Wits University Press is saddened to hear and share the news about the passing of Bhekizizwe (Bheki) Peterson on 16 June 2021. Born in 1961 in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, Bheki Peterson was a great South African intellectual, Professor of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and talented artist. He published extensively on African Literature, Performance and Cultural Studies as well as Black Intellectual Traditions in South Africa. Peterson had been active as a writer and participant in Black cultural practices since the late 1970s and he was a founding member of the Afrika Cultural Centre and the Dhlomo Theatre. He was the writer and / or producer of internationally acclaimed films.
Peterson published a number of books with Wits University Press. His last book, co-edited with Brian Willan and Janet Remmington, Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa: Past and Present (Wits University Press, 2016), won the National Institute of the Humanities and Social Sciences award for the best Non-fiction Edited Book in 2018. The screenplay for the 2004 film, Zulu Love Letter: A Screenplay, co-written with Ramadan Suleman, went on to win the Special Jury Prize – Best Script 2001 at the Grand Prix du Meilleur Scenariste in Paris, France. The film, Zulu Love Letter, produced by Bheki Peterson, won numerous prestigious international awards and received over a dozen official invitations to premier international film festivals.
Soon to be re-published in 2021 under the WITS PRESS Re/Presents imprint, is his important monograph, Monarchs, Missionaries & African Intellectuals: African Theatre and the Unmaking of Colonial Marginality, originally published in 2000. Centred on the Mariannhill Mission and the Bantu Dramatic Society, Peterson examined with this book the early development of black theatre in South Africa and the entanglements of different intellectual traditions. It has been praised as “an intellectual history of considerable subtlety and richness … lucid and richly suggestive … beautifully written.”
Veronica Klipp, publisher at Wits University Press said, “we mourn the loss of Bheki Peterson. He was a brilliant writer, academic and intellectual who helped us look at South Africa with new eyes; every conversation with him left one feeling enriched with understanding. Wits University Press is proud to have published a number of his books and we were looking forward to receiving the final manuscript of Foundational African Writers: Peter Abrahams, Noni Jabavu, Sibusiso Nyembezi, Es’kia Mphahlele * (edited with Khwezi Mkhize and Makhosazana Xaba). Our condolences go out to his many friends, colleagues, collaborators and students, and most of all to his wife Pat, and children Khanyi and Neo.”
Hamba kahle, Bheki.
* Foundational African Writers: Peter Abrahams, Noni Jabavu, Sibusiso Nyembezi, Es’kia Mphahlele, a new book co-edited by Bekhizizwe Peterson, will be published in 2022 with Wits University Press.