NNADUBE JONATHAN EJIOGU
Zindzi’s poems titled “I Saw as a Child” and “I Have Tried Hard,” construct clearly the situation of apartheid in the textual society which, of course, assumes the epicenter of the South African experience. The former presents reminisces of childhood with regard to the reality of marginalisation and alienation that appears to be plaguing the world of the poet persona. The latter presents a protest undertone. It is a poem that projects revolution.
It should be understood that the poetry of South Africa covers a broad spectrum of themes, forms and styles. The South African literary topography has been fundamentally shaped by the social and political evolution of the country, particularly the trajectory from colonial intervention to apartheid and finally towards a democracy. This existential trajectory has culminated into the primary forces that have impacted the South African poetry and, in fact, its encompassing milieu of literature.
Researchers reason that much of South African poetry is some sort of protest poetry. They offer that with the rise of the Black Consciousness (BC) movement, led by Steve Biko, and the 1976 Soweto uprising, political and protest poetry became the vehicle used because of its seeming immediacy of impact.
Like her contemporaries in the field of protest writing, Zindziswa Mandela also known as Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane, did not depart from this temperament. She was born on December 23rd, 1960 to famous anti-apartheid activists, Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. In 1978, her book of poetry, Black as I am, and later on, Somehow We Survive and Daughters of Africa was published.
In “I Saw as a Child,” the poet persona vents the frustration of growing up as a black child. Although powerful and warm, its subtle violence speaks against class stratification.
In this poem, the persona cogitates on the landmarks that characterise her childhood. She is completely overwhelmed by the unwholesome and sharp distinction the lives of two groups of people who are, in her view, supposed to be equal but in the real sense, are not, are presented. Almost everything confounds her as a child with regard to the evident divergence in the ways of their living. Her logical intuition is challenged by the fact that everything between these groups seems to be on a contrasting outline. The child wonders why “a small white boy” is “sitting in a car” (L2&3) while she had to walk. Her journey to school is, indeed, farther that it should be because of the inadequacy her own group faces. She also shares the contrasting disposition in the architectural visage of their homes. She notes the exotic demeanour of the first group but the ugly appearance of the disadvantaged group which she is a vital member of.
Beyond the structural rendering, she also narrates how overpopulated this small ugly house of theirs is. She is made to thread on the depressing realisation that what she refers to as house is particularly small because of the great number of people who have to struggle to be numbered among the occupants. The last stanza seems to share the faith of its foregoing stanza in its emphasis on the heavy dose of stratification. Through the stanza, she bewails:
I saw as a child
A tarred road
Clean and lonely
And I never knew why
When our street was so busy
And this so alone
It was uncared for (L 16 – 22)
The speaker attempts to share her displeasure over the unequal and unfair treatment that her group faces. She, once again, juxtaposes the life of the favoured class and her class, then evaluates both on the rationale of some sort of comparative analysis. She starts by noting that they — the favoured class, are inhabitants of tarred roads. What commands one’s interest here is the fact that only “a child” is seen on this tarred road. This indicates that this environment is an under-populated one and its serenity cannot go unnoticed. Meanwhile, her own environment is in a deplorable state. The landscape of this irate environment is a write-off; it is a far cry from the pristine environment earlier captured. Unlike the few people noticed in the former environment with “a tarred road//clean and lonely” (L17&18), in her own setting, the street “was so busy” and so “uncared for” (L20&22). The idea of “uncared for” is nothing short of that the people here are experiencing social neglect.
The identified negligence arms one with the impetus to assume that social exclusion is at the top of the poetic vision echelon. What gives this point its unassailable authority are the identified motifs of marginalisation and alienation tinselling the logistics and mechanics of the poem. The poem unapologetically reminds us of the humiliation and subjugation meted against the Black South Africans by the Whites. This informs the reader that the White South Africans procure a lifestyle of comfort for themselves at the expense of the welfare and living conditions of the Blacks.
The second poem, “I Have Tried Hard” does not fully depart from the path of the first. Arguably, what charges the current here is the tone of revolution. This poem seems to accord amplitude to the voice of disenchanted and highly marginalised protesters who have resolved to fight the evident unfair social imbalances. The beginning of the poem shows the effort of the speaker, delivering the lines in the first person narrative technique. In this scenario, the importance of this technique is to endear the reader to the poem. At the periphery, however, is to employ the reader to share the struggles and pains, (perhaps, to gain the empathy) of the speaker. The poetic intention here is much evidenced by the pity in the willingness of the speaker to endure the pains that arise as a result of unyielding efforts.
The lines of the poem continue to conjure enervating scenarios to which the speaker remains resolute in defying. Principally, what these hints point back at is the treatment of the Blacks by the White. It is much to this that the speaker keeps the readers’ interest with the elasticity of his perseverance. Even as such frustration subsists, the revolutionary pulse and optimism seem to be the bulwark from which the speaker draws strength. The refrain, “that which I cannot see” (L5&9), suggests an uncertainty to which the speaker adamantly refuses to concede to. It is worth establishing here that this uncertainty stems out from an understanding that there is a compromise on the ideal of the justice system; the speaker is uncertain of what legally (or otherwise) awaits his obstinate position.
The breakdown of a healthy judicial system that does not come to the rescue of the Blacks or rightfully defend their interest keeps the speaker on a vulnerable plane. Even then and in short, unto death, the speaker vows to be on the side of the revolutionary advocates. The question that such resolve immediately evokes is, “what must have triggered this decision for one to engage in such self-sacrifice?”
The oppression and social imbalances are part of what prod the readiness to advance beyond the existential reality. It is noticed that this speaker is not willing to leave his current circumstances to chance. He is, in fact, driven by the understanding that the sacrifice of the present needs to be paid for the future to be realised.
The poetic tapestry does not just end there. It will be of some import to write that as the speaker delivers this line to another person in the poem, identified as “brother,” one can tell that the energy of revolution seems to animate his worldview. He is cocksure of an unmentioned irrationality that his group faces, and to this, he considers the propriety of enlisting his kinsman in the fight against such prevailing culture. The last line does not, in any way, patronise negotiations for change. He envisions his next move. As much as he is willing to throw caution to the wind, he is not terrified by the consequences and finds it consoling to call this inevitable lessons development. The line reads:
I have yet to take
And within that time
As we draw the curtain here, we make bold to say that much of the South African experience is that of apartheid and its corresponding encumbrances. Zindzi Mandela speaks of this unwholesome experience that has in varied ways shaped their literature in her “I Saw as a Child” and “I Have Tried Hard.” The former brings to the fore childhood reminisces which crystallises how marginalisation and alienation are the order of the day. Also, “I Have Tried Hard” attempts a developmental departure from the innocuous interrogations and juvenile pondering of the child in “I Saw as a Child” to the protest spirit as marked off in the latter poem. The kernel of our analysis has ultimately provided an argument on the intersection of the South African experience and the rippling impact it rubs off on its literary corpus.
NNADUBE JONATHAN EJIOGU
is a graduate of the English Department, University of Lagos. He also holds a Diploma degree in Social Development and Administration from the same. He is a scholar, critic and researcher who has teeming interest in African Literary Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Ecoafricanism, Comparative Literature among others. He has been published on Grin and The Shallow Tales Review. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria. Phone: 08136123026. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.