History Is a Heavy Matter

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

Gcina Mhlope
South African
b. 1958


History is a heavy matter
It is a strange animal with multiple heads
Colours too many to ever count
The creature’s unique colours have a way
Of awakening the most indescribable pride
But others bring back such sad memories
The very worst memories
Of events that left our ancestors
perplexed, speechless

And then it makes you feel so much joy
You hear massive drums pounding
Deep in your heart, with invisible hands
Beating a rhythm that goes Gu! Gu!
Another Gu! Gu! Another Gu! Gu!
Reminding you that these colours and faces and eyes
Are the proud heritage of a nation
They are shining, glittering brightly
And when one of the heads speaks directly
Come closer, go on and touch me,
Feel free to even caress me if you so wish
Yes, go on. Show off, tell the world
What a great achiever you are
Just by mentioning my name
Then remember who you are
Where you are from and where you are going

The warm glow of a happiness so overwhelming
The smile spreads down to your very toes!
And such indescribable pride about your history
But then one of the creature’s heads turns and shouts
Stop! Stop right there!
Remember that it is not only great events
That make up your history or that of any other nation!
Apply your mind, remember well the painful atrocities
And terrible mistakes
Learn, grow and be certain not to return to those times
That hurt your very soul
It is clear that the heart loves to suppress and cover well
This way it wants to avoid wasting precious tears
Oh, how they flow, unstoppable, when the heart breaks into pieces
As it sees the ugliness on the face
Of the multi-headed beast
Head raised up high, threatening, opening
The worst and deepest wounds
Prompting us to earnestly say
Indeed, history is a heavy matter

The maidens we honour here today
Died painfully fighting for their rights
The times were not at all like today
The laws of the land did not allow them
To even begin to open their little mouths
King Cetshwayo was unprepared for what happened
They defied the orders forcing them to marry old warriors
So he ordered them all to be killed
Today we honour the maidens of Ingcuce Regiment
Heroines we respect as we sincerely say
They did not lay down their lives in vain
Their memory inspires us to open our eyes
To face today’s challenges

It is time for us, young and old
To empower ourselves and each other to build the nation.
To make our ancestors in the land of Mthaniya proud
Yes, indeed, history is a heavy matter
But a great educator too
Courage, children of Africa, Courage!

Home Address

We present this work in honor of the South African holiday, National Women’s Day.

Makhosazana Xaba
South African
b. 1957


She refuses to pack and leave
Every morning she prays out loud – twice – while
Standing in front of the massive wooden door
For the third time kneeling in front of the eternal flame

She tells them that the flame is her own fire
That she cooks her meals there and sleeps there on cold nights
That she taught herself to read by standing in front of the lettered door
She tells them that the colossal door is a superwoman
When they say she has lost her mind, she says that is a lie
Her home address is: “Hilltop”
And her name is Dedani.

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
rabid at yellow dusk…

& the night gathers its red soaked apparel
staggers home


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
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.
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