2006 marks the 30th anniversary of one of the saddest days in South Africa’s history. In June and July 1976 the African children of SOWETO, the now well-known township that sprawls south west of Johannesburg, rose up against the Apartheid regime in protest at being forced to learn the Dutch tongue of Afrikaans, a language associated with the repression of the indigenous peoples of South Africa. What followed was the whole-sale slaughter of some the country’s most important treasures, its children.
30 years on, and the slaughter of our children continues unabated; Baghdad, Darfur, Palestine, India, Pakistan, China, the United States, Canada, Europe, the world; no corner of the planet offers safe haven to our children.
Looking back now it seems that moment in SOWETO somehow defined all that is wrong with our species. At the same time that event, carried out in the bleak streets of SOWETO exposed once again the courage which we as humankind are capable of.
“Azania is the name that is used by a broad section of African revolutionaries and progressive forces who support the Azanian Revolution and are working for the overthrow of racist South Africa. Azania means a blackman’s country. ‘South Africa’ on the contrary is the name that was given by white settlers to the southern tip of Africa to consolidate their political, economic and military suppression of the indigenous black population –the owners of the country– Azania.” David Dube, THE RISE OF AZANIA The Fall of South Africa, Daystar Publications Ltd., Lusaka, Zambia 1983
In today’s so-called ‘post-apartheid’ era the majority of South Africans would in all likelihood disagree with David Dube’s reasoning for a name change; and for many practical and economic reasons this probably just as well. Anyone who has changed the something as simple as a company name, will no what it takes, in terms of time and money. Doing the same for a country would be challenging indeed. None the less, to have named a country based simply on its geographical location was a somewhat lazy way out. On study, the name South Africa also reflects uncertainty as to ownership. None of the early settlers thought to call it New Lisbon, or New Rotterdam, New England or New Holland in the way that we see in for instance New Zealand. There is no country known as South America, it is a continent, not a country. Azania therefore, it seems to me, may not be found to have an actual or traceable reason for the being the legitimate name for South Africa, but is a name which impacted sufficiently for me to refer always in the poetic sense to South Africa as ‘Azania’.
So it was that in October 26th in 1976 that the horror of the SOWETO children’s uprising that I decided to for once and for all my Azania. It had become too much for me. Reflecting now on those times it seems that my decision to leave Azania in 1976 may have been the action of a coward or worse, a witness to an unspeakable crime –apartheid– who fled the scene rather than remain to help the victims. Coward, frightened witness or perhaps just an act of protest, I fled nonetheless. With my bags packed I wrote my farewell to Azania, before leaving for Johannesburg airport.
Azania the poem is a reflection, a snap shot of my feelings on the October 26th, 1976. It expresses disappointment and fear, but mostly disappointment. The author could be accused of being under the influence of any one of the mind-bending drugs available at the time; the images are a composite of reality and fantasy and pay no heed to form or sequence. To some readers the poem may be meaningless, to others pointless; a few will get the drift.
Soon to leave blood sobbing shores in sad failure's disgrace
Where the feet of a million virgins` dispair slowly stamps out
The black face staring down from the stars in Shaka's grave
Looking on with stones for eyes and rich deep soil for thought.
Fingers of lethal sweetness curl about the bravery
Strangling by greenfields, murder in full sight by day.
Soon to cast a one last look at gravel paths to heaven
Where the overseer's home above Wynberg's crippled camp hovers
In lonely sacrifice to Humanity for Mankind's sake once more.
See how cities vanish when tears cover them in sin
How nations slide beneath the quicksand of lust.
Waving from the light that takes me away blind with fear
Yet knowing fully all-aware
With thoughts of Azania still roughly hewn in my future.
Azania's arena, where bold as granite faces turn from the reality
Rotting in this country's streets smelling only of faint hope
Like excreta disguised in rose's faces held up to the white goddess.
Filled with departure like bursting pigs we flee to innocence and security,
The illusion no human fails to possess in yet his mildest dreams
We go Azania
We stay Azania
We pray with mouths of seeds that
Never sought the chance to sprout
Nor ever will in this barren debate.
Soon to leave the green and undulating blue sea-sweet mountain
All along a vacuum filled only with the coming of Azania
Racing down through history like an eagle on the prey.
Africa wears its soul in Azania, a man hanged upside down
And loudly tortured by knives, he spills a threatened truth
All over the history hazard and our silly misconceptions.
Though we were doubtless happy landlords in this land a while
It crumbles now in ghetto neglect as we with trembling guilt
Face the committee of black black suffering now breathing in our skin.
Mumbling schoolboy excuses we call out like fading waterfalls for help
Saying 'but I thought, sir` to Azania
In vain, pleading naivety
Soon to leave the shaded drives of ambition's crumbling greedy road
Where our friends like paper thieves hang dead from the silent gallows,
Happy once in ignorance, relieved now of oppressions load.