KZN winning poets selected

2009-02-05 00:00

“USE this space, use it as holy ground. Let your voice be released, say what you came here to say.”

With these words, Durban-based storyteller and poet, Gcina Mhlope-Becker, encouraged participants in the Lentswe Poetry Project to get up on stage and share their thoughts on everything from human rights and Aids to the youth of South Africa today.

Last week’s event, held at the Pavilion shopping centre in Westville, was the KwaZulu-Natal semi-final and followed a day of workshops in which the participants received advice and help on how to craft their poems. It was also the last stop on a nationwide search being undertaken by SABC2 and Radio 2000 to find the country’s best poets.

Mhlope-Becker, who was asked to judge the KZN leg of Lentswe, which means the Voice of the People in Sotho, was delighted with the quality of the entrants, but disappointed that more people were not given the chance to take part.

“Not enough people got to hear about it,” she said. “It was only advertised on television, not even the Department of Arts and Culture knew about it. I notified many of the poets who were there myself.

“Apart from that, the young people were amazing. There was a lot of talent and they were not afraid to tackle difficult subjects.”

Mhlope, a renowned activist, actor, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author, joined the competition’s national judges, Donato Francesco Mattera — a journalist, editor, writer and poet who helped found the Union of Black Journalists, the African Writers’ Association and the Congress of South African Writers — and Masoja Msiza — a poet, actor, musician and storyteller who has taken his poetry to heal, educate, rehabilitate and entertain people in prisons, schools, churches, workplaces and communities at different levels of society — to find the pick of the province’s poets.

The entrants had to write a piece about one of South Africa’s days of national importance. The poems could be written in classical verse, hip-hop style or any other form.

After much debate the following competitors, linked to specific days of national importance, were selected to represent KwaZulu-Natal: Human Rights Day, Mantombi Shedeni; Afrika Day, Baxolile Dimane; 16 Days of Activism, Thabani Dlamini; Aids Day, Ayanda Chamane; Youth Day, Botsotso Mahlaba; Family Day, Fathima Dawood; Women’s Day and Heritage Day, Musa Nhlumayo; Father’s Day, Delisiwe Purity Sithole; and Freedom Day, Abigail Khosa.

Mattera and Msiza now have to whittle the regional winners down to 10 finalists, whose work will be made into a video and then screened on SABC2 later this year.

The turnout in KZN was considered amongst the strongest in the country and almost 90% of those taking part in the local leg of the competition chose to use Zulu instead of English to deliver their inspirational words, something which Mhlope said made her very pleased.

“I love mother-tongue expression and it’s prolific now,” she added. “There is so much pride and what’s great is that they don’t just speak in Zulu, but there is proper use of language.”

Asked what she thought about KZN’s chances of producing the national winner, she said: “I think we have a good chance of winning. I don’t know what’s been happening in the other provinces, but we have put our best foot forward.”

• If you would like to find out more about the poetry project, visit

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