Wet pain… tread with care

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 55th birthday.

Legeso Rampolokeng
South African
b. 1965

 

tattered rain
& i’m navy blue
in the frayed streets
pressure reaching down
& slow magic coming on
drum flute & the night whistle
mute music of torn throats

& then
tongues twisted around on themselves
spew out froth
green
rabid at yellow dusk…

& the night gathers its red soaked apparel
staggers home

Yeye

We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, Youth Day.

Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi
South African
1875 – 1945

 

Who is this? It is Yeye
with whom is he? With his father
What is he bringing for him? Sour milk
What is the colour of the container? Red
Where did she place it? In the cattle kraal
Which one? The big one
He who drinks is a fool!
He who drinks is a fool!

Will the Years Roll By While You Mark Time?

Nontsizi Mgqwetho
South African
c. 1880? – c. 1930?

 

Where’s human kindness? The sense of a nation?
The land of warriors with tossing crane plumes?
Where is royalty? There’s nothing of value:
all that we once had is gone!!

Will all the years roll by?
Will you mark time through this year too?
Your family’s left you; your stock have left you.
They’re now the stock of the Mutton Gluttons.

Mqoma said so, and they called him mad
for spurning the madness of surrender.
In the light of day you sold your kingdom
and went looking for a wife.

Christians, where are your bibles today?
I’d better stop: I get too angry.
Truly, these people from overseas
used them to rob us of house and home.

What they gave us to drink was bitter.
Africa, how have you sinned?
Drought afflicts you, your rivers dry up.
What do they say in the far northeast?

Maqoma said so, and they called him mad
for spurning the madness of surrender.
Now there’s no one we can trust:
we shunned even God our only hope.

Will you mark time through this year too?
For long I’ve said so, now this year says:
“Though lacking faith, please come home,
those glittering baubles aren’t for you.”

And what about these marriages
Made and broken in a day?
We’ve become neither fish nor fowl,
The walking dead unfamiliar to God.

Will all the years roll by?
This year says: “Gird yourself
to seek the source of your condition,
why you’re so and why you starve.”

Go back to where you came from
as Ntsikana said in dying.
Don’t use the truth to make a deal:
this cash led us astray.

Seek the seers to tell you straight
what the ancient of days divines
so you speak fearlessly with that knowledge:
a nation that fears, is a nation of liars.

There’s the pass in a nation of liars,
there’s the raid in a nation of liars,
and scripture foresses more,
by my forefathers and father who sired me.

You’re coming home!!

The Clitoral Nature of Colonialism or What Happened To Our Dela

Rozena Maart
South African
b. 1962

 

The socks
the pants
the water in the iron basin reflect her hair
it lie there
engrossed by the stare
of our mamma
our mamma
our story teller
our dear

The sun shines on her voice
with rays of pleasantries
with strokes of plenitude
an air of delight
as she speaks with so much power
so much power and so much might

Our eyes survey her presence
and she asks that we not despair
this is about life
about the lives that was
and those to come
and those to regain
for pleasure and not shame
of lives and land
to reclaim and rename
of experiences unknown
untold but bold
but behold
mamma talks
tells the story
and so it unfolds:

We hear mamma talk about the shore
the tip of Africa — our home — our life
about the white man’s dreams
and oh, so galore
she tells their desires
of the young Black girls they admire
of the girls who they ask to parade
not in the sunlight
but in their shade
where they lie and compete
for fresh Black women’s meat
and so they explore
on every possible shore
forever and ever
for Black women for their dela
for their tings dat hang like grapes
for der tings dat hold dem men tings tight
for der dela brings delight
delight and pleasure
to the white man’s liesure

Der story is not finished
we are told dat there is more
we know all about der shore
about der rules and der law
about der women who lived before
about der times when we were more
Mamma tells about der times
when the rivers ran and ran
when they covered all the land
when der women washed in der shore
when they were grabbed and spoke no more

We want to cry
but mamma says “No”
there’s no tears for what happened
no tears for all der years
no time to reminisce
if we are only going to miss
the objective of the lesson
of the lesson and the story
of our pain and future glory

of the glory still to come
if we stand and fight as one
and build our hearts and hopes
and dream about the land that’s ours
and keep our dela safe ashore
in our bloomers
shut behind our door

Our dela
our heritage
and still our fight
our knowledge
our history
our right
our land
our culture
in their hands tight

The plan is clear as daylight
our legs apart
our hearts crossed
our fists clenched
our mouths sealed
pressed hard against our will
our dela pinched closed
our teeth chattering to our spirits
our spirits racing to the future
racing for the day
when our dela can be ours
and only ours
to have and to hold
to savour and to fold

We clasp our hands together
and jpin mamma loud in song
it’s a pray and a story
a story and a song
a story overdue
overdue
so long

The Efficacy of Prayer

In honor of Human Rights Day, we present this work by one of 20th century South Africa’s cleverest poets.

Casey Motsisi
South African
1932 – 1977

 

They called him Dan the Drunk.
The old people refuse to say how old he was,
Nobody knows where he came from – but they all
Called him Dan the Drunk.
He was a drunk, but perhaps his name was not really Dan.
Who know, he might have been Sam.
But why bother, he’s dead, poor Dan.
Gave him a pauper’s funeral, they did.
Just dumped him into a hole to rest in eternal drunkenness.
Somehow the old people are glad that Dan the Drunk is dead.
Ghastly!
They say he was a bad influence on the children.
But the kids are sad that Dan the Drunk is no more.
No more will the kids frolic to the music that used to flow out of his battered concertina. Or listen to the tales he used to tell.
All followed him into that pauper’s hole.
How the kids used to worship Dan the Drunk!
He was just one of them grown older too soon.
‘I’m going to be just like Dan the Drunk,’ a little girl said to her parents of a night cold while they crowded around a sleepy brazier.
The parents looked at each other and their eyes prayed.
‘God Almighty, save our little Sally.’
God heard their prayer.
He saved their Sally.
Prayer. It can work miracles.
Sally grew up to become a nanny…

Tell me the news

Sipho Sepamla
South African
1932 – 2007

 

Tell me of a brother
who hanged himself in prison
with a blanket
was he punchdrunk

Tell me of a brother
who flung himself to death
from the ninth floor of a building
did his grip fumble with the loneliness up there

Tell me of a hooded man
who picked out others of his blood on parade
was his skin beginning
to turn with solitude

Oh, tell me of a sister
who returned home pregnant
from a prison cell
has she been charged under the Immorality Act

Tell me of a brother
who hanged himself in jail
with a piece of his torn pair of jeans
was he hiding a pair of scissors in the cell

Tell me, tell me sir
has the gruesome sight
of a mangled corpse
not begun to sit on your conscience

Just Because

Benedict Wallet Vilakazi
South African
1906 – 1947

 

Just because I smile and smile
And happiness is my coat
And my song tuneful and strong
Though you send me down below
Into unbelievable regions
Of the blue rocks of the earth –
You think I am a gatepost
Numb to the stab of pain.

Just because of the laugh on my lips
And my eyes lowered in respect,
Pants rolled up above the knees
And my dark hair all dun-coloured
And thick with the roadside dust,
My hands swinging a pick,
And the back stripped out of my shirt –
You think I am like a stone
And don’t know what it is to die.

Because at the fall of dark
When I’ve unloosened the chains
Of my days long labour
And I fall in with my brothers
Stamping the ground in a tribal dance
And we sing songs of old times
That stir up our fighting blood
Driving away all our cares –
For you think that I’m a beast
That breeds its kind and dies.

Because I seem to you a simpleton
Knocked over by plain ignorance
and the laws beyond my understanding,
except maybe that they rob me.
And the house I built for myself
under the hang of the rock,
a hut of grass for my home,
my clothing an empty sack –
You think I am just an antheap;
and not one tear have I in me
to drip out from my own heart
and run over the pure hands
of the souls who see all.

They Also Are Children of the Earth

We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, the Day of Good Will.

Mizisi Kunene
South African
1930 – 2006

 

Cursed shall be the one whose passage in this world
Evades humaneness, engenders greed and hoarding
Cursed is he wallowing alone in caskets of wealth and
Counting rosary beads of accumulated cars
To be human is to humbly cherish the sweat of your toil
In measured style of decency and appreciation
To be human is to consider the plight of the needy
As they also are children of the earth
Yes, men and women of this blessed land

Shantytown Removal

In honor of the Day of Reconciliation, we present this work by one of the most legendary voices of the South African conflict.

Modikwe Dikobe
South African
b. 1913

 

I shall never forget that winter morning
A rainy November morning
They dismantled our shantytown
Mindless of sleeping souls
Fast asleep as of anaesthesia.

Unforeseen convey headlights
Heading to our shantytown
Motionless as of a ghost
Returning to its grave in early morning.

Morena! I thought I was dreaming
At the bank of the Klip River
Sprawled on the bank; demobbed soldiers
To demob our peaceful camp
In the name of human rights
In the year of the allied nations.

O! Merciful Lord
Am I sleeping in the open
As in Lombardy estate
In that year of the King’s visit,
Or is it a repetition of demobbed soldiers
On the banks of Canada stream,
Or just a deranged mind?

A stinking lavatory hole there,
A heap of rubbish here,
A stray dog there
It’s all that is left.
In twice a big town
Housing a thousand souls
With its own administration.

I, alone, with a wife and child,
Am left in this ruin
Once, the pride of my administration,
Whipped away are those
Who vowed: ‘We stand by our leader’
Left in the mercy of the documents.

Powerless, hopeless, I lead nobody
I am unfeathered
Left wingless
Dumfounded.
South, West, we are being driven in circles
Spanning in confusion
A mine dump, head-gear, mine column, a lake,
A river bend; seamlessly flowing
Not as I saw it on demobbed day.

And I Watch it in Mandela

John Matshikiza
South African
1954 – 2008

 

It is not for the safety of silence
That this man has opened his arms to lead
The strength of his words hangs in the air
As the strength in his eyes remains on the sky;
And the years of impatient waiting draw on
While this man burns to clear the smoke in the air.
There is fire here,
Which no prison
Can kill in this man;
And I watch it in Mandela.