“You will never hear any of my poems on radio or see me on TV. I will not be invited to any government sponsored events or corporate gigs because of some of the things I will say in this upcoming album. I did not write for fame, money or to be liked. I wrote what was in my soul. Each sentence that I uttered killed a piece of me, I am not going back to the township”.
I recently stumbled on the above statement while I was surfing through one of the social networks and the person who wrote these words is a vicious wordsmith going by the name Makhafula Vilakazi. Two things baffled me about this statement, why is this poet not going back to the township and what are the issues he will be tackling on his soon to be released project?
Then I met Makhafula Vilakazi and we had a lovely chat which somehow reminded me of Eric Miyeni’s book titled O’mandingo. Our conversation also got me thinking about our country’s history and if we should really call places like Soweto, Orange Farm, Gugulethu, Duduza, Alexandra, Thembisa and all the overpopulated townships around Mzansi our home? Before responding to this question first check out what Makhufula Vilakazi had to say.
Makhafula is not my real name. The name “Makhafula Vilakazi” in a fiction name which I gave to a character in one of my poems. For some reason people started calling me “Makhafula Vilakazi”
so I decided to use the name as an alias. My real name is Matodzi Ramashia.
How did you get into poetry?
My high school English teacher introduced us to protest poetry written mainly by black South African poets. Most of it was not in the syllabus but it had a huge impact on us as students. Reading poems written by exiled MK solders and banned writers had a profound impact on us. The poetry was more powerful than the history books. It brought a human element to it.
When did you compose your first poem and what was your subject matter back then?
(Laughs) I wrote my first poem when I was in grade 10. It was about this guy who was dating my high school sweetheart. She was out of my league and he had it all, the clothes, the charm and looks. The poem was titled “I hate him”.
Who are some of the poets who inspired you back then?
Sipho Sepalma, Don Mattera, Oswald Mtshali, Wally Serote and Langston Hughes to name a few.
Word on the street has it that you are working with a couple of musicians with the intention of releasing an album/audio project, please do tell?
Yes I have been working on an audio CD since last year. During the same period, I have also been compiling a short anthology of poems which will be packaged with the upcoming CD.
When is this CD coming out?
We have not set a definitive date but everything is in place and the project will be out in April this year.
Who are some of the people featured on this project?
I was very fortunate to work with a lot of talented artists such as Maseven, Msai, Siya Shezi, Big Zulu, Rev Tumza, GP Gangsta, Tonic and Vortex.
Why did you decide to do this project?
I always wanted to do this project but never really got it. I would start it and something would always come up. Then I was invited to perform at an annual dirty all-star bash in 2011. After the show I met up with Rev Tumza and we discussed the possibility of doing a poetry album. A year later we were in studio.
What do you hope to achieve with this project (album)?
The project is called “I am not going back to the township”. The point I hope to make through this project is that we should never be proud of living in this place. Townships are a product of the apartheid government. In the 50’s, the apartheid government through the Group Areas Act sought to gain control of Africans in a systematic and brutal fashion. The establishment of the townships served to create and entrench urban racial segregation whilst making sure that Africans are available as cheap labour. There is nothing human about growing up in these squalid and hopeless conditions. Most artists who sing about being proud of ikasi pack up and leave as soon as they get a good record deal.
My personal view is that by asserting ourselves as coming from the townships and being proud of it, we are essentially still defining ourselves as proud products of what the apartheid government created. We walk with our heads held high saying “mina ngibuya ekasi” but we don’t seem to think what this really means. It does not seem to hit us why each township has a prison next to it. Could it be that the conditions under which we live are designed to produce the murders and rapists who live amongst us? We need to understand where we live and how that defines who we are. This is what this project is all about.
What inspired the material on this project (album)?
My poetry is inspired by the township sorghum-drinking intellectuals, the promising soccer player who broke his knee and resorted to crime, the moral dilemmas of mothers who give birth to hijackers and killers, the corrupt councillor who has abandoned his old fashion puma tracksuits for a BEE suit, the blatant farm racists and the subtle city ones, the stigma and humiliation faced by those infected and affected by HIV. The Somalian tuck-shop entrepreneurs who sleep waiting for petrol bombs to fly through their windows, this is where I find inspiration. In the way we somehow seem to manoeuvre through this hellish existence. I am inspired by how children of the downtrodden become doctors and lawyers.
Done, your message to aspiring poets or to individuals that love the spoken word?
Education is the most important gift you can give to yourself or to your children. Very few people make a decent living out of art (especially poetry). Get a good education and do poetry for the love of it.
Jaaa neh, what’s your take darkie?
By Bafana Nzimande