|Max Makisi Marhanele|
|Lifetime Achievement Literary Award|
| Max Makisi Marhanele, affectionately called ‘MMM’, is a significant Mutsonga poet. His poetry is characterized by natural yet arranged rhyme, satire, situational irony and the use of deep and rich language. This easy-going and idealistic poet was born in 1947 at Barota, a rural missionary settlement. In 1959 his family was moved to Holofani (Olifantshoek), a village he describes as “a barren piece of land with nothing much to offer than a normal rural habitat, its spoilt landscape, its vulnerability to famine, a number of cultural lifestyles like swigubu, ncuva, tikhomba and mancomani and most spectacularly, a frenzy of witchcraft by which it was consumed since colonial times”.These factors constitute his world outlook and his poetic landscape.Marhanele retired in 2002 after a fruitful teaching career, 20 years as school headmaster and active member of the Principal Association in Limpopo. His students will best remember him as a disciplinarian and a cultivated teacher of Xitsonga literature and History.
Lovers of literature and language know him best as the author of Xingulana xa Ririmi, a seminal Xitsonga grammar book published in the 80s. He has contributed immensely to the development of the Xitsonga language. From 1999, Marhanele together with Vonani Bila and the late S.J Ntimbani, has been writing a monolingual reference work in Xitsonga called Tihlungu ta Xixaka. It contains a dictionary section, profiles of people who’ve contributed to the development of Vatsonga and their language, political history, proverbs, riddles and various cultural and contemporary expressions.
“It is like an encyclopedia. It’s the first of its kind. It’s a huge book with over 2500 typed pages of text”, he says.
His undying passion for Xitsonga literature and tradition is beyond question, thus his active role as a facilitator of creative writing workshops in the Xitsonga Writers’ Association.
Marhanele believes that the strength of his poems lies in their ability to educate.
“I write poems that teach moral lessons although I’m less moral myself”, he says. This author of more than 25 books is happy that speakers of Xitsonga are now proud of themselves, unlike before.
Few can match his poetic talent and abilities. Like Shakespeare who perfected the form of English sonnet, Marhanele has introduced and perfected the Xitsonga sonnet. Perhaps that is why one of the leading champions of the Xitsonga tradition, Prof. CTD Marivate, calls him Shakespeare of the Vatsonga.
Currently, Marhanele has completed a compilation of his best poems, The Essential, a collection dedicated to his departed son and venerable lawyer, Curtis Marhanele. Poems included in this book are drawn from his previous collections: Vumunhu bya Phatiwa, Swifaniso swa Vutomi, Marhambu ya Nhloko, Vutomi and Rihojahoja.
“The poems selected represent some of my best traditional and contemporary poems that have been read and enjoyed time and again as well as the exciting poems that have never before appeared in any literature text,” he reasons.
In his review of Marhanele’s Marhambu ya Nhloko in Mpumalanga News, journalist Goodenough Mashego comments on Nhenha ya Holofani (Joel Risimati Marhanele 1919-2002), a praise poem dedicated to Marhanele’s father and written in a non-tragic rather obituary mode with a twist of hero-worship. “It is similar to the Sepedi poem, Mahloko ba Mokopane and the Spanish posthumous epic narration, Sala y Gomez”. Marhanele acknowledges as Mashego points out: “Manganyi; u ni byongo byo hluteka / u ni nhloko yo pfimba / yo tsandza vumunhu bya m’hluzela. / Laha u baka kona hi switsundzuxo ni swiletelo, / ku sala ku lo patlalalaa! … / etlela bya n’wantenyani / Joel wa Marhanele wa Nkolele / wa Kabila / wa Mukhan’we / wa Bungu wa Ripindi ro phasa homu na rhole / hi ri tano hina va ka hlebya hi sukile”.
“It is a moving tribute that was previously only believed to be the territory of William Shakespeare’s Act III Scene in Julius Caesar”, Mashego says.
Besides poetry, Marhanele writes short stories, drama and last year his collection of folklore, Swhundla swa Makwangala, won the Xitsonga category of folklore at the Limpopo Literary Awards, a programme run by the Department of sport, Arts and Culture. Over the past years he has composed lyrics for Elias Baloyi and Mamba Queens, a veteran Mutsonga roots musician from Magoro near Holofani.
Marhanele is a fulltime writer who lives with his wife and school headmistress, Meriam Marhanele, and some children, at Nkowankowa township in the Letaba district.
In 2007, Marhanele was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Literary Award by the South African Literary Awards, a project of the wRite associates in partnership with the national Department of Arts and Culture, Sowetan and Nutrend Publishing.