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Zulu wins the 2023 UJ Creative writing prize

10 October 2023

William Zulu proudly shows off his certificate

By Simon Manda

Renowned artist and writer Ndabenhle William Zulu was named the winner of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Main Prize for Creative Writing in isiZulu in 2023 for his work Emzileni KaShaka.

In a ceremony held at UJ Bunting Campus on the 5th of October, Zulu was honoured alongside the winner of the 2023 UJ Debut Prize for Creative Writing in Sesotho sa Leboa, Ms Ntloro Charlotte Pebane for Lerato la Lepheko and the winner of the 2023 UJ Main Prize in Creative Writing in Sesotho sa Leboa- Moses Seletisha for Eto la Mofaladi.

Emzileni KaShaka is a novel that retells the vital story of the birth of the Zulu nation we see today. The book does not dramatise the events as the author did not want it to be too fictionalised, as it is based on actual events. It gives details about King Shaka that are not found in previously published Zulu books (UShaka, Ukufa KukaShaka, etc.) about the king.

“I’m delighted that the day has come for the awards. It’s been challenging for me to publish and send the books here as a person from rural Emondlo. But I always knew that this is a powerful book,” said Zulu.

“Initially, I wanted to write about my region, Abaqulusi, focusing on the history of Shaka’s advisor and mentor, Mkabayi ka Jama, who was eventually exiled by her nephew, Dingane, to the northern parts of Zululand – eMthilembe, to be a protector of that land against the invasion of the Boers and the Swati people, leading up to the modern state of the region”, quipped Zulu.

“Instead, the focus shifted to the interwoven history of Mkabayi and Shaka- zooming on the former’s influence on the Zulu kingdom,” he added.

The novel was written by a good storyteller who used rich language that reflects the language spoken at the time- all derived from unrecorded oral tradition passed on from generation to generation. Praise poetry is also used, which is very common in the Zulu Kingdom.

Ms Nomusa Sibiya from UJ’s Multilingual Language Services Office (MLSO) was the coordinator of the isiZulu prize. The adjudicators were Mr T Madingiza, Ms CW Mthembu and Mr KLB Mjiyako.

“The competition was tough. We had seasoned writers who submitted, and the calibre was very high. The entries were few for the isiZulu category because of the requirement that the works submitted for this year should be from 2022 only and not older than that”, said Sibiya.

This is the second year since the introduction of the two African languages. The competition used to be open to English writers only.

Plans are also afoot to introduce IsiXhosa as a language category.

Zulu was born at Nsengeni in the Vryheid district in rural KwaZulu-Natal in 1956. He attended the Nsengeni Mission School. In 1968, he moved to Emondlo Township, where he still lives. He attended the Ikhethelihle Lower Primary School, where he became interested in drawing. William Zulu then moved on to the Thabani Higher Primary School but had to leave when he contracted TB.

After a spinal problem and a subsequent operation in 1974, the artist became paralysed from the waist down. While in hospital, his artistic talent was discovered by an occupational therapist, who encouraged him to study art at the Rorke’s Drift Art Centre. He was in hospital from 1974 to 1976 and, on being discharged, studied art at the ELC Centre (Rorke’s Drift) from 1977 to 1978.

He has exhibited internationally and held his first solo exhibition in 1995 at the African Art Centre in Durban, South Africa. He has art collections displayed at the Durban Art Gallery (South Africa), the Constitutional Court of South Africa in Johannesburg and at MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in the USA.

His autobiography, Spring Will Come, was shortlisted for the Alan Paton Award in 2008, and the self-translated IsiZulu adaption, Liyoze Line Nangakithi, won the PANSALB Multilingualism Award in 2011. Zulu has also written another book, Umlingo Wezindaba: isiZulu edition of Our Story Magic.


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