On my workbench is Dumisani Sibexo’s photograph of a man swinging a burning tyre during a protest in Mothutlung in Brits. The fire of it is like molten gold. The smoke is black. The man’s body has a choreographed, easy grace to it, like that of youths flinging stones in slingshots to kill birds. One feels the force he is generating as he swings that tyre of flames around himself. One anticipates its horrific release, and the way its momentum will hurl the fire outwards, towards other protestors standing perilously close by.
I reflect on the hands that swing the burning tyre and see a vital, urgent, desperate form of verse. The swinging motion brings out a steady rhythm from the sound of the unfolding violence. Voices explode in chorus and the chanting is frightening. There is rumbling. The flames, newly released from hell, hiss. The man’s heart beats like drumming.
Also on my workbench is an Ethiopian cross, made from the silver of melted down Maria Theresa Thalers. The cross has a delicate intricacy to it. I reflect on the hands that fashioned it, and on the poetry within it – so different to that captured by Sibexo’s photograph. Here, by contrast, is the gentle run of a sonnet; prayer, hope and beauty.
I closed 2013 with publication of Africa Ablaze! and by reading, on the final afternoon of the year, Prayer for Voices by Chris Ahrends. I read it aloud, alone, standing under a lemon tree, which happened to be full of wit oogies.
On the morning of January first, 2014, the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, I began curatorship of an anthology of love poems as a sequel to Africa Ablaze! I will curate it with the Ethiopian cross in mind, seeking out, with diligence, the poetry of love in its broadest, most far-reaching, expression and thus contributing something of homage to all victims of war.
Prayer for voices
This morning we wake up and know where our children are.
This morning our homes are still standing.
Our sisters and brothers are not buried under bombed concrete.
We do not have to search for lost relatives.
We breathe fresh air, drink clean water.
We turn on lights and prepare food.
We wash our faces and see they are not scarred
by vengeance nor disfigured by war
nor twisted in conflict.
This morning we have voices that cry out
for the people for whom this is a day of suffering,
of loss and grief.
Oh God, give us strong voices.
Chris Ahrends, an ordained Anglican priest, was the former Sub Dean at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, and Chaplain to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He served as Executive Director of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre and now works as a consultant in personal and social transformation. His poem Prayer for Voices is included in Africa Ablaze!
Photograph: ‘Powder Keg’ by Dumisani Sibexo. Cape Times 15 January 2014
Note: The Maria Theresa Thaler is a silver bullion coin, first minted in 1741, that was used as currency in world trade. It was issued in Vienna, Prague, Florence, Milan, Venice, Rome, London, Paris, Brussels and Bombay. It came to be used in North Africa, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. The coin has a portrait of the buxom Empress on the front and the Habsburg Double Eagle on its reverse.
Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems selected by Patricia Schonstein
Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict selected by Patricia Schonstein
Heart of Africa! poems of love, loss and longing selected by Patricia Schonstein
African Sun Press: Publication date December 2014