The fourth in a series of six poems from the Xhosa poet Melikhaya Mbutuma, this was recorded five months after the third poem (see also parts one and two for the background and parts five and six for the rest).

The new constitution is on the verge of being implemented by the South African government, making the Transkei “independent”. Chief Kaiser Matanzima will be in charge, with near dictatorial powers. This furious, mocking, and at times despairing poem documents what has happened, and warns of what is to come. This poem was recited in December 1962.

The rulers amaze me in their understanding of man,
The genii have confounded me in their conception of the sanctity of man.
Men, be critical and reject indoctrination: learn, and avoid being indoctrinated,
Lest you follow mistaken ideas and practices,
Hence inviting the wrath of your fathers, your ancestors and your God.
Our heavenly father, stretch your arms and protect us;
Jehovah, your mercy is everlasting. (1)

Pray, oh you nations! The royal scions are in misery.
Once I paid a visit to the Mnqhangi mountains. (2)
There the ancestors can no longer perform their duties,
For their role has been taken over by usurpers and nonentities.
At Mhlobo’s place, people sleep no more; (3)
they sleep with their eyes open.
They have to protect the chief from his own blood. (4)
Our heavenly Father, stretch your arms and protect us;
Jehovah, your mercy is everlasting.

These things are to be expected from a coercive government.
They come as no surprise from a partisan administration.
From a dictatorship, I expect anything.
It’s just as well that the chiefs have discredited themselves;
Otherwise we should never have known the potential of the Black nation. (5)
Angels and heavenly spirits, come and be protectors of Sabata.
Our heavenly Father, stretch your arms and protect us;
Jehovah, your mercy is everlasting.

At the top of the Mabel’entombi Mountains is a calamity. (6)
I found the shepherd dead,
And the flock scattered all over,
And wandering in all directions. (7)
I saw the flock has been hybridised;
The goats are like sheep, and the sheep goat-like. (8)
I was told the shepherd had disappeared to the heights,
Heights from which he will never return. (9)
In this way, the ranks of the Black nation have been ripped open.
Our heavenly Father, stretch your arms and protect us;
Jehovah, your mercy is everlasting.

At the top of the Ndlunkulu River is a miracle; (10)
There, I found a pole-cat and an iguana having a conversation. (11)
The iguana says, ‘It is nice and cool in the water below.’
The pole-cat replies ‘It is nice and warm in the sun above.’
They continued, challenging and daring each other.
The iguana came out, and basked in the sun to its satisfaction.
Behold! The pole-cat jumped into the depth of the lake.
That was the end of it, for it came out rotten and stinking.
Our heavenly Father, stretch your arms and protect us;
Jehovah, your mercy is everlasting.

Pray, oh you nations! Do not be discouraged.
Terrible things have happened, but worse things are still to happen.
Perversion of law and human liberties invariably end in misery and massacres.
We, who are not yet intimidated, say, ‘Things could not be worse.’
The rulers are running our country by violating the will of the people.
Our heavenly Father, stretch your arms and protect us;
Jehovah, your mercy is everlasting.

Send for Thembu, experts on tradition and custom.
The disease you are fighting is not news to them.
It started from the time of Ngangelizwe and Matanzima. (12)
Would that Joyi were alive and could arbitrate. (13)
Today, his grandson Bangilizwe is in the wilderness. (14)
Men, call Bangilizwe back from exile, so that he may arbitrate,
He is the only only one who is fitted to deal with the situation;
Otherwise, this land will be thrown into a blood bath.
The Thembu are bitter about what happened to Bangilizwe.
Our heavenly Father, stretch your arms and protect us;
Jehovah, your mercy is everlasting.

Here is the poem in the original Xhosa:

Zindiphambile izazi ngamandla oluntu,
Zinditsibile iingqondo ngolonyulo lomntu,
Fundani madoda kuyekeni ukufundiswa,
Hleze nilandele iimfundiso zolahlekiso,
Baqumbe uyihlo iminyanya noThixo wenu.
Zolule iingalo zakho zoxolo zikhusele!
Yehova inceba yakho ingunaphakade.

Thandazani zizwe abantwana beenkosi balusizi,
Khe ndatyelela iitaba zoMnqhangi ndihlola.
Ithi iminyanya apho ayisebenzi ngexa layo,
Yayekela kuNonqhayi nuNozikhakhana.
KwaMhlobo ukulalwa kwayekwa, kulalwa indoda
Ijongile, kuse ijongile; kugadwa untwan’ egazi kwabegazi lakowabo.
Zolule iingalo zakho zoxolo zikhusele!
Yehova inceba yakho ingunaphakade.

Andothuke nto kolwamandla ulawulo.
Andothuke lutho kubukhosi bamandla.
Kunongalakambu ndibulindele ububi.
Tshotsho bantwana beenkosi nizenyelise;
Bendingasayi kusibona amandla isizwe.
Yibani nguNonqhayi nuNozikhakhana kuSabata.
Zolule iingalo zakho zoxolo zikhusele!
Yehova inceba yakho ingunaphakade.

Ndibone usizi kwincopho zaMabel’entombi.
Ndifike inkokheli yomhlambi ifile;
Ndafika umhlambi ububusaza uyilata,
Ndafika umhlambi weebhokhwe ubugusha.
Wadlonga oweegusha wabubhokhwe.
Wathi inkokeli inyuke ngokunxhama iribela,
Kanti ebutsolweni ayisakuse ibuye.
Kungoku udyaki namaxhwili banekroba.
Zolule iingalo zakho zoxolo zikhusele!
Yehova inceba yakho ingunaphakade.

Phezu komthombo weNdunkulu sisimanga;
Ndifike kuncokola iqaqa noxam.
Uthi uxam, ‘Kuyolile emanzini phantsi kwelitye.’
Ath’ uqaqa, ‘Kuyolile phezu komhlaba elangeni.’
Acelana amadodana ngokuvavanya indawo,
Waph’ uxam wagcakamela ilanga wonela,
Laziphosa iqaqa esizibeni kwabandayo amanzi.
Kumhla laphuma lilolile umva walo.
Zolule iingalo zakho zoxolo zikhusele!
Yehova inceba yakho ingunaphakade.

Thandazani zizwe musani ukutyhafa,
Zimdaka ezidlulileyo zilusizi ezizayo.
Ugqwetho masiko luzal’ inganga neenyembezi.
Ke thina bangoyiki kufa sithi, ‘Kuf’ ayayo’.
Niyawurexeza umtheto ngokuphikisa isizwe.
Zolule iingalo zakho zoxolo zikhusele!
Yehova inceba yakho ingunaphakade.

Bizan’ amaxhego kubaThembu asondele.
Le ngqakaqa niyidyubayo asint’ iqalayo.
Yaqalwa nguNgangelizwe noMatanzima ubuqu.
Kuloko uJoyi wayephila walamla.
Kunamhala uBangilizwe ukwelingaziwayo.
Zingwevu, bizani uBangilizwe Joyi alamle,
Nguye onengalo yokunqwanqwada kulunge;
Kungenjalo lo mhlaba uya kuzala iimpethu.
Isizwe siyalila ngesenzo senu kuBangilizwe.
Zolule iingalo zakho zoxolo zikhusele!
Yehova inceba yakho ingunaphakade.

Archie Mafeje,
“The Role of the Bard in a Contemporary African Community”,
Journal of African Languages VI, 3 (1967), 201-204.


Footnotes

  1. Both Mbutuma and his patron Sabata Dalindyebo had attended mission schools, but this poem is unusual in repeatedly invoking the God of the Old Testament as protector of the Xhosa. (Compare this with It All Started with Religion.)
  2. The Mnqhangi mountains: Mountains overlooking Matazama’s main residence.
  3. Mhlobo was Matanzima’s father
  4. Matanzima’s own people are in revolt against him, and he has to be protected by a government bodyguard.
  5. Mbutuma finds some consolation in the fact that by allying themselves with the government, the chiefs supporting Matazima have alienated themselves from the people, who will now continue the struggle on their own account.
  6. Mountains adjacent to the Mnqhangi mountains (see footnote 3)
  7. The flock is without a shepherd now Matanzima is no longer regarded as chief.
  8. Men can no longer be trusted. Even the most dependable have capitulated.
  9. Matanzima has climbed to a position from which he can never return.
  10. Ndlunkulu River: A small river, running through a forested part of Thembuland.
  11. In this entertaining fable, the pole-cat is, of course, Matanzima who ends up ‘stinking and rotten’.
  12. Ngangelizwe and Matanzima: In 1865 an administrative division called Emigrant Thembuland was created on land confiscated from the Xhosa in the aftermath of the Cattle Killing. It was awarded to Thembu collaborators under Matanzima’s great-grandfather, Mvuzo. When the whole of Thembuland was annexed in 1876, the Cape authorities denied that Chief Ngangelizwe exercised any authority there.
  13. Joyi, Ngangelizwe’s paternal uncle, had acted as regent until the young chief was ready to assume office.
  14. Joyi’s great-grandson, and believed to have inherited his qualities as leader. In May 1958, he had been banished by the South African for opposition to Matanzima. He was (rightly) suspected of being a member of the banned ANC.