Zakes Mda

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Zakes Mda
BornZanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda
1948 (age 74–75)
Herschel, Eastern Cape
OccupationNovelist, poet and playwright
Notable worksThe Heart of Redness, Ways of Dying
Notable awardsEtisalat Prize for Literature
Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2001

Zakes Mda (/ˈzɛɪks/ /mˈdɑː/), legally Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda (born 1948) is a South African novelist, poet and playwright and he is the son of politician A. P. Mda. He has won major South African and British literary awards for his novels and plays. He is currently a Patron of the Etisalat Prize for Literature.

Early life and education[edit]

Zanemvula Mda was born in Herschel, South Africa, in 1948.[1] and completed the Cambridge Overseas Certificate at Peka High School, Lesotho, in 1969. He pursued his BFA (Visual Arts and Literature) at the International Academy of Arts and Literature, Zurich, Switzerland, in 1976. He completed a MFA (Theater) and a MA (Mass Communication and Media) in 1984 at Ohio University, United States. He completed his PhD at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1989.


When he started publishing, he adopted the pen name of Zakes Mda. In addition to writing novels and plays, he taught English and creative writing in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Most recently, he went to the United States, where he became a professor in the English Department at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.[2] He has been a visiting professor at Yale and the University of Vermont.[3] As of July 2021, he is a Lecturer in Advanced Academic Programs at Johns Hopkins University.[4]

Mda is a founding member and currently (as of 2011) serves on the advisory board of African Writers Trust,[5] "a non-profit entity which seeks to coordinate and bring together African writers in the Diaspora and writers on the continent to promote sharing of skills and other resources, and to foster knowledge and learning between the two groups."[6][7]

On 8 June 2012, Mda was awarded an honorary doctorate of the University of Cape Town for his contributions to world literature.[8][9] His novels have been translated into 21 languages, the translation of Ways of Dying into Turkish being the latest.

Literary works[edit]

Mda's first novel, Ways of Dying (1995), takes place during the transitional years that marked South Africa's transformation into a democratic nation. It follows the character of Toloki. After finding himself destitute, he invents a profession as a "Professional Mourner." He traverses the violent urban landscape of an unnamed South African city, finding an old love amidst the internecine fighting present in the townships and squatter settlements.

The Heart of Redness (2000), Mda's third novel, is inspired by the history of Nongqawuse, a Xhosa prophetess whose prophecies catalyzed the Cattle Killing of 1856–1857. Xhosa culture split between Believers and Unbelievers, adding to existing social strain, famine and social breakdown. It is believed that 20,000 people died of starvation during that time. In the novel, Mda continually shifts back and forth between the present day and the time of Nongqawuse to show the complex interplay between history and myth. He dramatizes the uncertain future of a culture whose troubled relationship with the colonizing force of Empire, as well as their own civil factions, threatens to extinguish their home of Qolorha-by-Sea. Mda's account of the Cattle Killing draws heavily on that of historian Jeff Peires in his book The Dead Will Arise (Mda acknowledges this at the outset of his novel). Like Peires, Mda identifies Mhlkaza, Nongqawuse's uncle and one of the key players in the event, with William Goliath, the first Xhosa person baptised in the Anglican church.


  • (1977) New South African Writing
  • (1979) We Shall Sing for the Fatherland
  • (1979) Dead End
  • (1979) Dark Voices Ring
  • (1980) The Hill
  • (1982) Banned: A Play for Radio
  • (1982) Summer Fires
  • (1986) Bits of Debris: The Poetry of Zakes Mda
  • (1988) And the Girls in their Sunday Dresses
  • (1989) Joys of War
  • (1990) The Plays of Zakes Mda
  • (1991) The Nun's Romantic Story
  • (1992) Soho Square
  • (1993) When People Play People
  • (1993) And the Girls in Their Sunday Dresses: Four Works
  • (1995) Ways of Dying
  • (1995) She Plays with the Darkness
  • (1998) Melville 67
  • (2000) The Heart of Redness
  • (2002) The Madonna of Excelsior
  • (2002) Fools, Bells and the Importance of Eating: Three Satires
  • (2005) The Whale Caller
  • (2007) Cion
  • (2009) Black Diamond
  • (2011) Sometimes There is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider
  • (2012) Our Lady of Benoni
  • (2013) The Sculptors of Mapungubwe
  • (2014) Rachel's Blue
  • (2015) Little Suns
  • (2019) The Zulus of New York
  • (2021) Wayfarers' Hymns


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Zakes Mda" (PDF). Retrieved 21 February 2020.
  2. ^ "English Department". Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  3. ^ "Madonna of Excelsior" at Barnes & Noble.
  4. ^ "Zakes Mda". Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Advisory Board", African Writers Trust. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  6. ^ "What is African Writers Trust?" African Writers Trust. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  7. ^ Lamwaka, Beatrice, "Goretti Kyomuhendo of African Writers Trust" Archived 20 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, 22 May 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  8. ^ "Honorary docs for two", University of Cape Town.
  9. ^ Doctoral acceptance speech live broadcast from UCT Website on 8 June 2012.
  10. ^ "Commonwealth Writers' Prize Regional Winners 1987–2007" (PDF). Commonwealth Foundation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 October 2007.
  11. ^ "Previous winners of the Alan Paton Award and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize". The Sunday Times. 4 June 2007. Archived from the original on 26 February 2009.
  12. ^ Jennifer Malec (25 June 2017). "Zakes Mda and Greg Marinovich win Sunday Times Literary Awards". JRB. Retrieved 19 April 2018.