Chris Mann was born in Port Elizabeth in 1948 and went to school at Bishops/Diocesan College in Cape Town. He studied English and Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand, and went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar where he was awarded an MA in English Language and Literature. He also studied African Oral Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. From 1977 to 1980 he held a lecturer post in the English Department at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. From 1980 to 1995 he worked with an NGO, The Valley Trust at KwaNyuswa outside Durban, after which he returned to Rhodes University where he was a professor of poetry with the Institute for the Study of English in Africa. He was founder and convenor of Wordfest, a national multilingual festival of South African languages and literature with a developmental emphasis. A native English speaker, Mann was also conversant in Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa. He performed his work at festivals, schools, churches, universities and conferences in South Africa. He was married to artist Julia Skeen.
by Chris Zithulele Mann
A cluster of them, as bald and chubby
as statues of Buddha, as white as clouds,
their under-rings pink and delicate
as the gills of a fish, having nudged
and shoved one rainy frog-sung night
up through the holy humus of the soil
glistened at sunrise below a great tree
among small mosses, twigs and stones.
Nothing unusual, you could of course say,
an event, in fact, of no significance at all
when set against the politics of the planet,
the age of the cosmos, the roar of the stars
except that a child knelt and touched
their tender, rain-dewed dawn-lit domes
and was for a moment all astonishment,
all curiosity, all joy – before she passed by,
before she and the moment passed by.
Is This the Freedom for Which We Died?
(from the poem in isiZulu) by Chris Zithulele Mann
Whenever I stop to think deeply
during these days of violent change
I meet up with the martyrs for freedom.
I see Steve Biko again
and Achmad Timol
and David Webster,
all, all of them killed by deeds of hatred.
I also see Nelson Mandela
who was buried alive in prison
but stepped from his tomb
still living and is the Lazarus of our times.
These are the heroes I think of often,
that knock at the doors of our memory,
that travel around this country of ours looking about them
and talking like ancestral spirits of the new South Africa.
Going into the home of a drunkard
they see him beating his wife and children.
Says one of the heroes, ‘Look at that!
Is this the freedom for which we died?’
Entering the townships
they find the skies full of flames
and people running confusedly around the streets
like termites whose homes have been kicked over.
Another says, ‘Oh! what a disgrace!
Is this the freedom for which we died?
Ubhalelwe uZithulele Mann For Chris Mann
Imilambo yonke ayilingani
Eminye mikhulu eminye mincinci Some are big some small
Eminye ibanzi eminye imxinwa Some are wide and some narrow
Yonke izalwa kwindawo ephezulu All are born in upper places
Iyaqukuqela ithuthela elwandle They all deliver to the sea
Apho amanzi ajika incasa Where water changes taste
Apho zininzi iintlanzi Where fishes are many
Ezifuna ubomi. With want to live
Eminye ibingayi kufika
Kodwa iyawanikela awayo amanzi But they courier their water
Khangelani ke: kwindawo Here observe: At the place
Egalela kuyo emincinci. Emikhulu Where the small pour: The big
Idlula ngesantya esiphezulu Pass with increased pace
Imisinga elandelayo nayo inamandla And the torrents that follow have energy
Athe kratya. That too is increased.
Ithi ke ukuba ibinikele amanzi
Ngobunyulu bawo. Okanye In its purest form: Or perhaps
Kukho izibhidi nezibi There were litters and pollutes
Nokuba ziziphunzi Or perhaps some logs
Ukuphunza kwamaphupha Aborted pursuits of dreams
Emikhulu imilambo izithwale The big river carries all
Izityekeze ke kumagophe And dumps them at the curves
Okanye ifike nazo elwandle Or reach the oceans with them
Kuba ulwandle kuyazicoca Because the ocean cleanses itself
Luzityekeze izibi nezibhidi And spits off the pollutes
Lungabuzanga baninizo. Without searching the polluters
by Sonwabile Mfecane
FOR THE TEACHER
by Sonwabile Mfecane
I was a poet once – blessed with words
I guess I became rusty listening to the wise
And I coined no words of my own
Until it was sorrow that fell upon me.
To deal with sorrow we must search for words
So I smuggled today inside the cathedral
The words from the rasta, the rusty me
“The Lips of the righteous teaches many”
This is to bid farewell to Mann righteous
What sorrow? I ask myself
For this teacher waited the bell
What sorrow I ask every-self
The school is out and lesson was given.
There is no sorrow in every death
Now we grab our mortarboard and graduate