Homage to Stephen Watson

Africa! My Africa! is dedicated to Stephen Watson, South African poet and essayist extraordinaire 1954-2011, whose work I first met in his Return of the moon: Versions from the /Xam.

I was at Etosha Pan, in Namibia, when I heard of his death in April this year. The landscape was spectacular at the time – rains had recently broken the desert, bursting it into a range of greens. As the call came through delivering the sad news, mourning clouds gathered, preparing the sky for further storm. A pale chanting goshawk joined our lamentation and praise song. The infinite horizon amplified our homage to this great writer.

I’ve included some of Stephen’s poems in my anthology. Here is one of them:

The abandoned old woman Stephen Watson (Informant: //Kabbo)

Our mother, old, unable to walk,

lay there, incapable,

alone in her old grass and reed hut.


Before we, her sons,

were obliged to leave her behind,

we blocked up her hut’s sides,

closing the openings used as a door,

making use of the struts

from the other huts we were leaving,

but leaving the roof open, exposed to the sky,

so she would still feel

some warmth from the sun.


We had made a small fire.

We had gathered for her

as much dry wood as we could.


It was none of our fault;

we were all of us starving.

No-one could help it,

that we had to leave her behind.

We were all of us starving,

and she, old woman,

she was too weak to go with us,

to seek food at some other place.

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