David wa Maahlamela

David wa Maahlamela admits his first piece of writing was unoriginal and his second “the weakest rubbish ever”. But neither this nor the need to toil on the mines to make ends meet stopped him from becoming one of the country’s most celebrated poets. Wa Maahlamela’s unapologetically moving writings and performances have won him the 2005 Musina Mayoral Award, two seconds and a first in the Herifest Best Poet Awards, and a spot in last year’s finals of the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature. The 28-year-old wordsmith from rural Limpopo does write in English, but loves to work in his mother tongue. “Sepedi is more than a language,” he explains. “It is part of a cultural identity.” Performing as far afield as Washington, DC and funded by Columbia University, Wa Maahlamela regrets how little his work is appreciated in South Africa. Appearances at home later this year might change that.

— Ian Macleod