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Protest Poetry

Protest PoetryContribution made by South African poets in protest poetry.By Rasetlhapa N.C

2016

A Perspective based on the following poetss contribution: Sepamla, s and Gwala, M.P

IntroductionBlack South African literature has been associated with politics. A certain range of political subjects has occupied Black writers; subjects such as the land question, labour exploitation, the living conditions in general, protest and the liberation struggle.The poets Sepamla and Gwala used the medium of poetry as a discourse to probe issues of racialist attitudes, identity of black people, Christianity, white liberalism, non-white class. Poetry as discourse enabled the poets Sepamla and Gwala to agitate, incite, polarise and to motivate their readers to react against the racist colonial, and capitalist apartheid system.This presentation postulates that the contribution made by the following poets to South African protest poetry: Sepamla and Gwala to create critical awareness in the oppressed black people about their socio-political status in South Africa. The presentation provides autobiography of both the poets, defines protest poetry, and finally provides inside information on contribution of both poets to protest poetry.

autobiographiesSipho (Sydney) Sepamla (1932-2007)Born in West Rand Consolidated Mines Township near Krugersdorp (Mogale City), Sipho Sepamla, a trained school teacher, contributed to the return of a black protest voice after the suppression of dissent and the banning of black writers in the silent decade of the 1960s.Together with Matthews, Mtshali, Serote, Gwala, Madingoane and others, he was influenced by the rise of Black Consciousness and was a prominent figure in what was termed the New Black Poetry of the 1970s or Soweto Poetry. Avoiding direct statement as assertion of resistance he combined his commitment to the destruction of apartheid with innovative shifts of language-register, image and rhythm ranging from contemplative verse to wicked irony, from global reference to tsotsi-taal in the collections Hurry Up to It! (1975), The Blues is You in Me (1976), The Soweto I Love (1977) and Children of the Earth (1983). Selected Poems appeared in 1984.Sepamla was also a cultural activist, who in 1978 was instrumental in establishing the Federation of Black Arts (FUBA). As a novelist, he published The Root is One (1979), A Ride on the Whirlwind (1981), Third Generation (1986) and A Scattered Survival (1989).

Mafika Pascal Gwala (1946)

Born on 5 October 1946 in Verulam, outside Durban. The second of five children, his mother was a domestic worker and his father was a labourer on the railways. Gwala matriculated from Inkamana High, a Benedictine mission school in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal. He held various positions, including factory worker, legal clerk, secondary school teacher and industrial relations officer. Although he initially sacrificed his studies in order to serve the Black Consciousness Movement, Gwala went on to complete an M Phil at the University of Natal, studying the politics of development in Third World countries. At the University of Manchester he extended his research into the field of adult education.

Protest poetryProtest poetry does not have specific meaning. Poetry has as many purposes as life, as language. Protest poetry cries against a wrong to be set right. Most of the wrongs are not new.All poets attend to, injustice, to conflicts of ideas, to relationships of the real and the ideal, to politics. Poets voice their own exploration and vision of truth, of truths larger than themselves.Architects of Apartheid protest poetry may mean, amongst other things, insubordination, ungratefulness, subversive and even ungodly propaganda (Chapman, 1982:66). Protest poetry aims at making the reader aware of the racial incongruities that characterise the system of apartheid and the detrimental and turbulent effects, particularly on the black community.

In political or protest poetry, they use traditional poetic forms and they break free of forms. Smiley-face rhymes dont suit segregation, apartheid, hunger, infant mortality, racial discrimination, oppression of freedom, destruction of the environment, gaps between the haves and the have-nots, the causes and consequences of climate change.

Contribution by the poetsIn this presentation, the poetry of Sepamla and Gwala is regarded as discourse because it addresses itself to issues that affected the lives of black people. These issues are: racialist attitudes, culture of black people, Christian religion, capitalist exploitation, non-whites, white liberalism, Bantustan institutions, literary criticism, anger of Black masses and the state violence.Conscientization is undoubtedly a familiar concept to many students of South African politics. From the mid-1970s through the 1980s, South African activists used this term to describe the process of spreading political awareness. As such, conscientization is linked to protest, and a communitys readiness to engage in political struggle is seen as the degree to which it had been successfully conscientized.

The conscientization process was meant to open the eyes of black people so that they could begin to see the nature of their oppression, subjugation, discrimination, and marginalization. It is through the conscientization process that black people were directly and indirectly informed that they were not free; they were made aware of their inner strength that they could use to set themselves free.

The ideological consciousnesses can be defined as the pre-formed collection of values and beliefs that inform a persons understanding of self and others through the process of socialisation. This suggests that conscientisation can be a form of psychological empowerment, the feeling that one has some power or control of ones life.

Gwala operates from a Marxist rationale when he writes poetry. Sepamla was an active member of Black Consciousness. Marxist theory of literature was deemed as relevant for the analysis of the poetry of Sepamla and Gwala because it exposes the workings of ideology in literary texts and in literary criticism.

Sipho Sepamla's abiding concern was the legacy, on into the future, of the Children of Soweto'. Sepamla's poetry tends to be directed more towards the reforming views of white liberals than towards raising the consciousness of black workers. For example, in "Measure for Measure", Sepamla addresses himself to white officials and in an ironic tone seems to comply with white policy:

count me enough wages to make certain that I grovel in the mud for more food teach me just so much of the world that I can fit into certain types of labour and when all that is done let me tell you this you'll never know how far i stand from you.

Sepamla's main talent lies in his ability to exploit language for humorous effects. He combines a style of broken English with "township Xhosa" and "tsotsi-taal" to induce a linguistic interplay which underlines his point. For instance, in "The Bookshop" the speaker's good-natured banter is strengthened by his broken grammar and his assertions of literacy and ironically undercut by the speaker's apologetic tone:Here I isToo literate to reads comics and the BibleI walks into a bookshop a newspapers in one armpitThe likes of me can be excused for being literateBesides a good sight is a literate me

Sepamla's "Civilization Aha," reveals the ideological collusion between the explicitly racist policies of the government and Christianity:i thought of a whitemanthe first time i saw god's portraiti thought of a blackmanthe first time I met satan on earthi must be honestit wasn't only bantu educationit was all part of what they say is westerncivilization.Even Christianity, the most well-intentioned aspect of white culture, is viewed as detrimental to Black Consciousness and culture. By attaching a positive meaning to "white" and a negative one to "black," white supremacist doctrine becomes fixed into religious discourse.

Other poetsMtshali, like Serote, Sepamla, and the rest, attempts to instil optimism, not through shrill slogans promising the annihilation of the whites, but through beautiful, succinct, and inspirational verses. The various cultural aspects seek to give lasting and sustaining hope to the African people.

Protest poetry is both angry and encouraging; it is both hopeful and desperate for change. It exposes stereotyped behaviour and tries to speak for the victims of oppression everywhere in South Africa while at the same time speaking to them.

ConclusionThis presentation reveals that this poetic genre had far greater value than that of entertainment. The poetic genre can be used as a tool to educate people on various social issues.The aesthetic ideology that is reflected in the poems, is the content and form that displays a striking realism that speaks to the consciences of the readers, challenging them as individuals to act against the oppressor. The poets Sepamla and Gwala succeeded in conscientizing black people by portraying a sincere and honest picture of the experiences of the oppressed black people under the apartheid regime.The poetry of Sepamla and Gwala was revolutionary and sought to revolutionalize the way black people thought and looked at themselves and their surroundings.

ReferencesBenveniste, E, 1971, Problems in General Linguistics Miami: University of Miami Press. 233 Cornwell, G. 1980.Evaluating Protest Fiction. English in Africa 7,1:51-79.Chapman, M. 2007. Sipho (Sydney) Sepamla 19322007, Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa, 19:1, 2-2. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1013929X.2007.9678258. Accessed on (29 March 2016) Daniel, R.M. 2011. Black Consciousness and the Politics of Culture in 20th Century South Africa. Kwazulu-N