Mi S'dumo Hlatshwayo (1951 - ) grew up as an "illegitimate" child in a working-class household in Cato Manor/ M'Kumbane - a sprawling shack settlement in Durban. His family's poverty caused him to leave school by Standard 7 and search for a job. As he told FOSATU Worker News all his dreams were sunk: "... I wanted to be a poet, control words, many words, that I may woo our multi-cultured South Africa into a single society. I wanted to be a historian of a good deal of history; that I may harness our past group hostilities into a single South African history ... After 34 years of hunger, suffering, struggles, learning and hope, I am only a driver for a rubber company" (FOSATU Worker News, June 1985, no.35).
He continued his self-education by reading whatever came his way: from Biology primers to Zulu history books. He learnt about poetry through the eCibini (or St John's Apostolic Church) which was famous for its healing rituals. He had joined the church after being healed from a serious illness. In that independent African church of the poor, he experienced for the first time in his life a community of concern and care. He also experienced in the church's emotional gatherings his baptism in "words of fire": the lay-preachers, men and women who were imbued with a prophetic and messianic vision, had integrated the imbongi tradition of Nguni poetry in their religious sermons. He was discovering there, the power of language and poetry - where Christ, sometimes a furious black buffalo cut through the shrub and gorged to proclaim his victory on earth. He started participating in efforts to organise the Clermont community and later joined MAWU when it started organising at Dunlop Sports where he was working. But, if anything, it was the Dunlop strike of 1984 that triggered him to cultural action. After hearing Qabula perform his izimbongo of FOSATU, he realised that one did not need to be somebody from the university to write poetry. In fact, he was schooled through the church in the tradition himself, without knowing it before. He composed 'A Black Mamba Rises' to praise the Dunlop workers' struggle. He then joined Qabula and others to form the Durban Workers' Cultural Local.
He has since composed more poems, written and directed plays and initiated many projects. In October 1985 he resigned his job at Dunlop Sports to become the Local's fulltime cultural organiser. Hlatshwayo is the current CEO of the Durban Arts Association.
The Black Mamba Rises
The victors of wars But then retreat The Builders of nests, But then like an ant-eater You then desert. Heavy are your blows, They leave the employers Unnerved On your side are your Brothers even at the new Jerusalem Let it be workers! They say, The heaven above also Approves.
Ngudungudu, the woman Who married without any Lobolo, Busy boiling foreigners' Pots Yet yours are lying cold.
The humble bride, Affianced without the Bridegroom's consent Yet others are affianced With their fathers consent, Even the Japanese have now Come to be your bridegrooms, So! Bride why are you entwined by chains, Instead of being entwined With gold and silver like the others?
The Black mamba that shelters in the songs Yet others shelter in the trees!
Ancestors of Africa rejoice, Here are the workers coming like a flock of Locusts, On rising it was multi-headed, One of its heads was at Mobeni, Njakazi, the green calf of MAWU can bear me out Another of its heads was at baQulusi Land at Ladysmith, On rising it was burning like fire
Even Sikhumba - the leather that Overcomes the tanners, Sikhumba who knows no race Who stabs an old man and A young man alike, Using the same spear Who stabs a man's bone, Inflicting pain in the heart But he is now showing a Change of heart Here is the struggle, Sikhumba and Mgonothi are mesmerized, Asking what species of old mamba is this? Dying and resurrecting like A dangabane flower. It was stabbed good and proper during the Day, At Sydney Road right on the premises,
To the delight of the impimpis, And the delight of the police There were echoes of approval there on the TV at Auckland Park saying: Never again shall it move, Never again shall it revive Never again shall it return Yet it was beginning to tower with rage.
The old mamba that woke up early in the Morning at St. Anthony's Let's sit down and talk, he Now says
The spear that thundered at Dawn at St Anthony's, The spear that devoured the father and the sons And the daughters Then the men came together, Devouring them whilst singing Yet the songs were just a decoy.
Rife are the rumours, That those who defied the Unity have sunk, To the throbbing hearts of the Employers You black buffalo Black yet with tasty meat, The buffalo that turns the Foreigners' language into Confusion, Today your're called a Bantu, Tomorrow you're called a Communist
Sometimes you're called a Native. Today again you're called a foreigner, Today again you're called a Terrorist, Sometimes you're called a Plural, Sometimes you're called an Urban PURS
You powerful black buffalo, Powerful with slippery body The buffalo that pushed men Into the forest In bewilderment the police Stood with their mouths open
Rife are the rumours That those who defied Being pushed into the forest In exile they are, One Smit is in exile across At the Bluff, One Madinana is in exile across The Umgeni river, Both can bear me out.
Praise poets, messengers Observers, Run in all directions, Stand on top of the mountains, Report to Botha at Pretoria Report to out heroes on the Island, Report to the angels in your Prayers, Say unto them - here is a Flood of workers, The employers have done what Ought not to be.
Why tease the mamba in its Century old sleep? The writing is on the wall, No stone shall stand on top Of the other till eternity, Tell them - the borrowed Must be given back Tell them - the chained Must be chained no more Tell them - these are the Dictates of the black mamba, The mamba that knows no Colour, Tell them - these are the Workers' demands, By virtue of their birthright Dunlop workers I'm taking My hat off, I'm bowing to you with Respect.
(Dunlop Strike, St Anthony's, November 9 1984)
1986. Black mamba rising : South African worker poets in struggle : Alfred Temba Qabula, Mi S'Dumo Hlatshwayo, Nise Malange.