Research Article

Resituating ‘African-language’ literatures in African literature: The case of BW Vilakazi

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 41, issue 2, 2021 , pages: 222–229
DOI: 10.1080/02572117.2021.1948228
Author(s): Nkosinathi Sithole, South Africa

Abstract

In this article, a concern is expressed about the marginal place of African literatures written in African languages in the field of African literary studies. The first fictional novel to be published in isiZulu by one of the most notable writers in South Africa, BW Vilakazi’s Noma Nini, is looked at. It is disturbing that the publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in 1958 is said to have marked the birth of African literature, while many African writers had been writing way before Achebe wrote his novel. However, not only is Vilakazi’s novel and others like it relegated to being inferior to the literature written in English, but they are excluded from the field of African literature, so that when one speaks of African literature, it is taken for granted that they are speaking about the literature written in English. It is argued that Vilakazi’s Noma Nini anticipated novels like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s The River Between, to mention just two novels of the so-called canons of African literature that engage with Africa’s encounter with the West. It is suggested that the literatures written in African languages are part of African literature as much as those written in English, and that if we have to qualify and add ‘African languages’ for novels like Noma Nini, then we need to qualify that Things Fall Apart is African literature in English.

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