Benjamin John Peter Tyamzashe
1890 - 1978


Tyamzashe, Benjamin John Peter

Date of Birth:
5 September 1890
Date of Death:
Place of Birth:
Kimberly, South Africa
Place of Death:
City, Province, Country
In Summary:

South African Composer, Choir Conductor Organist and Teacher

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Benjamin Tyamzashe affectionately known as B-ka-T was born on 5 September 1890 in Kimberley. He received his primary education at the Peelton Mission School near King William's Town. From 1905 and 1909 he attended the Lovedale Institution in Umtata, where he later obtained his Primary Teacher's Diploma.

Tyamzashe obtained his Senior Teacher's Diploma and drawing Teacher's Diploma by studying privately between 1913 and 1924, while teaching at the Tiger Kloof Institution in Vryburg.

  Sources for this biography

Verwey, E. J. (1995). New dictionary of South African Biography, Vol. 1 , Pretoria: HSRC, p. 247.

Dispatch article on the choir festival in Tyamzashe's honour (1998) | link.

Last updated May 2008

During this period he obtained, with distinction, the Associate Diploma from the Tonic Solta College in London, England. He completed his matric in 1939 through correspondence.

Tyamzashe dreamed of doing his Bachelor of Arts degree through the University of South Africa but was unable to due to the death of his wife, Mercy Xiniwe. The couple had been married since 1918. Tyamzashe had to relocate to Cala in the Eastern Cape and soon after his arrival he was appointed principal of the Higher Mission School, a position he held until his retirement in 1950.

Tyamzashe's teaching career was ultimately overshadowed by his glittering musical talent as a composer of Xhosa songs, a choir conductor and an organist. It was a talent which earned him several accolades in the country's music industry.

His music career was influenced by his family background. At the Lovedale institution, Tyamzashe was a member of the male choir, while at Tiger Kloof, he was the choirmaster. He started composing songs in 1917 and most of his songs are sung by schools and mass choirs across the country.

His composition, Zweliyaduduma (most well known piece), came when B-ka-T was at the peak of his music career and at a time when his many fans regarded him as a celebrity, especially in the Eastern Cape-Border area and around the Cala region in the old Transkei.

The song was presented by a mass choir combination of 3000 voices, conducted by B-ka-T himself, to entertain the British royal family during a stop-over in Umtata while they were visiting South Africa in 1947.

In 1950 Tyamzashe married his third wife, Agnes Nomasango but she died only a few years later.

On 24 April 1976, Tyamzashe was awarded an honorary Masters of Arts degree from University of Fort Hare in recognition for his contribution in the music industry.

Tyamzashe died in 1978, three months before turning 88, due to cardiac failure at Free Hospital, East London. He was buried on his farm, Zinyoka, King William's Town. He is survived by six children from his first marriage.

In 1988 Old Mutual-Telkom National Choir Festival honoured him posthumously for his immense contribution in the music industry.

- South African History Online -