Category : Literary Posthumous Award
Authors : H.I.E Dhlomo
Title : His oeuvre
Language : isiZulu/English
Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo was born in Edendale, Natal on February 26th, 1903. He was the second son to Ezra and Sardinia Dhlomo.
He was a keen reader, and developed a fascination for Shakespearean literature. He also was an accomplished piano and violin player (Couzens, 1985).
During the 1920s, Dhlomo began publishing articles and editorials under various pseudonyms, such as ‘Rollie Reggie the Randite’ in Ilanga and Bantu World. His first published writing was a letter in Ilanga on 18 October 1924 entitled Hardship and Progress. Like many of his contemporaries, Dhlomo expressed great concerned over how Natives fit into the paradigm of European modernity. He believed Natives were on a slow, but inevitable path towards ‘progress’ which included a gradual break away from indigenous culture.
The notion that Dhlomo’s early work was calling on Africans to ‘assimilate’ with Europeans, which has been the assertion of many critiques of Dhlomo’s work, is at best, overstated. Dhlomo himself writes that “Natives prize their Black skin”. Instead what is needed is equality, or what he calls, a policy of ‘fusion’, in which “all South Africans, irrespective of color or creed will enjoy the same privileges and live side by side” (Dhlomo, 1925). Many of his articles were simultaneously critical of European discrimination and African passivity. He condemned discriminatory laws, including the 1913 Land Act, and called for African unity, through the spread of Christianity, hard work, self-help and cooperation. Unlike his brother, Dhlomo published all his writing in the English language. Some of his early writings included a forty page novel entitled ‘An African Tragedy’ in 1928 and a series of short stories published in Stephen Black’s satirical magazine Sjambok in 1929-31.
The contributions Dhlomo made to these newspapers were significant to the development of Black politics at the time. Black newspapers served as a platform for the development of black literature and politics. However, the twenties and thirties saw unprecedented structural changes in black newspapers. By 1932, most Black newspapers were taken over by a group of White liberals whose ideas about progress and development had a profound impact in the content newspapers like Ilanga and Bantu World published. Thus, the content of Dhlomo’s work was perceived as part of a “Black elite”.