As If They Minded by Ndaba Sibanda

As If They Minded

Martin Luther King once said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light cannot do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love cannot do that”. Ndaba Sibanda’s poems are dedicated to what is left of peace and honesty. Indeed they advocate for peace and honesty through a wide range of concerns and subjects that vary from gender relations, nostalgia, nature, politics, race relations to social responsibility. The tone in most of the poems is scathing, satirical, animated whilst the pieces maintain and sustain an alluring rhythm.

In ‘ Family Time’, the poet is nostalgic as his desire to fly on a plane and tour the world is replaced by an ache to spend time with his family.

they say jewellery is timeless and can be
passed down from generation to generation
but now my treasure is quality time with family

There is use of anaphora in the poem ‘l Hear A Nearness’ as the poet ruminates, choruses the personal pronoun I at the beginning of each line.

I listen
I listen to the silence of her storms
I
listen to its close remoteness  

He also expresses the frustrations of a long distance relationship in the poem, ‘ A Solid Impression’. The poet expresses his love for nature through the idyllic journeys to places of attraction. He is mesmerized by the beauty of the Namibian lands, the incredible rivers, waterfalls and beaches of Angola, the majesty of the Victoria Falls, the grandeur of Matopo Hills, the mystery of the caves and the splendor of the Esigodini Hills. The poet uses similes and hyperbole in his depiction of the impressiveness and uniqueness of African landscapes.

Visiting Namibia is like taking an excursion
To a heaven of deserts and wildlife reserves;
It is like exploring the lovely curves of a lover.
A rich experience that transports and transforms,
And leaves one mesmerised tenfold times ten!

Poetry in this book is interspersed with wordplay and figurative language. It is one of the ingredients of this publication, and by extension, the signature of the author. For example, the poem ‘Just A Jostling Village’ is alive with humor and wit from the first line to the last one. The poet places together contrasting and contradictory concepts, and this association helps the reader to perceive a deeper level of truth and tour and savor different layers of semantics.  For example, the presence of an oxymoron is discernible and delightful when the poet talks of police stations that are robbed every day. When he compares purity to mud, poverty to praiseworthiness, surely the crescendos and innuendoes have reached paradoxes of comical proportions!

they say they do not want to live in a city
where police stations are robbed every day
where marriage counsellors are in the habit
of filing for divorce, where working is not working for many
where flameproof fire stations have an appetite for burning down
where purity is as clear as mud, where love is cash, poverty is worthy!
where normalcy is as sweet as seeing pregnant virgins high on the pill!    

Relations between men and women are scrutinized in a number of poems. These are marked by either passion or conflict. In ‘ Hotel Music ‘, the persona fails to sleep because of a couple’s passionate love- making sounds which he finds distractive.  In ‘ Romance Tourism’, a couple’s love and intimacy is explored in what can be summed up by the axiom, ‘ shooting birds with one stone ‘. Whilst they explore their romance, they also get to appreciate and experience the tourism of a country.  On a profounder note, the poet bravely casts lights on the racialized, exoticized, and hypersexualized stereotypes involving local men, usually in Africa, the Caribbean or in Asia and the female tourists from economically well-off countries, usually in Europe and North America.

Rich older women in the young loving arms of poor local men who received gifts and cash
They seemed to enjoy succulent seafood and topped it off with beer and romantic carousing

In ‘House Number 12 Foot Street ‘, a bitter wife is tipped off on her husband’s shenanigans and she exposes the illicit affair. Like a number of pieces in this collection, this particular one is a shape poem. 

Sibanda’s poems also touch on social responsibility.  In ‘ Fierce Fiesta’, people are merry-making and indulging excessively in food and drink. The poet plants a reminder that in the midst of all the fun people should not forget about the future and different fees that have to be paid.  The poetic device at play here is alliteration, as evidence by the following lines: 

Families feeding paunche
People party without leftovers for
fees and future

In ‘ Listening To A Guest On The Radio ‘,the poet is raising awareness on the need for a healthy lifestyle while in ‘ From Scars To Stars ‘ ,he is encouraging the inhabitants of a certain city to move away from the hurt and pain of political marginalization to working hard to improve or free their lives. In poems that forge for social responsibility, he is also pushing the audience to frown on all forms of immorality and laziness but to find responsibility in hard work, creativity and resilience.

The poet also touches on the importance of one`s identity, heritage and history in the poem, ‘That Is Where My Umbilical Cord Is’. The persona speaks with pride and passion about his city of birth, Bulawayo. The ‘Umbilical Cord’ represents an extended metaphor of one`s birthplace and a sanctuary of memories and beginnings.

Today you stand tall in defiance of all the challenges
Right in the southern ­western part of the country

Just like in the year 1893 when a Union Flag was raised
As the huts of King Lobengula’s capital were up in flames

Did Dr Leander Starr Jameson not congratulate himself
For scoring a British South Africa Company`s victory?

Some of the poems also speak on challenges that writers experience in their careers. In ‘ Roar To Life ‘, editors encourage a young writer to write quality work.  In ‘Hallmarks Of Unprofessionalism ‘, a female writer is frustrated by the insensitivity of her publishers who fail to give her royalties for the work she has done. Some of his poems have a rousing touch to them. In ‘Crazy, Be Really Crazy Young Man ‘, the persona is reinvigorated to take up writing not only as a career, but as a challenge to reach dizzy heights.

the profession of  writing chose you
like birds building their  nests on trees

the prophet said sorry young man
I cannot exorcise you without

getting hurt myself and my conscience
because that`s your forte and science   

The poet further probes into race relations, where he questions some sections of the white race’s half -hearted acceptance of the black race.  In ‘Is There Dignity In That Immensity ‘, the poet lambasts those who are still imprisoned and driven by blind feelings of supremacy, narcissism, unilateralism, bigotry and greed instead of embracing values of common humanity , shared vulnerabilities, decency, democracy and unity in diversity.

The bulk of the poems in the collection are an attack on the political terrain of a country.  The poet mocks the self-centeredness of a dictator.  In the poem,’ As If They Didn’t Know ‘,he mocks the lavish lifestyle of a dictator who preaches patriotism and progress, yet he gallivants about to foreign lands while the masses are forsaken in peril and poverty. In this instance again, the poet manages to use literary devices with dramatic effect. The richness of language is evident.  The persona is used as substitute for something else– a croaking frog, an object, an idea or name it is associated with.  For example, while the repetition of the term frog is metonymic, the mere mention of the word croak is onomatopoeic. From another perspective, one can say, the word frog is used for literary effect because it evokes an image of a bullfrog idling and howling in foreign swamplands. There is a lyrical feel to it too.  The comicalness of this poem is masterfully amplified to a certain climax or artistic dimension by use of a thread of well-placed rhetorical questions. 

was our unkind king frog
gregarious in nature?
they asked when
he was unable to croak

he travelled with countless frogs
to many foreign  ponds and lakes
he liked lounging in the exotic
meadows and wetlands too

did our unkind king frog
have a sensual soprano voice?
they asked
as if they didn’t know

he was active in the evenings
and at night :inflating his throat
pouch about the urgent need
to protect our lakes and ponds 

did our unkind king frog
protect our lakes and ponds?
they asked
as if they didn’t know

The poet has unkind words for a claimant who pretends to better than his predecessor, yet in practice he is just a product of the same undemocratic and tyrannous regime. In the poem,  ‘ Of Sycophantic Peacemakers ‘, the inheritor pretends to be sympathetic and peaceful yet he is the engineer and perpetrator of the hatred, chaos and division in a country. When the country seeks to make a fresh break with its scared past and is in need of a true reformer, sadly an antipode takes over.  In ‘ Haunted By His Mentor’s  Disastrous Ghost ‘, the poet also ridicules the successor for pretending to be different from or  be better than his prototype. The poet also laments the state of the dilapidating economy. In the poem, ‘Finally’ he shows a country going through the worst economic meltdown in years.

In the petite but pregnant poem ‘Bhalagwe’ the use of an extended metaphor is historically significant and instructive. Bhalagwe is a disused mine shaft where shallow mass graves lie. Contextually speaking, the word Bhalagwe denotes crimes against humanity that were recently acknowledged as a genocide. This is a pictogram of overprotected, unchecked, and unattended injustices.  In ‘Of Policies And Capacities’, the poet exposes and satirizes corrupt tendencies that he blames for bringing the country to its knees. The poem has an interesting end rhyme scheme. It is a rhyming couplet.

this economy has whiskey
how can it be so drunk and risky?

the poor say the prognosis is easy
for this country has a terrible leprosy

termites and maggots of corruption
and governance constitute its destruction

There is a spiritual dimension to the presentation of his poetry.  In the face of gloom and doom, the poet paints a picture of hope, vitality and victory. For example, in ‘A Done Deal’ there is a biblical allusion of Isaac. 

the view could be blurred by
roaring and furious mists over
high mountains and sharp rocks
the road could be filled with thorns
and bottomless potholes and explosives
like an eagle–Thembani—soars beyond
the hurdles and prevailing situation around him
like an eagle he knows that as he soars the snakes
he is clutching  in his fist are a done and defeated deal
like one Isaac he is prospering in the face of adversities!

About the Author

The transformative power of literature is in its aesthetics, politics and poetics.  Ndaba Sibanda has proved once more that he is a socially, culturally, spiritually and politically conscious poet who is a voice for the voiceless. His poems are a pleasure to read. They are a must-read for both leisure and academic purposes. Sibanda uses language in a gripping fashion because he breathes life into his words. For Betsy Perluss in Wilderness Guide says,’ If language is our way of describing the world, poetry gives it life “.

About the Reviewer

Banqobile Virginia Dakamela, Bulawayo is a writer who hails from Zimbabwe. She has written a story that was published in an anthology which was studied at high schools and is a set book in a local university. She has written extensively and is in the process of publishing some of her novels.

Leave a Reply