Lewis Nkosi’s tombstone unveiled

Tombstone Lewis Nkosi 

Lewis Nkosi's tombstone pic: Gisele Turner

Writer Lewis Nkosi wished to be buried in home ground. Not only do his remains lie in the Stellawood cemetery of his natal Durban, but it is mounted with a magnificent stele, created by internationally renowned sculptor Andries Botha.  At a moving ceremony, his partner of many years, Prof Astrid Starck-Adler unveiled the headstone

Astrid Starck-Adler

Prof Astrid Starck-Adler and Mrs Mathabo Kunene at the unveiling pic: Gisele Turner

Lewis Nkosi was one of the last remaining voices from South Africa’s famed ‘Drum’-generation of writers. There was not a literary genre that he did not explore, but he was especially well known for his cutting edge literary criticism and his three novels. The first, Mating Birds, follows the thoughts of a young black man on death row. He had had intimate consensual relations with a white girl, who then accused him of rape. The book garnered many prestigious awards and is one of his best known works, which include Underground People and Mandela’s Ego. {text}

Nkosi spent almost four decades in exile from South Africa, returning home in 2001. An accident left him badly damaged and his last year was spent in Johannesburg trying to recovery from his wounds. However, in 2014 he passed away at the age of 74. His partner for some years, Astrid Starck-Adler, was in Durban to honour his memory and to celebrate his life. As his literary executor, she accepted a posthumous Doctorate in Arts and Design from D.U.T. (Durban University of Technology) on his behalf.

In a corner of the Stellawood cemetery stands a rare and unusual head stone. A large volcanic rock, carved by time and water, was chosen by Andries Botha as the basis for the stele. He then etched Lewis Nkosi’s signature into the rock and adorned it with sculptures of three small birds in flight. Astrid spoke eloquently of the meeting of two artists from the same country but from diverse backgrounds, an artistic dialogue that resulted in the beautiful piece. She spoke of the water that fashioned it, the earth that nurtured it, the air with which it was connected and the fire of the volcano that had forged it, and said how much Lewis had loved the elements.

A saxophonist, Durban-based Shaun Duval played three of Lewis’ favourite jazz tunes including Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Bluebird, and the first chapter of Mating Birds was read aloud. The event, which was filmed, was also attended by members of the media, representatives from DUT and personal friends and colleagues. The unveiling ceremony was followed by a vegetable briyani lunch and wine.  

Lewis Nkosi was a giant in the field of South African literature, his works, which included poetry, drama and essays, gaining him international recognition. It was fitting that his contribution should be marked by the work of another significant South African artist, Andries Botha and that he should return to his home town to rest in peace. 



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