Born Zakes Mda in 1948 in South Africa in the Eastern Cape, Mda spent his early childhood in Soweto, and finished his school education in Lesotho, where he had joined his father in exile. As a poet, he published in magazines such as Staffrider, The Voice, and Oduma, and in the anthologies New South African Writing in 1977, Summer Fires in 1982 and Soho Square in 1992. His first volume of poems, Bits of Debris, came out in 1986. In 1978 Mda's play We Shall Sing for the Fatherland, written in 1973, won the first Amstel Playwright of the Year Award. The following year he won this award again with The Hill, a play written in 1978. The publication of We Shall Sing for the Fatherland and Other Plays in 1980 enabled him to gain admission to Ohio University for a three-year Master's degree in theatre. His play The Road, written in 1982, won the Christina Crawford Award of American Theatre Association in 1984, by which time his plays were being performed in the USSR, the USA, and Scotland as well as in various parts of southern Africa. Mda returned from the USA in 1984, joining the University of Lesotho as lecturer in the Department of English in 1985. In 1989 he was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Cape Town and his dissertation was later published as When People Play People in 1993, the same year as a collection of four plays, And the Girls in Their Sunday Dresses. In 1991 Mda was writer-in-residence at the University of Durham, where he wrote The Nun's Romantic Story; in 1992 as research fellow at Yale University he wrote The Dying Screams of the Moon, another play, and his first novel, Ways of Dying in 1995. By 1994 he was back in South Africa from exile in America, as visiting professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. He has since given up teaching African literature to write novels.