No court poet for Mugabe

Court poets sing praise to power and its excesses. Tendai speaks truth to power directly. Greed is indicted. Mwanaka has suffered in his flesh and blood. The metaphor he uses cuts. Politicians have to hear that they are gorging themselves. Living on corpses.

Tendai Mwanaka left Zimbabwe to live in exile in South Africa where he had temporary visas. His whereabouts today are unknown. Mwanaka is a prolific writer and has poems published in over 50 magazines. Since he was 20 years old he has been writing. He worked on several manuscripts over the years. These include poetry (six collections), short stories (two collections), non fiction (one manuscript) and a full length novel.

Before exile, Mwanaka has been to a place which one never forgets: Prison cells. The reason, his voice. He was in Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Zimbabwe. In ‘Brutal Times’, the first poem in the book, he writes of the ‘beatings and gorging, chopping… of steady howling, sexual and psychological abuse.’ He has endured much. The world’s attention may have departed Zimbabwe but Mwanaka is still talking and watching. He lifts his voice… his pen. He writes in ‘A war memorial for Mugabe’:

‘How could a single man wipe out millions?

In and outside his country

and gorge thousands in daylight,

for over three decades

Whilst the whole world keeps mum?’

Mwanaka reminds me of South African poet Ingrid Jonker’s words in ‘The Child is Not Dead’:

‘… the child lifts his fists against his


Who shouts Africa

Shouts the breath of freedom and the veld.’

Mwanaka’s voice, still laden with metaphors such as the child for the land, is filled with strong and open political poetry. A child of his times, he does not hide names. He tells South Africa’s Zuma quite clearly that he played a poor role in helping South Africa. Read his thoughts on more leaders in Africa, the AU, the UN, SADC and the world. In the tone of a voice in exile we find betrayal, anger, sadness, sombre reflection, pain, doubt, suffering and a feeling of being hedged in – even hanged – expressed. But the poet and the desire for change are not dead. Mwanaka still believes Afrika. His style is free. He is lyrical, rhyming where he wills.

When an identity is confronted with a crushing power at so many levels, a sense of alienation can be overwhelming. All valves of expression can burst open or be lost. Mwanaka has known abuse of human rights. He knows of dignity flattened until it becomes a milk song. He expresses it through his cat Marvin not without a little humour:

‘I gave Marvin some milk to drink

But she just smelled it

And refused to drink it.

I spoke of the D.R.C

But she just stared at me.

‘I spoke of the elections in Nigeria and Kenya

She started jumping up and down the table.

I spoke of Zimbabwe’s problems

She stopped, and stared at me again.

‘I said it is all because of Mugabe

She just smiled at me like some elfin child.

I spoke of South Africa

And of how Jacob Zuma is good for this country.

She started mewing and growling

And moved out of the room.’

The cat goes away. Mwanaka stays in the room writing. People like Thabo and Zuma deserve no break. They are neighbours who watch Zimbabwe dying. In a few crisp lines full of images none in power will like, he does them a Zapiro, his lines like a simple sketch of a brilliant cartoon:

‘Mugabe protects himself,

From western angers

By using South Africa.

As a condom.

‘Whilst he kills

Innocent Zimbabweans.

Just like Zuma

Protects himself

From corruption charges

By using a shower cap and baby oil.

Whilst he rapes

Lady-justice South Africa.’ – First published by

Post published in: News

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