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Translating Mofolo: new research and insights into the Father of the African novel

On Sunday 23rd October 2016, the Friends of Morija Museum & Archives held an event to promote the release of Translating Mofolo, a special issue of the African literary journal Tydskrif vir Letterkunde. The event was hosted by the Alliance Française de Maseru.

Translating Mofolo comprises a diverse range of research and writing that emanated from an international conference held at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in March 2015. The conference, which was co-chaired by Professors Chris Dunton and Antjie Krog, engaged with Thomas Mofolo’s original texts and their translations, and in particular aimed to examine the extent to which these translations faithfully reflect the cadences, meanings and intentions of Mofolo’s original writing in Sesotho.

Speaking at the opening of the event, Professor Chris Dunton began by sharing a few insights into the origins of the “Translating Mofolo” project, which was born from a conversation between himself and Professor Antjie Krog.

“Krog and I were talking about not talking,” said Dunton. “We don’t talk to each other in the new South Africa, and translation is a necessity of talking. In a multilingual society, translation is an essential aid in listening rhetoric. Krog then pointed out to me that there exists no Zulu translation of Mofolo’s famous novel Chaka. From there, we began to discuss the idea of holding a special conference that focused on the translation of Mofolo’s works.”

Limakatso Chaka, a Lecturer in French at NUL, presented new insights into Pitseng, Mofolo’s second novel. In her paper – “Land, botho and identity in Thomas Mofolo’s novels” – Chaka argues that Pitseng presents much more than a love story. Chaka contends that Mofolo’s focus on landscape, culture and identity in the novel was a means of indirectly conveying a number of subversive political messages that argued for Lesotho’s economic and political autonomy, many years before the country’s independence.

Stephen Gill – MMA Curator – spoke of the research surrounding his contribution to the journal: “Thomas Mofolo: the man, the writer and his contexts”. Gill’s paper focuses on Mofolo’s personal and ancestral history up until the beginning of his literary career in 1905-6 in Morija. Very little biographical research on Thomas Mofolo has emerged since the 1989 publication of Professor Daniel Kunene’s seminal work, Thomas Mofolo and the Emergence of Written Sesotho Prose. Drawing on a wealth of archival material, as well as interviews with elderly informants and Mofolo’s family members, Gill’s research contributes significantly to our understanding of Mofolo’s family background and early life. Gill is currently working on a full biography of Mofolo’s life.

Translating Mofolo contains contributions by numerous other scholars and researchers, including Njabulo Ndebele, Mosisili Sebotsa, Antjie Krog, Christiaan Swanepoel and the late Professor scholar of African literature. The publication is available for purchase at the Morija Museum & Archives.



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