Unisa awarded Es’kia Mphahlele his BA Honours in English in 1955 and his MA (with distinction) in 1957. In 2009, Unisa inaugurated the annual Es’kia Mphahlele Memorial Lecture.
Ranked among the African continent’s finest writers, Mphahlele was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. His childhood was locked to Marabastad, the violence-ridden “Sophiatown of Pretoria”, until outstanding examination marks took him to St Peter’s Secondary School in Johannesburg, then to Adams College, Natal, where he qualified as a teacher. Mphahlele considered teaching his true vocation but was banned from the classroom for campaigning against the Bantu Education Act. After a stint as a Drum magazine journalist, he left South Africa for exile in 1957. His acclaimed autobiography Down Second Avenue was published in 1959, and although his writing flourished in West Africa and the USA, exile tormented him. Returning home in 1977, he founded the Department of African Literature at Wits University — where he was known affectionately as “Uncle Zeke” — and became the University’s first black professor.