Towards silence: Thomas Mofolo, small literatures and poor translation


  • Alain Ricard University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France



African literature in translation, missionary publishers, Shaka, Thomas Mofolo


In his 2008 Nobel lecture, J. M. G. Le Clézio salutes all the writers with whom he lived, and at times against whom he argued, especially African writers: Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ahmadou Kourouma, Mongo Beti, Alan Paton, with a concluding reference to Chaka by Thomas Mofolo. The other writers are well known, but Mofolo has always been largely ignored, or even misrepresented, by historians of literature. My first contact with the (excellent) French translation of Plaatje's Mhudi (1930) was a letter in which I was protesting against his inclusion of Mofolo in an anthology of Anglophone writers: as if the Sesotho text had no relevance; as if there was not a specific history of Sesotho textuality. It is my argument that for an innovative, original, but geographically marginal writer, such as Mofolo, superficial readings place a veil of ignorance on his books and relegate them to an obscure corner of Weltliteratur. My own reading has been influenced by the history of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (PEMS) and by the works of Tim Couzens. Drawing on the principle of coherence and seeing a continuity between Mofolo's literary project and his politics, I postulate a unity to his works and I am curious about his entire oeuvre and of course the position of Chaka in it. I am also curious about the various interpretations, produced by a series of translations, from 1930 up to 2007 which provide a frame of interpretation


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Author Biography

Alain Ricard, University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France

Alain Ricard (1945–2016) was an Emeritus Research Professor with the University of Bordeaux, France. This article was one of the last he revised for publication.




How to Cite

Ricard, A. (2016). Towards silence: Thomas Mofolo, small literatures and poor translation. Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 53(2), 48–62.



Research articles