• May 21st, 2019
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Mvula ya Nangolo made us see the wrongs of the past through the poetic lens


When I received the shocking news about the passing on of my friend and brother Mvula ya Nangolo, I started reminiscing the good times we spent together talking about his poetry, the Namibian and Zimbabwean liberation
struggles. I also remembered the time we shared the stage talking about his Watering the Beloved Desert poetry anthology at the Windhoek Woordfees (Windhoek Word Festival) a few years ago – many thanks to Dr Christina
Burke-Muir of the Department of Language and Literature Studies at the University of Namibia for inviting the two of us to that world-class, international book festival. We made a remarkable presentation at that event.

Still I remembered the time he invited me to his house in Hockland Park where we discussed in detail the new edition of
his poetry anthology with the subtitle “New & Selected Poems by Mvula ya Nangolo”. Wonder Guchu wrote a befitting review of the edition before I could do it. Mvula ya Nangolo was a gifted poet; he made readers see the past of the Namibian liberation struggle through the poetic lens.

Also, I recalled the conference I attended at the National University of Lesotho in 2012 where I presented a paper titled
“An Offence to be Black and Human: A rhetorical engagement of Mvula ya Nangolo’s imaginative views of Namibia’s war of liberation in the poetry collection Watering the Beloved Desert”. I must say that the presentation was well
received by the conference participants, and it evoked some emotions against the illtreatment of the black people
during the apartheid era in South Africa and Namibia.

It is that presentation that is the bases of my tribute to the man I loved most, the man who was the first black poet
to publish poetry in English in Namibia, and the man who has bequeathed rich poetry for future generations in Namibia.
In that presentation I demonstrated the link among literary criticism, linguistics and rhetoric by engaging in a stylistic analysis of the poetry collection, Watering the Beloved Desert.

In other words I made an interpretation of poems from linguistic and rhetorical perspectives, demonstrating how Mvula ya
Nangolo presented the major theme, which is the fight against racial injustice in colonial Namibia. Starting with the oxymoronic title of the poetry collection, Watering the Beloved Desert, I showed that ya Nangolo used words
creatively and imaginatively to the pleasure of the reader. Another example of the creative use of language is in the poem titled “The Policeman” in which Mvula describes the eyes of the policemen as “fireworks of hate”.

These two examples illustrate the truth of the Bakhtin School which postulates that “words are active, dynamic social signs
capable of taking on different meanings and connotations of different social and historical contexts.”
Each of ya Nangolo’s poems serves as a mouthpiece of all those who were oppressed by the colonial systems in Namibia where it was, as the poet put it, “An offence to be Black and Human.” Reading through the  poems shows how hundreds of thousands of gallant Namibians of all ages and both sexes sacrificed their lives as fighters for freedom, independence and social justice. Ya Nangolo demonstrated that the liberation struggle was a combined effort through the poem
Namibian Child. In this poem, the father, mother and their child –“all patriots” - join hands in fighting the oppressive system. The  family in this poem is a symbol of what ya Nangolo refers to as “many hearts with one single national desire” – the single desire being the ability to raise a national flag of their hearts’ desire after “satisfactorily extinguishing the enemy’s fire.” Through imagery and symbolism, ya Nangolo told a story of people “… in that butchery of thousand slaughtered like poultry.” In other  words the poet paid tribute to many people who lost their lives through mass killings,
for example at Cassinga (1978) and Soweto (1976). With regard to Cassinga he aptly wrote that “Cassinga is an open wound oozing endless pain”, and for the Soweto massacre he noted that “there’ll be no more demos in vain.” Symbolically, my dear friend will be buried on May 4, the day the nation commemorates the dastardly and inhuman
killings of Namibians by the South African army in 1978 at Cassinga in Angola. 

Mvula ya Nangolo also paid tribute to many who spent long years in incarceration at the infamous Robben Island, for example, the late Andimba Toivo ya Toivo. The rhetorical question is powerful and effective in the poem “Robben Island” as the poet asked: “Just how far is Robben Island? From a black child at play? From the United Nations headquarters? From the London Stock Exchange? From Yankee’s White house? From the field of Waterloo?”
In short, ya Nangolo’s poems tell us, without preaching and exaggeration, that it was no easy walk to the independence
of Namibia.

Through the use of such poetic devices as repetition, rhyme and rhythm, ya Nangolo’s style made his poems ring in the reader’s mind long after they had been read – in the same  manner a favourite song would do to one’s mind.
Imagery, symbolism, sarcasm, irony, the rhetorical question, binary oppositions – are other ingredients that the poet used in different proportions to add flavour to his poems.

Each poem can be analysed for its sense, intention, form and tone. In addition, further analysis can be made
on what style/s the poet used to marshal his ideas and put them across to the reader in a convincing way. The poems have an excellent aesthetic appeal as the poet kept his artistic style throughout his writings.

His poems shall be studied by generations to come in similar fashions as the poems of these great English poets are studied today: R Rudyard Kipling, John Keats, Geoffrey Chaucer, and William Shakespeare. Those
who follow this column will remember that my last two contributions were on the works of William Shakespeare.
We had our own Shakespeare in my dear friend Mvula ya Nangolo. As we lay him to rest let us remember his words, taken from the poem “Cassinga”: “When a man, a woman or child is butchered, then an entire clan is jolted
awake/When the enemy massacres masses, then the nation, unified, rises/ Cassinga is an open wound oozing endless pain.” Mvula ya Nangolo, may your soul rest in eternal peace! 

Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at
the University of Namibia. He writes on his
own accord. Email address: kjairos@gmail.na


Staff Reporter
2019-05-03 12:34:51 17 days ago

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