Tatamkhulu Afrika

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Tatamkhulu Afrika

Synopsis:

Author, poet, political activist, World War II prisoner of war, founder member of Al-Jihaad , member of MK.

First name: 
Tatamkhulu
Last name: 
Afrika
Date of birth: 
7 December 1920
Location of birth: 
As Sallum, Egypt
Date of death: 
23 December 2002

Tatamkhulu Afrika was born in As Sallum in Egypt as Mohamed Faud Nasif to an Arab father and a Turkish mother on 7 December 1920. His parents relocated to South Africa in 1923 where they died from Asian flu leaving him orphaned at the age of two. He was then taken care of by friends and family before being given to a Methodist couple who renamed him John Carlton. 

After leaving school in 1938, his adoptive parents informed him that he was their adopted son and he was not white.  At the age of 17 John Carlton completed and published his novel Broken Earth which was published in England in 1940. Almost the entire print was destroyed by a bomb in London during the World War II.

During World War II Carlton volunteered for the South African army and was captured at Tobruk and spent time as a prisoner of war. After the end of the war he went to live in Namibia where he was taken in by an Afrikaans family. It is here that he obtained his third name Jouza Joubert, working as a copper miner, a barman, a shop assistant, an auditors’ clerk and as a jazz drummer. He returned to South Africa where he was classified by the government as white.  He demanded instead to be reclassified as non-white.

In 1964 Jouza Joubert embraced Islam and changed his name to Ismail Joubert before settling in District Six.  When District Six was destroyed in 1967, he launched a militant Muslim organisation known as Al Jihaad. Al-Jihaad was not only opposed to but fought against apartheid. It was also a welfare organisation. Ismail Joubert and other members of Al Jihaad joined uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) in the early 1980s. As a result of political activities he was arrested and charged with Terrorism in 1987 and spent some time in prison.  He was then banned for five years and forbidden to write.

During his time in MK he was given the name Tatamkhulu Afrika (Grandfather Africa), a name that he officially adopted as his. Tatamkhulu Afrika then used his new name to write while he was in contravention of his banning orders. 

Tatamkhulu Afrika published eight volumes of poetry and four prose works since 1990. He won prizes for poetry which included among others the CNA Debut Prize, Pringle Awards, the Olive Schreiner and Sanlam Poetry Prizes. He donated a large portion of his income to establish an Islamic centre in Guguletu and to run a crèche. On 23 December 2002, Tatamkhulu Afrika died of complications after being run over by a car in a road accident.


References:
• Madeleine Barnard, (2007), Local Flavors from the Peninsula: Cape Town stories, (Cape Town?), pp.115-117
• Robin Malan, (2010), Burning a Hole in the page, A Readers guide to 70 South African Authors, (Pietermaritzburg), pp.24-27
• Gus Ferguson (2004), Tatamkhulu Afrika from the South Africa International Poetry Web, 9 October 2004, [online], Available athttp://southafrica.poetryinternationalweb.org [Accessed23 November 2010]
• Anon, Tatamkhulu Africa Biographical Info, from Kwela Books, [online], Available at: www.kwela.com [Accessed23 November 2010]

Last updated : 16-Jan-2015

This article was produced for South African History Online on 27-May-2011