African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Anti-Apartheid

What do you want me to say?

Improvised by the imbongi Nelson Title Mabunu at Umtata, Transkei, December 17 1970, in the course of a long poem in praise of Chief George Matanzima, co-leader of the illegal Transkei Bantustan. Mabuno was Matanzima’s official imbongi. He was a bitter enemy of the Xhosa poet Melikhaya Mbutuma, who was imbongi to the Thembu paramount chief Sabata Dalindyebo. Mbutuma’s six poems attacking Matanzima can be found elsewhere on this site (see part one, part two, part three, part four, part five and part six).

Jeff Opland was one of the first white South Africa academics to take a scholarly interest in Xhosa poetry. However, his research was conducted at the height of the apartheid regime. Even at the court of Matanzima, one of the main African collaborators with apartheid, his motives could be questioned – as in this amusing extract.

What do you want me to say, child of Opland?
What do you want me to say, fair-skinned one?..

The Pass Laws

Three Zulu songs from Johannesburg about the notorious Pass Laws of the Apartheid era. All Africans were required to carry a special pass, permitting them to be in the city.

I

Take a visit to Johannesburg:
You will see big crowds…

Anti-Apartheid Protest Poems (part six)

The last in a series of six poems from the Xhosa poet, Melikhaya Mbutuma. This was recited in March 1963, one month after the fifth poem (see also parts one, two and three and four for the background).

This final poem blames Matanzima directly for the desperate state of the Xhosa nation. Fulfilling his role as an imbongi, “as a spokesman of the nation”, Mbutuma denounces the illegitimacy of the regime, with its government-sanctioned violence and corruption. But he also criticises the widespread lawlessness and civil disorder, before turning on his own paramount chief Sabata, attacking him for his drunkenness. “I know these truths”, he says, “can be a cause for my arrest and prosecution”.

Despite frequent harassment by Matanzima’s police, Mbutuma survived and in 2002 owned a shop and a taxi service in Engcobo. Sabata, meanwhile, was arrested in 1979 and the following year deposed as chief. He fled to Lusaka, Zambia, where he died in exile in 1986…

Anti-Apartheid Protest Poems (part five)

The penultimate in a series of six poems from the Xhosa poet, Melikhaya Mbutuma. This was recited in February 1963, two months after the fourth poem (see also parts one, two and three for the background).

Much of the poem is a response to pamphlets produced by Thembekile Enock Tshunungwa (b.1923), a teacher and businessman, who had been an ANC organiser and one of the 156 defendants in the 1956 Treason Trial. Acquitted in 1961, he allied himself with Matanzima, publishing versions of Xhosa history which attributed the divisions in Xhosa society to the 1856 Cattle Killings and not to any actions by Matanzima. Mbutuma partly concedes this, but angrily disputes the historical details, including Matanzima’s legitimacy…

Anti-Apartheid Protest Poems (part four)

The fourth in a series of six poems from the Xhosa poet Melikhaya Mbutuma, this was recorded five months after the third poem (see also parts one and two for the background and parts five and six for the rest)…

Anti-Apartheid Protest Poems (part three)

The third in a series of six poems, this poem is set a year later than the second poem (see also part one for the background and four, five and six for the rest).

In 1962, the South Africa government published a constitution for an ‘independent’ Transkei, with Kaiser Matanzima as Chief Minister. For Mbutuma, a fierce traditionalist, his country is at a crossroads.

Anti-Apartheid Protest Poems (part two)

The second in a series of six poems (see part one for the background and three, four, five and six for the rest) from the Xhosa poet Melikhaya Mbutuma, imbongi to the Thembu paramount chief Sabata Dalindyebo (). This poem jumps forward twenty-one months…

Anti-Apartheid Protest Poems (part one)

This, the first in a series of six poems (see parts two, three, four, five and six for the rest) shows Anti-Apartheid protest at a very local level. They were recorded on the dates given from the Xhosa poet Melikhaya Mbutuma, imbongi (a composer and orator of poems praising a chief) to the Thembu paramount chief Sabata Dalindyebo…

African Poems