"Bila's work forges poetry of public protest with a gritty kind of rural realism. To do this in our weird times of don't-rock-the-boat censorship takes commitment" - Poet Robert Berold.
Vonani Bila is first and foremost a cultural activist and a proud leftist. So, it's not by accident that his first solo poetry collection In the name of AMANDLA epitomises that hunger for equality and a demand for social responsibility.
45 poems, written between 1994-2003 compressed into 120 pages, the collection spans through different genres and themes, embracing "the experience of post-liberation South Africa and stress the transcendal power of the natural and human world", while at the same time questioning the reasons behind the government's abandoning of the Reconstruction and Development Programme.
In Comrade, Bila's disillusionment with the political culture of this country comes out venomously, "comrade, don't drag me to endless meetings/ to protest the capitalist/ fight the smug elites/ be it in Washington, Seattle, Geneva or Davos/ we never act/ nor reach any resolution"
With the leftist credentials that Bila flaunts, In the name of AMANDLA risked becoming a political rant like The Communist Manifesto, The Freedom Charter, The Little Red Book or The Libyan Green Book, but it succeeded in possessing enough soul to can live without Bila periodically blowing breath in its lungs.
In the poem Shangaan, he says, "pitch black/ he must be a bear/ silwani/ when he's little/ malume plants a tree/ so his dick will be big and tasty/ don't leave your wife with a shangaan, please". Any truth?
The book comes on nearly the same tune as Mbongeni Khumalo's Apocrypha and It All Begins.
Most of Bila's poems were originally written in xiTsonga and it's by sheer luck or translation skills that they retain their cultural identity even after being colonised by the Queen.
Poems include Mandela, Have You Ever Wondered?, Give me Love, Rwanda and much more.
There's a very strong xiTsonga influence with a little of every spoken language.
Bila is a strong advocate of honest poetry which should make In the name of AMANDLA an honest book, almost like a tale from a confession box. Though subjectively honest, the closest he comes to a confession is in the poem outpouring love (for lomcebo). "though it's cold tonight/ hail and rain covering the ground/ but with sane memory/ I have discovered you/ in the midst of fog/ I long/ for your warm sure voice…/ sing me/ a fertile song/ as we stroke each other's back/ bite and twine between the legs". Even Bila knows this is bedroom talk, substitute for a poem still to be written.
The book pays tribute to a lot of "fertile" activists like George Dor, Trevor Ngwane and Bila's Timbila poets who number into hundreds.
"in Europe, there's no black president/ and I'll not stop saying this/ even when I know publisher's ink is expensive, thicker/ than my blood/ my history is without red roses/ just print this agony sir/madam/ it comes from my heart" he writes.
The book is unadulterated post-liberation poetry at its best. I'll advise you to order a copy and watch as 2004 flies past.
In the name of AMANDLA was published through funding secured from Interfund and retails for R95 and is currently still available directly from the Timbila Poetry Project at 015 291 2088