Chaka is a genuine masterpiece that represents one of the earliest major contributions from black Africa to the corpus of modern world literature. Mofolo’s fictionalized life-story account of Chaka (Shaka), translated from Sesotho by D. P. Kunene, begins with the future Zulu king’s birth followed by the unwarranted taunts and abuse he receives during childhood and adolescence. The author manipulates events leading to Chaka’s status of great Zulu warrior, conqueror, and king to emphasize classic tragedy’s psychological themes of ambition and power, cruelty, and ultimate ruin. Mofolo’s clever nods to the supernatural add symbolic value.
Kunene’s fine translation renders the dramatic and tragic tensions in Mofolo’s tale palpable while the richness of the author’s own culture is revealed. A substantial introduction by the translator provides valuable context for the modern reader.