Dr Nthambeleni Phalanndwa recited poetry during the Heritage Day Poetry Reading Festival at the Thulamela Main Library Hall in September 2018. Picture: Tshifhiwa Mukwevho.

Farewell to literary giant Nthambeleni Phalanndwa


Remembering Kaizer Nthambeleni Phalanndwa

By Vonani Bila

Poet and scholar Nthambeleni Kaizer Phalanndwa was the epitome of a living and vibrant culture – a symbol of hope that even a rural kid from a dusty village can leave a mark in the annals of history. During the annual cultural dances of tshigombela, malende and tshikona that were a common feature at the University of Venda and in the community in the early 90s, Phalanndwa would sing with charisma and dance tshikona in file or in the circle with the ordinary. This character showed that the son of the soil was rooted in people’s everyday lives.

He had such ability to fit into diverse situations and environs. He would address scholars at a symposium in an air-conditioned boardroom, and challenge racism and hegemony of knowledge production. He would also argue, sometimes impatiently and provocatively, for more resources to be allocated to rural black universities. His critical essays called for the decolonisation of education and culture, radical reforms within school curricula that fostered a constructive black identity like Frantz Fanon, Aime Cesaire and Ngugi wa Thion’go said many years ago.

Phalanndwa was an essential cogwheel in community-development initiatives, especially the promotion of literacy through reading clubs. Like an all-rounded organic intellectual, he mingled with the people, comforting the bereaved, visiting sick relatives and friends in hospitals, motivating learners in schools, providing guidance to needy students and sharing his vast knowledge of culture with those who cared to know.   

Most scholars look down upon people, especially the illiterate and ‘uneducated’ parents. Phalanndwa’s scholarly achievements served as inspiration to his community. I seldom addressed him as Doctor, because he was more than a certificate. In him, I saw an embodiment of cultural knowledge and an encyclopaedia of a people’s history. He had affirmed his identity as an African genius who was willing to contribute to the development of Africans without shame. While some academics insist to be addressed as doctors even in their kitchens and beerhalls, Phalanndwa preferred to work with the people. He knew that what he had learnt came from the people, so he didn’t have to walk the streets bellowing ‘Come and see me, I am a Professor of English! I wear a neat suit and a tie. I eat English breakfast. I eat caviar, smoke a cigar and drink whisky!” His humility was remarkable. He directed his energy towards teaching, research, writing, and learning.  He intelligently vacillated between the complex structures of society and academe. Conscious of the glaring unevenness in knowledge and cultural production, he used his writings and lifestyle to raise awareness about cultural identity and social protest without the sentiments of tribal dogma.

Those that he taught English at the University of Venda, like Musa Mabasa, an accomplished educator at Mbilwi Secondary school in Thohoyandou, describe Phalanndwa as a hardworking, free-spirited, astute, energetic and inspirational lecturer who was always willing to go an extra mile. “He was committed to seeing a black child achieve his desired goals and dreams,” remembered Mabasa. Phalanndwa worked tirelessly, especially with the post-graduate students that he supervised, to instil in them a sense of pride, confidence and hunger for knowledge and skills as they mapped the broad outlines of their future careers and roles. He wished that black graduates from disadvantaged educational institutions could outwit their counterparts from institutions of white power.  

His early poems appeared in Staffrider magazine, a platform for mainly vocal anti-apartheid, anti-racist Black Consciousness writers and poets who were prepared to be foes of the State and laid down their lives in pursuit of liberation through their literature of resistance.  His poetry, in both Tshivenda and English, serve different purposes: they critique white racism by describing the inhumanity of the Apartheid regime and the misery and humiliation/predicament of being black in the world run by capitalist hooligans. Equally, it affirms the dignity and integrity of a colonised people.

A Tribute to Nthambeleni Phalanndwa

By Maano Ṱuwani

One of the shining lights of the Staffrider generation of poets has passed on. Nthambeleni Phalanndwa started publishing his long poems in the third issue of Staffrider in 1978 and continued to do so in subsequent issues.       

Staffrider was an extra ordinary literary magazine that radically changed the face of South African Literature in the 1970s and 1980s. It created a reading revolution amongst the youth in the townships and villages in the rural areas. It was mostly distributed throughout the country by members of writers’ groups. Nthambeleni Phalanndwa was one of the most active distributors of the magazine as a member of Guyo Book Club. In the 1980s, he formed a poetry group known as Vharendi, which performed poetry readings at schools around the Thohoyanḓou area.

Phalanndwa wrote in English and Tshivenḓa. Some of his poems in English are available in anthologies like Reconstruction, compiled and edited by Mothobi Mutloatse; The Return of the Amasi Bird, edited by Tim Couzens and Essop Patel; and Voices from Within, edited by Michael Chapman and Achmat Dangor. His Tshivenḓa poems are available in the following anthologies: Buluvhutsi ḽa Khabubu, compiled by Nkhelebeni Phaswana, and Khavhu dza Muhumbulo, compiled by NA Milubi.

Before he passed on, Phalanndwa was doing some wonderful work for Tshivenḓa poetry. He had taken on a mammoth task of translating works of some of the leading African poets from English into Tshivenḓa. He had done some translation of the works of Mbella Sonne Dipoko of Cameroon, Chenjerai Hove of Zimbabwe, Taban lo Liyong of South Sudan and of Es’kia Mphahlele and Mongane Wally Serote.

Kaini Kazier Nthambeleni Phalanndwa Budeli Nyamananga was born at Tshiya village in 1954. He started his primary education at Madala School and finished his schooling in Soweto. He trained as a teacher at Venda College of Education and did post-graduate studies at Durham University in the UK. He taught at high schools in Soweto and in the Thohoyandou area before he became a lecturer at University of Venda. Phalanndwa passed away at a local hospital on 21 July and was laid to rest on 24 July.

In the words of Es’kia Mphahlele, he has joined other leading lights of the Staffrider generation in that land of whispering silences, such as Mafika Gwala, Matsimela Manaka, Ingoapele Madingoane, Risimati Mathonsi, Themba ka Miya and Chris van Wyk.




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Date:16 August 2020 - By:



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