Detention Kabali-Kagwa & Mtshali



During the apartheid years, it was common practice to detain political activists indefinitely without trial. I once accompanied Kholeka Nkwinti to visit her husband Gugile, held at St Albans Prison in Port Elizabeth.

We were not permitted to park in the grounds, so left the car at the gate and then walked alongside a number of single storey buildings where prisoners were held. I remember ‘the humming of bees’ – a sort of murmuring – and realised this was the sound of many men confined in a small place.

Kholeka had packed some toiletries for her husband and these were examined by the prison warden. She was let in through a door for a short  ‘no physical contact’ visit and I caught just a glance of him behind glass. I had included a book of Zimbabwean poetry among the few things Kholeka gave him, but this was confiscated.

Velvet skies
Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa

Eleven years old and afraid
we have lost my father forever.

Three days ago he was taken
from his office to Naguru.
Nsubuga came home driving like a maniac.
He told mummy.

Now the house is full of people
that we keep serving tea.
Are they mourning him? Are they praying?
Are they planning ways to bring him back?

My heart is heavy.
Many others have been taken
and never returned

I retreat to the only place
I can be alone – the bathroom.
As I run the water I remember
mummy saying calmly, on the first day,
‘Your father has been taken,
but don’t worry, we will be alright.’
I believe her.

She was later allowed to visit him
And when she returned she said,
‘Your father said he loves you, and that no matter what happens
you must walk tall, with your head held up high.
He has done nothing wrong.’

Tears roll down my face.
The comforting warmth of the water enfolds me.
I stare at the velvety skies
through the frosted glass window…
Light blue … deeper blue … purply blue …
It is dusk.
God made this time specially

‘God,’ I speak in our special time alone.
‘Let daddy come home today.’
I am praying for all of us –
Mummy, Maliza, Estella, Fay, Chris and me.

Finished I look up.  The sky is now black
and my fingers old and wrinkled.
I put on my pyjamas.
Walking down the stairs
headlights sweep into the driveway.

I hear the pounding in my chest
as I peer through the French windows.
A white Datsun with UVS number plates
stops in front of the door.
The doors open and out he comes …
Daddy!’ I scream and start opening the door.
Behind him a dark man follows.

‘Ssh,’ say the adults, as they push me away.
I do not know their fear –
Many have been returned only to be taken again
or killed at the door.

‘Daddy,’ I say, squeezing past them, hugging him.
We are wrapped in velvety skies.

The man in the shadows looks on
‘You are happy to see your daddy?’ he asks.

Silently we walk into the house
And lock the doors.
Daddy is back.
Black turns to velvet.

Boy on a swing
Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali

Slowly he moves
to and fro, to and fro,
then faster and faster
he swishes up and down.

His blue shirt
billows in the breeze
like a tattered kite.

The world whirls by:
east becomes west,
north turns to south;
the four cardinal points
meet in his head.

Where did I come from?
When will I wear long trousers?
Why was my father jailed?

Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa is a Ugandan South African poet, storyteller, coach and facilitator. She is the youngest daughter of Ugandan poet and civil servant, the late Henry Barlow.

Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali (1940- ) is a widely published poet who won the Olive Schreiner Prize in 1974. His poem, Boy on a Swing was originally published in his collection Sounds of a Cowhide Drum, with a four-page forward by Nadine Gordimer, who was a major source of encouragement for its publication by Renoster Books in 1971.

When it first appeared, the collection was a literary landmark and caused a great deal of interest as it was not considered politically correct in the apartheid South Africa of the time to publish works by writers who were not white. It was the first major collection of poems by a black writer to be published after the establishment of apartheid and was rushed into several more impressions.

Renoster Books was co-founded in 1971 by the renowned South African poet Lionel Abrahams together with Eva Bezwoda and Robert Royston. It published works by black South Africans. (Source: Jane Fox)

Velvet skies by Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa and Boy on a swing by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali are two of the poems included in Africa! My Africa!  an anthology soon to be printed in a limited, numbered edition of 5 000 copies to raise funds for Seed Readers.

Seed Readers is a project that will produce story books based on principles of peace, non-violence, non-racism and care of the earth. They will seed an understanding of our true role as custodians of the earth and oceans. They will inspire children to live ethically and in a sustainable manner.

All those who buy a copy pre-publication of Africa! My Africa! will be listed in the anthology (unless they wish to remain anonymous).

Please email to place your order
R295 plus R55 postage & packaging.


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