Once Upon a Time in White River
Commemorating Sixteen Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse
A South American poet and political commentator made it explicitly clear that he wants nothing to do with lyricism that has nothing to do with liberation. He was to a certain extent right – often lyricism for the sake of rhyming sucks. It sucks because artists spend countless hours yepping about themselves and how they are the dopest in the business. Well, I have been to plenty sessions but I can’t tell if there is what we call a dope poet. What I know is a poet whose is spot-on. Maybe we can call them a spot-on poet.
Spot-on means the bard touches on issues we all relate to. They produce material about situations we can all relate to – love, death, funerals, loss, pain, happiness, lust, weddings, trauma etc. They write about emotion and not daffodils which are an existing subject.
Maybe I’m trying to sound all-knowing but it’s my take – my opinion which I am entitled to, which if someone wanted to rob me of this right and you were aware of it you should give your life to protect it.
Well, the reason I am so chaffed is because I am still in a post-orgasmic stage of one of the best poetry, music and drama sessions I have ever attended. Our 16 Days of Activism against Women and Child Abuse jol at White River Civic Centre which brought together talents from Xpressions Sessions (Kriel), Bana Ba Bongi (Shatale), hip hop and rap crews from Madjembeni and some poets from other parts of the province. We had the best music, drama and poetry session under one roof – and did everybody pull up their socks?
The thing about fusing genres to make a potpourri of a festival is that nobody wants to be left behind. You don’t get actors wanting the show to be remembered for its poetry, poets don’t want the show to be remembered for the drama and musicians don’t want it to be remembered for poetry and drama. Right there you have a recipe for subtle competition. However on the day that we committed to Chant Down Fear and give voices to our woman it was to a larger extent collaborative. If you can’t beat them, join them, they say. If you can’t play a guitar or drums, sing or recite to them, if you can’t sing or recite, play an instrument, just don’t stand there and look at us as if we are in a zoo.
I don’t want to mention names of performers on this post because I might not remember others and that might be fertile ground for animosity. However I will touch broadly on what transpired and what had me inspired to rush home, draft this post regardless of being bushed and blog it within 24 hours.
The themes touched on the day involved woman and child abuse, though I must admit there was actually little heard on the abuse of the child. A sister touched on identity – the so-called cross-cultural frustration of Coloureds. The Coloured issue is a human rights issue – it’s a pencil-test issue. An issue that will refuse to disappear from our consciousness as long as we focus on differences and not similarities. Her style, which was both at-your-face and an
indictment on society’s obsession with defining something they are not was crude and telling.
Well, it was at this session that what was saddening on my part was to have a show in White River and not have a single artist who performed in isiSwati. All the isiSwati artists invited to grace the event and be part of a horde of artists united in their defence of women and children’s rights failed to pitch – except of course for Comrade Sifiso. But now, when you have been in this game as long as some of us you know that it’s not the poet that makes the poetry session, it’s the poetry – which was in abundance in various languages.
What was refreshing was the liberty people expressed to speak – in the language of their ancestors and dreams. They spoke in Sepulana, Sepedi, Tsotsitaal (not Scamtho), Afrikaans and English. Like I said earlier what was missing was isiSwati and for god’s sake this is isiSwati territory. Either they are not writing anything that has anything to do with liberation, they are obsessing with the Metro Awards which are coming soon to this town or they just don’t give a damn about women and child abuse. To have the whole ethnic group not giving a damn is scary. It makes one wonder why we had this session in White River when we could have had it in Kriel or Bushbuckridge where almost all the artists who performed came from.
It makes one wonder about the future of the oppressed people of Swaziland? Who will liberate them if not by their kinsmen and women in Mpumalanga? If one can not commit to a simple cause that does not carry a prison sentence as a battle against patriarchy and its manifestations one wonders how many are willing to put their lives on the line on a cause that might require martyrdom.
Okay, enough of asking question and now it’s time for what happened. Bana Ba Bongi, that troupe of inspired children I love so much didn’t disappoint. They prepared a show specifically for the event and did they act like there was no tomorrow. No prizes for guessing that when the curtain fell they got a standing ovation – not because they are young and need motivation, but simply because they kicked butt.
We had an inspiration talk from GRIP, the project that has committed all its resources to the fight against rape and women abuse in the Lowveld. Sister Nomshado, one of two people I will mention by name gave a thought-provoking address about abuse. It was refreshing to note that she focused a large section of her address to the people who matter – the kids. She spoke in a language they found penetrating and frank.
Then there was motivational speaker and ex-activist (by her own confession) Matshilo Motsei. Known for penning the controversial book on Jacob Zuma’s trial (The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court) she rendered an item about the shifting power dynamics. As if prophesying, she said society is getting used to the fact that men are gradually losing their dominance and paving a way for a layer of power-women.
Well, at the end of all the celebrations it was time to exchange numbers and network. We would have loved a braai, but there’s always a next time. Some of the poets who graced the event will be revealed – warts and all in the upcoming Bantu Letters poetry anthology – coming in March. Malibongwe!
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