Mazisi Kunene: poems, anti-apartheid campaigner, today’s Google Doodle – how did he die?

Kunene utilised his art and poetry to protest apartheid’s racial systems of segregation.

The Google Doodle for today (12 May 2022) honours South African poet Mazisi Kunene.

The search engine has honoured the anti-apartheid campaigner with an unique graphic remembering his work on what would have been his 92nd birthday.

But who is Kunene, what is his most famous achievement, and why is his life worth commemorating?

Everything you need to know about him is right here.

Mazisi Kunene, who was he?

Mazisi Kunene was a South African poet best known for “Emperor Shaka the Great,” an epic poem based on Zulu oral history that Kunene wrote in Zulu and subsequently translated into English.

Shaka Zulu, a Zulu ruler who made substantial contributions to the Zulu state’s structure and military technology, is the subject of this poem.

Kunene was born in Durban, South Africa, and began writing poetry and short stories in Zulu as a child, with his work appearing in local newspapers by the age of 11.

As he grew older, he became a strong advocate for the preservation of ancient Zulu poetry traditions, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Zulu and history as well as a Master of Arts in Zulu Poetry from the University of Natal.

Kunene travelled to London to study at the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1959, but his journey wasn’t merely for the sake of education; he was also escaping South Africa as the leader of the African United Front, which opposed apartheid.

Kunene used his work to protest the South African government’s unfair segregation system, and when the government replied with violence, he fled to the United Kingdom.

Kunene was a close associate of the African National Congress, a South African social-democratic political party, and ascended quickly through the ranks to become the party’s primary spokesperson in Europe and the United States.

What kind of poetry did he write?

Though his work was illegal in South Africa at the time, Kunene wrote some of his most important works during this period, which focused on South African culture, religion, and history in the context of colonialism, apartheid, and slavery.

‘Anthem of the Decades,’ which narrates the Zulu narrative of how death came to mankind, and ‘The Ancestors and the Sacred Mountain,’ a collection of 100 poems published in 1982 with a particular emphasis on socio-political concerns, are two of his most renowned works.

His most famous work is the aforementioned epic ‘Emperor Shaka the Great,’ which contributor Christopher Larson of World Literature Today describes as “a tremendous project and achievement by any standards.”

Kunene became a Professor of African Literature at the University of California in 1975, after lecturing at a variety of universities and working as a cultural advisor for UNESCO for nearly two decades, until his retirement in 1992.

After retiring, he went to South Africa to teach at the University of Natal; UNESCO designated him Africa’s poet laureate in 1993, and South Africa’s first poet laureate in 2005.