Mongane Wally Serote – South African poet and novelist

Mongane Wally Serote – Poet and novelist

Mongane Wally Serote is a poet and novelist. He was inaugurated as the South African National Poet Laureate in 2018.

He is the author of many books of poetry including Yakhal’inkomo, Third World Express and History is the Home Address. His novels include To Every Birth Blood, Gods of our Time and Scatter the Ashes and Go, 

He was born in Sophiatown and received his early education in Alexandra Township and later Soweto. He became involved in the resistance to apartheid and was detained in solitary confinement for nine months and then released without charge.

He went on to study in New York City obtaining a Fine Arts degree at Columbia University. Unable to return to South Africa he went into exile, living in Gaborone, Botswana, where he was active in the African National Congress (ANC) and its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. While in Botswana he was one of the founders of the Medu Art Ensemble. Later he went to London where he became ANC’s Cultural Attaché.

As ANC Cultural Attaché he led the ANC delegation at the Sechaba International Conference and Festival: Cultural resistance to apartheid in Glasgow in 1990. The Festival opened on its first night with the first performance of Serote’s poem, I Will Wait, set to music by the Scottish composer, William Sweeney, and was performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Scottish Philharmonic Singers, the Association of South African Students Choir and soloist Tommy Smith. The poem I Will Wait and other Serote poems were included in the book, The End of a Regime?: an anthology of Scottish-South African Writing Against Apartheid, (eds. Brian Filling and Susan Stuart) in 1991.

Wally returned to South Africa from exile after the ANC was unbanned and became Head of the ANC’s Department of Arts and Culture. He was elected as an ANC MP in the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994 and became Chair of the Parliament’s Arts, Culture, Language, Science and Technology Portfolio Committee. Later he became CEO of Freedom Park in Pretoria.

Mongane Wally Serote is the recipient of numerous awards including the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa, the Pablo Neruda Award from Chile and the South African National Order of Ikhamanga.


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