Zakes Mda

Article Works Merits www
apartheid, exile, oral tradition
Written and spoken word (general)
Africa, Southern, America, North
South Africa, United States of America
created on:
April 28, 2005
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since January 12, 2011. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
Other languages:


Zakes Mda, i. e. Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda, was born in Herschel/ Eastern Cape, South Africa, in 1948. His father, Ashby P. Mda, was an anti-Apartheid activist, a founding member and president of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League. In the 1960s, his father was imprisoned and the family had to leave South Africa. Zakes Mda finished school in exile, in Lesotho. Later on, he went to the USA, studied drama and mass communication at Ohio University and received his Ph.D. at the University of Cape Town in 1990. After thirty-two years in exile, he decided to return to South Africa where he worked as a Professor of Drama at the University of the Witwatersrand, and later became a fulltime writer, painter and film maker. He is currently a literary consultant at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and a Professor of Creative Writing at Ohio University in the USA.
During the 1970’s and 80’s, the theatre was Mda´s foremost interest. Beginning with the early drama ´We Shall Sing for the Fatherland´ (1977) many of his some thirty plays have repeated the premonition that a new government, being as corrupt and craving for power as the old one, would betray the ideals of resistance. In Mda’s style, the African oral narrative tradition is interwoven with elements of the Xhosa Intsomi Theatre, with magical realism and the European theatre of the Absurd. His plays have been awarded numerous prizes. ´The Plays of Zakes Mda´ (1990) have been translated into the eleven South African official languages.

Mda´s novels reflect the collective internal conflict of tradition and materialist consumerism prevalent in post-Apartheid South Africa. They are told from the Blacks´ point of view and in their walks of life. Whites only play a peripheral role. The much acclaimed novel ´Ways of Dying´ (1995) depicts Toloki, a self-proclaimed mourner, wandering from one township funeral to the next. Slowly, the reader learns that almost all the victims´ ways of dying were inflicted on them by their own fanatic, greedy and violent community.

´Heart of Redness´, published in 2000, looks back at the colonial past. The Xhosa were prophesied by ancestral spirits a victory over the British if they slew their cattle, which left the tribe ultimately divided. Mda vivedly describes how the tragic effects of this rift have continued up to the present day.
His latest book ´Madonna of Excelsior´ (2002) is based on a sex scandal between white Africans and their black maids in the 1970’s. Zakes Mda lives in Johannesburg and Ohio.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)


Black Diamond

Published Written,
Novel. Johannesburg

Cion: A Novel

Published Written,

The Whale Caller

Published Written,
Picador. Reprint 2006

She Plays with the Darkness

Published Written,
Picador: New York

The Madonna of Excelsior

Published Written,
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York

The Heart of Redness

Published Written,
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York

Fools of Bells and the Habit of Eating

Published Written,
Witwatersrand University Press: Johannesburg

Ways of Dying

Published Written,
Picador: New York

The Plays of Zakes Mda

Published Written,
Ravan Press: Johannesburg

We Shall Sing for the Fatherland

Published Written,
Ravan Press: Johannesburg


1978 - Special merit award in the first Amstel Playwright of the Year Award of South Africa for "We Shall sing for the Fatherland"
1979 - Amstel Playwright of the Year Award for "The Hill"
1997 - M-Net Book Prize, South Africa for "Ways of Dying"
2001 - Commonwealth Writers Prize Africa and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize for "The Heart of Redness"
2003 - Hurston/Wright Legacy Award für "The Heart of Redness"
2004 - "The Madonna of Excelsior" selected as one of the "Top Ten South African Books published in the Decade of Democracy"


International Festival of Literature Berlin