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Canodoise Daniel Themba (1942 - 1968)

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Canodoise Daniel Themba (1942 - 1968) Awarded for:
Excellent achievement in literature, contributing to the field of journalism and striving for a just and democratic society in South Africa.

Profile of Canodoise Daniel Themba

Legendary journalist and master story-teller Canodoise Daniel Themba was born in Marabastad, Pretoria, in 1942.

His ambition, in keeping with the limited career options open to Africans then, was to be a teacher.

He prepared himself for this vocation, acquiring both a teaching diploma and a degree in English - in first class - from the then Fort Hare University College.

Shortly after completing his tertiary studies, he moved to Johannesburg, settling in the then Sophiatown, a melting pot of ideas where professionals such as doctors and journalists mixed freely with politicians, musicians and gangsters.

Themba relished the social life of the vibrant Sophiatown, where he quickly formed long-lasting and enriching friendships.

Drum magazine was running a short-story competition at the time and the courier who came knocking on Themba's door, bearing the winner's 50-pounds prize, met a 28-year-old teacher who introduced himself as Canodoise Daniel Themba .

The name Can Themba would soon become a household name. Themba endeared himself to the readers as one of the Drum Boys, as this pioneering group of journalists came to be known. He also worked for other titles, like Golden City Post. Themba was destined to tickle and entertain through the pages of Drum as he dealt with issues of the day: police raids for illicit brew, gang violence, music at such establishments as his haunt 'Back o' the Moon', and the general turbulence of an African man caught up in a racially charged social environment.

Even those who socialised and worked with him never quite understood this literary giant among whose works, The Suit, a short story since adapted for stage, still wows audiences.

Themba was an avid reader whose 'House of Truth', the name he gave to his own dwelling in Sophiatown, attracted as much reading matter as it did visitors and intelligent conversation.

Though a large part of this penman’s life remains untold, all are in agreement that Can Themba, or better still, Dorsey, had a way with words.

Can Themba left Drum after nine years of dedicated service, moving to Swaziland where he took up a teaching post.

When the apartheid forces razed Sophiatown down to the ground in forced removals in 1955, killing the spirit of many of its residents, Themba, like many of his contemporaries, was left devastated.

The pain of 'Kofifi's' death, the streetwise name Sophiatown was known by, remains etched in the beautiful writing of Themba and his contemporaries, among them Lewis Nkosi, Nat Nakasa, Bloke Modisane and Zeke Mphahlele.

Themba bequeathed to posterity his collection of short stories, published posthumously: The Will to Die (1972) and The World of Can Themba (1985). It is through these gems of the written word that many of his admirers would be so bold as to say, particularly overwhelmed by the mastery of The Suit, that Themba was among the greatest in our nation.

Many think such riveting pieces as The Bottom of The Bottle, written at the height of his alcohol dependence, were autobiographical.

Can Themba's ingenious pen, sharp mind and acute political consciousness about the racist environment in which he was born and raised, make him one of the finest as a journalist, teacher, thinker and socio-political critic. He left posterity a rich legacy that ranks among the most illustrious in the history of South African literature.

Having been declared a statutory communist and his work banned in his home country, Canodoise Daniel Themba died a broken man in Swaziland in 1968.