Wednesday, 21 October 2015



South Africa so far has been an experience.
I am a UK born Caribbean, a fish out of water.

This is a sharp learning curve.
I came with no preconceived ideas, but saying that we cannot help but form opinions, based on what we have seen, heard and even experienced.

South Africa is more than I could have imagined, more beautiful, more damaged…

Last week, the first week, flew by, I was with POETRY AFRICA the biggest poetry festival in Africa.

It was a week of performances, school visits and my play Raising Lazarus.

This trip I am accompanied by Rob, which puts a whole different spin on things,. This is my first trip to Africa and I have bought along my white boyfriend…. Go figure. Kat never does anything my halves.

I told him if we break up I would have to kill him, as he would have spoilt my first trip back to the motherland. I am aware, very aware, as I am when we go to any black country, that my experience as a black woman would be different if he was not by my side. What is a girl supposed to do; he is my other half where I go he goes.

I cannot lie though the times I have visited Grenada on my own, there is a 100 per cent relaxation factor I do not feel completely when walking around with Rob. Sad but true, but maybe that’s me, maybe that’s my own paranoia that people are judging me.

Who knows. I do not have time to unpick all of that now, but it is one of the realities of being in a mixed relationship. The world interacts with you differently and sometimes you have a sense of loss, a sense of exclusion. The sense that all kind of harsh judgements are being made.

There is a certain amount of anonominity you give up when you are in an mixed relationship, especially if you are in environment where mixed couples are rare, you are no longer just the English girl, you are the English girl, with the English man! This may well be a discussion for another time, another day, a poem, a play, a book........

The first week I have spent in a lovely four-star hotel in Durban opposite the sea, the views were stunning and on the days when the sea was rough and angry I enjoyed viewing the white surf being battered against the shore, against a bright blue sky.

I ran a number of times, desperate to work off the breakfast buffet, I was partaking in in the mornings. The best thing I saw on one of my runs was four monkeys siting in the middle of the path, chasing runners. They meant no harm and were just having fun and much better to look at than London pigeons.

I have tried my best to pick up some Zulu which is the main African Language spoken here, saying that it is one of 11 official languages,. My head hurts just thinking of that.  Anyway I have succeeded in embarrassing myself many times, but since I am shameless I will keep trying.  I can say, thank you, hello, please, yes no, may I have… not much but it’s a start.

I performed last week Tuesday. I had my twenty minute set and it was a real nice night, the SA poets are fiery and passionate and a joy to watch and experience. I performed “White boy are you fuc*ing crazy,” it was a new experience for Rob to have a mainly Zulu crowd chanting the chorus at him.

I wrote this poem based on my experiences of trying to twist my tongue around Zulu and performed it that night.


I wish I could eat the Zulu language or any African Language
Shove it greedily down my throat,
Then magically speak fluently
But my colonised tongue cannot cope with the….
Tut's and the clicks and the knocks
It crunches and bites and scrapes and attacks with no subtlety
Although my colonised tongue is housed among black gums and thick black lips
It cannot cope with the tut's and the clicks and the knocks.

My colonised tongue fights, chews, beats up, struggles, dominates then spits out word such a sayo bono, injani and Ga bon, with such vulgarity and violence, locals laugh.

Then my colonised tongue becomes tied, shy and fretful and refuses to talk at all., for she is used to being understood, she is used to being privileged.

My colonised tongue has lost its way
It was lost at sea,
A sea, which stripped and swallowed black bones so hungrily,
It was lost somewhere between the African continent, the Caribbean and finally the U.K

“Have you seen my tongue, Have you see it, have you seen my tongue, have you seen it, I have lost my tongue, my African tongue, if you happen to see it, please return it, for I will never be a true African without an African tongue.”

My Colonised tongue has been bastardized, it betrays me, speaks perfect Lilly white Queens English. “How are you isn’t it a lovely day, shame about the rain, would you care of a cup of tea?”

She is embarrassing
Struggling with the clicks and the tut's and the knocks,
My ears hear, but cannot translate to English lips, which sit patiently waiting to mould new words into new sounds.
But these words are elusive and slippery and they refuse to stick.
I watch confused as African lips move as fast as fluttering butterfly wings,
these words sing.
My words are sour, soaked in the stench of slavery; they do not belong to me,
But they are the only words I know.

My English tongue is petulant, impatient and violent, she is a conquering force used to having her own way, she is unruly, uncontrollable, demanding.
She treats languages roughly, chews on them, sucking out their marrow until nothing but a carcass is left.
My English tongue is accustomed to being understood,
She is accustomed to being valued and upheld,
She is accustomed to being taken seriously.
My English tongue chased away my African tongue, forced her to retreat.
Now my African tongue like my African name is lost.
My black body is adrift without them. A tide without a shore to call home.

I am one of your lost children.
I am a Caribbean slave child.
My African tongue was whipped, stripped, beaten and stolen from me,
Until one day she fell silent
To the tut's and the clicks and the knocks

For they were too painful to remember.

The whole group took a visit to a library, which is housing books on African Literary, it was a small but very important library.
Run by an old white lady who is dedicated to collecting as much work as she can.
Nii Parkes who was also with  on the trip, found a book of his poems and his uncles poems side by side.

They need more books, as money is short and although their collection is comprehensive, they are missing lots of work. Books are also needed for children, so when I return I will be collecting books and sending them out. Every child should be able to have a book or two to read. It makes you think about how cheap books are here, that we are lucky enough to have some very cheap book shops around, or have books handed down to children.

It also makes you think about all the Libary's which have been closed at home. The library I practically grew up in was been shut for years. Books when I was small were not as cheap as they are now. Mum would take us every Saturday, it was the one place that she knew she could shut me up. I devoured books like custard cream biscuits.
I was happy to find a corner surrounds myself with books and would stay like that until forced, angry and tearful to return home.


Last week Wednesday I went to Clairemont secondary school, which was a group of 14-16 year old boys and girls, who were so excited and so welcoming, the teachers were so happy to have us. I went with a poet called Lesego Rampolokeng who is from Soweto and who holds no quarter with the world and speaks as it is.
We debated and talked and debated and discussed in the ride to and from the school. I am full of questions and queries, I want to know so much. I also listen, I have learnt that listening is the best way to learn, let people talk and soak in all they are willing to give.  `More on him later, but all I will add for now is he is a very interesting, charismatic but also scathing man, a man who refuses to allow amnesia to cloud his view of the post-apartheid world.

We performed poems and answered questions. The most special moment for me was when this room full of African and Asian kids sung along to the chorus of RISE DARK GIRLS RISE. I cannot tell you how that made me feel inside.
I got a whole heap of hugs at the end, and those too shy to share their poetry in front of the assembly, shared it as we all stood around, they also made me perform RISE DARK GIRLS RISE for a second time.

That experience was one I will not forget, I am hopefully going to get back out to that school before I leave for an assembly and a workshop.

I visited on the Thursday. It’s an education centre for training teaching and they bought in a number of schools, this time my poetic partner was Nokolunga Dlada a fiery South African who performs in English and Zulu. We have become good friends over the last week, and hopefully will see more of each other during my stay after the festival. She is smart, fun, powerful and passionate, just how I like my friends. A teacher by trade, it was lovely to share a this experience with her.

This occasion was a little more formal  compared to the previous school, I for the impression the pupils had been warned to be on their best behaviour, but the students were lovely and quite a few of them came up and performed.

One girl took my breathe away with her powerful poetry, the piece was heartfelt, emotional, raw and just what poetry is about …. self expression. At the end we gave a t-shirt to one poet who we felt deserved to be recognised and I gave mine to her. This beautiful black child, with dark slim, short cropped hair and a strong frame with a strong voice.

All week we spent the evenings watching performances, and all week I was blown the fu*k away by the quality, passion and performances.
One young lady I will call her my little black bird and straight up I have adopted her as my daughter. Her performance was the most strong yet vulnerable performance I have ever had the honour of witnessing. She spoke on suicide and depression and the killing of 3 men for stealing in the township she grew up in, and her part of a baying mob that watched them burn. I tell you I had to hold it together real tight, not to break down and cry. It has been a long time since I have heard anything so touching and raw and exposing. She is also the tiniest little thing but also one of the bravest poets I have ever met.

This is what I am taking about, poetry that makes you feel, poetry that makes you angry, poetry that makes you cry, poetry that makes you want to crawl out of your skin and crawl into the words. Poetry that you will never forget, that leaves a stain, leaves a stench or a scent, you cannot wash away.

I need to break down the levels of poverty and racism I have seen here, but that is all to come.
I have also met many amazing, open and honest people have spent time speaking to me in great depth about South Africa and both it's beauty and it's ugly. There is never enough time in a day to document everything, but I will try and keep a track of what is going on and share.

I will leave it there for now. I am now moving onto this mad crazy, challenging scary project with a White South African Artist Iain Robinson, who I fist met ten years again at the World poetry Slampionships in Rotterdam, we are working on a piece dealing with "Race"I must be fu**ing crazy! Please pray for me…….

Thanks to Rob for all the great pictures and as always the invaluable support. 

Thanks to everyone who has made this journey possible Poetry Africa and Iain Robinson especially.


  1. much love to you for sharing..

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  3. My dear Kathy I am transported to Africa by your blog , I keep reading over and over , you have captured the essence of the people their culture , their hopes. Your journey is an eye opener to all. Love from mother.