People’s Poet – Caught in a Time Warp

This week I had the misfortune of listening, for the second time to Mzwakhe Mbuli’s post-liberation recorded rants. I remembered the Mzwakhe of the late 1980s whose recordings I could recite by heart. I even bought his poetry book.

Even though it (his poetry) was spruced with a lot of Aghostino Neto punchlines and other revolutionaries like Marcus Garvey and Patrice Lumumba it still made a lot of sense. It made sense because it was conceived and presented at an epoch that South Afrika was going through at the time, similar to what Angola, Jamaica and Zaire DR Congo went through.

Then The People’s Poet was thrown in jail for robbing a bank and being picked at an identity parade by a witness. I think his stay in jail really messed with his mind and his ability to litigate. Today he is known more for pioneering the battle against the technology that make people burn CDs, DVDs and other media and not spending money on actually buying the records. This is stealing from artists’ tables – it sucks as well.

His media-hyped crusades against Chinese and Indians hawkers reminds me of a guy who is said to have wondered why his business was stalling and when he was told that it was some people using cyberspace to do the same thing he was doing demanded that they be hired to work for him – when he was told that they make good money working cyberspace demanded that his CFO buy the whole fucking cyberspace in a hostile takeover.

What Mzwakhe fails to understand is that these days there are more file sharing sites than record bars. There are more DJs remixing and playing other people’s music than arenas to perform. I don’t need to leave my workstation to get a hot song for free. I can either go to or to a club to listen to some DJ playing Mzwakhe over a house beat.

Okay, the point behind this point is to critique why Mzwakhe is dangerously caught in a time warp. I picked this when I was listening to his empty rants against society. I still remember that his first recording after doing time in prison contained lines that demanded to know what was the bone of contention between Zuma and the Scorpions. That was shallow given that there are more newspapers in prison than in my whole neighbourhood but we knew what the two elephants were battling for.

Now his latest recording, with a religious twist, which is actually gospel - left me feeling bad for what prison does to people and their perception of society. Your clock stops when they lock those giant gates and only starts ticking again when they jerk them open after your parole hearing. And in your mind you are still at 10h30 when it’s already 23h46.

I can say with conviction and without any fear of contradiction that Mzwakhe sucks as a poet, not because of his own doing but the system that denied him the opportunity to move with the times. For a man who spoke for a lot of people and for rights his stand on gays and lesbians is hypocritical – Sodom and Gommorah? Please, I would understand if it came from Pope Benedict XVIII and not a man who lamented for freedom which comes with the right to be.

It is unlike Mzwakhe to moralise about crime and homosexuals when he was convicted of armed robbery. Will he feel comfortable if he was compared to the thugs who robbed the traveler who found solace in the house of the Samaritan in the New Testament? His rhetoric against abortion sounds as if it comes from the mouth of a person who was comfortable with our sisters dying in backstreet abortion labs since abortion was invented – not by us but those who were doing it in London during apartheid.

In his heyday (when he still sat on the UDF Cultural Desk) he never protested about the absence of proper medical facilities for termination of pregnancy for black sistas. What does he expect them to do when they miss their periods after a night of binging? Give birth and starve the kids or put them on welfare? Or do backstreet abortions and die like mongrels?

Finally, when I tried to fall in love with his sermons I ended up seriously offended. Mzwakhe tries to redeem himself through the use of punchlines as if he was some older version of ProKid, reminiscent of his protest poetry. But overall, the People’s Poet sucks as a poet. I would recommend that police commissioner Bheki Cele hook him up a badge and make him a sheriff in the new SAPS Cyber Unit.


  1. Three reads of this post left me not much the wiser about your empty rants against Mzwakhe. For one who purports to be a writer, a poet nogal, you should have done better than scratch the surface.

  2. Advocate for him my friend, i am of the opinion that if you can tell that what is being scratched is the surface you seem to know what lies underneat. Share it with us and let's all learn from your analysis of Mzwakhe and his 'poetry'


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