Mandla Langa 2023


Cultural activist and writer, Mandla Langa, was born on 31 March 1950 in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal and grew up in KwaMashu, North of Durban.

One of nine children, he matriculated from Sibonelo High School in Durban and went on to study towards a bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy at the University of Fort Hare.  During his time at university, he joined the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) in 1972 where he was very actively involved. He was among the hundreds of students expelled from UFH for political activism. Subsequently, he worked for two years as a teacher at Nhlakanipho High School in KwaMashu.

In 1974, he was appointed Cultural Director of SASO, where he remained until his arrest in 1976 for attempting to leave the country without a permit during the Soweto uprising.  The outbreak of the uprising, and the leadership role he played in the Black Consciousness-aligned student organisation, made Langa a target of the security forces.  He served 101 days in jail.

In prison, he continued to improve his writing skills and after serving his sentence, he fled to Botswana, marking the start of his life in exile. He spent time in Lesotho, Angola (where he took part in Umkhonto we Sizwe military training camps), Mozambique, Zambia, Hungary as well as the UK, where he served as the ANC’s cultural attaché.

After writing numerous poems, he began writing prose with his story "The Dead Men Who Lost Their Bones" winning him the prize of being published in Drum magazine in 1980. This prompted his literary evolution to novel writing and in 1991, he became the first South African to be awarded an Arts Council of Great Britain Bursary for Creative Writing.  

His published books include Tenderness of Blood (1987), A Rainbow on a Paper Sky (1989), The Naked Song and Other Stories (1997), The Memory of Stones (2000), and The Lost Colours of the Chameleon (2008), which won him the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best Book in Africa.

Langa was brought in to complete the follow-up volume to Nelson Mandela's 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Based on Mandela's handwritten notes and a draft left unfinished when Mandela died in 2013, along with archive material and interviews - Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years, was published in 2017.

Langa's diverse work includes penning an opera, Milestones, with music composed by jazz musician Hugh Masekela, which featured at the Standard Bank Arts Festival in Makanda (Grahamstown).

Some of the positions he has held, include ANC Cultural Representative, Chairperson of the first council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), board member of the SABC and Chairman of the Board at MultiChoice South Africa. He has served on the board of Primedia and sits on the boards of Datapost and Medu Arts & Letters.

In 2020, he received his Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Wits University. In 2022, he won Best Fiction Novel Award for The Lost Language of the Soul from the National Institute For the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Among his many honours, was receiving South Africa’s National Order of Ikhamanga (Silver) for literary, journalistic and cultural achievements.

He is now South Africa’s High Commissioner in Yaounde, Cameroon.

As one on our country’s most highly respected cultural activists and novelists and for being among the first people behind the idea of using culture as an instrument to defy apartheid and to build support for the South African liberation struggle, it is an honour for Nelson Mandela University to confer the degree of Doctor of Literature (honoris causa) on Mandla Langa.