Another attack on the damaging effects of labour migrancy to South Africa. In this extract from a Tswana Praise Poem, the poet appeals movingly to Chief Molefi Kgafela, who ruled 1929-1936, to bring home all the young men and women from Cape Town, Natal, Johannesburg and Rustenburg.

Seek the strays, child of the Makuka, (1)
Bring home the human strays;
Do as with the cattle you’ve just sought:
Search for them by telegraph.
Some are heard of in the Cape;
Write to the Commissioner of Cape Town
And say, ‘Help us seek, we seek people’
Others are said to be in Natal,
They’re with Dikobe, Nthite’s son. (2)
Most of them are in Johannesburg.
At Rustenburg, women are increasing:
Collect the women also, let them come.
Some women have left their husbands,
They’ve left the men who wooed them;
It’s said they went to acquire cupboards –
They went, but they haven’t brought them back.
Send the chief’s Machechele after them (3)
Who know the corners of the towns.
Men remain stubbornly in the White areas,
Deserting the wives whom they wooed:
Women and children worry the aged
And make their grandfathers cry;
They do not dress, they are destitute.
Young men remain stubbornly in White areas;
It’s said they marry flashy girls,
They marry today and divorce tomorrow .
Tie on a baby-sling, child of the Makuka,
And carry the orphans of the Kgatla: (4)
Tell your fathers to tie it,
Let Dikeme and Kgari tie it upon you: (5)
Carry them in a calf baby-sling,
In a calf baby-sling, people-carrier.
Also, pray to your God, Pray, so that when it rains, (6)
You may see the orphans survive.

from Praise Poems of Tswana Chiefs (1965);
I. Schapera


Footnotes

  1. Makuka: The name of Lentswe I’s age set, the chief’s father.
  2. Dikobe: One of Lentswe I’s age-mates.
  3. Machechele: The name of Molefi Kgafela’s own age-set.
  4. Kgatla: The baKgatla, of whom Molefi Kgafela is chief, are a sub-group of the Tswana.
  5. Kgari: Another of Lentswe I’s age-mates.
  6. It is because of the lack of rain that people migrated in the first place.