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Oswald Joseph Mtshali PDF Print E-mail

Oswald Joseph Mtshali (1940 - ) was born in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal, where he matriculated. He travelled to Johannesburg at the age of eighteen intending to enrol at the University of Witwatersrand, but was refused because of the separate universities legislation. He was working as a messenger in Soweto when he published his first volume of poetry Sounds of a Cowhide Drum in 1971, considered a significant landmark in South African literature. Mtshali left for the USA to study creative writing and education at Columbia University. On his return to South Africa, he published Fireflames (1980), a collection of militant poems, which was banned by the government, then unbanned in 1986. Mtshali is now Adjunct Professor at the New York City College of Technology where he teaches African folklore and modern African history. In 1971 he was awarded the Olive Schreiner Poetry Prize and in 1973 the Poetry International Award, London.


Selected Work

The Birth of Shaka from Fireflames (1980):

His baby cry
was of a cub
tearing the neck
of the lioness
because he was fatherless.

The gods
boiled his blood
in a clay pot of passion
to course in his veins.

His heart was shaped into an ox shield
to foil every foe.

Ancestors forged
his muscles into
thongs as tough
as water bark
and nerves
as sharp as
syringa thorns.

His eyes were lanterns
that shone from the dark valleys of Zululand
to see white swallows
coming across the sea.
His cry to two assassin brothers:

"Lo! you can kill me
but you'll never rule this land!



1970. Flames of Fury: South African Poems & Glimpses. New York: Columbia University Press. 
1971. Sounds of a Cowhide Drum. Johannesburg: Renoster Books.
1980. Fireflames.  Pietermaritzburg:  Shuter and Shooter.
1988. Give us a Break.  Johannesburg:  Skotaville Publishers.
1998. A Reader of South African & African-American Literature for Secondary Schools.  New York:  Columbia University Press.

Author Map (Vryheid)

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