Alfred Temba Qabula, 1942 – 2002

Alfred Temba Qabula was born in Flagstaff. He participated in the Pondo Rebellion in 1959. Later on he lived in a shack in Inanda and worked at Dunlop in central Durban. He was a trade unionist and a famous struggle poet in the 1980s.

There is more information about him at the NUMSA site here and at the Third Ear Music site here.

The attached article is a tribute to Qabula by his comrade Ari Sitas.

Poems by Alfred Temba Qabula


Stunning creature
Invisible to naked eyes
If we could only see you
You would have already
Been slain

But you left us grieving
For those dear to us
Young and old
Who stumbled in your path
They were stalked and throttled
By your jealous and ruthless power
They were whisked through the world
Before we noticed their arrival
What they did wrong No-one comprehends

With great fury
You clasped them for your killing
Extruding their flesh
So that now only their bones are left
We remain in constant mourning
For you have deprived us
Of even those who we could turn to for solace.

Death, you always murdered
Our helpers
Our heroes and national leaders
Men and Women who cherished justice
You lifted them up
To dump them under gravestones
For punishment.

Death how did they offend you?
How did they worry you?
You are silent No answer escapes your lips
The day will come
When the orphans
Those widowed
Will turn out to be your judges

Woe unto you death
On that day
The fires you stoke for others
Shall haunt you
The pain and suffering you fully inflicted
On nature
On nations
Will descend on you.

The nations of the world
Shall stand before the greater judge
Giving evidence
Of crimes you have committed
And can’t deny
And finally the truth shall emerge.

You shall receive the
Hatred with which you
Netted nations
But double in its venom
Your conscience
Eternally persecuted
A haunted creature you shall remain
But now…
You are the intruder
The gate-crawler
Baffling and stunning
The doctors
The faith-healers
Who make it their business to save lives
From your deadly paws
Frustrating their success.

Your evil deeds constantly disturb us
You are the abyss
Which stands in the way of our desires
In fear of you.
We meekly stand

Devourer of life
Raging bull
Rude intruder of sealed doors
Howls start at the exit of your many departures
Your elector has no misgivings for your labour
For daily you drag plenty more prey into your caves.

You are recognised In all lands
Talked about amongst the nations
Disturber of peace.

You strike and take
Even young committed men and women
Workers for liberation
Builders of communities
In the midst of their efforts
Leaving behind a trail
Of unfinished mounds of effort

You have marched
Those who are our yardstick
Into jails in the shadow of your feast
Into graves the others
And after your kill
You are still thirsty for more

Do you know that the
The wagon you use
Will one day carry you over as well
Do you know that the
Day of your end
Shall reverberate throughout the universe?

And all human creatures
Will scramble for your remains
Your bones
So that nations
That people can strike up
To celebrate our liberation
Maye! Death!
Inventor of orphans
The day we apprehend you
An agonizing punishment awaits you!

On that day
The impossible will become possible
Donkeys shall sleep with lions
Negations shall become confirmations
And your turn
For final punishment shall sound
Death Enemy of man
Woe unto you…

Extract from “Praise poem to Fosatu”

You are the metal locomotive that moves on top
Of other metals
The metal that doesn’t bend that was sent to the
Engineers but they couldn’t bend it.

Teach us Fosatu about the past organisations
Before we came.
Tell us about their mistakes so that we may not
Fall foul of such mistakes.
Our hopes lie with you, the Sambane that digs
Holes and sleeps in them, whereas others dig
Holes and leave them.
I say this because you teach a worker to know
What his duties are in his organisation,
And what he is in the community
Lead us Fosatu to where we are eager to go.
Even in parliament you shall be our representative
Go and represent us because you are our Moses –
Through your leadership we shall reach our Canaan.
They call you the disruptionist because you
Disrupted the employers at their own meeting.
Because you man of old, asked a question:
“Did you consider the workers?”

It has been such a long road

It has been a long road here
with me, marking the same rhythms
Gentlemen, pass me by
Ladies, pass me by
Each one greets me, “eita!”
and adds:
“comrade, I will see you on my return
as you see I am in a hurry
but do not fear, I am with you and
understand your plight.”

“Do not worry
no harm will greet you
as long as I am alive.
We shall make plans with the guys
and we for sure will solve your problems.
You trust me don’t you?
I remember how hard you struggled
and your contribution is prized.
In fact everyone knows how hard it all had turned
when you were fighting for workers and for the community’s emancipation.”

Nothing lasts forever
and our friends now show us their backs
and they avoid eye-contact
pretending they never saw us.
Even those whom by chance our eyes did meet
would rush and promise and leave behind
a “see you later.”

“What is your phone number comrade?
I will call you after I finish with the planning
committee on this or that of the legislature
and then we shall work something out for you, be calm.”
Days have passed, weeks have passed
years have also passed
with us waiting like the ten virgins in the bible.

I remember the old days
when we had become used to calling them
from the other side of the river.
Some of them were in the caves and crevices
hiding when we called
but we hollered loud
until they heard and they responded to our voices.
As they came to us dust sprang up
and spiralled high all the way up to the sky.
When the dust of our struggle settled, there was no one there.
The dust covered my body
it cursed me into a pathetic fate
disguising me, making me unrecognisable
and whoever recognises me
is judged to be deluded, deceived
because the dust of their feet still covers my body.

And now we, the abominations, spook them
as the dust of their feet covers our bodies.
And they run away
each one of them saying: “hold up the sun
dear friend, doesn’t the fog cover each and every mountain?”

Although you don’t know us, we know ourselves:
we are the movable ladders
that take people up towards the skies,
left out in the open for the rain
left with the memories of teargas, panting for breath.

Winter and summer come and go and leave us the same.
The wind or the breeze has not changed us. Here is a summary of our praises –
the iron that doesn’t bend, even
Geneva has failed to bend it,
the small piece of bath-soap about which
meetings and conspiracies were hatched
to catch and destroy it.
It still continues to clean men and women
who desire to be cleaned.

It has been a long road here
see you again my friends
when you really need us
when the sun clears the fog from your eyes.