Mbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane
Dr. Lokangaka Losambe, a scholar who has studied Mbulelo V. Mzamane’s works, has noted that Mzamane “distinguished himself as South Africa’s master of popular laughter”. Nelson Mandela described Mzamane as a ‘visionary leader, [and] one of South Africa ‘s greatest intellectuals’. Mzamane himself would want to be best remembered as a teacher, a calling he held in the highest regard. He also made important contributions as a writer, author, scholar, administrator, broadcaster, literary critic, editor, publisher, music producer, film director, performing artist, and an education and culture activist.
At the time of his passing, Mzamane was the Project Leader and General Editor for his self-initiated undertaking, the Encyclopaedia of South African Arts, Culture and Heritage (ESAACH). ESAACH is an omnibus project that he fondly called his final gift to South Africa (www.esaach.org.za). It is a multi-year project of national and international significance to produce multi-volume, multi-media reference works on the verbal, performing and visual arts as well as on the many expressions of South Africa’s tangible and intangible heritage from antiquity to the present, as compiled in four parts: the verbal arts, the performing arts, the visual arts, and heritage. It will define and document, over time, the complex contours of South African arts, culture and heritage. In addition to its value for cultural literacy (teaching and learning), cultural industries and cultural diplomacy will also benefit from the availability of user-friendly information the encyclopaedia will supply. These millions of users will be able to access the encyclopaedia in all its electronic, digital, print media and other audio-visual forms. Of ESAACH Mzamane said; “By tapping into the collaborative spirit of social networks, the accessibility of technological innovations such as Wiki database and two-way mobile-to-web communications, we will build a communal knowledge base that will be far more than the sum of its parts.”
Mzamane was born in Port Elizabeth in 1948 and grew up first in Soweto and then in the Brakpan-Springs area. His mother Flamma Cingashe Nkonyeni was a nurse and his father Canon Joshua Bernard Mbizo Mzamane was an Anglican priest; both were community stalwarts. Mzamane was proud of his Ekurhuleni roots, often saying; “Once an East Rander, always an East Rander!” His early schooling was in Soweto and then at St. Christopher’s in Swaziland where he met many of his lifelong friends. He then went on to do his undergraduate degree at the then University of Botswana, Lesotho & Swaziland (UBLS, Roma campus), developing tight bonds with what would become southern Africa’s prominent personalities.
From Lesotho where he was a teacher at Mabathoana High School, the Mzamane family moved to Botswana where they were later expelled for their political activism, as was the case for many South African freedom fighters. Exile moved the Mzamane family to various countries after that, where they were deeply engaged members of the South African freedom fighting communities and partnered with international figures and agencies in the anti-apartheid movement.
Mzamane received his PhD in English Literature from the University of Sheffield (England). He held an MA in English from UBLS where he also obtained dual first degrees in English and Philosophy and a Certificate in Education cum laude. Mzamane has been a professor, administrator, visiting scholar, lecturer and/or external examiner at South African universities Fort Hare, Venda, KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town; at UBLS (Roma and Gaborone campuses), Sheffield (UK), Essen (Germany), South Australia, and the Australian National University; at Nigerian universities Ahmadu Bello, Sokoto, Maiduguri, and Bayero; and at American universities Vermont, Georgia, Yale, Boston, Brandeis, Saint Michael’s College, Howard, Johns Hopkins, Ohio, Cornell, UCLA and the University of California; San Diego.
Mzamane returned to South Africa in 1993. He became the first post-apartheid Vice Chancellor and Rector at the University of Fort Hare in 1994, where he also held the faculty rank of Professor in the Department of English Studies and Comparative Literature. The University of Fort Hare remained dear in Mzamane’s heart and he would often ask those who could, to make scholarly, volunteer or monetary contributions to Fort Hare.
Mzamane, who was a popular personality on the international speaker scene, has published several creative works, some of which were banned in apartheid South Africa. His scholarly publications are extensive and he served as editor and contributor to many prolific anthologies and peered journals. His works have been translated into several languages including German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Dutch, and Slavic. Current and budding scholars across the globe study his work. His most recent publications are his work of fiction depicting 1950s South Africa through the eyes of a child; Children of Paradise (2011: UKZN Press), and his critical examination of the politics of transition in The Early Mbeki Years and the Challenge of Transition in South Africa: South Africa After Mandela (2013: Lambert Academic Publishing) which was to be officially launched early this year.
Mzamane has won many academic scholarships, research grants, and other honours and awards including being the first recipient of the Mofolo-Plomer Prize for Literature in 1976. He was nominated as Man of the Year: 2000 for “overall accomplishments and contributions to society” by the American Biographical Society and in 2005, Lincoln University (US) where many exiles camped as part of their transition into the United States and were taught by Mzamane and many others, he was honoured for his “valuable contribution to the field of international education and literature”. His most recent accolade was a lifetime achievement award by the African Literature Association for “creative writing, scholarship and human rights advocacy”.
Mzamane is survived by all who knew him and loved him.