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Interview Zolani Mkhive

Madiba’s praise poet Zolani Mkiva chats before his performance with Ringo Madlinglozi before their performance in Pelham London in 2000AD

He said:
Poetry with me is slightly different from the mainstream of the poets you would know. I come from a bloodline of poetry where in a sense poetry is the idiomatic expression which is the tradition of my family. I inherited this particular exercise from my elders in my family. My great grandfather was a poet, my grandfather was an orator and what is similar with an African poet and an African orator is that they both use idiomatic expression in terms of expressing themselves. Poetry with us is mostly referred to as a social commentary exercise in a sense that you encapsulate ideas of the people on the ground and put them into concise poetic phrases. You will understand that an African poet carries a lifetime licence to speak openly and publically about everything even if it is a sensitive issue. The most important thing is that you address those issues with metaphors and idioms.
The first public appearance I made was in 1981 at the age of 8. At that stage it was some twisting around of what used to be recited by my uncle, the younger brother to my father who is also a practicing poet to date. I never went to collage to train to be a poet, rather I am a born poet. I am talking about praise poetry. I am a praise poet more than just a poet. It is inspired of course by the ancestral venerations. You are spontaneous in your poetry and at the same time must have a retentive memory so that you can have an understandable impact which is informed by the realities we live and the history which we have heard from the elders so we can continue that testimonial as well as oral tradition of taking history from one generation to the other.
How many people are born as praise poets?
There are quite a number of them. You will obviously agree with me that during the apartheid era it was very difficult for a number of them to come on board to express themselves. It really started after 1994 when we made an appearance during the inauguration of Nelson Mandela that so many communities started coming up with poets based on our tradition. Each and every community now has a traditional poet or a praise poet.

Is your experience traditional or urban?
It is a combination of the two. For me the basis of my prelude is traditional, however it does not overlook the importance of modernity because we live in a modern world and I honestly believe our tradition must be the umbrella of our own discourse and the consolidation of our lives. Tradition must compliment modernity and at the same time modernisation must compliment our traditions.

How did you get chosen to be Mandela's praise poet?
It was not a decision made by myself but rather a decision made by the people of South Africa through various sectors and through various bodies. It started off when I was invited by the ANC leadership to do the welcoming of them from prison, starting with Sisulu and Nelson Mandela. And then the leadership noticed that my poetry was more vibrant as compared to other poets. It was more accommodative in terms of its content and that enunciated my career as being chosen as Nelson Mandela's poet to make an appearance during the inauguration to introduce him and to go around the world to present him to the people of the world. Another important thing is my poetry in the majority of cases is multilingual and at the same time the perspective of the content itself talks about the real issues in life. It is not only about praises. It invokes things that must be done, things that must not be done. It enunciates the whole idea of bettering the lives of other people. It comes up with ideas, it comes up with suggestions. It comes up with very strong points about issues that must be tackled and handled. It highlights the challenges facing our leadership and our country.
'Solidarity in action, solidarity for ever. There isn't tomorrow without a yesterday. There is no tonight without yesternight.'

Do you see yourself as a poet for all of Africa?
Being nominated or chosen as Nelson Mandela's poet has put me beyond the borders of South Africa. I have made appearances in world events. Commonwealth have called me to open an event. The world council of churches has called me to open up their event. The OAU, The World Bank business forum called me, so from time to time I am being called beyond my country. Therefore I am being inaugurated to a status of being the poet of Africa. And hence this CD has been released under that particular title. I am now the poet of Africa.


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How do you spread a message?
There is a song dedicated to Africa as a whole aimed at motivating all Africans to work together. It says God Bless Africa. It says a child was born some time ago. Having been born a long time ago the child must be born again. It is the time of the rebirth and we are ready to be issued with a new birthday certificate. And we say 'lotion for motion' has been issued, let us be the thinkers of the great thoughts, let us be the doers of the great deeds. That is the particular pattern that the song is following. I am saying the leadership of Africa, let it be the filament of freedom. Let it be the peace deal for peace.

Politically can Africa work together?
I am of the view that Africa must work together and that must be legislated. There must be a parliament that binds everybody to work together. We should go beyond the time of the OAU which discuss issues and that is the end of it. There must be a concerted effort to see an interface with the discussions taking place and the actions that are taken thereafter. I am of the view that we need to work towards the United States of Africa.

What role can you play as a musician?
I am saying let us put our words into action and we the poets, social commentators, the musicians, we can amount that particular pressure in combatting our leadership to work together to come up with a special parliament to legislate issues around African unity and to work towards being a solidified state. I will engage people on the ground as a poet. I will engage people on the ground as a musician and that is the role which I must play. It is not an issue that must just be handled by the leadership up top. We can't live rank and file and that is where I am expected to master my prelude. I must engage people. I must make it a point that people are not left behind. The notion of African renaissance, people must be engaged with those issues.

What are your impressions of London?
I am happy to be here but of course there are issues that have not been answered by the powers that be: the issues of our leadership that was massacred by colonial Britain. I cannot be silent about those issues. One comes here having that kind of divide in mind that these people have not shown remorse for some of the wrong doings that they have done in the past. I am coming here not to provoke those things but I am here on a note of entertainment and to give a very strong message that there is a great degree of unhappiness about the British government not showing remorse to the South Africans about killing their kings and bringing their heads here. I am here to set foot in a land where the heads of my leaders were buried.

Does colonialism still have an effect?
Of course, the riches were drawn from Africa and made these cities which are beautiful today what they are. You see there are people who are enjoying life at the smell of human blood. It is time for these countries like Britain to give back to Africa, not in millions but in billlions of pounds.

Can reconciliation only be forged on financial grounds?
They should also stop undermining us. When they engage us; when they debate with us, they should look at us as humans. The time has gone now when they look down upon us. They have to engage us very constructively. There must be a change of heart which must be accompanied by the material gestures to upgrade the lives of Africans. We are poor because of them. We can't be playing rigmarole around that. It is the truth of the matter.

Racism is bad how do you shift this perception?
We have dramatized a very good condition in South Africa on the issue of racism that we do not have a vendetta about what was done to us by the white government of South Africa. We are an example. We are open to share our experience with other countries. In fact we are saddened by the fact that a first world country like Britain is still having those impulses. We are saying can't they learn fast from us for we were able to do things very quickly in a short space of time. Nelson Mandela said, 'It is better for people to live for ideas that will live than to live for ideas that will die.' Racism will die.



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