Guest poem sent in by David McKelvie
(Poem #1257) The Birth of Shaka
His baby cry was of a cub tearing the neck of the lioness because he was fatherless. The gods boiled his blood in a clay pot of passion to course in his veins. His heart was shaped into an ox shield to foil every foe. Ancestors forged his muscles into thongs as tough as water bark and nerves as sharp as syringa thorns. His eyes were lanterns that shone from the dark valleys of Zululand to see white swallows coming across the sea. His cry to two assassin brothers: "Lo! you can kill me but you'll never rule this land!"
I found this poem in The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry. Mtshali is a South African poet. I know very little about him, only what the small biography in the anthology says: born in Natal, South Africa in 1940, published his first collection in the early 1970's. I've long had an interest in South Africa because I spent my childhood there in the 80's. As a white Scottish boy there I was aware of discrimination: white only benches in parks, black only buses, my parent's identity cards with lists of various racial types, the gigantic difference in social conditions. One ridiculous example (almost laughable if it weren't so shocking) is when a white family ordered their daughter out of a swimming pool because a black girl got in... One thing I couldn't know, however, was the anger and rage felt by many black people. This poem gives some sense of that. Shaka was a Zulu chief of the 19th Century who built a giant empire in Southern Africa. He became known in Europe as the Black Napoleon. A lot of myth and folklore has surrounded his life and that's what this poem builds on. Shaka was killed by his half brothers. The Zulu empire crumbled soon after when the British Army turned their attentions to them. David