The poet examines the birth of Shaka in an epic fashion, seeing aspects of his birth as revealing powerful
omens for the future king.
ABOUT THE POET
Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali was born in Vryheid (Natal) in 1940, where he grew up and completed his
He desired thereupon to attend Wits University but was unable to do so because the Apartheid laws
forbade Black people studying at "White" institutions except under exceptional circumstances.
Instead, he travelled to the United States where he attended Columbia University, graduating with a
Masters degree in Creative Writing and Education.
On his return to South Africa, he completed his first volume of poetry which he called Sounds of a
Cowhide Drum. It was published in 1971 and had a dramatic impact because it was the first major
work by a Black poet in South Africa.
It was also eagerly studied by liberal White South Africans who were anxious to read poetry from their
Black brothers. The anthology, however, was criticised by fellow Black poets on the grounds that it was
too conservative and not at all militant.
When Mtshali published Fireflames in 1980, he had responded to his critics. Indeed, this second
anthology tended to foster open rebellion, being partially inspired by the Soweto youth uprisings of 1976.
After this second anthology, Mtshali settled down as an educator, first at Pace College in Soweto where
he became vice-principal, and then at the New York City College of Technology where he became an
Adjunct Professor, teaching African folklore and modern African history.
In 1971 Mtshali was honoured with South Africa's prestigious Olive Schreiner Poetry Prize. In 1973 he
was awarded the Poetry International Award in London.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?