Entertainment / Arts And Books

Kulani Nkuna
3 minute read
21 Oct 2013
6:00 am

Taking on the township

Kulani Nkuna

Concerned with poverty and the encouraging sense of community in US ghettoes, rapper and scholar KRS-One noted that "You can love your neighbourhood without loving poverty".

Makhafula Vilakazi discusses difficult topics in his poetry.

This theme runs through free verse poet Makhafula Vilakazi’s (real name Matodzi Ramashia) debut album I’m Not Going Back To The Township. Ramashia crafted the character of Vilakazi to deliver works that often agitate. He is not concerned with romanticising the township but rather with painting harsh truths that unnerve audiences. He forces them to confront issues they would rather forget. He rouses them from the slumber inspired by tourist pamphlets and marketing jive.

Ramashia’s work is real. It exists within the realm of his life and is delivered in a way that shows the subject matter has been lived, which is why many find it eerie. The “poetry” box is also problematic because of his narrative style, which keeps his verse unpretentious. The way Ramashia presents kasi taal in a tome designed for academic probing is entertaining. He makes his language beautiful while detailing horrible truths about the township, love, capitalism and domestic violence.

Judging by responses to his work, Ramashia could easily be the Antonin Artaud of poetry. Artaud believed that theatre should represent reality and, therefore, affect the audience as much as possible. Ramashia can affect an audience at any time, as he illustrates in the title poem for the collection.

“I am not going back to those fat privatising pigs ngemikhaba yenkululeko (Fat bellies of freedom)/ who spread the election gospel every election time/ Ningamuvotelu uMulaudzi aniboni iphume nomkhaba leyanja (Don’t vote for that dog Mulaudzi, you can see he is getting rich)/ he bribes the township ngama (with) mealie mealie to crown him in a councillor position for he has an Ellerines fridge instalment that he tied himself to when he decided to open a sheeben and sell beer for his daughter Nomthandazo to pay Mama Sarah Nxexe for a successful abortion operation she privately performed with a piece of scissors and Shoprite plastic bags ezozweni (shack) number 1007 ngasekhoneni (at the corner). I am not going back to those cups and blankets of blood.”

“We did not volunteer to go and live in the township but we were put there by apartheid in order to be close to the city and be available for cheap labour,” Ramashia says, explaining his title poem.

“Yet many people, especially artists, are always proud to tell you where they come from and they glorify the township. To me it seems that we are glorifying something that we should be fighting against because it was imposed on us. Why should it be right to live in four-bedroomed houses, not in poverty?”

On the track Ngamla, Ramashia takes the listener into the world of a car guard. The work is both stark and humorous, especially when the guards rhyme the name of the car with the act of helping the driver park. The character is so convincing that others have asked Ramashia if he has ever been a car guard or if he has ever been to jail. Car guards hustle hard to earn their keep, and the word ngamla traditionally referred to a rich person but was then appropriated to refer to a white person.

“Sometimes the car guards in the township encounter people they went to school and grew up with, and they end up worshipping them just because they have a job and a car,” explains Ramashia.

“I wanted to look at capitalism and how a pair of friends’ paths separated because one managed to go to school, and now they worship them when parking their cars. The car guards accept that their childhood friends are better than them just because they went to school.”

Ramashia’s voice is a necessary force in the poetry community and, along with the heavenly voice of vocalist and frequent collaborator Samthing Soweto, the truth is delivered in unfettered terms that even unsettles other poets, especially those who practise their craft in English.

“When I first started I was branded vulgar, and the poetry community looked down on anything that was not performed in English,” Ramashia continues.