South Africa's struggle poets
Did you know?
Traditionally, African societies preserved their history and sense of identity through oral story-telling traditions.
Africa is ours
Africa Day is ours
This continent is ours
The only continent in the world
That is shaped like a question mark
These are the words of veteran South African struggle poet Mzwakhe Mbuli.
His spoken-word poetry came to the fore during the apartheid era (1948 to 1994) when the National Party government was trying to silence its opponents.
Mbuli was one of South Africa's struggle poets who built on the strong oral tradition of story-telling in the country's pre-literate societies to circumvent the apartheid regime's suffocating grip on the printed word.
He trumpeted struggle poetry in South Africa as a weapon against the oppressive system of race classification and heralded the role of artist as activist.
Mbuli became known as the People's Poet or the father of resistance poetry in South Africa. But he was only one of South Africa's struggle poets who spoke out against injustices in South Africa.
The late Mazisi Kunene, South Africa's first poet laureate, was an iconic intellectual and exiled ANC activist in London. His seminal work, Emperor Shaka the Great: A Zulu Epic, tells the story of the rise of the Zulu king. The poem has been called "a great work by any standards".
Today, South African struggle poetry inspires the informal and formal performances which are a feature of South Africa's burgeoning underground and mainstream spoken-word or slam poetry scene.
Lebo Mashile, Ntisiki Mazwai, the Khoi Khonnexion and Tumi from Tumi and the Volume are just some of South Africa's poets who have embraced this captivating and evolving genre of the spoken word.
The Johannesburg Arts Alive festival, held every year in September, is the premier platform for the exponents of rhythm, repetition and rhyme and its Speak the Mind sub-section draws poetry fans to the inner-city's Newtown Cultural Precinct.
On March 19, 2012, secondary school students participated in a Black History Month Poetry Slam session in Mamelodi, outside Tswane. The theme was ‘Heroes’ and the students’ slam poems celebrated the lives of South African and American national figures like Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Barak Obama and Martin Luther King Jr.
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