Siphiwo Mahala is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Johannesburg and editor of Imbiza Journal for African Writing. He is a graduate of the University of Fort Hare, holds a Masters degree in African Literature from Wits University, and a PhD. in English Literature from UNISA. His debut novel, When a Man Cries, was published by UKZN Press in 2007. He is the author of two short story collections, African Delights (2011) and Red Apple Dreams and Other Stories (2019). He is the author of two critically acclaimed plays, The House of Truth (2017) and Bloke and His American Bantu (2021). His latest book Can Themba: The Making and Breaking of the Intellectual Tsotsi (A Biography), published by Wits University Press in 2022, offers the most definitive study of Can Themba’s life history.
Bloke Modisane and Can Themba, two of the most exciting writers from the illustrious 1950s Drum generation, would have turned 100 and 99 respectively in 2023. While they are lauded as some of the most remarkable cultural exponents in the annals of South African intellectual history, their life stories have neither been told extensively nor received sufficient critical engagement. When Themba died in 1967 at the tender age of 43, he was burned in South Africa and had no book to his name, while the narrative of Modisane’s autobiography, Blame Me on History (1963), ends when he left South Africa in 1959. In this seminar, Dr Mahala revisits the lives of these iconic writers, paying particular attention to periods that have not received adequate scholarly attention. He looks at Themba’s life prior to joining Drum magazine in 1953, as well as his exile years up to his death in 1967. He also shines the spotlight on Modisane’s life after fleeing South Africa, and interrogates his friendship with famous American poet, Langston Hughes. These are some of the aspects that he grapples with in his most recent creative and intellectual outputs, including Can Themba: The Making and Breaking of the Intellectual Tsotsi (A Biography), and the play, Bloke and His American Bantu, in which he reimagines the camaraderie between Modisane and Hughes.