Literature - Durban Experience

Although there is no valid explanation for it, Durban is better known for its poetry than its prose

Literature - Durban Experience, South Africa

Although there is no valid explanation for it, Durban is better known for its poetry than its prose. Douglas Livingstone and Mazizi Kunene are just two of the better known poets.

Douglas Livingstone

Born of Scottish parents in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, Livingstone came to South Africa at the age of 10 and schooled at Kearsney College, in Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal. He then trained as a marine bacteriologist in what was then known as Rhodesia and from 1964 to his death in 1996 he was in charge of marine bacteriological research for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Durban.

A prolific poet, Livingstone’s works are illustrated by vividly visual African word imagery and his tightly controlled rhythms, abrupt juxtapositions and anti-heroic tones significantly captured the tensions of the ‘winds of change’ in southern Africa. His first works appeared in overseas periodicals such as The London Magazine. His early books include Sjambok and Other Poems from Africa and Poems. In Eyes Closed against the Sun, published in 1970, Livingstone anticipated an increasing urbanisation of South African poetry.

In The Anvil’s Undertone, his character Giovanni Jacopo commentates on sexual and social mores and also demonstrated Livingstone’s continuing stylistic evolution by utilising scientific and surrealistic imagery to evoke the peculiarly modern dilemmas of isolation, relationship and cultural transition.

He translated Shona poetry (Eight Shona Poems and Wilson Chivaura:Dreams), contributed critical articles on South African literature and written two notable radio plays - The Sea My Winding Sheet and A Rhino for the Boardroom.

Having won a BBC Federal Broadcasting Corporation Prize, the Guinness Poetry Prize, the Cholmondeley Poetry Prize, the Olive Schreiner Prize and a CNA Award, Livingstone was regarded as South Africa’s leading contemporary poet. His last collection A Littoral Zone was published in 1991, five years before he died in 1996.

Mazisi Kunene

The first South African Poet Laureate for Africa (1994), Mazisi Kunene is a prolific poet and writer and Professor of Zulu at the University of Natal. Born in Durban, Kunene left the city when he was five years old.

Kunene spent 34 years in exile in Britain and the United States. During his stay in England, he founded the Anti-apartheid movement in London. Because of his exile, and his works being banned in South Africa many of his works, published in English, were not accessible to his people in his homeland, South Africa.

Best known for his epic poem Emperor Shaka the Great: A Zulu Epic, he challenged white historians’ portrayal of the founder of the Zulu nation as a bloodthirsty dictator. His epics pay homage to the heroism of his people, inspiring a new generation of writers to articulate their thoughts through a true African voice.

Internationally acclaimed, his works maintain their fresh imagery in English or Zulu. He explores Zulu cultural mythology, concepts of the universe and the cosmos, which he celebrates in his own idiom. Kunene strongly believes that under normal circumstances, African literature has to be recorded in an African language. Luckily for English-speaking readers, his work loses nothing in translation.

He chose poetry over novel writing as poetry is a more powerful form of storytelling, encompassing symbolism, illustration, commentary and other aspects of life. Storytelling is a Zulu cultural tradition and gives lyrical expression to the nation’s history. Kunene, with his wise and knowing demeanour, and greying hair fits the image of a sage with children sitting spellbound at his feet listening to stories about their history and the way things are in the world.

Since coming back to South Africa, Kunene has started a prolific publishing "spree" with two volumes of stories - Amalokothu ka Nomakhubulwane and Izigameko Zomhlaba, and two volumes of poetry (one of poems and one of aphorisms) published before the end of 1996.

Nise Malange

Administrator, educator, organiser, board member, writer and poet, Bulelwa Nise Malange is also a tireless fighter for the rights of women and culture workers.

Born in the Cape, Malange left South Africa, studied creative writing in the United States and specialised in script writing as well as film and video production. She is currently director of the Culture and Working Life Project at the University of Natal in Durban.

Malanga’s whole life is dedicated to people and art, she’s a consultant to organisations and institutions specialising in creative art therapy, community newspapers, the Cosatu Peace & Monitoring Project, the Playhouse Dance and Community Development Departments, the Umlazi Arts Centre and many other mainstream and community-based organisations.

She has written and produced plays Why Lord - a play on women and migration; Black Mamba Rising, and Pondo Women Street Cleaners. Her plays and poems are inspired by her personal experiences from her unsettled youth in strife-torn Cape and Transkei and her reflections on life as a previously disenfranchised black woman.

In addition to her writing Malange has judged a number of national competitions and presented papers on arts and culture at conferences in South Africa, Senegal, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Malawi and the United States. In 1987 she won the prestigious Norwegian Award for Poetry.

Internationally recognised but with her roots firmly community-based in her homeland, she has co-edited a number of works including Ayofezeka Amaphupho, a book of poetry and stories by the youth from Imbali township; Peace Poetry Book with Shaun de Waal; Flashes in her Soul with Jean Fairbarn and On Common Ground, a book of stories and poetry by youthful members of both the IFP and the ANC.

Chris Mann

Born in Port Elizabeth, the performance poet/author, singer, guitarist, agricultural educationist and Zulu linguist says if he knew what inspired him to sing and write he’d probably stop doing it.

Mann says he could have been a scholar all his life having spent many years at university - Wits in Gauteng, and Oxford and London in Britain, where he studied philosophy, literature and African Studies among other agricultural subjects.

For over a decade he worked in rural and peri-urban development in KwaZulu-Natal at the Valley Trust situated in the scenic Valley of 1000 Hills. The Valley Trust is an organisation which focuses on the upliftment of rural communities by teaching rural people agricultural skills, resource management and hands-on technologies.

Mann’s interaction with rural people, their loves, wants and dreams has coloured his works. He manages to bring the characters he writes about off the page into vivid life and makes everything we ever knew about them perfectly clear. His latest work, (his second published book) South Africans, A Set of Portrait Poems, is a series of portraits of people as individuals and groups of individuals. They are drawn from a variety of cultural and economic settings, and rural and urban backgrounds

Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal writes under the penname: Michael Morain, due to another author in South Africa having the same name as him.

Although a new writer to the South African scene, since he started writing poetry in 1993 he has gained recognition. He received an international award in 1993 for poetry published in America that year. Lifetime membership of the International Society of Poets, based in Washington, DC followed.

He has been involved in community work through the Congress of South African Writers and with lectures in Creative Writing for the Culture and Working Life Unit at Natal University. He is a founding member of "Poetry for Peace" and co-editor together with Nisa Malanga of the "Poetry for Peace" book, aimed at peace and reconciliation work with communities in South Africa. Further work has involved lectures for the Creative Arts Centre of Natal University and for the Grahamstown Foundation.

He has published two poetry books in South Africa: "Healing Africa" and "Music in the Earth". Author also of "A World to Live In" based on early education work and "Gold Like Dust" a new novel published solely on the Internet. Poetry entitled: "A Touch of Light - stories and poems of Africa" is also published on the Internet at the address listed below. A number of poems were recently read on stage in New York.