Interview with Mthunzikazi Mbungwana

Unisa Poetry Society held a truly unique poetry event held on 12 August 2016, called Imbokodo hosted by MB Community Studio in Pretoria. The poet Mthunzikazi Mbungwana was one of the five poets who attended the event. She shared some of her insights on writing poetry and the importance of celebrating Women’s Month with us.

Alwyn Roux: Why did you start writing poetry?

Mthunzikazi Mbungwana: When I started writing, I was not aware that it was poetry or any kind of social commentary.

I wrote because I was a loner and when I got to Pretoria from the Eastern Cape, frequency of my writing increased and I struggled to make friends, so I wrote as a way of understanding this big city and its dynamics.

I spent most of my time at the then Sammy Marks Library (now known as Eskia Mphahlele Library ) reading various African literature books and just writing free verses.

I later joined an Arts and Culture movement called Uhuru wa Maisha and got introduced to performance poetry and alternative poetry collections other than the ones prescribed during my high school days.

Alwyn: How does a poem begin for you?

Mthunzikazi: It always starts with a feeling, thought,  burning need to express an itch, discomfort, sense of joy or any other emotion that constantly occupy my mind or distract me from thinking about anything else but it. I scribble these feelings down and they are later refined to a poem or remain a free verse.

Alwyn: Your debut isiXhosa poetry collection, entitled Umnikelo was published in 2015. Could you tell us more about the title of the book and the main themes you explored?

Mthunzikazi: Umnikelo means an offering. This is my contribution to the literary world. My interpretation of the stories I have heard, events witnessed and the voices I want to unlock those in my head and those that are accessed through the eyes of my fellow human beings that I interact with on different levels and spaces

This book is my own understanding and dealings with the every day to day life, the constant battle of balancing being an artist and doing what needs to be done as a sole breadwinner, friend, daughter, citizen of this country, African, black woman, and as a perfect imperfections and more depending on the situation I find myself in as an artist, storyteller and human.

I am also passionate about preserving the indigenous languages and advocating for its existence through writing and encouraging others to do the same. South Africa has 11 languages, therefore, every story is important and we cannot have the stories of this country told through one or two languages(if we are lucky), what about other cultures/ nations/ tribes, who is going to tell their stories?

The themes explored in this collection range from urbanization, absent fathers,  social commentary and rebuking of inhuman acts such as the  Marikana massacre, greed, and indecisiveness of our leaders, abduction and abuse of young girls under a disguise of culture, being a foreigner and being destitute in the land of our mothers. It also covers love and living.

Alwyn: Please give us a short summary of your ideas expressed at Imbokodo on 12 August at MB Studio Community.

Mthunzikazi: I am a storyteller, spent most of my life between the rural Transkei and in squatter camps on the outskirts of Cape Town.  I write about my experiences and tell the stories of those who do not have access to these spaces of expression, trying hard to tell them with honesty and dignity they deserve. Its stories of hope, lending my voice to fight against the abduction of young girls whether it’s in Nigeria or in the Eastern Cape, or just being living and loving. Teaching while learning and making mistakes.


Alwyn: Why do you think is it important to celebrate Women’s Month in poetry?

Mthunzikazi: A lot of women still needs to be encouraged and supported to be able to juggle between being mothers, caregivers, wives and super human beings and to trust that their voices are important and we need to hear their side of the story in these poetry sessions and to write more. There are a lot of great female writers that are out there being great writers and performers, but there are a lot of them that are out there with beautiful and courageous stories that have a potential of healing this country and the world. We are waiting for those too.

Thula Ukhalelani?
Marikana- 16 August 2012

Ifikelele  kwesisimo,
Kuchithek’ ilindle,
lwabolisa  yonke indawo
ungagxeka bani ke ngokufa kwebhokhwe
isezwa iyeza?

Ubungekhe usijul’entlango
wakugqiqba usirhalisele ngamathontsana amanzi
Uwuhluphezile umbundlwana,
ngoku yingqeqe edlavuza,
amaqath’ endwendwe
Lo mzi awungeni bantu
Thula ukhalelani?

Liphalale  igazi labantwana babantu bengenatyala
Ziqungqulizile iizidumbu, bafa njengezinja
Abafazi bakhala isijwili emva kocango
Amadoda ayangqukuleka enkundleni,
Abantwanana  bayazidlalela  emva kwezindlu,
Bejong’ enkalweni becula besithi,
Utata uyezangomso, uzakusiphathela izibiliboco,
Zase Marikana, Marikana-Marikana!

What’s that cry?*
Marikana 16 August 201

The arrival of time was announced
Not by a ticking clock but a rattling barrel,
Emptied bowels rotting the hilltop, subdued cries and tattered apparel
What could we do with our trembling hands up in surrender?

The monster master threw us into the desert
Only to tempt us with tongue-wetting little water drops
But the throat remains dry and sore.
The pup you provoked is now a raging bulldog
Barking at passers-by and biting at visitors’ heels
Soon the sores will be septic and never heal
No one shall enter this home, not while wounded dogs snarl
But why the shock, why the cry?

Clotting blood splatters the hill rocks, we cry
Wounded bodies of the innocent strewn, brothers lay dying
A young newly-wed gives a heart-wrenching cry from under the veil
Screaming aloud grief-prayer to gods and God
While little children unknowingly play their after-rain songs
“Daddy will bring me gifts from Marikana,
Marikana, Marikana!”

© Mthunzikazi Mbungwana
© Translations from isiXhosa to English by Thembelani Ngenelwa


Wamzala seliyokutshona ilanga,
wambeka entendeni yesandla sakhe,
wamfahla inkaba ngothando, ububele , nokuzithemba

Wakhula ekrelekrele enxanelwe ulwazi, nemfundo
waphumela ngaphandle elizweni,
bamqoba amadolo, bamnyelisa bembiza amagama,
nabo bebefanelwe kukumkhusela,
abo baqhayisa ngokuba ngamakholwa,

Kwathamba amadolo,
wamngcikiva umvandedwa,
isono sakhe sinye qha, kukuthanda,
lo uthandwa yintliziyo yakhe.

She gave birth at dusk
To a bouncing beautiful bundle of joy
Confidently the umbilical cord was cut, carefully, heart full of love

A giggling toddler grew into a bright teenage mind
Hungry for words, yearning for the Message
She went out onto the slippery slopes of the World
To deliver that message of Love and compassion
But the world forced its own message
Of revulsion, revolt and ridicule
Supposed protectors leading the attacks
Religious and righteous throwing the first stones
The abuse went unabated and unrebuked

With resolve weakened and dream deferred
She felt isolated, despised and betrayed
The supposed guilt led to a harsh sentence of hate
Locked in cold cells of queer languages
Rape called corrective, murder called phobia
Her only sin?
To love the one in her heart.

© Mthunzikazi Mbungwana
© Translations from isiXhosa to English by Thembelani Ngenelwa

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