Jesus Thesis: Kopano Maroga’s poetry reconstructs the gospel with love

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Under uHlanga Press Kopano Maroga published their debut poetry collection, Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations, in November 2020. (uHlanga Press)
Under uHlanga Press Kopano Maroga published their debut poetry collection, Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations, in November 2020. (uHlanga Press)
  • Kopano Maroga is a curator and dramaturg at Kunstencentrum Vooruit in Ghent, Belgium.
  • Under uHlanga Press they published their debut poetry collection, Jesus Thesis, in November 2020. 
  • To mark South Africa’s Day of Reconcilation the writer speaks to Maroga about the ways that love can affect healing. 


16 December marks the Day of Reconciliation: a reminder for South Africa’s urgent need to heal the many, deep wounds of Apartheid. 

Considering how struggle’s trauma lives on in our collective body, poet Kopano Maroga invites readers to reflect on the use of love in their poetry anthology Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations. 

Published by uHlanga Press in November 2020, their debut collection is as harrowing as it is tender in the ways that it explores a genderqueer experience through humour and compassion. 

To launch this exploration, the poet immerses themself in the myth and mystery of Christianity. Then using love, they shun its condemnation; emerging reborn. In using love as “a weapon of mass construction” Maroga encourages readers to revisit and reinvestigate the past.  

Apart from dissecting our shared trauma, the anthology’s radical foundation of using love to reconstruct our world is timely considering how the last year has been coloured by Covid-19’s incessant need to isolate us. 

Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations. (uHla
Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations. (uHlanga Press)

In the poem it’s been so long Maroga achieves a remarkable feat of interrogating our history and language, and notions of gender:

it’s been so long

where do we begin 
where do we begin

i end where my gender begins: 
in 1652 / with a boat
with many boats / with many many ghosts
we begin where… 

where 
where

in the languages of my mother’s and 
father’s tongues there is no pronoun for 
he or she / only: you / only: them / only: me 

where do we begin 
where do we begin

in the language of my mother’s and 
father’s tongues we call people by their names 
we do not call people by the secret flower we imagine 
may or may not be blooming between their thighs 

where do we begin 
where do we begin

in the land of my mother’s and 
father’s tongues we have the 
fourth highest rate of 
femicide in the world 

where do we begin 
where do we begin

in the country of my mother’s 
and father’s tongues we have lost 
so much and there is no 
one to count the bodies 

where do we begin 
where do we begin

in the country of my mother’s 
and father’s tongues there is a 
burning roof and no one to 
sing the smoke to sleep 

where do we begin 
where do we begin


Maroga was born in Johannesburg’s Benoni. They are currently a practising curator and dramaturg at Kunstencentrum Vooruit in Ghent, Belgium. On living in Belgium, Maroga says there’s a strident oddness about life there. Statues of King Leopold in the streets remind them daily of Africa’s vexed history. This helps to inform their practice and the critical work of reimagining the meaning of colonialisation because it becomes an essential conversation that not only impacts art making but also policy. 

A core aim of the Avbob Poetry Project is to support and create a body of work that enables individual and national healing. One of the vehicles facilitating this is the project’s focus on the new generation of artists as they articulate and create new ways of beholding, listening, speaking, educating and questioning naturalised norms. With Maroga, one of the ways their poetry speaks to the project is their efforts in reworking the grammar and language of sex and gender. 

How else do we work to write ourselves, our joy, our trauma, our bodies out of the imaginary of oppressive institutions that could and cannot conceive of the unnameable beauty that it is to be this black, this brown and this queer at this moment in history?

While doing a Masters at the Institute for Creative Arts, Maroga studied how the history of coloniality shaped categorical identity as a system of reference. “In South Africa, we take people’s identity for granted as if it’s the nature of the universe, but we’re referring to a system that’s barely existed for the last century,” Maroga adds.

“There is no new language; the grammar of violence and history is all there. Our work is to arrange it such that it can become coherent in our embodied experience. The trouble is that in our over-intellectualised society we might think that by having said it, by having written it down, we’ve done something about it.

In addressing this, Jesus Thesis invites readers to investigate their preconceptions by making empathy coexist alongside sorrow while combining the erotic with grief and alienation. Then to mediate on the violence of South Africa’s heritage while proving the author’s resilient determination to exist, Jesus Thesis reimagines the gospels.

“The body keeps the score. We don’t suffer from conceptual racism, it affects our bodies, and our abilities to eat, to move through space, to love, to understand ourselves, to create and develop a sense of ourselves. Reckoning has to be done through the mechanism of the body, where the impact and results of traumatic experience fall.” 

Jesus Thesis is not for the faint of heart or for those with a fundamentalist interpretation of the biblical scripture. The collection contains images of nudity and comes with a trigger warning. By opening its pages, readers will accept an invitation to love the world in a novel way. Readers that risk stepping out of their known world will find in these poems a blessing that enables a release of the dogmas and stereotypes that keep history locked in a single narrative. 

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