Sandile Dikeni: A storyteller in the best of our African traditions

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Sandile Dikeni (1966-2019)
Sandile Dikeni (1966-2019)

Sandile Dikeni (1966-2019)

Sandile Dikeni is justly celebrated for his supreme skills as a wordsmith extraordinaire, people’s poet, griot, journalist, music lyricist and radio producer.

He was an inspirational storyteller in the best of our African traditions.

He had a “career” that transcended a variety of mediums. His poetry inspired us and his words expressed not merely his feelings, but became emblematic of our nation; anguished, brave, inspirational, uplifting, transformatory.

Despite his upbringing in Victoria West, a sleepy town on the outer periphery of the Western Cape, where identity was diffuse and fluid, his vision was global.

It is no accident that his name descends from warrior leaders such as Mgolombane Sandile, who led heroic struggles in the Frontier Wars.

Sandile experienced the most traumatic incidents in his personal life that affected him deeply.

This did not dampen his soaring humanity, gregariousness, jocularity, impish humour and infectious laughter.

He embodied nonracism and an inclusive Mzansi identity, in its true essence, in his everyday existence.

His tone, imagery and metaphors duly encompassed the reality of constructing and developing a radically different society from the ruinous apartheid regime. His poetry gave voice to the heroic struggles of the fearless “young lions”.

Sandile was a true raconteur, invariably surrounded by people, debating, discussing and gesturing while passionately illustrating a point.

My favourite image of Sandile, other than his magical, soaring yet reflective poetic executions, was his magical smile.

This killer smile was permanently implanted around his full lips. It infused his face with such luminance and was a reflection of his beautiful soul.

His charm was as a delight to behold as his ability to convince, persuade and get his way.

I encountered Sandile on the University of the Western Cape campus (Bush) in the late 1980s.

These were the dying days of apartheid, when its moral bankruptcy was exhibited through myriad morbid symptoms.

Lest we forget, it was a time of mass insurrection and the brute displays of an illegitimate regime intent on crushing the democratic yearnings of the oppressed, but bound to fail.

At mass gatherings, Sandile would often be called on to deliver his incandescent poetry, especially the lauded Guava Juice.

This was a deceptive image of the innocuous fruit that became fused into the then archetypal symbol, the ubiquitous Molotov cocktail (petrol bomb).

Sandile would appear on stage, unaccompanied by any music or instrumental accoutrements, with only his voice and words to inspire, lift the spirits and get us battle-ready against the might of the vicious riot police.

In the current conjuncture there are infantile tendencies from some quarters, rubbishing the contributions of previous generations.

Soviet poet and intellectual Yevgeny Yevtushenko makes scathing references to the impotent actions of these “envious insulters” in one of his often-quoted poems.

Sandile, in his inimitable, humorous but lethal disposition, would have equally dismissed these faux-revolutionary interlopers.

He would have reminded us of the apt adage of Frantz Fanon that “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”.

I have no doubt that Sandile would have been a future poet laureate, emulating the illustrious Keorapetse Kgositsile, Don Mattera, James Matthews, Mongane Serote, etc.

Sandile’s oeuvre illustrates the words of Pablo Neruda: “Poetry is like bread. It should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity.”

Sandile’s legacy will remain indelibly engraved in our hearts, souls and minds, linked to the heroic struggles culminating in the democratic denouement of 1994.

He captured our zeitgeist and milieu so authentically. May his poetry be appreciated and studied in schools, universities, our neighbourhoods and social gatherings.

His poem, Love Poem for my Country, illustrates his love for our country, its people and our scenic environment.

It demonstrates his zest for life, allied to his copious ubuntu.

He would have reminded us, like Madiba, of our intractable challenges and that the struggle for a prosperous South Africa remains incomplete, and efforts must be redoubled to ensure that future generations can fulfil their true potential.

Hamba Kahle, lala ngoxolo, fallen spear.

Robbie Mopp-Roberts was the student Representative Council president in 1989/90 at the University of the Western Cape, and a fellow activist and friend of Dikeni

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