Minister Mthethwa on the passing on of Legendary Poet, Mafika Gwala

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08 Sep 2014

It is with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of legendary poet and short story writer, Pascal Mafika Gwala after an illness.


Gwala was, in his own right, a committed anti-apartheid critic and cultural activist who, from a young age, was part of the Black Consciousness Movement that espoused the principle of self-determination for African people.


We offer our condolences to his family, relatives, friends and the writing fraternity in the country, continent and all over the world. In fact, his impulse to testify through literature defined the vision for a new society and contributed to the resilient spirit among the oppressed.


Gwala was part of a literary constellation that assumed the responsibility to use literature, especially poetry and prose, as an instrument of the struggle against apartheid. He was committed to document the reality that institutionalised economic inequality, land dispossession, prejudice and discrimination wrought on the private lives of African majority and, at the same, to inculcate values of self-love, pride and resilient spirit among the oppressed.


Thus he was widely acknowledged and recognized during the interregnum as one South Africa’s foremost poets and activists.


Gwala was born in Verulam, North of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal province in 1946. He spent most of his adult life in Mpumalanga Township, west of Durban.


Gwala was in the forefront of the revival of African writing in the 1960s. He published short stories and poems in The Classic magazine, founded by Nat Nakasa in 1963. His generation of writers, including Mongane Wally Serote, Njabulo S. Ndebele, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali and Sipho Sepamla, among others, became major contributors to the South African literary landscape after the banning of political parties and the imprisonment of many activists in the 1960s.


He authored two volumes of poetry, Jol’iinkomo (1977) and No More Lullabies (1982), and he also contributed to several literary journals, including as the editor for The Black Review in 1973. He co-edited Musho! Zulu Popular Praises with Liz Gunner in 1991. 


As a student activist, Gwala was a prominent member of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) in the sixties. Together with Steve Biko, Gwala and others who espoused Black Consciousness broke away to found the South African Student’s Organisation (SASO) in December 1968. 


He was a regular contributor to The Black Review and the SASO Newsletter.


Gwala inspired and mentored many writers who later became household names in the South African literary landscape.


At the time of his passing, arrangements were at an advanced stage for him to contribute his wealth of knowledge and skills to the arts fraternity through the Arts in Schools project. This would have provided him with the platform to mentor and impart critical thinking and writing skills to nurture new voices in poetry and prose at schools in the Hammarsdale area.


We convey our deepest condolences to his family and all those who were touched by his work. His passing is a great loss not only to his immediate family, but to South Africa and the world at large.


We find solace in his words which will never die! May his soul rest in peace!


Enquiries: Mr Sandile Memela, Spokesperson for the Department of Arts and Culture: 082 800 3750