Category Archives: Dispossessed

Poems from Modikwe Dikobe’s ‘Dispossessed’

Modikwe Dikobe was a novelist, poet, trade unionist, communist, solider and, in Johannesburg in the 1940s, a squatter leader. He was the secretary of the Alexandra squatters’ resistance movement. He published a novel, ‘The Marabi Dance’, in 1973 and a book of poems,’The Dispossessed’, in 1983. There is some general background to the time and place in which Dikobe was a squatter leader here and here.

Shantytown Removal (1948)

I shall never forget that winter morning
A rainy November morning
They dismantled our shantytown
Mindless of sleeping souls
Fast asleep as of anaesthesia.

Unforeseen convey headlights
Heading to our shantytown
Motionless as of a ghost
Returning to its grave in early morning.

Morena! I thought I was dreaming
At the bank of the Klip River
Sprawled on the bank; demobbed soldiers
To demob our peaceful camp
In the name of human rights
In the year of the allied nations.

O! Merciful Lord
Am I sleeping in the open
As in Lombardy estate
In that year of the King’s visit,
Or is it a repetition of demobbed soldiers
On the banks of Canada stream,
Or just a deranged mind?

A stinking lavatory hole there,
A heap of rubbish here,
A stray dog there
It’s all that is left.
In twice a big town
Housing a thousand souls
With its own administration.

I, alone, with a wife and child,
Am left in this ruin
Once, the pride of my administration,
Whipped away are those
Who vowed: ‘We stand by our leader’
Left in the mercy of the documents.

Powerless, hopeless, I lead nobody
I am unfeathered
Left wingless
South, West, we are being driven in circles
Spanning in confusion
A mine dump, head-gear, mine column, a lake,
A river bend; seamlessly flowing
Not as I saw it on demobbed day.

Hush My Child

Sleep, my baby
We’re not in Alexandra township
The singing that you hear
Is not of Zionists
It is a song of joy

‘Why are we sleeping in the open, mama?’

Father Ntintili pushed us out
For a new tenant
Ready to pay new rental
Obedient as a servant

‘I am frightened, mama.’

Don’t be frightened, my child,
Papa has a baboon
Nobody dare bewitch you
In the Kalahari your father
Travelled by baboon
The Masawara has deadly mutis

‘I want to see papa’s baboon.’

Not tonight, my child
Papa keeps it somewhere
Unseen by the naked eye
Eye of a child

A Worker’s Lament

From five in the morning,
My lean body is crushed against the jostling crowd,
For pittance, I make my way among the passengers,
Swaying coaches make my heart to jerk in fear,
That I may not my little one’s see any more
Yet for food and rent I must work.

‘SEBENZA’ The whole day long;
The foreman and the Induna scream
They should because the boss explained: ‘productivity’.
Pale lips; hunger exposes my empty stomach,
Starch water only my stomach has breakfasted.
Hunger takes away pride from a man’s self-respect
But the burning heart for revenge vows:
‘Kahle, a day will come; me boss, you boy.’

The listless sun leaves to the night,
To blanket the light
Thousands of pattering feet homeward drag
And leave the Shops to the watchmen
Again I join the jostling crowd,
Fifteen miles homeward journey to travel,
Crammed like Jeppe Station victims,
I stand on a bench to save myself
Being crushed to death.