College of Humanities

Highlights from the inaugural Mazisi Kunene lecture delivered by activist/scholar Dr Maulana Karenga.
Highlights from the inaugural Mazisi Kunene lecture delivered by activist/scholar Dr Maulana Karenga.

College of Humanities Hosts Inaugural Mazisi Kunene Lecture

Highlights from the inaugural Mazisi Kunene lecture delivered by activist/scholar Dr Maulana Karenga.
Highlights from the inaugural Mazisi Kunene lecture delivered by activist/scholar Dr Maulana Karenga.

Said Executive Managing Trustee of the Foundation Mrs Mathabo Kunene: ‘We are deeply honoured to be part of this auspicious occasion paying tribute to one of the University’s internationally recognised alumni. Honouring South Africa’s first Poet Laureate, Mazisi Kunene – a rounded human being, literary icon, and activist – is a necessary and affirming task for our confident march into a tomorrow that is safe and fit for our children and generations to come.’

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize said: ‘We are proud to host the Mazisi Kunene inaugural lecture and to reflect on his vital contribution to the world in terms of language, salience and political importance. The African aesthetic is an essential dimension of Kunene’s work and language is integral to the way of life. As the College, we will continue to teach his works and build on them through research.’

Internationally acclaimed activist-scholar Dr Maulana Karenga delivered the inaugural lecture titled: The Memories and Mountains of Mazisi Kunene: Remembrance, Resistance and Remaking the World. Dr Karenga is Professor and Chair in the Department of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach.

Karenga is best known as the creator of the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa.

For his lecture, he drew on Kunene’s legacy delving into the lessons of life, work and the struggle that could be gleaned from him. Karenga shared fond memories of Kunene who, he said, had taught him that recapturing and using African culture in emancipatory ways were indispensable to the liberation struggle.

Karenga argues that ‘to truly free ourselves we must be ourselves, and to truly be ourselves we must free ourselves of the dignity-denying, deculturalising and dehumanising thoughts and practices of our oppressor. For the oppressor cannot be our teacher, if we are to be free and flourish in our Africanness and humanity’.

Karenga insisted that African views and values should also be used in constructing a path forward for African people as well as for future generations. He urged Africans, especially the youth, to learn and honour their identity similar to what Kunene did.

Referencing Kunene’s work Emperor Shaka the Great, he said: ‘Let us take our history seriously, searching in it, for in it are the secrets of greatness, the struggle, the ethical life and the path to a liberated future. This leads us to Kunene’s emphasis on respect for and learning from the ancestors. And again, he places this cultural and ethical advice at the very beginning of his signature epic uNodumehlezi kaMenzi.’

Karenga puts forth the fundamental position that a new liberated consciousness of Africanness and responsibility to the people and the world must be developed and cultivated. He acknowledged Kunene for his mastery of language and literature as a weapon in the liberation struggle and as an instrument for the reassertion of African values.

‘To make such a commitment to Kunene means that we must be clear about our duty in the context of our time. My reading of the ancestors tell us this is our duty:  to know our past and honour it; to engage our present and improve it; and to imagine a whole new future and forge it in the most ethical, effective and expansive ways,’ said Karenga.

Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Arts Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa said plans were underway at UKZN to revitalise and intellectualise isiZulu as an African language. One of the ways was linked to the preservation of the legacy of Kunene through an annual public lecture, scholarships to support research, and a research Chair bearing Kunene’s name.

‘Professor Mazisi Kunene is an artist who understands the significance of expressing a person’s world view in the language of their memory and experience,’ said Hlongwa.  ‘He understands that Africa has unique pieces of indigenous knowledge within the village that is rapidly globalising and homogenising. Kunene is the first continental poet Africa has ever produced.

‘It is fitting that Dr Maulana Karenga, a scholar of note and an activist, delivered the inaugural lecture.’

Karenga spent a week with UKZN and the Mazisi Kunene Foundation where he embarked on a trip to KwaHluzingqondo High School located at AmaHlongwa, South of Durban. Karenga paid tribute to Kunene by visiting his gravesite leading to the school.

The School prides itself with putting the human being at the epicenter of its curriculum development. Teaching African learners to observe their surroundings and equip themselves to give back to the broader community. It advocates for the integrative teaching of ethics, science and Ubuntu through using language as a weapon against oppression.

The delegation voiced strong views about the struggle against ideas that imprison the mind. Demolishing these “walls” they said will enable self-transformation and transformation to the community.

To view a copy of his lecture, visit