South African performance poetry is alive and kicking, thanks to a strong tradition of using the spoken word to highlight injustice. Its guerilla cloak is discarded, however, when the spotlight falls on spoken-word or slam poetry in Speak the Mind at the Arts Alive festival in Johannesburg every September.

Did you know?

Traditionally, African societies have a rich history of oral story-telling.

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 (1979), tells the story of the rise of the Zulu king.

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, Ntsiki 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.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

City of Johannesburg
Tel: 0860 562 874

How to get here

Poetry is mostly booked at festivals like the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and the Spier Poetry Festival in Cape Town, which are easily accessible by road.

What will it cost

Depending on the venue and calibre of poetry, the fee will apply.

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