“Speak to a community audience”: The Staffrider illustrations of Mzwakhe (Muziwakhe Nhlabatsi) 1979-1987

Keywords: Muziwakhe Nhlabatsi, Mzwakhe, Mtutuzeli Matshoba, Staffrider, Black Consciousness, SACHED, apartheid, comics, counter discourse


The South African literary and arts magazine Staffrider (1978-1993) is known for its Black Consciousness stance and the contribution it made in the struggle against apartheid. From its inception the magazine contained illustrations, photographs, artwork and graphics alongside prose, poetry, plays, essays and reports, and for nearly a decade illustrations signed by ‘Mzwakhe’ appeared frequently. Mzwakhe, the pen-name of Muziwakhe Nhlabatsi, contributed a sizeable number of illustrations to accompany the writing of several notable South African authors. This article offers a discussion of his illustrative contribution to Staffrider in the period from 1979 to 1987 in the context of Black Consciousness as a counter to hegemonic apartheid discourse. I discuss Black Consciousness and the ‘Black Consciousness Aesthetic’ (Hill 2018) in relation to his illustrations, point out the reciprocal relationship between his educational work for the South African Committee for Higher Education (SACHED) and his cartoons and comics for Staffrider and describe his portraits and the influence of African masks on his work. Staffrider presented the opportunity for a counter discourse to the official apartheid narratives to be published (Manase 2005:70) and I argue that Nhlabatsi contributed to this counter discourse through his illustrations which visualised Black Consciousness in a variety of styles and techniques and the humanity, beauty and dignity with which he rendered most of his subjects.