Daniel Kunene: 1923–2016

27 May 2016
Emer Prof Daniel Kunene
Emer Prof Daniel Kunene

13 April 1923 – 27 May 2016

Daniel P. Kunene, emeritus professor of African languages and literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, died peacefully at his home on the evening of 27 May 2016 surrounded by his family. He was 93.

Kunene was a renowned and award-winning author of poetry, short stories and translations, and an acclaimed linguist, scholar, transcriber of South African oral works, and translator of South African writers. He was a civil-rights activist and spokesperson in the long struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

He was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher and community leader in Madison.

He was born in Edenville, South Africa. He received a BA in 1949 from the University of South Africa and an MA in 1951 and a PhD in 1961 from the University of Cape Town. He married Selina Kunene (née Sekhuthe) in 1953. In 1963 he left South Africa with his family and found political asylum in the United States after a stay in London, England. He was in exile for 30 years and was only able to return to South Africa in the summer of 1993 with his beloved wife, Selina, for an emotional reunion with their families and a tour hosted by academic institutions in the country. Selina died on 22 October 1993. In 2003 he married Marci Kunene (née Mauricina Ellis) and lived a full, loving life with her through his last days.

He taught for 33 years at UW Madison in the Department of African Languages and Literature, in addition to teaching at the University of Cape Town; University of London; University of California, Los Angeles; and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. In addition, he travelled extensively with his family and conducted research around the world in countries such as Lesotho, the Netherlands and Zambia.

He received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of South Africa (1999) and the University of Cape Town (2013), as well as numerous other awards and honours, including the Sol T Plaatje Translation Award by the English Academy of Southern Africa (2011), the Karel ?apek Award by the International Federation of Translators (2011), Honorary Member of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters (1997), Shuter and Shooter Prize for Literature (1995), and Honorary Member of the African Language Association of Southern Africa (1993).

Full of humour and zest for living, he enjoyed engaged discussion about literature, politics and social change.

Supplied by the Cress Funeral and Cremation Service.

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