Zakes Mda

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Zakes Mda (1948-)[1] (1948- ) is a South African playwright, academic, painter, novelist, and poet.

Also known as Zanemvula Mda


Born Zanemvula Lizito Gatyeni Mda in Herschell in the in the Eastern Cape, early schooldays in Soweto, finally completed the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate at Peka High, Lesotho (1969) . Completed a BFA in Visual Arts at the International Academy of Arts and Letters, Zurich Switzerland, then obtained both an MFA in Theater and an MA Mass Communication from at Ohio University, Athens Ohio (1981-84). In 1989 he completed his PhD at the University of Cape Town.

After teaching literature in English at various schools in Lesotho, some experience with the American Cultural Centre in Lesotho and the Lesotho Broadcasting Corporation, he became a University lecturer (and progressing to full professor) in English at the National University of Lesotho (1985-1992). Between 1993-1995 held a variety of fellowships, including at Yale and the University of the Witwatersrand and in 2013 was an Artist in Residence at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, Western Cape, South Africa.

Then he became a full time writer, painter and filmmaker, based in Johannesburg.

He is Professor of Creative Writing at Ohio University.

Mda was first married to Mpho and have three children together. He then married Adele Mavuso had two children with her. In September 2006, he married Gugu Nkosi.

Contribution to South African theatre

Academic work

His thesis on the utilization of theatre as a medium for development, based on his Lesotho experiences, was published as When People Play People (***,1993) and has become a standard handbook on the subject in South Africa.

He is also the author of more than 20 academic articles on all aspects of South African and African theatre. (See ESAT Bibliography)


He wrote his first play (Dead End) as a schoolboy in Lesotho. Other plays include You Fool, How Can the Sky Fall? (performed 1995), Dark Voices Ring (performed 1979, published 1979, 1981), We Shall Sing for the Fatherland (performed 1978, published 1981), The Hill (performed 1980, published 1981, 1990), And the Girls in their Sunday Dresses (performed 1988, published 1996 in the collection And the Girls in their Sunday Dresses. Four Works), The Nun’s Romantic Story (performed 1995, also published 1996), Broken Dreams (a health education play developed with the cast in 1995, to tour townships).

Some of his plays have been translated and performed in Russian, French and Spanish.

Awards and distinctions

Mda has won a number of awards in South Africa, the USA and Italy, including the Amstel Playwright of the Year Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa, the M-Net Prize, the Sunday Times Literary Prize, the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award and the American Library Association Notable Book. His novel Cion, set in southeast Ohio, was nominated for the NAACP Image Award. His memoir titled Sometimes there is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider was published by Penguin Books in 2011 and Farrar Straus and Giroux in 2012 and was the New York Times Notable Book for 2012.

He has won the Amstel Merit Award for We Shall Sing for the Fatherland (1978), The Amstel Playwright of the Year Award for The Hill (1979), the Christina Crawford Award (of the then American Theater Association) for The Road (1984), and the Olive Schreiner Prize (Drama) of the English Academy of South Africa for The Nun’s Romantic Story (1996).

He is a Patron of the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. In April 2014, the South African Government conferred the Order of Ikhamanga, in Bronze, on Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni “Zakes” Mda, for his excellent contribution in the field of literature that has put South African stories on the world stage.

Works by Zakes Mda

The following chronological list includes Zakes Mda’s plays, novels and poetry, including collections of his works:

New South African Writing (1977)

We Shall Sing for the Fatherland (1979)

Dead End (1979)

Dark Voices Ring (1979)

The Hill (1980)

Banned: A Play for Radio (1982)

Summer Fires (1982)

Bits of Debris: The Poetry of Zakes Mda (Collection, 1986)

And the Girls in their Sunday Dresses (1988)

Joys of War (1989)

The Plays of Zakes Mda (Collection, 1990)

The Road (1990)

The Nun's Romantic Story (1991)

Soho Square (1992)

When People Play People: Development communication through theatre (published thesis, 1993)

And the Girls in Their Sunday Dresses: Four Works (collection, 1993)

Ways of Dying (1995)

She Plays with the Darkness (1995)

Melville 67 (1998)

The Heart of Redness (2000)

The Madonna of Excelsior (2002)

Fools, Bells and the habit of eating: Three Satires (collection, 2002)

The Whale Caller (2005)

Cion (2007)

Black Diamond (2009)

Sometimes there is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider (2011)

The Sculptors of Mapungubwe (Kwela Books, 2013)


Andrew Horn 1990. Editorial, The Plays of Zakes Mda.

Schauffer and Raghunath, 1999.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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