#UPGraduation2022: IsiZulu writer becomes first UP student to obtain master’s in creative writing in African language

Posted on May 19, 2022

Menzi Thango has become the first University of Pretoria (UP) student to obtain a master’s in creative writing in an African language (other than Afrikaans).

Thango’s study consists of two parts: a manuscript of 44 isiZulu poems – which cover themes such as culture, ubuntu, love, awareness, protest and nature – and a mini dissertation that analyses selected poems from two anthologies by South African novelist and poet Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, Inkondlo kaZulu (1935) and Amal’ezulu (1945).

“I was very inspired by the work and poems of BW Vilakazi, whom most scholars often refer to as the father of isiZulu modern poetry,” said Thango, who is a writer and author of eight isiZulu books, including five poetry books, one novella and two books of collections of isiZulu essays, and is currently pursuing his PhD in African language studies.

Thango was born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, in the village of eNkonjeni in Ulundi, and later moved to Mpumalanga. However due to ill health, he had to go back to Ulundi to complete his matric. He holds a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Witwatersrand and an honours degree, which he obtained at the University of South Africa (2013). He also holds a master’s degree in African languages, which he obtained from the University of South Africa (2020) cum laude.

Thango began his teaching career at Eqinisweni Secondary School in Ivory Park, teaching isiZulu and Economics. “In 2013, I moved to Glen Austin High School, a private school in Midrand, where I was the first educator to teach isiZulu,” Thango says.

After leaving Glen Austin Hugh School, he went to Senaoane Senior Secondary School in Soweto where he taught isiZulu and acted as the Head of Department of African languages. He was later appointed as a lecturer at the University of the Free State in QwaQwa Campus and is currently the Deputy Chief Education Specialist: Researcher at the Free State Department of Basic Education, Head Office, Bloemfontein.

UP graduate Menzi Thango

UP graduate Menzi Thango is a writer and author of eight isiZulu books, including five poetry books, one novella and two books of collections of isiZulu essays, and is currently pursuing his PhD in African language studies.

Thango’s passion for writing and love of poetry prompted him to pursue a master’s in creative writing. But before deciding on this course of action, the author found himself reflecting on what he hoped to gain from studying the second master’s in creative writing.

“I asked myself: ‘What kind of professor will I be? Will I be a professor of African languages or sociolinguistics? What will I do with this poetry?’ I decided to do my master’s in creative writing in isiZulu as I had never heard of anyone doing a master’s in creative writing in an African language.”

For his research project, Thango consulted Professor David Medalie, Director of the Unit for Creative Writing at UP.

“Prof Medalie was very excited about my initiative and insisted on connecting me with Prof Nompumelelo Zondi, Head of the Department of African Languages at UP,” Thango recalls. “Prof Zondi was also excited about my research as she is also inspired by BW Vilakazi.”

Thango was equally fascinated by his research because he was required to tie together the creative writing component and the mini dissertation.

“This was very tricky and fascinating for me, as this is where the art of research came in – the ability to connect two elements into one story. We were also reimagining the poetry of BW Vilakazi by addressing the issues he wrote about at the time that are still faced by modern society today.”

According to Thango, some of his poetry came to him as if a voice was whispering in his ear. Through his poetry, the author discovered that he is “spiritually gifted”.

“Writing has also assisted me in realising that I have ancestors looking over me,” he says. “The art of writing is spiritual to me as I am able to travel the world through reading, to see the words in a different perspective and give readers a different view of life.”

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- Author Paseka Elcort Gaola

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