(For Kuntu 'Tame-as-mamba' Moalusi)

"What matters for us is not to collect facts and behaviour but to find their meaning." - Franz Fanon

Man has been to the moon

Spreading umbilical concepts

Of electronics and space radiation

Fast-breeding robot men;

Computers have given man

A faded character

All part of cancer identity;

In ugly mirth we rejoice

Over every technological success

And call it progress

Thus welcoming

The Age of Plastic Man;


we still wonder about the Abominable

Snowman of the Himalayas

We learn of monies poured

Into diving schemes to solve

The mystery of the Loch Ness monster

Americans also have the Dollar Quiz

Over the Yeti

There's now talk of strange prehistoric

Creatures in equatorial Afrika


When Zulus spoke with understanding

Of the blood-sucking umdlebe tree

That bleats like a goat

To lure its victims

The savages were shocked


When my people spoke of

The ivimbela, a flying snake

That only moved in a tornado cloud

Dictionaries translated the flying reptile

To mean "whirlwind"

No surprise then

That baffled colonials called

Langalibalele's rainmaking powers a fake:

Simply because the examples of enquiry

Were losing step with evolution

Am I surprised

To find the world still without

Enough food to feed its mouths?

Still without enough shelter

For its millions?

Worse, when surplus food is dumped

Or, destroyed, just to maintain gross profit?

My old man once told me

(I was almost eleven then):

In order to cheat examples

Precedents need not be followed

Or lawyers would not have to fight cases

Like other boys of my kin-group

I was licensed to eat what I wished

I enjoyed karawala which my mother

Prepared with flavouring care

With my friends, we ate

The cane rat - ivondwe

We chewed wurumbu

We trapped the chicken-snapping hawk

For meat

We fished the eel, the sea fish

And the freshwater fish

We chewed and swallowed the imbizas raw

Nothing happened

Our boyhood appetites were breaking taboos

As different cultures converged


Whilst we learned the ABCs of

Instant remedy

And instant side-effects

In Afrika

When a snake sticks out its forked tongue

It is pleading for justice

It is not the tongue

Of the snake

That bites

Versions of Progress by Mafika Pascal Gwala is from the anthology, Band of Troubadours , a legacy project of the South African Literary Awards. In 2007, Gwala was given a lifetime achievement award as part of the SA Literary Awards, a nation-building partnerships project of wRite Associates, Sowetan , National Arts and Culture Department, Nutrend Publishers, and the Aggrey Klaaste Nation Building Foundation.

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