NOZIZWE

NOZIZWE 

Dead words tumble off 
stilted tongues
like time-singed paint 
flaking off walls that crumble
from the unbearable 
weight of hollowness

I search for Nozizwe
on democracy’s streets
I wanted to ask if she’d seen 
her hopes hanging
on ramshackle street-poles
and podiums on stadia filled 
with zombie-arms reaching
for air they cannot inhale

But she was Busy:

In the kitchens 
scrubbing indelible marks off 
grease-mantled dinner tables
slippery floors and 
corroded psyches

Baking bread 
for tables she lays but does not sit on 
’n grooming roses whose thorns 
she tames but who’s sweet scents
she has no time to smell 

In hospitals, society’s sick halls
sewing surface wounds 
and reaching for the ones 
she knows must be healed
for the nation to live 

In the streets 
trading bananas ’n 
bite-size chunks of kindness 
for a promise

In the bedroom
performing intimacy
with the ghost that hides
behind the mirror 

In the classroom 
painting futures she wishes 
to bestow as homage to the living
even as she fears 
time’s fist will crush into dust 
like so many before

Crawling in and out of her skin
weaving webs as pre-emptive strike 
because survival in this society’s 
hunting games is mastering 
the art of the spider 

In laboratories whipping the magic 
of her Afro into lanterns to shine 
the nation’s path out of history’s dungeons 
creating paths to new civilisations 
where her name is the music 
that calls the spirits home

Mothering the nation’s orphans
for if children must raise the dead
not haunt the future
they must know tenderness
before storms come down
to drown their innocence

But when witching hour comes
and her world has stopped swirling
Nozizwe can hear the music of the stars
rehearses the steps of her new routine
because she knows struggle is a dance 
where womxn does not greet a new day
with yesterday’s steps

Nozizwe. In my language, this name means She/Her of nations. There is so much I want to say to her, about her, hear from her. And yet, I too should shut up, which I shall henceforth do. But before rushing off, for a long time, perhaps…

I wrote this on May day, 2019. It feels like a century ago since CountryZA held its 6th national elections. And yet, it’s only been 15 months. As elections go, it was the same predictable, humdrum. Deafening noise. Promises falling from the skies. Nauseating, corny political theatre. Political parties competing to give us free t-shirts. Service delivery done. Click. Big men in party regalia and shiny shoes with their entourages pour out of zooty cars onto Alex’s heaving streets like volcanic lava, marking territory long after they’re gone. Communities are divided into little squares, marked in party flags. War zones really, with all that violent contestation for party political interest. This kind of grabbing at a piece of the soul of communities over time must explain, at least in part, the fading colour in the eyes of so many of our communities, why so many are no longer able to in fact be communities. Click. Gogo in a shack spills the guts of her life at the man’s knee and the blinding gaze of the camera. Click. Political party builds her and her grandkids a house. Click. Politicians visits overcrowded clinics in Soweto. Click. Click. Click. Song and dance we…Click. 

Of course, far away on some dusty streets where the cameras are not, womxn, party foot-soldiers knock on doors in the name of the party. We know how womxn labour to build these parties, but even far away from the cameras, it is still the big man showing up. After all, it is his face on the t-shirts they wear. And so, the machine rolls on, reproducing the symbolism, political leadership is a man. Yes, sisters in politics, this is not to erase you, I know you are all there being powerful and working hard to change this image/shift this norm. Its fantastic so many of you, younger and younger, are breaking the doors and occupying this space too. Even as I am yet to see politicking differently because often I struggle to see how we’re not borrowing the tired ways of maledom politicking, I see you. Yes, I see you! And of course some of you have chosen to play the game, and I hope you reflect on that deadly choice. Is conceding patriarchy is hard to break, that politics is a man’s game and to survive in it we must play their game really the only choice? Ayikho hlambi enye indlela? Masithethe boodade. I still see you kodwa ke, all of you, and ndiyanibulela for the small shifts that do occur because you are there. Kodwa kuyafuneka sithethe. 

So, yes, the silly season rolls on. So many men talking at us, about us, for us, around us, through us,talking even when they’re not talking. Appropriating our dreams, turning them into melodic hymns that lift us to the heavens. We fly so high we forget the music will soon fade and we will need to return to earth. That there is no cushion to catch us on landing, at least some of us. So we pray on the way down for the gods to let us land last so we land on top of the others. Those dreams, when not sung in glorious melodies, they are painted in gloss only to be sold back to us at the price of our ballot concession, like the new Gucci fashion item. Yes, it’s the name of the game but gosh its violent. And sidikiwe uxelelwa izinto esizaziyo sibizwa emaralini kwiztadium ingathi sizobukela imatch yechiefs nepirates kodwa sizoxoxa iindaba zomzi owonakeleyo. We know politics is spectackle, kodwa yhu ha ah!


So many men’s faces. Plastered on street poles, public walls, private walls, highway billboards. Whole streets lined from top to bottom with the faces of the men of our politics. It feels like a kind of haunting, months long daymares and nightmares. From head to tow I feel bloated with maledom. The symbolism of it winds my psyche so vigorously if it were a clock the dial would break. Yet something in me does breaks. Because this is a story of something in the heart of our society being broken. All the talking has sucked the life out of us, deafened and zombified us. 

After months of this assault on our ears, I wish they could all just shut up. Change up the game, take off the suits, ditch the entourages, get off the stage, if visiting gogo leave the cameras at home and don’t spend 5 minutes with her and then go capitalise her story for 5 million campaigning rands or the priceless imagery of yourself as a man of the people. If you visit her, maybe sit and just listen, or maybe help her prepare lunch for the 10 biologically orphaned kids she has to look after and cook for everyday. Or maybe spend a day with the Counsellor at Rape Crisis centre who goes home with boulders on her back and then comes back the next day because the war on womxn and children claimed more casualties last night and someone must soldier on. 

Anywho, amidst all this noise and being crowded out by men’s faces I begin to be obsessed with the question of the invisible bodies. My mind needs to find her. We Nozizwe, uphi? Why are you not lining my street and polluting my ears with delicious promises?. 

Then I remember that in a patriarchal society, when you do not see a womxn, it means she is somewhere busy working. The reality is that womxn are everywhere, all the time, working. I begin to think of the many ways this thing called work hides her from the “public” sphere. How systems of male domination thrive on this invisibilisation. Whipping up or letting social chaos reign so that someone has to do something about it, most likely it will be her. Orchestrating state failure to run countries well, showing up properly to supplementing the social reproductive capacity of societies so womxn have to step into the gap because well, somebody must. How this exiling of womxn from the public space and view through keeping them busy is how systems of male domination entrench themselves in society. 

More importantly, but for the work she does, no society gets to stand. Often unpaid, unrecognised, but without which society would not be able to reproduce itself, capital would not have free labourers to extract value from without ever having to even know them, political parties would not have numbers and “foot-soldiers” to win elections, and of course without her nations fall. No, please stop calling her effing mother of your nation. This instrumetalisation of womxn’s identities to con us into believing we matter when we really are just tools to be used to prop up maledom, male power and male interests in society is so transparent. We see it, how even in politics patriarchy has caught on with iys co-opting ways, send the “powerful” womxn to deal with the difficult situations and have them clean up your big men mess, but of course, see no irony in coming back and saying, well, they are not ready to lead. Mnxm. Like, iyabora maan legame. 

Anywhowho, bendingekho kulonto ingaphezulu apha…I’m just here to say hail to the workers of the world, the ones in the visible and invisible working spaces, keeping the sky from falling. 

And lastly, with all the respect for real poets, uxolweni kuni nonke ngalecorruption yobizo lwenu nina zimbongi zomthonyama. Bendisazoshwaqa nje apha ndibhiyozela nina nonke because umntu uzathini ngeSunday yonke engena ndawo yokuya egoli (hides face)? 

As for ooComrade bhuti bam, ndiyanithanda maan va, qha ngaske nipheze uthetha gqithi khe nimamele niqaphele instead hlambi nizofunda something! If lento ndiyithethileyo iyakucaphukisa, iske wenze isMalaika Mahlatsi, thumela ewallet ndizakunika inombolo, I promise you will feel better afterwards. Or, lets have a drink and laugh on it, it is after all just a game, right! You must understand, I’ve seen all 6 elections now. For the 1st one, I wrote a non-poem about holding hands with an old men I was helping get to his voting station, but who in fact was holding my hand to enter a future as the child of democratic South Africa, I imagined unfolding very differently from what we have today, but for whom I remain hopeful because even when all is lost we must hold on to hope or we die. So, yabona mos neh, andikho so so I’m just qhubaring incoko. 

Nam ke, starting now, I begin my 3 years (or is it forever I don’t know anymore) of silent retreat, being guilty of the things of maledom and polluting people’s ears all these years, silence will be how I apologise for my own crimes of contradiction…Bahlali, let’s hope sizobonana in 2022, or not. Niberight. 

With gratitude to Nozizwe, who is all the womxn out there, young or forever young like Kota nomfanelo, old, or whatever age you are, who keep inventing new steps in this dance of struggle! This is how I love you. May you hear the music of the stars tonight. Here’s to you!!!

(Photo Credits: Siphokazi Mthathi / Facebook)

About Siphokazi Mthathi

Siphokazi Mthathi is Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa, with two decades of experience in the human rights and social justice movement in Southern Africa. She was General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign, the South Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, the regional advisor at the Coalition of African Lesbians, and most recently Manager for South Africa and Southern Africa programs at Norwegian People’s Aid.