[uhm-pah-hley-ley, -ley-ley]
Mphahlele, Es'kia (Ezekiel Es'kia Mphahlele), 1919-2008, South African writer, grad. Univ. of South Africa (M.A., 1956). He began his career as a writer for Drum magazine after World War II and he published his first stories, Man Must Live, in 1947. He emigrated from South Africa in 1957, when the government banned him because of his stand against apartheid. He received a Ph.D. from the Univ. of Denver (1968) and left a full professorship at the Univ. of Pennsylvania to return to South Africa in 1977. In 1978 he became the first black professor at Witwatersrand Univ. and founded the African literature dept. there. His Down Second Avenue (1959) is a moving, vivid account of growing up in South Africa; it has become a classic of modern African literature. His novel The Wanderers (1969) was banned for many years in South Africa. Another novel, Chirundu (1980), takes place in an imaginary African country. He also published two volumes of essays.

See his later autobiography Afrika My Music (1984) and selected letters (1984); studies by U. A. Barnett (1976), T. Akosu (1995), and R. Obee (1999).

Es'kia Mphahlele (Born December 17], 1919) is a South African writer, academic, arts activist and Afrikan Humanist. Named Ezekiel at birth, he changed his name to Es'kia in 1977.

Early life

Mphahlele's first book of short stories, Man Must Live, was published in 1947. Banned from teaching by the apartheid government in 1951, Mphahlele supported himself and his family through a series of clerical jobs before leaving South Africa to teach in the British Protectorate of Basutoland. On his return to South Africa, Mphahlele soon found a job as a journalist on the innovative popular magazine Drum, under its editors Anthony Sampson and later under Sylvester Stein, while studying for a Master's degree by correspondence at UNISA (The University of South Africa). Es'kia Mphahlele's life and work is currently found in the efforts of The Es'kia Institute a non-governmental, non-profit organisation based in Johannesburg.

Politicisation and exile

During the 1950s Mphahlele became increasingly politicised, and joined the African National Congress in 1955. Disappointed in ANC approach to matters of education - he later disassociated himself from the organisation. In 1957, Mphahlele was offered a job teaching in a Church Mission Society school in Lagos, Nigeria. Unwilling to permit him to travel abroad because of his political activities, the South African government finally granted him a passport in September 1957.

Mphahlele spent the following twenty years in exile: first in Nigeria, and subsequently in Kenya, where he was director of the Chemchemi Cultural Centre; Zambia; France and the United States, where he earned a doctoral degree from the University of Denver and taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Mphahlele returned to South Africa in 1977 and joined the faculty of the University of the Witwatersrand.


“Lately, Presence Africaine has, unfortunately been too preoccupied with anthropological creepy crawlies to denote enough attention to the problem of the artist in his present predicament. It worried me a lot that such a useful institution did not seem to be aware of cultural cross-currents that characterize artistic expression in multi-racial societies. They seem to think that the only culture worth exhibiting was traditional or indigenous. And so they concentrated on countries where interaction of streams of consciousness between black and white has not taken place to any significant or obvious degree, or doesn’t so much as touch the cultural subsoil. A number of these enthusiasts even became apologetic about the Western elements in their own art. So on my way back to Nigeria from Britain, in November 1959, I stopped in Paris to exchange ideas with the men of Presence Africaine. Where do we come in – we who are detribalized and are producing a proletarian art? This is what I wanted to know. Gerard Sekoto, the Pretoria painter accompanied me.”

What price Negritude? From “The African Image” London 1962



The African Image (1962)

" ES'KIA" (2002) Publisher: Stainbank & Associates

"ES'KIA Continued" (2004) Publisher: Stainbank & Associates


  • Father Come Home (1984)
  • Chirundu (1979)
  • The Wanderers (1969)


  • Afrika My Music (1984)
  • Down Second Avenue (1959)

Selected short stories

  • "The Living and the Dead"
  • "He and the Cat"
  • "The Barber of Bariga"
  • "A Ballad of Oyo"
  • "A Point of Identity"
  • "Grieg on a Stolen Piano"
  • "In Corner B"
  • "Mrs. Plum"

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