HAPPY 80th BIRTHDAY TO THE LITERARY GIANT, PROFESSOR DBZ NTULI

The 8th of May 2020 is like no other date in the literary history of the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It marks 80 years of the life of distinguished and celebrated literary genius and scholar, Professor DBZ Ntuli. On behalf of all the people of the province of his birth, we wish Professor Ntuli a truly memorable and rewarding birthday celebration. We pay tribute to him as one of the eminent forerunners who have used African languages to make outstanding contribution to the black intellectual tradition. Long before Ngugi wa Thing’o’s 1986 seminal work, “Decolonising the Mind: The Language of African Literature”, DBZ Ntuli, CLS Nyembezi, BW Vilakazi and other literary giants were writing and promoting isiZulu language and Literature.

Bhekinkosi (“DBZ”) Ntuli was born at Gcotsheni, Eshowe, on 8 May 1940. He started school at the local primary schools, i.e. Gcotsheni and Ndulinde and then proceeded to do JC at Ndaleni. He did Matriculation at St Francis College, Mariannhill, and completed his BA degree at the University College of Zululand. Ntuli was the first matriculant from Gcotsheni in 1959 and was among the first cohort of students at the University of Zululand in 1960.


After working for three years as an announcer, translator, and producer for the isiZulu service of the SABC, he joined the staff of the University of South Africa as a “language assistant” for IsiZulu in the Department of African Languages. He completed his MA degree in 1974. He completed his D Litt et Phil degree with Unisa in 1978 with the thesis: “The Poetry of BW Vilakazi”. In 1979, he became Unisa’s first black Associate Professor and in 1982 full Professor. He was head of the Sub-department of IsiZulu from 1992 until his retirement in 1999.Unisa awarded him the status of Emeritus Professor.

Ntuli received honorary doctorates in recognition of his scholarship and contribution towards the development of creative writing in isiZulu. They include University of Zululand (2001), University of South Africa (2005), University of KwaZulu-Natal; (2009). He was a member of the IsiZulu Language Council from 1968 and was its Chairperson from 1990 until 1998. For 20 years he was a member and, later, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Shuter & Shooter Publishers and between 2001 and 2009, he served as the Chairperson of the new IsiZulu National Language Body under PanSALB.

We thank him for serving our country with distinction as a committee member of the Names Society of Southern Africa (1993 – 1999) and Vice Chairperson of the Survey of Southern African Geographical names from 1994 to 1999.

Professor Ntuli is also a gifted music composer and skilled choirmaster. It was as a young student at the University of Zululand that his music composition talent caught the eye of RT Caluza. For over 30 years, he has been choir master of the Ekukhanyeni Congregation Church.

His first book, “UBheka”, a novel, was published when he was only 21 years old. It is in the category of short stories and radio plays that Ntuli has distinguished himself. He has published no less than 16 volumes of short stories and essays – including those he authored or co-authored or edited, e.g. Izikhwili, (JL van Schaik -1969), “Uthingo lwenkosazana” (Varia Books - 1971) “Isibhakabhaka”, (Actua Press -1994) “Amalivilivi” (Shuters - 2001). He authored or co-authored or edited no less than 10 books of drama, e.g.”Indandatho Yesethembiso” (Educum - 1971), “Imilando YakwaZulu (Unisa Press – 2000); and 8 anthologies of poetry, e.g. Amangwevu (Better Books -1969), “Ziyosala Izibongo” (Shuters – 2003)

Among the academic books he wrote are “The poetry of BW Vilakazi (JL van Schaik – 1984), “Southern African Literature in African Languages” (Co-author with Prof CF Swanepoel - Acacia – 1993), “Izimpande” (Co-author with MN Makhambeni - Unisa Press - 1998). There are many other articles and chapters published in journals and books.

Numerous manuals and books were translated by him into IsiZulu. The outstanding ones are Nelson Mandela’s “Long walk to freedom” (“Uhambo olude oluya enkululekweni”) and Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” (“UMpholofethi”), Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland (u Alice Ezweni Lezimanga), Zakes Mda’s plays (Imdidlalo ka Zakes Mda). Ntuli has also translated his own book, “Ngingu Sosobala” to English as “The Flying Doctor.” Ntuli won the prestigious South African Translators’ Institute’s Award for Outstanding Translation for Long Walk To Freedom. In 2003, his work, “Uhambo Olude” also won a national award in a competition organised by the South African Translators’ Institute.

Ntuli has won at least 30 awards for his various literary works. On four occasions, he won the most prestigious overall award for Zulu literature, the “BW Vilakazi Award”, for his books: “Imicibisholo”, “Izizenze” (short stories and essays), “Izimpande” (history of Zulu literature) and “Imilando YakwaZulu “(drama).

Apart from many articles, a number of MA dissertations and no less than six doctoral theses have been written on Ntuli’s works. Examples of the doctoral theses are: “Cultural and religious contrasts: a symbiosis in DBZ Ntuli’s short stories” by ACT Mayekiso (1994); “A Study of DBZ Ntuli’s radio trilogy…”, by AM Maphumulo (2001); “Meaning in DBZ Ntuli’s Poetry”, by A Mlondo (1994); “‘Uthingo lwenkosazana’ van DBZ Ntuli: ’n narratologiese ondersoek” , by A Strachan (1988).

Ntuli was a founder member and served for many years on the committee of Usiba Writers’ Guild. The Guild also organises workshops for writers. In February 2005 he was part of a group of writers who volunteered to help prospective writers at the Westville Correctional Services.

He was a contributor of a column on literary topics “Sicikoza ngamazwi” which was published by , Isolezwe from 2004 to 2006. Ntuli was also a member of the team of writers of the first Zulu radio soapie, “Kusa Kusa” which was broadcast by Ukhozi FM.

As we celebrate his birthday we also pay tribute to Nakanjani Sibiya and the late Ncamisile Makhambeni for compiling the outstanding biography on DBZ Ntuli under the title, “Usiba LwaseGcotsheni”. We hope many other writers will follow in their footsteps and compile these inspiring life histories of our heroes in African languages in all fields of human endeavor. Nakanjani Sibiya must also be commended for using social media to educate current generations on the canon of isiZulu Literature and for showing that we can have excellent literary criticism in our mother tongues. We look forward to reading the anthology of poetry that he is putting together to mark the 80th birthday of DBZ Ntuli.

With all his successes, Professor Ntuli remains a kind and humble man of the people. His smile and laughter is always assuring and he never fails to encourage and mentor. On your 80th birthday, we honour you Mphemba for giving practical expression to Ngugi wa Thiong’o words that “African languages are not on a lower rung on a ladder to an English heaven.” We hope to celebrate your birthday with you in the province of your birth once it is safe to do so after COVID-19. For our part, we make a solemn pledge that that our African languages, culture, and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) will shape the content, logic, and worldview of humanity in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the Internet of things.

Unwele Olude Sompisi, ngwazi yakithi kwelika Mthaniya.