Canodoise (Can) Themba

Names: Themba, Canodoise (Can)

Born: 1924, Marabastad, Pretoria, Gauteng (then Transvaal), South Africa

Died: c. 1968/9, Manzini, Swaziland

In summary: South African writer.

Canodoise Daniel Themba, a.k.a. Can Themba, was born in 1924, in Marabastad, Pretoria, South Africa.

He attended the University of Fort Hare, where he acquired a teaching diploma and a degree in English, which he completed with a first class pass. After graduating, Themba moved to Sophiatown, Johannesburg- a vibrant multi-racial community.

Themba then worked as a reporter and an editor at Drum magazine, after winning a short-story competition. Here he worked alongside other aspiring black journalists, who came to be known as the “Drum Boys”. These included Lewis Nkosi, Nat Nakasa, Bloke Modisane and Es’kia Mphahlele. Themba also worked for The Golden City Post in Johannesburg.

His work, including “The Suit”, won several prizes, including the 1953 Drum award. His stories were celebrated for the way they depicted “… the harsh and depressing conditions of African life in the Johannesburg townships.”

Themba’s Sophiatown dwelling, known as “The House of Truth”, received many visitors looking for “intelligent conversation”. This engagement with the Sophiatown, or “Kofifi”, community is probably what led to Themba being labelled a “shebeen intellectual”.

Themba left Johannesburg in the early 1960s to teach in Swaziland. While here, Themba’s work was banned and he was declared a statutory communist. He later passed away around 1969, at the age of 43, presumably due to alcohol abuse.   

His work was published posthumously in a collection entitled The Will to Die (1972) and later in The World of Can Themba (1985).

Can Themba was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for “Excellent achievement in literature, contributing to the field of journalism and striving for a just and democratic society in South Africa”. 

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