Today's SA protest poets have no ideology, says Tladi

POETRY is the depth of thought that reveals the consciousness of people, says poet, musician, visual artist and teacher Lefifi Tladi.

Tladi is one of the voices that used poetry to express disapproval against the apartheid regime.

He took time off his busy schedule to take us back to the days when protest poetry was used to fight apartheid and uplift communities.

"Ours' was inspired by Black Consciousness and this was important in the context of self-definition - the same effect as painting.

"It was also very critical to teach about ourselves and not only what apartheid did to us," Tladi says.

Comparing the protest poetry of his times to that of today, Tladi believes that "today's youth have no centre that holds them together".

"They have no ideology. When they protest, they don't know where they are moving the country. Their poems have no focus and instead bring in personal elements," he says.

"Although they speak of child and women abuse, there are no solutions, no historical reference.

"One can even see it in their music, swearing at women. This is an extreme form of self-hatred."

Tladi says nowadays people become poets because of the hype. He says to be a poet back then took courage and knowledge.

"We didn't just become poets. We read a lot and our knowledge about Afro-centric poetry was very profound. We wrote from an informed point of view," Tladi says.

The freedom that Tladi and fellow activist poets like Ingoapele Madingoane and Lesego Rampolokeng fought for is enjoyed by rising poets like Mutle Mothibe.

Father of two, Mothibe, 28, says he loves words so much he finds expression in poetry. Mothibe says although protest poetry is a form of inspiration to most young poets, he nevertheless questions its effectiveness.

"My gripe is that we write poetry and picket, but what does that achieve at the end of the day? OK, I get on stage and speak out against something, but how does that help an individual?" he asks.

Mothibe has also written about child, woman and psychological abuse, which he claims is subliminal.

He also hangs around with some protest poets but claims that most of their personalities contradict their passion for stage performance.

 Echoing Tladi's sentiments, Mothibe believes that the protest poets of today have become "self-centred and individual-based".

 Mothibe advises that the best way for young poets to express themselves is to first have "self-knowledge".

Another protest poet is Maakomele 'Mak' Manaka, who began writing poetry at the age 14.

Manaka says the purpose of today's protest poetry is "to conscientise people about the unfair, unjust and undemocratic treatment they are subjected to".

He has conquered the spoken word despite a disability caused by a near fatal accident when he was 12 years old. He is the son of the late Black Consciousness activist, artist and poet Matsemela Manaka.

The poet has also performed with British poet Benjamin Zephaniah and local icon Don Mattera.

"Poetry is the articulation of the human condition. We write because we are affected by something and also because we are members of the human race, so life is what feeds my voice," he says.