South Africa: Men in Chains | Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali

The train stopped

at a country station.

Through sleep curtained eyes

I peered through the frosty window,

and saw six men:

men shorn

of all human honour

like sheep after shearing,

bleating at the blistering wind,

‘Go away! Cold wind! Go away!

Can’t you see we are naked?’

They hobbled into the train

on bare feet,

wrists handcuffed,

ankles manacled

with steel rings like cattle at the abattoirs

shying away from the trapdoor.

One man with a head

shaven clean as a potato

whispered to the rising sun,

a red eye wiped by a tattered

handkerchief of clouds,

‘Oh! Dear Sun!

Won’t you warm my heart

with hope?’

The train went on its way to nowhere.

 

Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali was born in KwaZulu-Natal in 1940. Apartheid legislation prevented his enrolment in University after he finished secondary school, but he studied via correspondence, obtaining a diploma with Premier School of Journalism and Authorship, affiliated to London University. He worked as a messenger in Johannesburg, drawing on his observations of the city to write his first collection, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum. Published in 1971, this book went on to become the best-selling poetry book in South African history.

Following the his successful debut, Mtshali studied at the International Writers’ Program at the University of Iowa. This was followed by undergraduate studies at the New School of Social Research, and an MFA from Columbia University. His second collection, Fireflames, was published in 1980. He taught in the USA until his return to South Africa in 2007. His focus now includes the lexicography of Zulu, a translation of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ into this language, and the collection and recording of its folk songs.

Sierra Leone: Farewell To My Dying Native Land (excerpt)| Tom Cauuray

When the sky played the rain-song
And the showers danced with you,
I remember the rhythm and the tune,
The whirring waltz which lulled my eyes to sleep.
These woes of war belabour sleep.

When you washed your dark-brown skin,
I smelled your spray of earth-perfume,
But now the scent of smouldering human flesh.
Your forests are scorched.
Your fauna crushed.
Your cheerful twigs on the bush-road edge,
Whose playful sprinkle washed my head,
Are all dead, now weevil’s bed.

Tom Cauuray was one of Sierra Leone’s foremost writers, intellectuasls, and adventurers. Forced to flee during the war, the poem was written upon his return to the country. Cauuray died in Sierra Leone in 2009.