Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 2. March 11, 1975
Poets to the People — South African Freedom Poems
Poets to the People
South African Freedom Poems
Violent, passionate, indignant, defiant, furious, sorrowful-yes, even gentle, quiet-the poems in this collection run nearly the whole gamut of human emotion. I stress the word "nearly" because the ten contributors to this volume-all of them black South African poets who have suffered persecution because of their beliefs and in some cases imprisonment and torture-write out of anger and hatred for their white oppressors, and never out of hopelessness and self pity. Oswald R Mtshali speaks for all of them:
'Have hope, brother,
despair is for the defeated.'
'Lets have poems
blood-red in colour
ringing like damn bells
that tear at the oppressors face
and smash his grip.
Poems that awaken man . . .'
Lines like these-and there are many such in the collection are like calls to action which the 'laager masters', as Arthur Nortje contemptuously calls the whites, would do well to heed.
'How long must we endure?' asks Dennis Brutus, in a moving tribute to Chief Luthuli whose 'old leonine heart is stilled', and whose quality Brutus sums up in three superb lines:
'There it a valour
greater than victory:
Brutus's question is answered in poem after poem: for example, in these prophetic lines that Mazisi Kunene addresses to the whites:
'Day after day we kindled the fire,
Spreading the flame of our anger
Round your cities
Round your children
Who will remain the ash-monuments
Witnessing the explosions of our revenge.'
The tone of the poems is generally high-pitched-'thundering voices' to use a phrase from Kunene-to it is a relief to come across the occasional quiet lines, such as these of Hugh Lewin's, which express the need for peace and gentle human contact:
'I don't want fists and paws
to be touched
and to touch,
I want to feel alive
I want to say
when I get out
Here I am
please touch me.'
This is an extremely compelling and disturbing book, whose impact cannot be adequately conveyed by this short review. I would therefore urge you to buy it and read it for yourselves. At the same time, you would be contributing to the International Defence and Aid Fund, for all proceeds from the sale of the book will go to its continued work in Southern Africa.