Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Africa - Creative Arts, Poetry, South Africa

Cleansing: One

The last couple of weeks have been filled with so much chaos, hate and violence – on the continent and elsewhere. I am in the US at the moment and have been watching the Gulf oil spill and the reaction of the American people, the media and the overall outrage at BP, the regulators and the US government and the corruption all three have been engaged in. I think of the Niger Delta where we have had 50 years of oil spills, where the land, the swamps and creeks are sodden with oil yet there is no outcry from Nigerians or the Nigerian media.

I feel the need to cleanse myself and this space which is so dear to me and which has been an every day part of my life for 6 years. So I asked my dear friend Bernedette Muthien – poet, activist and scholar to send me some of her poems.

Fellow scholar and activistPumla Gqola, describes Bernedette as an “insanely gifted poet” and quotes Bernedette’s entire poem, “necessary grief” in her recent obituary for struggle icon, Fatima Meer. Journalist Nathalie Rosa Bucher describes her as an “acclaimed poet” in her feature article for the Cape Times on the Cape Cultural Collective.


i want to write
about love

love that slaps me
in my tracks
a derailed train
without passengers
or other superfluous

love that flashes
miniscule silver stars
just before i bleed
like a slaughtered cadaver
fairy dust
in earth’s abattoir
like a full moon
too far gone

love between aunt
and niece
mother and
adopted child
and ordinary

the love of neighbours
thru post-op care
breast cervix
slashed & slithered fantasies

so different
to the ways i know some want
platters pain
to mimic the torture
in eyes empty
as politician’s lies

not what i imagined
the fictions of lifetimes
of hatred

which i erase
rubber on charcoal
as nanoseconds to aeons

there’s more to lightyears
and enlightenment
like love

can you feel it —
light –

for the cape cultural collective – 27 march 2009

egg head

i am khoe (human)
san (a person)
khoe san (a person thru other people)

i come from
my mother’s egg
nestled in her womb

the earth is not round
its shape is of
an egg

in our constellation
planets do not circle the sun
their orbits are
the shape of an ostrich shell

like a sacred full moon
i am fat with wonder
at how we powerful women
have all the eggs
that really matter

i laugh at how we unscramble
all male violences
and make us whole again
to start life’s cycles
like the egg
where beginning end inbetween
are all one

More about Bernedette here and some more poems to follow

Bernedette Muthien co-founded and directs an NGO, Engender, which works in the intersectional areas of genders & sexualities, human rights, justice & peace. Her community activism is integrally related to her work with continental and international organisations, and her research necessarily reflects the values of equity, societal transformation and justice.

She has published widely, written for diverse audiences, and believes in accessible research and writing.

Bernedette started reading poetry at political mass meetings and other public spaces while at high school during the 1980s. Her poetry has, among others, been translated into Spanish and Portuguese, and published in the Americas, Europe and the UK, as well as across Africa. She is a core member of the Cape Cultural Collective, a progressive performance arts group with its roots in anti-Apartheid struggles of the 1980s. A few of her poems are published on Engender’s website: For Bernedette the poetic is not merely personal, but profoundly political and spiritual too.

Amongst others, she co-convenes the Global Political Economy Commission of the International Peace Research Association, is a member of Amanitare, the African network of gender activists, and serves on various international advisory boards, including of the international journal Human Security Studies.

She is co-founder of an indigenous scholar-activist network, the KhoeSan Women’s Circle, in addition to convenor of an international listserv of Native scholar-activists, Gender Egalitarian.

Muthien was the first Fullbright-Amy Biehl fellow at Stanford University (1994-1995), and holds postgraduate degrees from the University of Cape Town (Dean’s Merit List), and Stellenbosch University (Andrew W Mellon Fellow, 2006-2007) in South Africa.

Her current research centres on the Egalitarian KhoeSan — Beyond Patriarchal Violence, in other words, how social and gender egalitarianism are coterminous with nonviolence, as well as showing that nonviolent and egalitarian societies have existed throughout time and continue to exist at present.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this. With you, I feel the need for cleansing.

  2. Sokari

    Indeed – there is always something waiting around the corner. We need to care for and love ourselves every minute!

  3. retjoun

    Perhaps now more than ever.