Mathabo Kunene, wife of the late freedom fighter and literary icon Professor Mazisi Kunene with copies of the poem UNodumehlezi KaMenzi, populary known as Emperor Shaka the Great.
DURBAN - Ten years after the death of freedom fighter and literary icon, Professor Mazisi Kunene, his wife Mathabo has kept her promise to him by getting his 80 000 word poem on King Shaka Zulu published in IsiZulu from English.

“He used to write a lot because he wanted to document South African stories through the eyes of a South African unlike the literature that we were exposed to growing up where everything was told through the eyes of the west,” said Mathobo.

Mathobo said her husband wrote the poem 'UNodumehlezi KaMenzi', popularly known as Emperor Shaka the Great, while he was in exile in the 1960s but it was never published in the language he wrote it in even though it was translated to numerous languages including English in 1979.

The poem paints Shaka as a great military strategist, visionary leader and a unifier of African tribes.

“My husband was actually quite disappointed about the literature that was available on African heroes because it painted great leaders like King Shaka as bloodthirsty individuals because the authors did not understand their backgrounds nor had they done adequate research on the subjects they were writing about,” said Mathobo.

The University of KZN Press published UNodumehlezi KaMenzi in isiZulu for the first time this year and Mathobo and the Mazisi Kunene Foundation team will be launching it at the inaugural Nirox Words Festival, in Krugersdorp, on Saturday.

“This important initial step to ensure that the Mazisi Kunene legacy lives on and thrives at his alma mater, in KZN and the country, demonstrates the commitment that UKZN has made and will continue to make to preserve and grow isiZulu as a respected academic and literary language on the African continent,” said UKZN vice-chancellor Albert van Jaarsveld.

Award-winning poet Jessica Mbangeni said she was honoured and looking forward to perform an excerpt from the poem during the festival.

“This is a most beautiful chapter of my life, a sheer batter of my soul; the history that defines my black power despite all the indoctrination that has fabricated our African story all over the world. We are telling our African story from an African perspective and we will tell it as Mazisi Kunene has written,” said Mbangeni.

Mathobo said the need and importance for South African writers to document African stories as they knew them became even more pressing after the couple left KwaZulu-Natal when they went on exile in the 1960s as they became exposed to more books on Africans, some which were still banned in SA.

“He was like a man running out of time, everywhere he went he was writing and he used to tell me that words would be there for thousands of years so that the next generation would never be misled about their own history,” Mathobo recalled.

They returned to Durban after 34 years and their home, in Glenwood, has since been turned into a museum where Mazisi Kunene Foundation operates from.

While Kunene is known for many internationally celebrated books such as the Anthem of the Decades, originally called Inhlokomo Yeminyaka, Mathobo said he never wrote in English so all his work had to be translated from IsiZulu.

“He used to say he could not think or be angry in English and needed his ancestors to guide him as he wrote so whatever he wrote could only be authentic in his mother-tongue,” she said.