Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali
Mtshali worked as a messenger in Soweto before he became a poet, and his first book, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum (1971), explores both the banality and extremity of apartheid through the eyes of working men of South Africa, even while it recalls the energy of those Mtshali frequently calls simply "ancestors." It was published with a preface by Nadine Gordimer. Sounds of a Cowhide Drum was one of the first books of poems by a black South African poet to be widely distributed, and provoked considerable debate among the white South African population, but it was extremely successful, making a considerable profit for its white publisher, Lionel Abrahams.
The title of the book is explained by an image in a poem with the same title:
- I am the drum on your dormant soul,
cut from the black hide of a sacrificial cow.
- I am the spirit of your ancestors. . .
Assessment of His Work
Mtshali's work was popular among white liberals in South Africa, which may have made him less of an icon for other black poets. In a 1978 interview, the poet Keorapetse Kgositsile compares Mtshali's case to the Harlem Renaissance in the United States, a period when the importance of white patronage for black work made the emerging black literature more politically complex. Other critics have praised Mtshali's documentation of the struggle of apartheid; poet Dike Okoro (who was born in 1973, and perhaps has a different generational perspective from Kgosistsile's) has said, "Mtshali stands out for the role of addressing oppression and its effects. . . fear as an element of craft and theme predominates." Mtshali's second book, Fireflames (1980), is far more militant, often expressly promising revolution.
- McClintock, Ann. "'Azikwelwa' (We Will Not Ride): Politics and Value in Black South African Poetry" (Critical Inquiry, Vol. 13, No. 3 , 597-623), 612.
- Quoted in McClintock 614.
- Rowell, Charles H. "'With Bloodstains to Testify': An Interview With Keorapetse Kgositsile" (Callaloo, No. 2. , 23-42), 36.
- Okoro, Dike. "Healing Mother Africa: Contemporary African Poets Explore New Rhythms and Themes" (Black Issues Book Review, Vol. 5, No. 5 , 32-33), 33.
- Chisholm, Linda. "Redefining Skills: Black Education in South Africa in the 1980s" (Comparative Education, Vol. 19, No. 3. , 357-371), 364.