Themba, Daniel Canadoise D’Orsay (Can) (1924–1967) By Masemola, Kgomotso
Born in the Marabastad township of Pretoria, Can Themba distinguished himself early by winning the Mendi Memorial Scholarship, which enabled him to attend Fort Hare University, from where he graduated with a BA in 1947. He went on to earn a teacher’s diploma from Rhodes University. The same year that he graduated he published his first short story in the student journal The Fort Harian. He taught for brief spells at the Western Native High School and the Central Indian High School on the outskirts of Johannesburg, but was always more interested in writing than teaching. He won the first Drum magazine short story competition for his work ‘Mob Passion’ in 1953, competing with a thousand entries from home and abroad, including works by Cyprian Ekwensi and Bloke Modisane. Peter Abrahams, one of the judges of this competition, was highly impressed with his writing. Later, Langston Hughes was to be similarly impressed. Soon Themba was catapulted from his erstwhile teaching career into full-time journalism on both Drum and Africa! magazines.
By the late 1950s Themba’s colleagues had been forced into exile because of the political situation in South Africa. He himself was shamed into voluntary exile in Swaziland after he had been fired, as a consequence of his addiction to alcohol.