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50 years of powerful protest poetry

15 March 2021 - 11:05 By jonathan ball publishers

I may have been born on April 27 1994 – but I was never born free.
- Mjele Msimang

Contemporary poet Mjele Msimang captures something of today’s zeitgeist in his poem born(e) to the grave. But what of the past half-century of protest poetry in SA, a rich tradition born in response to colonialism, and fed by apartheid and a faltering democracy?

In Years of Fire and Ash: South African Poems of Decolonisation, more than 50 years of protest poetry are gathered in a single volume, bringing together some of the most remarkable and thought-provoking poems that have emerged from struggle.

The animating impulse behind this collection of old and new voices is “decolonisation”, a term which has regained prominence over the past few years. It allows us to perceive how South African poets have placed their work in the world, and how that work might relate to the struggle for radical social transformation.

Compiled by award-winning literary critic Wamuwi Mbao, this collection includes established voices such as HIE Dhlomo, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Mongane Wally Serote, Sipho Sepamla and Es’kia Mphahlele, as well as prominent contemporary poets such as Vangile Gantsho, Lebohang Masango and Sihle Ntuli.

About the editor

Mbao lectures in English studies at Stellenbosch University. He writes short fiction and his research interests are in South African post-apartheid literature, architecture and popular culture. He is a SALA-winning literary critic with the Johannesburg Review of Books. His short story 'The Bath' is included in Twenty in 20, a collection of the 20 most significant short stories post-1994.