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Congratulations to Alex Smith (@africa_alex), whose Devilskein & Dearlove has been nominated for a Carnegie Medal! fb.me/3iD79TzOa

Marlene van Niekerk Angers Government with Her Poem “Mud School”

Marlene van Niekerk

 
Following a visit by Zakes Mda, Sindiwe Magona, Njabulo Ndebele and others to schools in the Eastern Cape to highlight the poor conditions learners face, Marlene van Niekerk has written a poem, titled “Mud School”, for the Mail & Guardian to further address this issue.

Die SneeuslaperAgaatTriomfLetter to South Africa

The poem, which starts, “Minister Motshekga, your name is mud. Let’s see / what we can do with you. We can fire you and make / of you a brick, and add you to our school”, provoked a fierce response from David Hlabane who works in the communications unit at the Department of Basic Education. In a letter in the Mail & Guardian he refers to Van Niekerk’s “cynical rant” and her “self-righteous tone not unlike that of the erstwhile colonial writers” and says, “As far as I know, no government of ours set up one mud school anywhere in the country after apartheid”.

Van Niekerk is the award-winning author of Triomf, Agaat and Die sneeuslaper and in 2011 she initiated a poetry anthology titled Letter to South Africa: Poets Calling the State to Order.

Mud school

(For the children of the Eastern Cape, 20 years after freedom.)

Minister Motshekga, your name is mud. Let’s see

what we can do with you. We can fire you and make

of you a brick, and add you to our school, maybe

as the corner stone. In rain you’ll turn into a turd.

We’ll skip over you and laugh. We can smear

you thickly on our walls and watch you crumble

in the summer wind, we’ll use your flakes to learn

subtraction until there is nothing left to reckon with.

Often there are things we let go in our democratic space – itself a hard-won product of the democratic struggles led by the ANC and won with the people against the forces of reaction, backwardness and sheer racism. This is in the interest of free speech, but there are utterances we must surely confront. They masquerade as poetry, said to be for some poor little black boy or girl lost in “schools without proper infrastructure, books or decent teachers”.

Such is the cynical rant by Marlene van Niekerk published on the Mail & Guardian letters page (“Motshekga’s name is mud”, May 17) – a poem, it appears, for hapless native children of the “wild” Eastern Cape.

Like little Calibans on Prospero’s island, they are incapable of accessing her poem in English, so she tells us condescendingly, with contempt and arrogance, in a self-righteous tone not unlike that of the erstwhile colonial writers: “I will see to it that it gets translated into isiXhosa.” A round of applause, I would imagine, should follow.

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