Improvised by the imbongi Nelson Title Mabunu at Umtata, Transkei, December 17 1970, in the course of a long poem in praise of Chief George Matanzima, co-leader of the illegal Transkei Bantustan. Mabuno was Matanzima’s official imbongi. He was a bitter enemy of the Xhosa poet Melikhaya Mbutuma, who was imbongi to the Thembu paramount chief Sabata Dalindyebo.
Jeff Opland was one of the first white South Africa academics to take a scholarly interest in Xhosa poetry. However, his research was conducted at the height of the apartheid regime. Even at the court of Matanzima, one of the main African collaborators with apartheid, his motives could be questioned — as in this amusing extract.
What do you want me to say, child of Opland?
What do you want me to say, fair-skinned one?
Handsome fellow who comes from the Cape.
Why do you want this information,
Information about the people?
When did you begin, men,
To concern yourselves
About the things of the people?
Because the day the missionaries arrived
They carried a Bible in front,
But they had a breechloader slung behind.
How do we see this?
We see the W.C.C. appearing today, (1)
All things appearing.
Today, it has come to light
That all the while they were carrying
a breech-loader behind
To kill the family of the people.
Here is the poem in the original Xhosa:
Uthi mandithini na mntaka Oplandi
Uthi mandithini na gwangqa
Elible mfondin’ elivel’ eKapa
Ziindaba ‘zifunela ntoni n’ ezi
Niqale nini na madoda
Kuba mhla kwafik’ abefundisi
Babalek’ iBhayibhile ngaphambili
Kanti baxway’ imfakadolo ngasemva
Sibona ngantoni na
Sibona namhlanj’ ivel’ iW.C.C.
Zivel’ iinto zonke
Ukuba zathi kanti zibelek’ imfakadolo ngasemva
Zibulal’ usapho Iwabantu
from “Imbongi Nezibongo: the Xhosa Tribal Poet
and the Contemporary Poetic Tradition”,
PMLA 90, 1975 198–199.
- In late 1970, The World Council of Churches pledged financial backing to the South African liberation movements. As Matanzima’s imbongi, Mabunu regards this as another example of Bible first, gun next.
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