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His first novel, Broken Earth was published when he was seventeen (under his "Methodist name"), but it was over fifty years until his next publication, a collection of verse entitled Nine Lives. He won numerous literary awards including the gold Molteno Award for lifetime services to South African literature, and in 1996 his works were translated into French.
His autobiography, Mr Chameleon, was published posthumously in 2005.
Tatamkhulu Afrika was born Mogamed Fu'ad Nasif in Egypt to an Egyptian father and a Turkish mother, and came to South Africa as a very young child. Both his parents died of flu, and he was fostered by family friends under the name John Charlton.
In 1964 he converted to Islam and his name was again legally changed to Ismail Joubert. He lived in Cape Town's District 6, a mixed race inner-city community. District 6 was declared a "whites only" area in the 1960s and the community was destroyed. With an Arab father and a Turkish mother, Afrika could have been classified as a "white", but refused as a matter of principle.
He founded Al-Jihaad to oppose the destruction of District Six and apartheid in general, and when this affiliated with the African National Congress' armed wing. Umkhonto We Sizwe, he was given a praise name of Tatamkhulu Afrika, which he adopted until he died.
In 1987 he was arrested for terrorism and banned from speaking or writing in public for five years, although he continued writing under the name of Tatamkhulu Afrika.
He was imprisoned for 11 years in the same prison as Nelson Mandela, and was released in 1992.
Tatamkulu Afrika died shortly after his 82nd birthday, from injuries received when he was run over by a car two weeks before, just after the publication of his final novel, Bitter Eden. He left a number of unpublished works, including his autobiography, two novels, four short novels, two plays and poetry.
- Nine Lives (Carrefour/Hippogriff, 1991)
- Dark Rider (Snailpress/Mayibuye 1993)
- Maqabane (Mayibuye Books, 1994)
- Flesh and the Flame (Silk Road, 1995)
- The Lemon Tree (Snailpress, 1995)
- Turning Points (Mayibuye, 1996)
- The Angel and Other Poems (Carapace, 1999)
- Mad Old Man Under the Morning Star (Snailpress, 2000)
- Au Ceux (French translations) (Editions Creathis l'ecole des filles, 2000)
- Nothing's Changed (2002)
- Broken Earth (1940)
- The Innocents (1994)
- Tightrope (1996)
- Bitter Eden (Arcadia Books, 2002) An autobiographical novel set in a prisoner-of-war camp during WWII. The novel deals with three men who see themselves as straight but must negotiate the emotions that are brought to the surface by the physical closeness of survival in the male-only camps. The complex rituals of camp life and the strange loyalties and deep bonds between the men are depicted.
- Nothing's Changed, Brief biography (Powerpoint format)
- "Mother, Missus, Mate: Bisexuality in Tatamkhulu Afrika's Mr Chameleon and Bitter Eden," English in Africa 32,2:185-211. Cheryl Stobie, 1 October 2005, Rhodes University, Institute for the Study of English in Africa.
- "The Cape Tercentenary Foundation Medal".