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Poem by Moses Mtileni

a nation becoming
(rough notes on twenty years of democracy)


we slaughtered a buffalo for a braai
after Eugene and his horses left the trade centre
beard, shot khakhis and a long gun at hand
under curious trees inaugurating future bosberaads
khakhi shorts and talk of volkstad and gunshots departing

did you tell her mother and father and the gods
that their daughter has died in faraway lands
with none her own but wandering spirits like her own

a beautiful bird quizzed us
whether toppling bloodthirsty clowns amounted to a revolution
enough to undress soldiers and dissolve an army
bury angola guerilla tactics, cuban aid and soviet training
worthy of the majestic animal we butchered for a braai
or drowning in liquor toasting to a rainbow future

did you tell her father and mother and the gods
that their daughter has died in faraway lands
with none her own but her own spirit wandering

mines or banks or farms were deleted from the agenda
only parliaments and city halls and embassies were tabled
for discussion
and private rights cemented in a fragile covenant
in whose wounded womb crawled a new nation
no questions asked: die stem-nkosi sikelel blended
our enoch sontonga son of the soil like we all are

did you tell the gods and her father and mother
that their daughter has died in faraway lands
with none her own and no flowers laid to mark her grave

the chief of nkatha, mtwana ka phindanghene
as if to curse tomorrow, almost walked away
until a solid promise was extracted from the negotiators
that homelands would be renamed provinces
and prime ministers converted to premiers
inaugurated every five years after a ballot
leaving intact the designs of architect verwoerd
savages lumped variously according to tribe

did you tell her father and the gods and her mother
that their daughter has died in faraway lands
with none her own but the tormenting sounds of unceasing gunshots

every other bleeding memory shall be deferred to a commission
whose chair is to be an amusing emeritus bishop
to dull the sting of grueling confessions
we shall call it truth and reconciliation
following a chorus of rigged testimonies and half-truths and streaming tears
we buried atrocity in pardons and dragged reparations
and those lost in the jungles of exile were never fetched

did you tell her mother and father and the gods
that their daughter has died in faraway lands
with none her own but tormenting fractures of freedom longing

future bosberaads, curious trees,
departing gunshops, boipatong
someone asked of the freedom charter,
and its place on the walls of the union buildings
they were warned of the omnipotence and might of the markets
and how those that owned the wealth that fed me and you
would skip the border to protect their interests
so quietly a resolution was mumbled
bury the freedom charter on a tomb
locate it in a small tower in the middle of kliptown
a glamourous state funeral would be organized
poet president thabo mbeki would render the oration
and the square is to be duly dedicated
to that silent old sage walter sisulu

did you ask of her mother and father and the gods
that they please welcome this their daughter
give her a place to rest in this her plundered home
for she is a spear, fallen in combat



Naskanani, kuvulamukhalabye                                   Naskanani, says the old man

Wanganaskanananaskanani                           Please naskanananaskanani

Ahenhla ka naskanani                                                 On top of naskanani

U yi naskananahaleno                                                Andnaskanana it here

Ni ta naskanananaskanani                                          So I naskanananaskanani

Valangutana                                                                They looked at each other

Hatlisamani, demmet                                                  Hurry man’, dammit

Kambe i maninaskanani                                             But who is naskanani


means everything and nothing at the same time,
it is a placeholder.
It is both a verb and a noun,
and none of the above


Naskanani, or nasika: is ‘thingy’ in English, if such a word exists, or nantsika in IsiZulu

Sing our Redemptions Songs Marley
(for Robert Nesta Marley)


Sing our redemptions songs
Kingston town is a ruin of a paradise
The drum of poverty echoes through the streets of Trenchtown
The flowers of song blossom to bury thorns and prickles
Peter Tosh caught a bullet and cursed death
Bunny Wailer disappeared in the jungles of time
How many rivers do we have to cross
To rescue the precious stones plundered

Sing our redemptions songs
The campaign to journey back home buried in the waves of Carribea
The dream of visiting the graves of our forefathers drowned
Africa is but a dying heath of flowing rhythms of the mbira and marimba
Who says a new home can be built on the hilltops of Babylon
When Hussein Barack Obama crawls through the corridors of a white house
Crawl chasing a dream of transitions that never come
Ancient Marcus Garvey snores violently in his grave
The whip of slavery explodes still to disrupt our peace

Sing our redemptions songs
The Lion of Judah has found a new home in the mountains
We take a leaf still from Revelations 5: 5
The virgin girls await still the arrival of the groom
Lamps burning until the olive oil flies with the winds
The herb is a restless bone foretelling the suffocating sorrows of Babylon
Holy Mount Zion brews miracles still.

Sing our redemptions songs
Zimbabwe searches for her soul still
Tongogara and Chitepo are but mere skeletons on a forgotten shrine
The hippos ravage fields they have not cultivated
Gabriel stretches his legs on the throne collecting fragments of madness,
Planting epilepsy in the bones of Harare
The basket of Africa an ingredient for jokes
Congo and Sudan remain sores in the nose
The unification of Africans an agenda item in AU boardroom sessions

Sing our redemptions songs
Babylon stands firm still on her two feet
Another leaf from the folktale of history is burnt
Children fed lies and poisoned to curse their roots
Thieves and murderers showered with honours and titles
Our humanity plundered and buried in angry flames
We gonna fight, we’ll ave to fight, fighting for our rights
Life is one big road with lots of signs
Babylon a fierce mamba pregnant with poison

Sing our redemptions songs
The minds of the oppressed remained chained in illusion
Growing dreadlocks tabooed by the learned
Owls and hyenas belong to the same tribe
Laws holding souls and spirits in captivity
Universities and churches graduate thieves and murderers
Women’s screams have become our lullabies
Sheriffs kill still our seeds before they grow
When we shoot them we are thrown into dungeons

Sing our redemptions songs Marley
So we smile with the rising sun
For redemption songs is all we’ve ever had
The Island Jamaica is a rare pebble
The gravity of the grave despise the beauty of your heart


Corner Bree

flocking in still
several exits and entrances
cnr bree and ntemipiliso
every day end we queue here
greetings on a phone to Harare
we shuffle
12 13 I enquire on my way
marshall points as he counts
1 2 3 4 the red inyathi
behind the white siyaya
magogo sings, eyes closed,
a young girl holding her hand
bowl in hand, cents clanking
no notes in sight
flocking in still


Translated from Xitsonga by the author


he arrived yesterday at dusk
the sun descending on the hills of man’ombe
no ululations for an arriving groom were heard
makhahlele wa mbhombhi was no groom
an anguishedshrill was heard from n’wa-maringa
as he entered the gates
she had last seen him during the year of the locust
when he left to fend for the chicks like his peers and folk
only to be swallowed by the mines of carletonville
nown’wa-maringa is in mournful black
long before her hair begins to gray
anglogoldashanti was not among the mourners
cents for compensation will land two moons from now
gold is yet to be processed in far-off lands
todaymbhombhi will be wrapped in a blanket for burial
particles of clay will mark his grave
for he came home empty-handed
The chicks will remain and eat the soil
Joburg and Kimberly are a bitter seed of toil