Writer says political poem got him banned

A Grahamstown poet alleges he has been banned from participating in provincial arts and culture events for life after his political piece caused an uproar during the Word Fest at the National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown recently.

The poet, known as Bhodl’ingqaka whose real name is Akhona Mafani, said his “political” poem became the centre of attention after sport, recreation, arts and culture MEC Pemmy Majodina found it “distasteful”.

Bhodl’ingqaka was one of the poets selected by the department of sport, recreation, arts and culture (Dsrac) to participate at this year’s NAF. He rendered a poem about the SS Mendi on the opening night of the festival, a piece that impressed the MEC. However, that was short-lived when he performed again at the Word Fest leaving Majodina displeased.

“The poem presents our people’s grievances and our daily struggles as artists. I believe as a poet I must be honest in my work, whether it offends or not. However, in this case, my intention was not to offend,” the 20-year-old poet said.

Mafani said he was told that the MEC did not want to see him at any of her events ever again.

“My thoughts were looked down upon and I felt small. I was stripped of my political licence, some poets even said I was out of control yet I was not there to fight and this wasn’t the first time I was doing this poem.”

Dsrac spokesman Andile Nduna confirmed there was an incident where one of the praise-singers uttered “strong, offensive and personal language” directed to the president of the country in particular.

However, Nduna said the poet had not been banned but was reprimanded for using offensive language.

“This language and the use of such words as Zuma uya Zuma, caused an uproar among the audience. Furthermore, as the department we uphold the cultural practice of ubuntu which embraces respect of the elders in all manner and form.”

He said the department does and will always encourage freedom of speech and expression.

“The department further hosts artists on different stages and platforms. Such a freedom ought not offend and be in bad taste. It should also be noted that most, if not all of our programmes, are aimed at young pupils and therefore the use of offensive language will not be tolerated and allowed.”

Word Fest manager Monwabisi Mfecane said people interpreted poetry differently and he does not believe Mafani meant any malice.

Mfecane said the MEC told him the young man was being disrespectful as it was not fair to have people disrespecting the president at a government-sponsored event — poliswap@dispatch.co.za

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