by Nonstsizi Mgqwetho , Isabel Hofmeyr
For nearly a decade Nontsizi Mgqwetho contributed poetry to a Johannesburg newspaper, Umteteli wa Bantu, the first and only female poet to produce a substantial body of work in Xhosa. Apart from what is revealed in these writings, very little is known about her life. She explodes on the scene with her swaggering, urgent, confrontational woman’s poetry on 23 October 1920, sends poems to the newspaper regularly throughout the three years from 1924 to 1926, withdraws for two years until two final poems appear in December 1928 and January 1929, then disappears into the shrouding silence she first burst from. Nothing more is heard from her, but the poetry she left immediately claims for her the status of one of the greatest literary artists ever to write in Xhosa, an anguished voice of an urban woman confronting male dominance, ineffective leadership, black apathy, white malice and indifference, economic exploitation and a tragic history of nineteenth-century territorial and cultural dispossession. The Nation’s Bounty contains the original poems alongside English translations by Jeff Opland. It was the first of a number of new titles planned for release in the African Treasury Series, a premier collection of texts by South Africa’s pioneers of African literature and written in indigenous languages. First published by Wits University Press in the 1940s, the series provided a voice for the voiceless and celebrated African culture, history and heritage. It continues to make a contribution by supporting current efforts to empower and develop the status of African languages in South Africa.