language isiZulu, have received multiple awards. In 1993 he became the first UNESCO Poet Laureate – a title given to outstanding poets in Commonwealth countries. In 2005 he was named South African Poet Laureate.
In terms of content, he primarily campaigns against apartheid in South Africa.
Kunene died of cancer, leaving behind a wife, a daughter and three sons.