Between his bakkie and his “boys”
He stands burning cigarette in hand
Servile pick axes
Breaking open the red, red sand
Covenant in repose
Suspended moment in time
Suspended above his belt of truth
Chosen, from mother’s breast
A birth right
Pick axes digging in the sand
Burning cigarette in hand
Breaking open the red, red sand
Son of Africa
Can you not see?
Is not your “boy”
He is a man.
One thought on “Burning cigarette in hand”
I love this poem! Very well written with beautiful imagery and a profoud significance throughout.
I thought you might be interested to know the broader poetic context into which your poetry falls, and so here is a brief background and critique of the genre as a whole.
As a white South African writing poetry about South African issues, your poetry naturally falls into the South African genre of White Liberalism.
White writing as a genre began as a poetic reaction to the land of South Africa and the strange, hostile environment European immigrants perceived it to be. White poets discussed the anxiety and tenuous politics of belonging, using the South African landscape as a modem to address fundamental questions of belonging and identity.
However, this stemmed from the European dream of Terra Nullius (a dream that South Africa was an empty earth, an open and silent space), which, of course, ignored the fact that the land had already been inhabited for hundreds of years. In this way, white writing has been fundamentally entrenched in historical Eurocentric misnomers.
Nearing the end of the Apartheid regime, whites began to realise this mistake and were confronted with the atrocities they had commited. They thus crossed over to the opposite side of the spectrum. White writing merged with protest poetry to form what we now know as White Liberalism.
White Liberalist poetry addresses sites of contradiction and conflict in a post-Apartheid society, stemming from the shame of whites who feel to be at war with their own community and their own ancestors. The style goes further to capture the same source of conflict within the self, as whites come to understand white privilege and are confronted by it, leading to self-alienation. Specifically, alienation from black South Africans is a source of pain for White Liberalists, who feel that whiteness is an island on its own, and display a desperate desire for points of connection.
However, White Liberalism fails to contribute towards solving the problems South Africa faces due to its source of privelege. Black Consciousness movements are extremely reluctant towards white efforts to find such points of connection, as it is merely an expression of white shame, and serves only so soothe the white conscience without enacting any real transformation of the status quo. From their perspective, white writers benefit from white privilege, yet bare a distaste for the guilt that comes with it, and so aim to connect with the disadvantaged and understand their pain.
For this reason, White Liberalist poetry can still be seen as no more than a paternalistic sympathy for struggles the poets themselves have never had to face, and thus it inevitability lacks a deeper level of understanding. To many of the subjects White Liberalism discusses, the poetry itself is no more than an expression of the alienation from other South Africans that comes along with being white, which, considering the economic and social privilege that goes along with whiteness, is viewed as a “first world problem”, and fails to contribute towards change in the same way other protest poetry can.
That being said, I myself do not necessarily agree with the idea of White Liberalism as futile. I would submit that although Black Consciousness movements and their exclusion of white activists are imperative towards the growth of South Africa as a nation, an active effort by all racial and social groups to find such points of connection is equally important. For us, as a diverse nation, it is absolutely vital to try to understand one another’s plights, even if we are limited to a diluted sympathetic understanding.
For this reason I believe this poem is extremely significant, and hope you keep writing many more like it.