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Kgebetli Moele

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Anthem for a New Year

By Christopher Van Wyk

I’ve been woken mornings
by bugs inherent in gauche walls where I live
and squeezed my soporific blood from their gourds
and stayed awake
to tell it to the wick of a yawning candle

I have shuffled uneasily
between my pockets
and the tattered brim of a tramp’s hat
and rushed home to protest on a page

(then)                                                                           (Now)
And the kwela-kwela                                                      And the poverty and corruption
that stops before me                                                        that stinks before me
in jo’burg streets – the exhibitionists                              in shack cities and in departments
and spill or loads to the grille                                        the contractionist
suppurating bodies that have no pass or say                    and heap in settlements
this and so much more                                                  bodies to keep the powers in power
has made me run home and sob
in the copious apron of exercise books

This and so much more
This and Riverlea where I live
This and Soweto where I live
This and the Bantustans where I live
This and the Don where I live
This and Duma where I live
This and Fhazel where I live

I live, God, how I live
How I see suffering
grow more blatant
and shed its wardrobe of disguises – its charity
in the oppressive loneliness where I live
where I live days and lives
and I record these lives and days
and my friends they have canvases
and torn pastiches
and gloomy nuances and some shout their hurt from boards
in song

We are a Black bust moulded from dongas
and dirt and tears
and the ugly smut of (Democratic) oppression
but we are proud
of our paint and our pens and our gestures.

But oh how I wait for rapprochement
between God and men
for a time when souls are ripe
when fresh flags are hoisted high
to write an anthem

I’d any day abandon this terrible disposition
to do that – my magnum opus
and you’d be glad, I know
if I’d ask you to write the symphony

Helpless and Hopeless

30 Nights in a Shack

In the South African political context, one cannot help the feelings of complete helplessness and broad-based hopelessness. They are brought about by the political leaders we have – not that we chose, because we never really choose them – but they advance through the party ranks until they are in our daily lives with their flamboyant ways or byways. We have them and at times we even bet with our lives to defend them.

Our complete helplessness and broad-based hopelessness are more magnified on that day that one is in a voting booth with ballot paper and he has to mark with an X. It is in that moment that the fact mock smiles in the face of a South African citizen. You are looking at that paper and your X on that paper is going to affect your life not only for the coming five years but for the rest of your life, as years add to your life regardless of negativity or positive growth.

Our complete helplessness and broad-based hopelessness were evident in the last national elections, as most of the people that I know were not interested in voting and nationally the voting queues were non-existent, furthermore it is reflected in the service delivery protests that we routinely have.

I know that there is an accepted notion that we South Africans are xenophobic but I am telling you for a fact that we black South Africa do not hate anybody. Yes, we have languages and cultures that separate us, each with its superiority complex, but the xenophobia attacks have been mislabelled by the media’s failure to interpret the situation and conditions: disenfranchised, helpless and hopeless South Africans looking at black Africans working harder and accepting underpaying just to survive and while the labour skills employees take advantage of this fact.

It is an international phenomenon where migrants from poor countries migrate and then accepting underpaying jobs. Why weren’t there xenophobic attacks where affluent black Africans live? We have lived with migrants from Mozambique since I was five years old (the time that I became aware of their presence).

Many things have happened in our beautiful country that have shaken me – I washed my hands with the knowledge that we will replace the President after his terms – but only two that have stirred me: PetroSA and recently Jack Bloom. How can PetroSA not have a plan to maintain the fuel price below nine rand? Do they even have a barrier that the fuel price must never go beyond? Or will the fuel price keep rising at will? Do they have crude oil reserves? Did they have to privatise Sasol? Do they have an idea what are they doing?

FYI: the apartheid regime maintained the fuel price under international sanctions.
Every time I think about PetroSA my heart bleeds.

The second is Jack Bloom’s 30 Nights in a Shack: A Politician’s Journey; hence I write this rant. Jack Bloom’s book magnifies our helplessness/hopelessness to Apollo status treating the conditions of the poor as something like bungee jumping for the thrills and satisfaction/reputation-building of the other. Having lived a shack life for years, there was nothing surprising in the book, the resilience and hopeless hope of the South Africans living in squalor not for 30 nights but years. I felt that the 30 nights were Bloom’s ego trip:

I can do something new within the SA political arena so South Africans can notice me.

Sure, some of us have noticed after reading the book and we are sane enough to have noticed that even in the DA lead Western Cape there are shacks that Jack Bloom did not care to stay overnight.


You can make a counter point but while driving to the Mother City on the N2, I witnessed Western Cape’s own Shack City. If Shack Cities are the ruling party’s negligence, why are they in Western Cape, the home of DA?

This is the hopelessness that the DA has gave me for my vote: remember the Blade Nzimande/Helen Zille issue? Blade bought a R2 million car and Helen drove a Toyota costing less than half a million. The worst thing happened, Helen and the DA went after Blade’s character. Blade did not do anything wrong, the only thing wrong was the handbook that said Blade and Helen can drive a car to that value, which was the issue that Helen and the DA should have gone after and changed. Four years later the handbook is still standing and they all drive million rands worth of cars.

I hear you ask a question: why does it bother you and not Nkandla? First because I gave the DA my vote after struggling to make that cross and carefully weighing the options that I had. COPE stimulated our nerves offering us a new kind of hope and help but they only proved that the apple falls not far from the tree as we continued bowing our heads to the status quo.

When EFF exploded in our face, I did not wear red because long before the red came Malema one morning stopped talking about mine nationalisation without giving us his final resolution on the issue – to this day he doesn’t say a word about nationalisation – I was not surprised, I accepted that he shook the Golden Hand.

Somebody caused me a lot of pain using few words that were meant for me to laugh:

“Today in our politics we have a triangle, the red monkeys and the blue
monkeys following the potbellied Lords while singing about what is on their

Everybody laughed but it is not a laughing matter to me. He just stabbed an un-healing wound.

Former president Thabo Mbeki once said that there will be no shacks by 2015 but 2015 is here and he is nowhere to answer to the billion shacks that we still have. What was his plan of action and why hasn’t it been implemented?

The important question that Jack Bloom fails to answer after his bungee jumping, mindblowing experience: has the 30 Nights solved the problem? Is there a bulletproof plan that the DA can implement into the Western Cape, that will eventually force the ruling party to adopt it and eradicate Shack Cities of our beautiful country?

No, because it was just a reputation building mission.

Then the worse fact about 30 Nights in a Shack is the last chapter: HOW YOU CAN HELP. Jack Bloom shifts his responsibility to YOU. Then I lack respect for his stay in a shack, for him as a leader and for the book because since February 2014 there have been more shack fires, shacks to rebuild and shacks built. Jack Bloom’s new motto – “Go experience it for yourself” – does it really need to be experienced and what after the experience, Mr Bloom? Publish a book, YouTube the videos and have a laugh? “This is Black poverty, ha ha ha.”

Our complete helplessness and broad-based hopelessness are not about living in shacks. It is not about the present day economic apartheid, no but it is about the politician’s journey – from Mandela to Zuma and from Leon to Maimane – and this political journey is not concluded in 30 simple nights in a reserved and secured informal settlement treated as if it was a three-star hotel overnight stay.

This political journey is not about looking at the government as the new goldmine where you have a limited time to get as much gold in your reserves as possible.

We need a new crop of politicians to walk this Political Journey.

Again, my complete helplessness and broad-based hopelessness choke me. It mocks me for uttering those words. But yes, YES, we need a new crop of politicians. It mock smiles in my face – whatever it is. I am choking being reminded of one ANC member carrying a banner that read: ANC WILL RULE UNTIL JESUS COMES BACK and I can’t help it, I am helpless to this choking fact.

There is a song in my ears: THE HOLY SPIRIT MUST COME DOWN AND AFRICA WILL BE SAVED and I know we all need it because all the politicians are on a journey of personal fulfilment and enrichment within this country, this beautiful country finger-puppeteer by Hands; Golden Hand, Tender Hand, Bank Hand, … Hand and … Hand.

Hands that have the possessive power to strangle any PRINCIPLE out of a principled politician that they become political skeletons, so that we, South Africans, have to put our trust and hope in skeletons.

Book details

A Fight for Power

Ages ago I was introduced to book of a collection of blunt words called Apocrypha from the hands of Mbongeni Khumalo. After reading the collection, I opened a dictionary looking up the meaning of the word Apocrypha: the dictionary explained that Apocrypha is religious text related to the bible and not officially part of the bible, secondly it said Apocrypha is writing which is not considered genuine. I know that this particular book named Apocrypha is not a religious text and certainly it is genuine. I have never answered myself why the poet titled this collection as thus.

O! dear beloved mbongeni, trust not
thy flatterers; distance thyself
From praise – utterers!
Fear (most) thy friends to the utmost
Be careful of thy black kind
Deceive not thyself in the innocent
Smiling faces of whitefolks!
Count not upon the coloureds.
The Indians had long betrayed thee
The Chinese are not by thy side …
Rely not upon the government.
Be cautious in thy movements,
And wary in thy dealings with man
For a bullet is spared for thee

I was indeed moved by the raw, savage, point blank, ruthless truths that were written within the covers of Apocrypha. It is an angry gaze of a mirror image of the black man and his black power and the falling apart of (our black) collective principles and the developing individual eras of our Black power – Mandela era, Thabo era, Motlante era and Zuma era – and the other powers relating to/fighting them that ultimately is transmitted in to the Black nation and is then simulates the poet. And the poets savagely paints these deep rooted feels of colonised slaves coming to self rule.
Be warned: there are no love poems of romanticism within this collection, except for one, it is not love but imprisoned love that like all a staging of the trouble within the Black man. It is savage black reality steeped in poverty of material and poverty of knowledge, and its imposed/naïve power coming up against savage and ruthless calculating power of the other.
At its best is crippling-no hope-truth, exposing the weakness of the nation slashing out all hopes and dreams because with the current state of the nation, one realise how the poet has hit the bull’s eye twelve years ago because the issues in Apocrypha are still in our face or do I have to say faeces?

I want to tell you what I feel
Whether or not you want
To fulfil the dream that I feel
Not what my family and friends
Would want me to feel
And not to feel what I feel
Nor what literary critics would want
To tell me what to feel
Where to feel when to feel
How to feel
I want to tell you what I feel
Whether or not
You like what I feel
Not what the rain-bow-nation
That rain bowed us to submission
At bow and arrow point
Bowing our knees to hide
What we feel
I want to tell you the angry Truth
Behind our multi-racial-smiles
Of South African hypocrisy
To make you feel
What the government tries
To make you forget to feel
And forgive the wounds
That you feel
To tell you to feel
What prison bars cannot prevent me
To tell you what I feel
I want to tell you what I feel …

What good is a country if its honest citizens – those that see the truth within the words and lines –are choking to death by the reality in the everyday life. The poet dies, becomes void or becomes a praise singer but mostly he shuts up because his warning fall on deaf ears.

The first lie
Is when Mandela
Came out of prison
Wearing suit & tie
Talking of building a nation
But a rainbownation
Is a symbol of con/fusion
Crossed aXes cruci-fiction
Pulling yor neck across
The ballotbox to slaughter yu
Like an ox
Between the thighs of missus

Death of a Blog

There are very few things that I hate about this beautiful country of ours and one of them be me. No, not that kind of hate that you hate yourself with, no and I know that there is something wrong with the shape of my nose – borrow from Vonani Bila – but unlike you I can stand for hours in front of the mirror and unlike you and Michael Jackson, I will never change myself for the world.

I hear you argue poverty.

Yes, I hear you but the worse kind of poverty is poverty not to think, not to have wisdom but just to think in the rightful manner. Because you can have all the wealth in this world but still be a poor materially-full poor being.

Material-full poor being is a man or a woman with poverty of the mind dressing themselves in material wealth trying to fill the mind poverty. And some of them do have MBA.

But I hate yourself?

No, I don’t hate myself, i said that there are very few things that I hate about this beautiful country of ours and one of them be me. I don’t hate myself.
What am I saying?

My favourite blog has not been showing any signs of life since November 2014, ever since it came into existence, it has surpassed even the award winning blocks. I am not sure but I think that the average life of a blog, five to six posts but my favourite blog has been averaging two posts per month since and at best it posted seven a month.
What does a Blog has to do with me hating me and not really hating me?
Because it is a forte of intellect: Let me dispel the false nation that South Africans don’t read: Daily Sun, so believe it South Africans read. The jury is still out: is reading Daily Sun an intellectual forte.

And this is why I hate me. Me not the individual, not the man but me the author, the creative writer. Why did I chose to be that in this beautiful country that doesn’t appreciate that and hence my favourite blog has died and now I am feeling that I am dying intellectually because I visit the site hoping that I will find a new post that can stimulate my thinking ability.


You just said so? Yes you did. So I despise myself for reading that block without making an effort to pay for its stimulating effects on my brain. Drug addicts pay for their fix, drunks pay for their tot and we all pay for our food but we want to read for free.

SO, consider as you read this little blog that the writer sat and composed his thoughts for you to crisscross them.
Consider the Writer for without you, they cannot write for too long.

Copying The Writer

There was seating in a corner of my single room shack musing about another instalment of my writing. Because as important as your work is to our economy and your wellbeing, mine is important to the economy, my wellbeing and the cultural map of what we are in these end times. Very important.
But for the sake of this cultural commitment only, as this occupation has not being helpful to the wellbeing of this literary artist hence he dwells in a shack. That is not the case as poverty is and can be a great source of inspiration.

Remember that series Intersections; when in broad daylight producers and script artists put a gun to this literary artist’s head televising his artistic work, the Book of the Dead. They got away with it paying selves hugely while poverty and hunger continued its colonisation of the literary artist’s life.

There is a teacher willing to teach little willing minds made illegal copies of the literary artist’s work and the artist turned a blind eye but that country Poverty continued it colonisation march.

There I was invited as a special guest to a literary fair, everything went very smooth and the fair was a great success in all respect. Connected to the fair was a music festival and having been within my peers, the muse was resuscitated from its kind of death and though I had free tickets to the music festival, I did not attend. The artists in the music festival were compensated 500 per cent more than the literary artists.
It has been the same story even in international countries where the literary artist is taken for nothing more than an accessory rather than a necessity in a literary fair. They think that accommodating the literary artist in a five star hotel and flying him economy fulfils her life. I don’t take this position as an accessory but more than a means of income, it is a cultural commitment that I have committed this self to.

I had the options:
1. Joined the march Tenderville and be as corrupt more than any of them, whoever is at the top of the Most Corrupt List as my corrupt would have had a creative aspect.
2. Fought for a position as a civil servant and be another of the thousands laziest civil servants we have, narrating gossips on the state phone.

I have chosen this commitment so the next times you think of having a literary artist as an accessory or a “Black Token” in your circles think about compensating him/her properly. And next time you think of making illegal copies of the literary artist’s work, think of a world without the story tellers.

Timbila 7, A Journal of Onion Skin Poetry.

Timbila 7
Ha ku chava,
A wu na vuciva,
U na vukarhi bya ngwenya-nkelenge,
Ndzawulo ya Rihanyu yi tshembhe wena

Bertha Khanyisa Baloyi opens up this edition of Onion Skin Poetry, and in a country like ours: English colonised, force fed Afrikaans at another time and re-colonise itself English with Democracy. It is a privileged, South Africa, a cursed privilege to one like me because I cannot read these words that open up this edition of Timbila. Even though I can communicate in these opening language but I cannot read it. It is a curse because I cannot accurately read my second language, Northern Sotho – recently Sepedi. It is the worse kind of a privileged curse because here I am blaming the editors for not including a translated versions.
What were they thinking in this multilingual nation of ours?

We will leave this earth
Knowing nothing
Learned nothing
Still lost in the light
Dark as the day
We were born

I in-soiled my thoughts in words running away from my reality, skipped another that I could not read and another as Mputlane wa Bofelo comforts me by words with words.

Just let it go
Don’t fasten
Your seat belt
Submit to the turbulence
Vibe with the tides
Surrender to the ocean
Dissolve into the waters

And true, I submit. It doesn’t go but stares me in the eyes because I tried to read isiXhosa and It failed dismally. Tried again and however hard I tried, I only decoded that the poem was dedicated to that poetsmith, Mzandile Matiwane.
… them. What were they thinking in this multilingual nation of ours? There was curse words somewhere this time.
I skipped another Afrikaans poem by Tanya Celliers, skipped, skipped and skipped and I knew that

We will leave this earth
Knowing nothing

Timbila 7 is a journal exploring our world and our inner thoughts, there are also obituaries, interviews and thoughts that to provoke the mind for human humane development. There is pain within this word, a cry for a much better world that we have that I have discovered as a common denominator within great poets, that when they delve into love, they precipitated words that can never be riposted. And the poet’s life becomes a lonely life breeding painful words unfulfilled life always breeds pain.

Given Mukhwevho writes about writing in and out of prison as Goodenough Mashego tries to give reasons and answers to the withering reading tradition: What’s to blame-Apartheid or trash culture, and a research paper by Alpheus Manghezi on recovering African oral history through work songs.

At the heart of Timbila 7 are great words by thirty contemporary poets: issues aside, Timbila 7 is a joyread and issues will always be with us to deal with.

Crackling deafening laughter
In a sunny day.
Igniting the flames of addictions,
Arousing a powerless foam
Of what they call happiness,
Something I don’t have,
Something I long to have

Timbila 6, A Journal of Onion Skin Poetry

There times when things make an impact unto the memory of the heart, the soul and the mind, such things we hold them dear because they are power in our lives. In a writer’s life there are also things of writing/things written that make a whole in the head basket then the author is left wondering; how is it possible?
Timbila has published seven instalments of Onion Skin Poetry Journals. I have ravished and cherished each of them but Timbila 6 rises above them all. For many reasons, valid and invalid; Timbila 6 has become personal and Dear to me.

First invalid reason: Shatale. Shatale, my home township. ‘The township that can go into the Guinness Book of Records as the township with mass mango trees.’ So the Shataletarians claim but I say; I claim that Shatale can go into the Book of Records as the most creative township/suburb/residential in the whole world. Los Angeles can claim to have a high concentration of the most creative people in the world from different places, yes but Shatale has the most creative people of Shatale origin. There are more creative people per square meter in Shatale than anywhere else in the world.
I hear you ask.
You are reading another living evidence, me, bred within Shatale’s cruel streets.
I hear you say.
Is that all the evidence?
Another invalid reason: Timbila 6.

The cover of Timbila 6 is a metaphor of what really is Shatale: There is a young girl standing at a locked gate with eyes that are hoping too much for much of that is beyond the locked gate. Something foreign to Shatale that she is looking at; that is passing by without noticing her and the background behind her is the dead rotting community that she reside within.

my town
my neighbourhood
my adopted home
my 2nd stop on my journey of life
i’m ashamed of you
‘cuz you harbour lunatics
what good have you done me
my dear township
i gave you my life, you messed it
prayed for your forgiveness
you demanded my head
you are disgusting you know

crime-ridden & muti-infested
witches dance amid sips of blood
here is where demons dance ballroom
killer roams the streets unblessed
you take the message & kill the messenger
even the goose that lays the golden egg
you slaughter on sight & laugh

you keep me stranded in you
my dear township
show me love don’t show me shit
my dear township
you are drifting from bad to worse
my dear township
soon dogs will be eating dogs
my dear township
& you’ll be parading a different image outside

I have a love and a ceaseless need for Shatale but I am not happy with Shatale because I know that I am that little girl on the cover suffocating to realise the self. We are that little girl. We are all locked like the little girl eating unceasing mangos and avocados.

Let’s all bow our heads
And dedicate a prayer to our ghettos
Mourn the streets claimed
Ownership to the final breath
Of our fallen heroes
Poverty is like constipation
To my people’s stomachs
When they fart all you smell
Is hunger

It is when you look closer and see the mirror images that live within this space that we know as Shatale. A Shatale that we don’t have a choice but we love with a hate that one hates her/his mother because we don’t have anything but this Shatale. Even though we hate it, deep inside we love it.

I’ll tell you why!
In this plastic world of fratricide
I am fed poverty and human livers
Told land is free in the burial grounds
Why not die of AIDS and ticks
Instead of sodomised brains?

Timbila 6 is Timbila’s best achievement and magnifies their sole function, purpose and commitment to the creative nation, of unearthing voices that would have never had chance to be heard. That born-again is not only a term confined to religion, so that we have born-agains: Given Mukwevho is born again, he is no longer a prisoner but a wordsmith. And I know that the future will know Mzandile Matiwana as a great poet.

Yes Timbila 6 is not about Shatale, it is a journal, A Journal of Onion Skin Poetry featuring poets from across this earth. It is just that for invalid reasons I love it because

where i’m from
is lots of things not worth writing about

An Obituary of a Living Man

James Woodhouse, editor and publisher at Kwela Books, resigned. Resigned? Or rather, was fired about a month ago. I think and believe that he was fired as he never even sent a goodbye email. He deserted this ship in deep sea and vanished.

I got to know James Woodhouse by phone when he called in 2003 after he read the hard copy of my manuscript “Aborted Foetus Growing”, standing at 98 000 words in size 10 font. By his words he had just finished reading a series of dead manuscripts and he looked at the thickness and the font size of mine, shaking his head. He was not going to read it, but then he was compelled to read it. The opening pages touched him and on the morning of the third day he gave me a call. Since that day we were communicating regularly.

Room 207 should have been with us by 2004 but the then-Kwela publisher Annamarie resigned and Nelleke became publisher. There was a relationship that grew between me, James and Nelleke, and my then-girlfriend warned me about the relationship. “These people are working, you are just a job to them, nothing more.” But the relationship was personal, at least on my side.

When Nelleke trashed the book and proved my girlfriend right, James was there to give a comforting hand. There was a relation there that was not business, but it was business. Today I only have these words to comfort me and continue to travel – to borrow from Titlestad – this lonely trivial road.

James Woodhouse loved words, words moved him and made his life whole. He left some the most important things in life, that you and I would consider first and foremost, just to deal with words – words, from manuscript to publication.

And here I am in tears for losing for a word-man in my life as a living being and writer.

A Journal of Onion Skin Poetry

There is a concept in poetry nation stating that if a potential poet doesn’t find a home for his or her poems they can start a poetry journal, and publish themselves and their friends. Good idea, the poet then becomes editor and publisher. Most of the time good poet/editor/publishers feeding us with words that comforts, sooth making right what is wrong about us, people. And the Poetry Nation has seem many of these journals, they came and the Nation danced to the rain of poetic words and then they went, the Nation mourned the death of Words and the thirst for poetic words of comfort grew boundless.
But is there any truth to that concept?
It is indeed a great solution and many creative people have travelled this road but eventually the creativity fuel runs out or the Poet/Editor/Publisher gains the responsibility that comes with ageing. And you know the things that ageing can accomplish, has accomplished in your life. The Poet/Editor/Publisher drowns in life – backed up by the reputation from the publications – of servitude.
But then there is Vonani Bila and Timbila or but then there is Timbila and Vonani Bila. Time is still to attest to us that which is first, the former or the latter? But as the evidence stand this day it looks like Timbila doesn’t fall within this concept and if it does then Vonani Bila has a lot of friends or has made a lot of friends within the Poetry Fraternity, sorry Poetry Nation.
Poetry Nation is a special breed of people that are not like the avarage.
Timbila has discovered, polished and published a whole lot of Poets and Writers; the AWOL poet Mpho Ramano – poets are validated by products in this case poetry and poetry performers who lulls us with great-sweet-rhyming words but on paper and on stage Ramano rises above all.
Maishe Jenkins – the woman from America who came home and found peace.
Makhosana Xaba – her mother nursed her into life but she was nursed into being by Timbila.
Given Mukhevho – Timbila unlocked him out of prison of life and living.
David wa Maahlamela – Timbila nartured him to life.
Goodenough Mashego – the greatest of all poets, Dead or alive.
And the list goes on and on, aech publication bears testimony to this fact: Timbila means business.
Each year Timbila publishes a journal, they call it a Journal of onion skin poetry and for the past ten years they have succeeded in churning out pure poets and great-perfect poetry, representing the landscape without borrowing anything from apartheid and even milking from the ruling party; a measure of greatness in poetry and in the exceptional poets.
The sad story is the fact that faces Journals like Timbila, like the Donga, the Staff-rider, WordsETC, you read this with the knowledge that one day Timbila will bite the dust and I hope that you are praying that it doesn’t.

A Song to All the Sad People of the World.

As Democratic South Africa turns twenty-one, there is much to celebrate this young democracy. As there is much to loath and not celebrate this young democracy. It has had four presidents in these two decades, successfully hosted the rugby world cup and the soccer world cup. South Africa has become a phenomenon, for Africa and for self, of the possible possibility that the continent can be.
As South Africans and Africans celebrate this milestone there are blood tears running down the South African cheeks. I know for certain that South Africans are not xenophobic, that chapter is misinterpreted as xenophobia but it is in fact a protest against the authorities. When the poor and marginalised Black South Africans – living in shanty towns – find themselves fighting for jobs with other poor, marginalised illegal African emigrants while the minimum living wage is driven down by the mistreated illegal emigrants. There is no better term for it but we – Black South Africans – are not xenophobic.
This Democratic South Africa is trying to address the bleeding wounds of apartheid; the apartheid wrecked families, families at the bottom of the sea fighting to drag themselves back to life. Wrecked morally and spiritually, wrecked financially and physically by that power and its social engineering of putting black people in the so called townships – shoulder to shoulder like canned sardines – with multiple Taverns and a church, and no form of re-creativity but street soccer.
Democratic South Arica fails because it is like asking a new-born baby to fend for a poverty stricken family. It was within these settings that a being found self, a young Black boy alive and developing into a man, a man we sadly mourned; into a poet that will forever whisper painful poetic words, in our lives, of our lives eternally:
Ladies and Gentleman, poets and performers, writers and plagiarists Mzwandile Matiwana.
Mzwandile Matiwana was that new-born baby born into bleakness of poverty – when Apartheid was a young virile man drunk with power – that he had to start to fend his way and his family’s way out, not out of poverty but out of the day’s hunger. Hunger is always the eminent issue and poverty is a condition therefore a secondary issue.
Matiwana’s poetry is a record and reflection of the feelings, the position and the miserable lives of countless Black South Africans men and women. He wrote, “my writing as an art is a sort of self-discovery, almost like a discovery and revelation of the mystery and wonder of life.” And his was a life of mystery and wonder of total disenfranchise that a human being can call life.
His poetry is not about the beautiful sunrise above the Indian Ocean; the lovely yellow and white lilies, about the green hills of the Lowveld or about the beauty of our beautiful country. He is raw. A bland knife that painfully cuts. He was born in 1967 and like a thousand, he never knew who was the man who fathered him. Quitting school at a hard-hearted age of 15, he started writing poetry and plays from the heart by the heart but he could not make a living.
He was sucked into crime and then convicted to a twelve year jail term for armed robbery. It was while serving time and a fully-fledged gang member that he realised that “… education was the most important weapon to fight for the betterment of my life.” Then he remembered that he was a poet but the damage had been done, the pain sown and fully developed, and it was time to reap.
He was a formidable man of words and his words draped with the agony of life of the average South African, and of living in South Africa. It was the empty cupboards/ At home/ That made me do it/ I could not help it/ When I looked at my mama’s dry face/ And cracked lips/ Like a parched field/ Her withered hands/ Tortured my vision/ I would not allow my sister/ To peddle her greasy hole/ To put food on the table/ To humiliate my manhood/ (my family’s pride)/ The blood I bled/ Though I will never again/ I am telling you:/ the tattered rags that we wore/ the fragile voice/ of my mother’s cry at prayer times/ the moonless nights/ of our home with no candle/ made me do it./ Even my friends say/ no one sane would have done that:/ forgetting that an empty stomach/ is insensitive and wild
He writes himself in Robber’s confession, from his first poetry collection i lost a poem (Deep South, 2004), not in a sense to justify his actions but to expose the soul of a young boy of his early teens. He was caught in life, full of the potential and purpose to live but caged by life that he metamorphosis into something that he did not love, he said “our pride is caught in poverty like an innocent drowning in an ocean of incest shades, since I was forced to live through a bad spell washing the dirtiest washing. This new civilisation charmed and scared me as well – the clothes, the crew-cuts. The clinical cleanliness constructed a clear picture – that I was conquered. A nobody who has turned into a igongqongqo with potential to breed scars and feed hearts with painful wounds – an izim boiling the pot of human flesh – that is what I have become.”
He even questions the poets that came before him: Kgositsile, our poet laureate, connecting and acknowledging that poets and poetry is not independent of the nation but an address of the state of the nation, “now I have become a thick and white saliva from the dry mouth of hunger – and the laughter of my teeth is the colour of shame. “To be white is holy” so I was told but how when hunger is a sin? Poet of music old tell me, tell me in the sound of your voice; what does igqira mean when he says “death is in the pot?”
I still have to learn the ways to become a fool – to twist and break necks of young daughters and shout it loud with glee. I wish to have been born by a raped womb and have artistic precision to rape repeatedly the robust ones with turbulent passion – I could be that crazy. Unless you exorcise and silence the screams of our sweet sisters, unless you exorcise the demon in me, the poverty that degrades and humiliates my mind.”
i lost a poem is a painful book about the realities of a South Africa hidden in the closets yet more alive, it is melancholy as he said “lying there in the dark, doors and windows open. Listening, smoking deeper and deeper. You smacking the air. You digging your fists in – you holding my hand and for the first time I feel the condition of being human. I feel the ache and my soul longs to sing in a thousand secret whispers, a song to all the sad people of the world.”
What is a man or a woman’s purpose in life besides reproduction? It is hard question to answer as most of the time we live a life of luck, one will want to be a doctor because they know a doctor and being a doctor doesn’t necessarily purpose one’s life, it just enhance it. And choosing to be a doctor, wasn’t there something that you had to be that was to be defined by you first? We will never know but what if you knew that you were dying? Matiwana did and before his death came on the 11th of June 2009, he penned suicide poetry that was published in 2012, painfully titled Betrayal (Timbila 2012.) million miles of minutes away/ I pray -/oh poor pagan me/ how you longed to be free/ Holy angels that I do not know/ tell me when should I let go.
It is the poem that Matiwana opens this Betrayal of life with. Betrayal is suicide poetry of a painful life of a man, asked what is betrayal? He answers, “to wake up this morning heavy laden with financial worries –no breakfast and the kids are crying – how many times do I have to feel this? This Betrayal, this onslaught of human pride.”
What if Matiwana had a chance to sing us – all the sad people of this world – a song, what kind of a song would he have sung? It is a sad question because we can never know the effects that the song would have had on us. Would it have made us better or happy? “I once thought that life was not fair until I realised how sweet it is for the poor to be clothed and fed with poverty. I once thought that thoughts of a child molester were somehow irrational until I knew the truth that life is going on and fair and everything is happening according to God’s will. That is why I am content to say let the rapist rape, let the killer kill and let the thief steal, and let us all be mad for soon we will all be dead.”
And this is Matiwana’s song that he sings for us, i lost a poem was the door into his Betrayal of words adorned in pain. They claim that words can never kill but Mzwandile Matiwana’s words are killing with the ignorance of a proud convict, “I am lucky to have all these tough times, I am lucky that the world is against me. I am lucky to be the loser I am in this world.”
In my mind there’s a soft bell/ ringing/ and singing:/ to hell with them!/ To hell with all girls!/ The books will be my mistress and wife!/ I wearily swear for the last time –/ there will be no suffering in my mind –/ for poetry will never leave me alone!
At the end of it poverty is just a condition hard at work to disenfranchise all the Matiwanas of this earth and definitely not for the profit of any man. Indeed it is a song Matiwana is singing to us, sad people of this world.