revered author is mourned

Nthabisang Moreosele

Nthabisang Moreosele

Author and educationist Professor Es'kia Mphahlele has died after a long illness.

He passed away at Lebowakgomo Hospital in Limpopo on Monday.

Mphahlele, 89, was born in 1919 in Marabastad, Pretoria, the township he immortalised in his book Down Second Avenue.

He was a high school teacher until the advent of Bantu education. And when the apartheid regime banned him in 1957, he went into exile in the US, where he held several posts as a professor of English.

He returned home in 1977 to a post at Wits University.

He retired in 1987.

Mphahlele was an educationist, a prolific author and respected African practitioner. He wrote widely on education matters, literature, and social commentary on Africa and its people.

He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Order of the Southern Cross and Les Palmes Academique of France, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize. He was also awarded many honorary doctorates by universities around the world.

Spokesman for the Minister of Arts and Culture, Sandile Memela, said the minister (Pallo Jordan) was "deeply saddened by the loss".

"It is a monumental loss for humanity because Mphahlele epitomised the best of African literary culture and achievement.

"He will live on in our souls through his intellectual legacy and heritage that he has left for us. We are truly blessed to have had him with us. A true son of the soil."

Publisher Mothobi Motloatse said Africa had lost a great son of the soil, the ultimate teacher and father. He said the loss would be immense but would be cushioned by the legacy he had left behind.

"He has left behind an indelible mark on those who knew and loved him. He taught us the meaning of Botho, selflessness.

"He was always searching for the meaning in life beyond the myth. He inspired us to search for the truth in literature. He said we should be truthful and trust in our inner voices rather than listen to others' false influences."

Former activist and community leader Ishmael Mkhabela said he was dumbfounded when he heard about Mphahlele's death. He said Mphahlele was a hard act to follow as he remains a challenge to those who want to follow in his footsteps.

"It is unimaginable that our country can live without his broad and intellectual capacity."

Azapo secretary general Strike Thokoane said in a media release that "Azania will miss this gifted son of the soil. What a loss".

"In 2006 Professor Mphahlele addressed the Second Steve Biko Colloquium. Among the concerns raised by Ntate Mphahlele was the deterioration of African cultural norms in our society, which has led to the disrespect shown to the elderly people of our country."

l The Godfather p19.