From the Archive | ‘No Serenity Here’

Poet Keorapetse Kgositsile casts an unflinching eye on the fallout of imperialism in Africa, refusing to let the struggle die while arbitrary borders break up the continent.

Keorapetse Kgositsile took a job at the political newspaper New Age in the late 1950s. In 1961, he went into exile, first to Tanzania and then to the United States, where he flourished as a poet. He moved to Dar es Salaam to teach at a university in 1975 and returned to South Africa in 1990. He became poet laureate in 2006 and died in 2018.

This poem is taken from Lyrik Line, which was published by Flipped Eye Publishing, under the Defeye series in 2009. 

An omelette cannot be unscrambled. Not even the one prepared in the crucible of 19th-century sordid European design.

When Europe cut up this continent into little pockets of its imperialist want and greed it was not for aesthetic reasons, nor was it in the service of any African interest, intent or purpose.

When, then, did the brutality of imperialist appetite and aggression evolve into something of such ominous value to us that we torture, mutilate, butcher in ways hideous beyond the imagination, rape women, men, even children and infants for having woken up on what we now claim, with perverse possessiveness and territorial chauvinism, to be our side of the boundary that until only yesterday arrogantly defined where a piece of one European property ended and another began?

In my language there is no word for citizen, which is an ingredient of that 19th-century omelette. That word came to us as part of the package that contained the bible and the rifle. But moagi, resident, is there and it has nothing to do with any border or boundary you may or may not have crossed before waking up on the piece of earth where you currently live.

Related article:

Poem, I know you are reluctant to sing
when there is no joy in your heart
but I have wondered all these years
why you did not or could not give
answer when Langston Hughes who
wondered as he wandered asked
what happens to a dream deferred

I wonder now
why we are some
where we did not aim
to be. Like my sister
who could report from any
where people live
I fear the end of peace
and I wonder if
that is perhaps why
our memories of struggle
refuse to be erased
our memories of struggle
refuse to die

we are not strangers
to the end of peace
we have known women widowed
without any corpses of husbands
because the road to the mines
like the road to any war
is long and littered with casualties
even those who still walk and talk

when Nathalie, whose young eyes know things, says
there is nothing left after wars, only other wars
wake up whether you are witness or executioner
the victim, whose humanity you can never erase,
knows with clarity more solid than granite
that no matter which side you are on
any day or night an injury to one
remains an injury to all

somewhere on this continent
the voice of the ancients warns
that those who shit on the road
will meet flies on their way back
so perhaps you should shudder under the weight
of nightmares when you consider what
thoughts might enter the hearts of our neighbours
what frightened or frightening memories might jump up
when they hear a South African accent

even the sun, embarrassed, withdraws her warmth
from this atrocious defiance and unbridled denial
of the ties that should bind us here and always
and the night will not own any of this stench
of betrayal which has desecrated our national anthem
so do not tell me of NEPAD or AU
do not tell me of SADC
and please do not try to say shit about
ubuntu or any other such neurosis of history

again I say, while I still have voice,
remember, always
remember that you are what you do,
past any saying of it

our memories of struggle
refuse to be erased
our memories of struggle
refuse to die

my mothers, fathers of my father and me
how shall I sing to celebrate life
when every space in my heart is surrounded by corpses?
whose thousand thundering voices shall I borrow to shout
once more: Daar is kak in die land [There is shit in the land]!

If you want to republish this article please read our guidelines.