What did S. E. K. Mqhayi contribute to South African culture and literature?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Samuel Edward Krune (S. E. K.) Mqhayi was born in the Cape Province of South Africa in 1875, specifically in the village of Gqumashe in the town of Alice, and lived until 1945. He is especially famous for adding seven stanzas in the Xhosa language to the poem "Nkosi Sikelel' iArika" that became the South African national anthem, originally a hymn written in 1897 by a Xhosa Methodist clergyman near Johannesburg named Enoch Sontonga; however, Mqhayi added his seven stanzas much later, in 1927 ("Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi"; "'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika'"). Because he is famous for his Xhosa poetry and considered the founder of Xhosa poetry, he was "awarded the honorific [title] 'the Shakespeare of Xhosa'" ("S. E. K. Mqhayi").

Prior to contributing Xhosa poetry to South African literature and culture, he became an editor of Xhosa journals, was selected for the Xhosa Bible Revision Board in 1905, and even helped standardize Xhosa grammar and writing, another significant South African cultural and literary contribution. He even became the first to write a novel in the Xhosa language when he wrote and published U-Samson by 1907, a novel that has sadly been lost to us. However, by 1914, he also wrote and published the novel Ityala lamawele, translated The Lawsuit of the Twins, and this second novel in the Xhosa language had a significant influence on what soon became isiXhosa literature. Mqhayi, saddened by the fact that Xhosa law and traditions died as a result of colonialism, wrote the novel to defend Xhosa law. We particularly see Mqhayi's feelings concerning the loss of Xhosa traditions in a line he wrote in his novel's introduction, "Intetho nemikhwa yesiXhosa iya itshona ngokutshona ngexa yeLizwi nokhanyo olukhoyo, oluze nezizwe zaseNtshonalanga," translated to mean, "The language and mode of life of the Xhosa people are gradually disappearing because of the Gospel and the new civilization, which came with the nations from the West" ("Ityala lamawele: Reception"). Literary historian Albert Gerard stated that Mqhayi's novel was particularly influential in its "exploitation of the intricacies of the Xhosa language" and in that the novel "validates the cultural values of the Xhosa" ("Reception"). Hence, Mqhayi's true literary and cultural contribution to South Africa is that he standardized the Xhosa language and put the language and culture in writing for all the world to learn about and admire.

rachellopez | Student

Mqhayi was an only child, and the loss of his mother while he was young influenced him a lot in his writing. He contibuted to newspapers like Izwi labantu, Imvo and Umteteli wabantu, which gave him the title "The Poet of Gompo" and "The Poet of the Nation". His poetry focused on events and people outside of the Xhosa tribe, past South Africa’s borders. He represented the people and their opinions.

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