Thami Mnyele's life spanned the era of apartheid. He was born the same year the National Party won office and came of age in a time (the 1960s) and a place (Johannesburg) that offered a sensitive young black artist little encouragement. In 1985, in the waning days of apartheid, he was killed by South African Special Forces operatives in Gaborone, Botswana, where he had joined the banned African National Congress. Although reticent by nature, he played a vanguard role in efforts to throw open the doors of South African culture.Thami Mnyele's story sheds light on this tumultuous era from an unusual perspective: that of an artist and t a young lion. Not only does Mnyele's story help us understand the birth of a modern African aesthetic; it also addresses the genesis of revolutionary commitment. How did a man come to face the prospect of martyrdom and learn to accept it? How did this choice affect what he was able to express as an artist?Diana Wylie's beautifully written and illustrated literary biography reveals the struggles inside and around a gentle South African artist as he remade himself into a revolutionary soldier, and brings fresh insights to our understanding of South Africa's recent history.
Diana Wylie is Professor of History at Boston University. She is the author of A Little God: The Twilight of Patriarchy in a Southern African Chiefdom and Starving on a Full Stomach: The Triumph of Cultural Racism in Modern South Africa (Virginia), which won the Melville J. Herskovits Award.