HIE Dhlomo: The Literary Luminary of South African Apartheid
South Africa is a land rich in history and literature which can boast of up to eleven official languages, including English. And although the Black Africaan people were suppressed and their literature not published during the colonial period, they were still prolific in the oral tradition and the written word under the tutelage of the Christian missionaries. However, Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo was South Africa’s first rising star in literature in the early post colonial age of the nation.
Born in 1903 to a prominent Black family during the early years of the Africaan struggle for freedom, Herbert Dhlomo was the son of a revolutionary and descendant of the Zulu royal family and the younger brother to R.R. Dhlomo, a famous artist of the time. And early in his career, Herbert Dhlomo aligned himself with the White Progressives in the hopes that through them, he could he could gain equality for his people over time. But as he grew older he became disillusioned because they proved to still be to conservative in their views and moved the country much too slowly toward true equality, so he began to take a more radical stance later in life.
As a child born and educated in the Natal Province of South Africa, Dholomo proved to be bright and got further training as a teacher at Adams College and landed a teaching job in Johannesburg where he worked for several years, and in his latter years he was a librarian. But in the long run, he regarded his life as a creative writer as being more important when he wrote, “ My creative life life is the greatest thing give to my people, to Africa. I am determined to die writing and writing and writing.”
This level of enthusiast led him to a diverse career in literature as a newspaper writer for Bantu World, a playwright for the Bantu Dramatic Society and a published poet, usually published by his successful artist brother. And he strove to combine
“traditional tribal ways of solving modern problems” with the decidedly English romantic styles of Keats and Shelly. Thus was his a blending of two unique and equal cultures Aricaan and English. . But Dhlomo’s more radical and angry views are aptly expressed in this passage from the long poem On Munro Bridge, Johannesburg, when the Progressive Movement proved to not be working for him.
Jerusalem can boast no better sight,
For here the veld with glorious scenes is dight.
O sweet miniature Edens of the north!
O glorious homes! Is gold but all your worth?
Shall Belial rule forever in your towers,
Polluting all this beauty, all your hours?
How can you rest content so near the hells
Of poverty where Moloch fiercely dwells;
Where children die of hunger and neglect.
While city Fathers boast suburbs select;
Where minds diseased and dead to Love make gains
Through drunkards, widows, waifs and worker’s pains
Unfortunately, Dhlomo died prematurely during heart surgery in 1956 at the tender age of 53, and “the South African literary firmament lost one of it’s brightest stars when he seemed to have had the whole world at his feet,” according the publication New Frame.