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Kgebetli Moele

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

When we run dry



There is a Sotho proverb that warns the fish to hope for mud, as the water dried while it was not looking. It is not cynical at all, merely a friendly warning to the fish – who of course is not really a fish. It is a warning to humans to be prepared for the unthinkable, hence we have insurance and life cover. It is a hope that we will survive in the mud when the water runs dry.

Today, I was crisscrossing my mind, searching for answers that I already know. Why would I perform such a futile exercise? Well, because I have discovered that the world is full of lies and half-truths. I was reviewing the answers I already have, for they may all be wrong.

In all our lives we have lived a dozen lies believing them to be true, to the extent that we do not even question them. On the rare occassion we do question them, we only have professors, pastors, teachers and parents to ask. Professors tell you theories. Pastors teach us the word that they themselves don’t even understand; they can never give a reason why Noah cursed Canaan. Teachers who teach because they were taught that way. I was told that children come from aeroplanes. I was a child; I believed the foolish explanation, and when an aeroplane was flying past I asked for a “toy” baby brother to play with. These lies made me a fool because being fooled was part of my upbringing.

That is another issue altogether. Here and now: How much creativity is in an individual? My girlfriend – the only female intellectual I ever kissed, born on a farm, raised by a grandmother on social welfare and a graduate of the University of the North (please, on your feet, a round of applause) – the one who loves to read books. She shared a tear when she read that Timbila had shut its doors. She knew, read and loved the poet Vonani Bila, mostly because of Dahl Street and the poem in which Vonani was healing his raging but helpless self after his apartment was broken into and blaming “Boys from Seshego”.

She also fell in love with all the closet poets that Bila presented on an international stage.

Again on your feet: A moment of silence for Timbila and Vonani Bila.

My girlfriend, she commented: “Bila’s creativity has run out, it is all dry and now he can focus on important things about life and living.”

The statement had a load of implications, so I pretended that I did not fully understand it. But I did, hence this question: How much creativity is in an individual?

My colleague, the great Zukiswa Wanner, believes that every living soul has one book running within their veins. She characterises a writer as someone who has written a book and an author as one who has written more than three books. I asked, what about manuscripts? She gave a short answer: “Manuscripts do not count.”

The argument was filtered to this: Everyone can do 60 minutes of stand-up comedy and lift many people out of their miserable lives. Come the 61st minute, the comedian will have shitted out all that he had naturally and now has to think hard. If they make it to the 121st minute and we are still dead, laughing ourselves out of our miserable lives, it is true creativity. Most comedians are stuck under 60 minutes with just a one-hour DVD and the second hour, you can’t even stand to watch it to the end.

Bila is a creative individual. I defend Bila. That is one of the things that Timbila could not avoid; it was run for the sake of creativity, it traded on creativity rather than profit. As great as all his poets were, they did not make a substantial living from their publications. He was happy when some of us worshipped them and the world knew them. Sales and academic recommendation were far away from Timbila’ modus operandi. I think. I know that Bila was not tired of being a poet – it is in his blood – as Mpho Ramaano is. Yes, we do not have any more offerings from Ramaano but ask any woman who provokes his men what kind of praises flow out of his mouth.

Give any writer money and a story and ask them to produce in a month. My girlfriend thinks that I can never offer anything more powerful than what I already have on the table. I say, test me and see if I cannot grant you another Book of the Dead, one which has nothing to do with HIV/Aids but is equally powerful and revelling. Test me and find out how many manuscripts are laying waste and gathering digital dust in my digital drawer. Try me and see how many books I have stored in the compartments of this head basket.

When you see Timbila and the likes close down it is not because talent has run dry but because the rain never came to water it. If you don’t see any more of Moele on the shelves, just know that the investments are returning negative in this rented life.

Vonani Bila has talent, immense talent, but this life is for rent and we have to pay.

» read article

‘Timbila, don’t find rest’ – A love letter to a now deceased poetry journal



Words of Tears

In the last instalment of Timbila – Volume 7Vonani Bila closes the editor’s notes:

It starts with reading. To foster a South African literary tradition, we need to harness all efforts to build a national writers’ association, to encourage a culture of translation, and support multilingual literary journals like Kotaz, Timbila and Botsotso. We need to build libraries and literary museums in rural areas. Let us honour the rural communities that gave us great writers by giving them education facilities, essential social services, and the opportunity to read.

This is after a rant about all the great writers that are products of de-privileged rural South African communities. This was the vision and the basic purpose of Timbila, a role that it wanted to fulfil: unearth and nurture voices in any language and domain. That critical word, “was”: Timbila is no longer with us, the living. The lifeblood that was beating there has fallen victim to the obligations of life. People do grow and maybe Timbila was another folly of youth.

This folly that I have fallen in love with; her tune invaded and extended my time in the loo.

He drinks me like wine
the kind he’d buy
glances at his watch
as he gently taps my emptying bottle
and strokes the unbroken ‘O’ of its lips

The harmony of that Timbila presented the fifth dimension of life, knowledge that words are not for academia and William Shakespeare was not meant for school but for life.

Just one more gulp –
He speaks: I swoon
and spill out the corners of his mouth

It has in its short life unearthed some of the greatest contemporary voices of our democracy. Timbila presented us with the likes of Vonani Bila – the passionate poet who, himself lost and starving within the cracks of this illiterate country, created a platform for the footpath/street corner wordsmith to be realised as a poet. An applause, please.

Goodenough Mashego – a rural wordsmith from rural Mpumalanga. He, who made Shatale township a beautiful living being, caressed and made love to her. Cried in her arms and ridiculed him when he became inhuman.

He takes a handkerchief
and carefully
wipes the mess
before it lands on his shirt.
Smiles apologetically:
A bit of caution, my dear.

The list is endless, Myesha Jenkins – the woman from America who divorced the first world for our beautiful economy class country. Makhosana Xaba – she made a mark because of Timbila, Mpho Ramaano, Mbongeni Khumalo, Kopano Dibakwane, David wa Maahlamela, Moses Mtileni and, from the dungeon of life, Timbila saved and presented to the nation Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho, who to this day possesses no power to disempower. The list goes on and on.

by a thirst
that only the devil could
He drinks me.

I would never have crisscrossed the minds of these poets but because Timbila presented them with love and care I knew their deep thoughts. Timbila did not remodel the poet for purposes of exploration but in order to harness and harvest what was inside.

He drinks to the very dregs
of my youth.
And – lost in psychedelic illusions –
exposes the man-child
and his games.

As one who has fallen in love with words, words enjoyed in moments, verses of life, these words more potent than a shot of angel dust or a pull of nyaope.

Futile, I hear you say, but satisfying and addictive. Addictive because you can never get enough of it. You always need it and when the supply goes, WHEN THE SUPPLY CLOSES SHOP, you are left with a scorching headache and nowhere to doctor it. Yes, you can browse your favourite bookshop but Timbila, like angel dust, is never in the mainstream. Drugs are illegal and if one supplier goes another sprouts out but in the case of Timbila, of words, it is exclusive, for very, very few.

My beautiful girl, the bone of my bones once said it as she un-boned herself from my bones:

Poetry doesn’t feed babies

Yes, black men are a virile lot and babies need be fed.

Yet I chose to play –
I allow him to swallow
me in exchange
for this mockery of love:
I am his Venus today,
His piss tomorrow

Timbila, don’t find rest.

» read article

Deadly words:

How many times has you mother told you these words? When did she stop? Why did she stop? A million times, before you turned sweet 16. That time when you started to wipe away your mouth after she gave you a kiss. You felt irritated. She stopped, saddened because she knew that you were no longer hers. She knew that she offended you every time she said those words.

You were fortunate but you never knew it, those words from your mother were unconditional, conditioned only by the fact that she gave birth to you. You were privileged as, in some instances, some of us never hear those words until we hear them on the streets. On the streets we love, appreciate and value them but they are at their most dangerous, distracting and destroying young lives. Even creating new lives on this path of destruction.

These words are dangerous – believe me – because mostly they come on a blank contract and after signing your name to it with the very same dangerous words –

‘I love you too.’

You have just gave away your life. Men have an unfair advantage with this blank contract. They can excuse themselves from the resulting damaged lives. These damages become a women’s lifelong burden. It is the foundation on which poverty is sown, nursed and at times loved.

We go on signing blank contracts without realising that we are damaging our lives with these beautiful yet deadly words. It is not a legal issue and there are no legal repercussions to telling your spouse that only death can separate you. But while you can have a divorce decree, the words that you have said bond you to that person, even if you remarry and make new vows.

My girlfriend came back – my first surprise of this sweet 16. It is sure going to be a super year – married to the honourable me in a marriage of hearts. Of vows only the two of us witnessed in body, hearts and soul. My first girlfriend, the intelligent, super successful feminist-at-heart, and officially a divorcee of her first marriage – recognised by Home Affairs. I could not live my life because of the enslaving vows that I made with her. She was so ignorant of these vows that we made that she just left, after realising that – in her words – “poetry doesn’t feed babies.” She left the poet to make babies. And, yes, she did make two beautiful babies, and tried to build a home in the exclusive gated suburb of Northern Johannesburg.

After 14 years of trying to build her family, it fell apart. You can give her a lifetime to write a half page of what went wrong. She will never pin it down. It is because she gave me her heart and I gave her mine, and then she got married despite my broken heart, which bled for all the 14 years. In everything they were doing, she was doing it with my bleeding heart, just as I was doing everything with her heart. I was conscious enough to know that I could not love another woman but only pretend. Yes, I have Poetic Skeletons in my cupboard as a result of this lack of heart.

Two lives broken all because of a marriage of hearts.

But she traced and tracked me and finally she found me. I did not know what to say to her. She did not know what to say either. Her tears touched me and all the anger gave way to tears. Then she recited the shortest poem I ever wrote:

    You are mine
    For a life time
    Your spirit is mine
    For eternity

Dangerous words. Deadly because they were from my heart and true. How can she remember them 22 years after I have wrote them if they had no impact? They created a lifelong covenant and, sure, maybe she had plagiarised the words to her husband. That is a secondary covenant to further destroy lives. There are many things I have gained over the 14 years since she left. You, the poem, exist in our heads – even the spouse I am with is juxtaposed by You and she can never be loved like You but she doesn’t know it. She thinks I love her. And equally true there is a man I am juxtaposed with in her life but I know it.

This is the danger of words. I love words and I play with them but this Sweet Sixteen, I have learned that they are dangerous and destructive. So I am going to take heed to what my mouth utters because I don’t know how to break covenants.

» read article

Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters

Taban lo Liyong’s Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters

May be there were reasons of undisputable value why has this collection of poetry was not published when it was conceived, somewhere during the seventies. I think it was so as to give us a refreshed view of what had really transpired in the life of the average men by the poet. A poet as a national symbol representing and presenting the nation as an individual, not the individuality of the poet but each and every individual forming the nation therefore the poets are singularly more powerful than any president/king/queen dead or still breathing. Presidents and Queens rise and fall but poets reside forever within their words, hence this screaming words from the seventies.

This collection was penned during Adi Amin’s reign. He died in 2003 but he has lost “his power” in 1979. Mainly because that power was not his, it was imposed on him by the position that he occupied. In some instances that “power” is imposed on individual by the people/votes. A poet’s power is by virtue of the fact that the poet is a poet. Years after the poets have died, their words – the poets’ artillery – their power remains poet-ing and puppet-ing us.

This forty years plus old collection of poetry about Ugandan life, valid then to the Ugandans, and still more so valuable now not to the Ugandans only but to the continent at large, the universe: the ultimate power of the poet weaving us from between the pages.

Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters is presented in three movements, the poems are unnamed but numbered creating an enigma of each, to name a poem is to give it away. Within these individually themed movements, the ‘sweet-sad music’ of living life, the agony of living is scrutinised presenting Taban, presenting human beings.

It is a continuous journey of life, the circle of life. The raw honesty of the penning revealed the nature and early maturity of the poet at an early age validated the fact of publishing this collection thirty years later after Amin’s fall without re-editing and adding changes to validate in to our present but the words are valid today.

Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters is poetry of the personal exposing the life and the men, exploring the primary relations: mother and son, sister and brother, president and the common man to reflect the national and propel it further into the future.

Leading us into the main question here; are you a corpse love or corpse hater? Are you contributing to the betterment of the nation or are you contributing to the benefit of the self? Of course there are weak points as is life but here are the weak points of life: that mix-up to live life, are you a capitalist or socialist, Christian or atheist. The lines are not clear.But ultimately and intimately, we discover the tears of poet Taban lo Liyong as is the tears of every poet, love, a cry for the betterment of society without ulterior motives is deeply portrayed.

Movement one, Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters, is a reminder of past way of life as it is a powerful warning to the present way that we are living, of the divisions within us, economic, race, nationality, corpse lovers and corpse haters.

My heart has a song to sing;a song difficult to construct or decipher
My heart yearns to give vents to thoughts
Thoughts to clothes ideas with words appropriate

Yet my heart fears the utterance, leave alone the initial point of aim
My heart wants to give praise to the deeds of one who deserves a statue of gold
Yet my heart is troubled
Because the gold will have to be purified by my brethren’s blood.
Woe betide them who needs any heroes

Movement two: I Can’t Write Like Kafka, it is a search for the purpose of a man, the powerful (mis)conceptions that we, human being have as we are searching for a purpose to purpose our lives and the world as we see it, understand and live it.

In our fastination with the West
We shall settle down
Basically the Eastern group
With an honourable mention
In the serpentine west

Movement three: The Curse Of Unfulfilled Talents, is the resignation to life, to ‘fate’ but still a continuing contest of individual perceptions. The ‘sad story’ of dreams that were never realised, of life never lived. The poet ceases/retires/stops/disengages/desist and refuses to write any more.

Sisters and brothers
I now leave the house of Laias to its fate
Adieu, adieu,adieu
My life course is run
My thread has come to an end
My mouth is now sealed
The breath has run out of my lungs
That is my last word.

» read article

Living with the Greatests

No More LullabiesMusho! Zulu Popular Praises There is a notion that prevails, a notion by the powers that be to copyright our liberation struggle, to credit everything event in our struggle the results of ANC intuition. Nelson Mandela did not fight the struggle, he served twenty seven years. During the treason trial, he was not the only man on trial as he was not the only man who served the twenty seven years. As there are many other – nameless – who vanished. The nameless that like the Great Serengeti migration paid for the toll to cross.

This little fact prevails in aspects of our lives to be recognised in any contribution of our daily South African lives, one has to have an affiliate with the ruling party and thus our rich past/brutal history is misrepresented. Such is this Icon of Black Consciousness; Mafika Pascal Gwala.

He is not forgotten and during the National Arts Festival 2014, the nations’ prominent contemporary poets honoured Mafika Pascal Gwala with warm hearts by giving him a tribute performance, reading from his published works before his face and the face of those that were present to honour the father of Black Conscious and the poet of our poets. Vonani Bila, David wa Maahlamela, Robert Berold, Lesego Rampolokeng, Napo Mashiane performed and Kabelo Mofokeng. Each chose three poems from the two collections, Jol’iikomo and No more lullabies
Vonai Bila perfomed The children of Nonti, a call to arms poem that one would think that it is about family but it is about the nation:

        … The children of Nonti will stand
        Their grounds in the way that Nonti speared his foes
        To free his black brothers from death and woes;
        They shall fight with a tightened grip
        Of a cornered pard. For they shall be knowing that
        Nothing is more vital than standing up
        For the Truths that Nonti lived for.
        Then shall there be Freedom in that stand
        By the children of Nonti.

It is not only the poetry that he blessed us with but the consciousness he brought to the unconscious ignorant little black minds.

Mafika Gwala: A gift to the nation on the 5th of October 1946.

I profess love, appreciation and grateful that I celebrate your life while you are alive.

Book details

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In the Heat of Shadows

Remember, inaugural day
nineteen ninety four
our table piled with the future?

If we were all like poets in behavior, thinking and conduct – a poet is a different kind of a human breed. This is an enigma that trying to explain one will seem to be answering the question of falling or being in love with one. The poet is social activists at best he/she wants justice for all people of the world despite their differences. The poet is that higher being representing and presenting the average people.

in your eye
in my eye
when i see me in you
and you in me in my eyes
history makes and unmakes life and time

There are times when one comes across a poet and there are rare times when one comes across an anthology then bask in wisdom and what wisdom to use in understanding the modern day democratic South Africa than the poets, for one they always tell in in the way it is. Second; the poet never fuck with power though they do respect it but they fuck power and do speak against it all the time. This is the reason why I respect poets and the reason why I think that the world needs poets.


much I’ve tried to pay my debt to you. Only to find that
debts of guilt are endless. And debts of love? There are
no debts of love.

Because poets are not deceivers and fabricators, they don’t write politically correct, they don’t write poetry for development/social responsibility poetry, a phenomenon by the ruling party to have poets praising our struggle, a June 16th poem/a Sharpville day poem but no poets have participated in such indoctrination activity. There was a call for international Mandela poem where poets of all nations had to write a poem about Mandela and from each nation one winning poem will make it into this big international publication book of poems about him. The poets that I know gave it their middle finger – to put it poetically but bluntly, they said “FUCK THEM.”

This is the reason why I respect poets and the reason why I think that the world needs poets.

We are now become your fools.
Our heroes’ fools.

In the Heat of Shadows: South African poetry 1996-2013, Denis Hirson presents the poets of our beautiful country, thirty-three but not all. It is sweet music dripping in wild honey – the one, one had to harvest – it is sad music sopping in wild honey because you got bee stung in the process. You got bee stung by the “dis kak in die land.” But you got the honey. That is the power of poetry it is a rise above, it rises above pain as it becomes more powerful and everlasting than the inspirational/described pain. Poetry surpasses joy as it conveys one woman’s joy into our joy that we will enjoy forever and ever.

Can I say Amen?


Yes I went with him to the river. Mother, I went along

but I never meant to cross the river

In this beautiful country of multilingualism it is sad, sad that I have never enjoyed Antjie Krog in her – to borrow from apartheid – native Afrikaans taal and segregate poets, sorry. Denis has offered me that chance here with translations, Bongekile Mbanjwa, Bulelani Zantsi, Isabella Motadinyane and it was a little sad and painful that the original were not included in this collection.

A cry
Of come and see
Our home is a home
Of tears and bitterness
Women crying

In the Heat of Shadows attempts to reflect us a nation as people living as we are living, it is a representation of every aspects of our lives because, yes

I know all kindsa pa’s
pa’s what hates their kids
pa’s what likes their daughters
pa’s what hits their wives
pa’s what gets sick with no wine
pa’s what speak only sometimes
I know all kindsa pa’s
Except the one
I never seen

In the Heat of Shadows is a cream, an inner self, our shadows that cannot pretend but screams brutal honest life that is rarely lived in the public spaces, of vicious truthful life that is locked in memory never to be uttered.

My heart and head are open
And we laugh and eat together
Like well-brought up folks
Deep inside me somewhere
I know where I stand

And I know that you know that even in the deepest raging anger a moment of laughter is to break free. I know that even if poets can never solve the troubles of our world but they can make us laugh and to laugh is to emerge victorious, to clap hands is declare victory.

An applause.

Book details

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Blames and Thoughts; 009/14

There I was; with my girlfriend and my long-time friend. My girlfriend caught in the middle of the National Arts Festival, the first National Arts Festival that she is enjoying her pocket bearing the costs. My friend caught up in the middle of the soccer World Cup as if it is the end of the game, there will never be another World Cup while I was planning on delving deeper into a poetry book.

Each is equally excited about what it is that is that they had their mind to do. In my hand is Mafika Gwala’s Jol’iinkomo. The book is out of print but this one in my hands is still fresh, new. It is not a reprint, the book is out of print and for that reason this copy that I have doesn’t have a barcode. It is an orgasmic moment for a lover of words and I cannot wait to delve deeper.

My girlfriend has her own programme of the National Arts Festival events that she has to see, she already has the tickets, bought way in advance.

For my friend Brazil and Germany are going head to head and he seeing that he cannot wait for the start-up whistle between the three, I am caught.

“This is the game that decides the World Cup 2014, you cannot afford to miss it, this is the final, the cup stays in South America or to Europe, today.”

“Baby, the national arts comes once a year, you see and enjoy art and the artists. And who cares about soccer, just a bunch of men running after a ball like toddlers in a nursery.”

“You are talking about people who are lazy to work, then they call themselves artists. It is soccer?” He looks at me with his big eyes, “let what time and fate brought together, let no woman take apart?”

“A man will leave his mother and even his friends and go with his woman because they are one rib. And what is soccer anyway.”

He points at her, “you are a girlfriend, you are not married, yet.”

“Why don’t you find your own girlfriend?”

“I don’t want to be entered into the Book of the Dead.”

“Why don’t you go alone?”

“We have been friends long before you came along.” He looks at me in the eyes, “let what time and fate brought together, let no woman take apart?”

In the end of our day Mafika Gwala whispers in my ears the voice seen by the eyes:

    There’ll always be those
who’ll want me to act
after their accepted fashion;
those who’ll expect me to pull a smile
just to please their vanities
those who’ll wish I should agree
with their clawed existence
those who’ll say I’m not polite
jes because their grabby ways
ain’t gonna be my stays,
and their swags don’t fool me.

I stayed home with Mafika Gwala, and the show turned out to be boring that she walked out, and Brazil lost that he forced himself to sleep even before half time was over. Don’t blame me this time, please. I did nothing wrong.

» read article

These Hands. This Life.

There are things in our daily lives that enrich our lives, but most of the time they pass and, enriching as they are, they pass unnoticed. There are many enriching things, I am trying to think of few and I cannot find any because they are just that: enriching and unnoticed.

There are many things that we think have enriched us but they have only enriched us within our own perceptions. This enrichment is not the type that results from of your degree or connections. This enrichment is what words or a smile or situation can do, bringing a smile to your face as you are sitting on a bucket, pants down.

There are moments like this, when my pants are down and I wish for a pen and paper, which are nowhere to be found. Moments that defy logic, and this is such a moment:

A nine-year-old black girl came to my house, unlike any other person who had visited my house, and she gave her attention to a book on the table. She involuntarily pointed at it while delivering the message that was the reason for her visit. I thought that it was just the cover that attracted her. She picked it up and I pretended to look the other way, but when she read I looked at her because she had entered into another world. She snapped out of it as she was about to turn the page, and realised that I had been looking at her.

“This is a good poem,” declared the nine-year-old; the poem penned by Makhosazana Xaba from her debut poetry book, These Hands.

“Why do you say that?”

“I don’t know but it is a good poem.” On behalf of Xaba, I signed and gave her the book.

I met her again in the street with her three friends. “I have read the book.”

“To the last page?”

“To the last page.” Then my detective instincts came in.

“What was the best poem?”

“‘X-Himself and Song’.”

“And the worse?”

“‘X-Himself and Song’.” The rabbit’s eyes go up in the air as her friends are tuned in, or just waiting, but completely bored.

“It is a very sad poem but it is brilliantly captured and written that it would move you to tears.” She whitewashed my big head that I smiled. Now, with pants down, I am thinking, what is she doing in the township? That kind of thinking has no business growing up in the township. Mokgethi did not survive this township, this township fed on her. Then I was caught in between; the beautiful little girl in this community and (X-Myself and Write) why do we use beautiful words to describe the wickedness of our lives?

X-Himself and Song

Looking at his face you would think that he was the composer
Watching his body move, you would think that he created movement
His fingers in motion got you instantly in motion
He ensouled you with his voice,
His thick, malleable lips,
His every bit of body
Wasiphuka, wasiphuka, wasiphuka
Wasiphuka, wenyuka
Wenyuka, wenyuka uApollo
Apollo Eleven
Every child got to know
In the back of beyond, in Ndaleni
Where I grew up.
The composer put the words in song
My father made it come alive
Without the TV images
We had our own visual artist
We saw Apollo Eleven shoot out
Into the galaxy
Through his every bit of body

To the July handicap
I still haven’t been.
I have zero knowledge of horse racing
But through his every bit of body
I love horses
Because when he sang:
Uponi ihhashi lami engilithandayo
Uponi ihhashi lami engilithandayo
Uponi ihhashi lami engilithandayo
ihhashi lami engilithandayo
Uponi ihhashi lami engilithandayo
ihhashi lami engilithandayo
You had no choice but to fall in love with horses
You started believing that he created horses

My father must have lived in the souls of many composers
A conductor of note
With a voice you would give you vote
An educator extraordinaire
Because his choice of loved songs must have been for nurturing the young
Why else did he love the great King Kong song
On the politics of poverty?
With that song
I did not need social scientists
I did not need political scientists
To give me loads of notes
On apartheid’s greatest crimes
Or capitalism’s gravest sins.
But through his every bit of body
I knew that,
I heard it,
I lived it:
Hambani madoda, niyemsebenzini
Vukani bafazi siyahlipheka
Amakhaza nemvula
Ibhasi ligcwele
Otsotsi besikhuthuza
Siyaphela indlala
Nemali ayikho
Hambani madoda
Isikhathi asikho
through his every bit of body
even Christianity took an unexpected turn
’cause he knew the great composer who
Had the skill to transform
What was alien and alienating
Into something familiar, to be embraced
When Jesus Christ is all of a sudden
Born in Qhudeni, near Nquthu
You can’t help but sit up and listen.
Then you touch the blue African skies
On his every bit of body,
Then you hear the lowveld’s serenity
Then you smell the water from the stream
And the dead night comes alive.
From the peaceful valleys of Qhudeni
A true Christmas carol for Africa.
He made it worth knowing.
He made it worth singing
Through his every bit of body
Kuzolile ebusuku
Eduze naseQhudeni
Abelusi bezinkomo
Babebgazelele lutho
Kwavela ukukhanya okukhulu
Besaba bawela phansi

He sang these songs at night
In the mornings
In the small hours of the mornings
Sometimes with his friends
Oftentimes alone
Sometimes with his tuning fork in his right hand
Oftentimes on his feet
Other times on his behind
Sometimes on their bed next to my mom,
Oftentimes with us watching
And, at times demanding we sang along

Well I too, like the shepherds,
At the thought that this day
I still have not been to his grave
Because all this time
I have not been able to forget the pain,
The sorrow,
The misery
He brought to the family
With his love for the bottle

I watched my mother lose her smile,
Her laughter,
Her humour
Because of him.
I watched my big brother lose inner peace
Because of him.
I watched myself lose hope,
Clutching despair
Because of him
His love for the bottle went through his every bit of body
Destroying what love I could have had for him
He died on Monday morning
13 April 1998
In his sleep
In his bed
At home.
His liver fed up,
His heart gave up

That morning, at my Johannesburg home,
I sang a song about death that he so loved:
Ngimbeleni phansi kotshani duze nezihlahla zomnyezane
Ngimbeleni phansi kotshani
Duze nazo ezomnyezane
Ngozwa name lapho ngilele utshani ngaphezulu buhleba
Utshani ngaphezulu buhleba

I do not know what type of grass is growing on his grave
I do know we did not bury him next to the willow trees.
I do trust that he continues to hear the grass whisper
As he wished.

What I do know is that his music lives in me
His voice will forever pierce through me
As it always pierced
Through his every bit of body.

Through his every bit of body,
His tuning fork in his right hand,
His tapping feet,
His thick, malleable lips,
I feel the staff notation
I smell do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do,
I hear the crescendo
I touch forte, fortissimo
I taste p, pp, pianissimo.


Khosi, how can you be this beautifully cruel with words in this life that is so cruel?

This Hands is available from Clarke’s Books,

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The Many Betrayals of Mzwandile Matiwana

Betrayal by Mzwandile Matiwana

I Lost a PoemBetrayalWhen I first met Mzwandile, during the Cape Town Book Fair, he was protesting, holding a placard that read “Cape Town Book Fair is not Fair”. Or is it that I saw him in a picture taken during the Cape Town Book Fair in which he was carrying a placard that read “Cape Town Book Fair is not Fair?” My memory is failing me but I fell for the poet and (mis)understood what he was and what he stood for.

For one, there was no reason for him to protest against the Book Fair. Why would he do that? The fair itself was fulfilling a function, a function that all writers and poets love to see functioning – that of encouraging reading and hopefully encouraging people to buy books in the process.

Then I heard his reasons and my mind changed; indeed the Cape Town book Fair was not fair. Why would they demand that the public pay a fee to access the fair? Needless to say, I did not like him but smiled at his courageousness. I looked at him as man defending not only his ground but the greater good of humanity for the profit of humanity.

Ever since then I always hoped that one day I would catch him live on stage. I never did, and now I never will. But I believe that poetry is even better on paper without the voice of the poet, the beat and the rhythm. There is a connection; an open book, peering eyes and nothing else.

Mzwandile had adorned my wall with his banner: Cape Town Book Fair is not Fair. He has since died and been taken off the wall because the dead deserve nothing from the living. That is not the point, everybody is on his way, except for those marked by the Blood of the Lamp.

The issue here is Betrayal. Not betrayal of one’s condition of existence, not that betrayal when you are not sure that your father is your father and if he still owes you love. Not the betrayal that you were born into the family that you were born into and became what you are rather than what you wished to be.
This is not the national betrayal of a Poet – a national treasure – that the nation did not appreciate, never knew. Where is Mzwakhe Mbuli? Even with his shallow grave of salvation/gospel, this nation had forgot he ever existed, betrayed not only Mbuli but the Poet.

No legislation
Can legislate me
Not to love man

He once fuelled us with words more powerful than any atomic energy. He enticed us to proceed forward and gave us the will to fight machine guns with stones. But when we got Here, we betrayed him. The Poet became an imbongi dressed in endangered leopard skins to sing praises to the political fraternity. No, today I am not talking of that kind of betrayal.

It is not betrayal of that girl that you gave your heart to and vowed to love until death do you part. That girl that, even before the marriage, had torn your heart apart and you haven’t recovered because you proclaimed your love on godly terms. Though you are (pretending to be) happily married with two-point-four children. You know that there is love found and a vow made three decades ago that still binds you. You know it too that you don’t love your wife because of the fact that you gave your love away. But this is not that betrayal.

Betrayal is a powerful tool that always damages the interior of individuals. If only it was a crime, that we can charge people for it, but it is as elusive as witchcraft.
This Betrayal is an autopoemography of a man. It is as if he knew that he was dying, and wrote us this suicide poetry. It is befitting to say that it is a powerful book and it is powerful, extremely sad and reflective.

Reflective because he silently questions God, a God that he never had or thought he had. He loves but he is never loved. When loved he defends against that love, closing it out. He is a man whose manhood has been drained out. And that moves him to accept himself, because of the powerlessness to build himself into what he perceived/wanted/wished to accomplish as a human being.

There are wicked scenes that should have never made it to within the pages. The cruelty of life that we should not put a name and face to – only exceptional poets do and he was an exceptional poet. The innocent tears of a grown man, shed because the life that he so much loved had betrayed him and all he had to live with was this punishing betrayal.

Why does life have to be this cruel to the poets? Why? Because the poets contemplate things and issues that should not be thought about, seeking to make life better for the other.

The poet writes:

I am lucky
To have all these tough
I am lucky
That the world is
Against me
I am lucky
To be the loser I am
In this world

Words fashioned in a way to induce unexplainable feelings to the lover and consumer of words. When the violence of living becomes so cruel to the poet that he no longer weaves words to build a better nation, but weaves words to tell of the personal violence of life with a smile like that. What has the world come to? For some time now I have been at war to understand the LUCK in TOUGH TIMES when the WORLD IS AGAINST THE POET that he finds himself a LUCKY LOSER.

Ceasefire: there is no lucky loser, just a poet being a poet/creative, to take two opposing words and fashion them in way that they make perfect sense of the predicament. I smiled then I cried.
The poems carry with them the simplicity of contemporary poetry – in this era of chat-rooms and unlimited entertainment – and are absorbing in their subject matter. Each contains the malice of living, of loving, of being a man and of being a poet. Each poem is high calibre ammunition meant to destroy and terminate the soul that will read, yet in the end the one terminated completely loves life and appreciates his or her life even more.

Betrayal is in the end a suicide poem of fighting to live a defensive life that does not want to be lived, failing and failing hard but still smiling:

I am lucky
To be the loser I am

Mzwandile Matiwana is the author of I Lost a Poem (Deep South Books, 2004) and Betrayal, which is available at 015 291 2088/072 129 6496, and through Clarke’s Bookshop, Cape Town.

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