Nina Simone said in an interview that, “You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times”. I think Namibian poet, activist, community worker, and performer Keamogetsi J. Molapong takes these words to heart. In the 1980s when he started writing poetry, he protested against the South African apartheid system that cruelly controlled Namibia. Now his poetry is about the corruption of the new elite and the gap between rich and poor, though he still finds time for the occasional love poem.
The Scars On My Skin is Molapong’s second poetry collection, his first, Come Talk Your Heart was published in 2005. The title of The Scars on my Skin stems from the idea that every scar has a story to tell.
Molapong is a well-seasoned poet. He has performed on stages around Namibia as well as at both the 1st and the 2nd SADC Poetry Festivals held in Gaborone and Windhoek. He performed in Durban at the 11th Poetry Afrika Festival, in Germany at the Poesie Berlin Festival and at the Ba Re E Ne Re Poetry Festival in Lesotho. The Scars On My Skin was adapted into a play directed by Aldo Behreng and performed during last year’s Bank Windhoek Arts Festival.
Scars On My Skin includes many poems about the ruling elite who seem to have forgotten where they come from and instead are blinded by greed. Fake Money is a biting indictment of these people in power; it could easily apply to our situation in Botswana too:
They eat the economy
And talk of democracy
As if their lives meant
Anything to the poor
And sleeping masses
Their skies of no limits
To dig our own graves
We cannot afford.
Molapong knows the way poverty is used to keep the masses at the mercy of the elite, he does not shy away from speaking the truth. In his poem Poverty he writes:
…Being poor is not exclusively for you
Neither is poverty designed just for us
It is the short leash used by comrades
To tie us down to our shame and ignorance
A platinum policy for their happy retirement…
In Let’s Go To Parliament Molapong calls the people to stand-up and make the change that will finally emancipate us from the shackles of this neo-colonialist, capitalist-controlled, greed-fuelled situation we find ourselves in.
…Let’s dissipate their phantom castles
Burn their asses—I mean ashes
And call the winds to blow them
Into the cold of the Atlantic Ocean
Let’s blowtorch their greed, lust
Into fake memories of colonialism
Cripple their self-styled powers
Humble their pride and position
To the grounds of our realities. ..
Scars On My Skin is not only about political poems, in the mix are insightful and sometimes very beautiful love poems. Teach Me, Please is the plea of a man ready to change, a man who knows his limitations, and wants to be what his woman needs him to be.
…Teach me sister, give me the language
That would not be chauvinistic and crude
Steer my clapping tongue though wording
That would not make you hate me forever
Teach me, woman of my happiest dreams
To express my inner most love for you.
Another touching poem is Time which echoes back to the title of the collection:
Time, they say, heals
Wounds become scars,
Tears turn into a salty smell
And a smile masks the pain inside…
Often I see poets on stage and I wonder what’s the point? Poetry that does not move the reader or listener, does not give insight, is as good as nothing. If My Poem Can’t Move You addresses that very issue:
…If the lines I recite carry no image,
Put no doubt in your heart
Why should I continue reciting? …
The Scars On My Skin is an intriguing collection from one of Namibia’s leading poets and deserves more attention; find it and give it a read.
(This review first appeared in my column It's All Write in Mmegi newspaper 19 August, 2016)