South African Poet, Mak Manaka, Speaks Politically & Poetically

Leroy - Posted on 22 April 2013

Krip-Hop Nation (KHN) I’ve been trying  to get to you for years.  Lets start your family’s political and artistic roots in South Africa and your poetic roots. And also tell us/me your full name.


Mak Manaka: My full name is Maakomele, its Pedi and it means ‘to represent’. I come from a family of artists; my late father was a playwright, poet and a painter. And my mother is a dancer, actress and choreographer. My political roots stem from home, because my father was and still is a major influence on younger brother and me. My parents were activists during apartheid, they fought racism through art, and believed “art for social transformation”, and that is where I was born. 


KHN:  I’m really interested in the birth of poetry after Apartheid years.  Can you tell us a short history of the explosion of spoken word after Apartheid?


Mak Manaka: Coming from a very terrible past, black people’s art reflected the shame, the pain and the pride they were exposed to on a day-to-day basis. So, because of racism in South Africa, like in the US, there were a lot of divisions in our societies propelled by white agents to make us fight against each other. During that time, poetry was one of the mediums that could make sense of everything to our people. Poetry is the articulation of the human condition, it articulates our deepest fears, our deepest secrets and it also shows the gap in our humanity. There was a different style of doing poetry during the 70’s and the 80’s, and in the 90’s that style was fading because of the emergence of hip-hop, and in the 21st century, our style of poetry really changed to the new age wave of a hip-hop delivery, like ‘Slam’. Though, what remains more important apart from the styles is the content, and the South African content has always been that of recognition, mental freedom, politics, racism and tribalism. 


KHN:  Online there are so many stories about how your disability.  Can you give us this history?

Mak Manaka: On the 31st of October 1995, a wall collapsed on my friends and I. I was only 12 years old. There were six of us and one passed away, I almost kicked the bucket but it was not yet time for me to ‘Voda Go’. It took an idiot doctor to fire up my mother to defy science, when she told her that, ’I will never walk again’, and how wrong he was. So, I spent 6 to 7 months in hospital, and two years as a wheelchair user, and when I went to these two physiotherapist dudes, everything changed. The first time I saw them, without even taking me through the ‘bring me your medical records’ routine crap, they just said, ‘ok my boy, tomorrow come with a pair of crutches’, ever since I’ve never looked back.


KHN:  Your CD, Word Sound Power, is very political and shows your love of your country.  Where did you get your political views and have you been involved in activism around issues you talk about in your poems?


Mak Manaka: I believe in art for social transformation, and like I said earlier, my family is my major influence. The workshops I hold in and around the townships are not only about poetry rather instilling self belief through art, creating a reading, a self loving and self pride in young people. I was born to tell people when and where the fire will be on the mountain, and I do that everyday, to me that is activism.

KHN:  Here in the US Hip-Hop honor, appreciated and build on the styles from poets like Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets and more was it the same in South Africa?  And give me your thoughts on South African activist poet, Mzwakhe Mbuli.


Mak Manaka: Well, to be honest, my thoughts are limited on Mzwakhe Mbuli, but I can tell about South African poets that he draws his inspiration from and I hope you too can look them up, here is a few to mention, Oscar Mtshali, Mafika Gwala, Matsemela Manaka, Bessie Head, Inguapele Mdingoane and the great, Don Mattera. These are a few voices that have articulated our pains and hopes to the world.


KHN:  I read online that your father could not deal with your disability.  Tell us more and has it changed lately?

Mak Manaka: My father passed away, before him and I could really sit down and seriously deal with disability. I was 15 when he went to the glory, before I could be a man. So, in spirit, I believe it have changed.


KHN:  I also read that you are doing a play about your father’s art and activism, please explain.

Mak Manaka: Some people can really take things out of context, I am not yet ready or strong enough to do one of my father’s play. But, what I was saying was, that his plays influence my thinking and have an impact in my writing.


KHN:  You have poems about your love for African women please explain.


Mak Manaka: Afrikan woman, just the mention of that, makes me go crazy, because it doesn’t get realer than that.


KHN:  Have you worked with other poets with disabilities and what are you doing know to help other disabled poets in South Africa?


Mak Manaka: not yet, but I have done shows for disability programs. To me its not about disability, its about who you are as a person. And this I put in my poems, if I can do it, then anyone can do it.



KHN:  What are your thoughts about mainstream media in South Africa?


Mak Manaka: media is media, they show the good and the bad. There is no difference between our media and your media, the only slight difference is that, ours is not saturated as yet like your like yours, but its going there.


KHN:  I also read that you perform with Benjamin Zephaniah who is also a Black disabled activist poet in the UK.  Tell us about that experience.


Mak Manaka: The last time I was with Benjamin, I was only about 16 years or 15 years old, he didn’t have a disability. May be it was in his head, because the brother produces some really great works and make seem like mere mortals. Though it was a great experience to work with such a mind.


KHN:  What is in your future?


Mak Manaka: Art love supreme is the future, seen? Art love supreme is the future….


KHN:  What are your experiences in poetry scene outside of South Africa and what is the scene today in open mic/poetry scene in South Africa today?


Mak Manaka: the scene changes all the time, but as a legend of the open-mic, I will tell you this, there is a lot raw talent out in these streets. I am one of the few that can call poetry a career, and because of that, it has taken me to places I couldn’t have imagined as a young cat chilling with my boys in Soweto. People seem to love what I do, not only at home but also abroad, so there must be something I am doing right, and the poetry spirit is positive!!!


KHN:  Give us a poem you write about your disability.


Mak Manaka:


it’s a poem from my second anthology, “In Time”

When I walk…


The sun will scotch the earth

Unwanted infants will cry before birth

Believers in humanity

Will live after death

And taste their spiritual wealth.

When feelings on my toes

Can tell the difference

Between solid grounds and carpets

The moon will commit adultery

With the beautiful evening star

And father my daughter.

On that day

Rain will pour heavily

Yet children will play

And those who are unable to speak

Will have a say


When I walk

The deaf will talk

The blind will stare

And hope to live another day and share

The images they saw the past year.

Hatred will seize

Violence will be an illusive breeze

And all this abuse will have to freeze,


Coz respect for one’s self

Must manifest even towards the elderly


Without my two boys

I wonder if I will still make noise

When life’s liquid begins to ooze

A fresh breath of air through my bones

There will be an end

To bloodshed.


The world has seen and will continue to see

A million me’s

Planting nations

As strong as Samson’s DNA

Coz when I walk

Unborn prophets will listen

To poets spit lines to the sun

Even after dawn


Babies will speak before they teeth

This is not deep

But understand before YOU believe

That when I walk

My mother’s eyes will spark

In the dark

And give life to feelings

Murdered by the past

So until that day comes

Let’s hold on to our dreams



KHN:  I read online about your views of South African government and their lack of action toward the rights of people with disabilities.  Please explain and tell us has things change today?


Mak Manaka: Well, you know what, disability is something that people don’t really want to talk about, and because of that, brush it under the carpet by increasing grants every year, I for one, refuse to take that grant even when times can really be tough, but I refuse take it because it feels like the government is saying, ‘take the money and shut up’, especially when you starting talking about accessibility. So, politics are there and they stink, the only time I am really honest and articulate is when I am on stage performing because through me, may be they will change certain things. I mean, I voice out certain issues regarding the government and their treatment of disability on big badass shows and on their show when they invite me to come perform but disability is one of the problems that need to be fixed in South Africa.


KHN:  Krip-Hop Nation is working with gospel choir, Zululand in South Africa to do a song got Krip-Hop and working to get us there for a conference/concert.  We would love to have you in our crew.  What do you think?


Mak Manaka: To tell you the truth I would love to though poetry is my career, my bread and butter, so I don’t want to say yes lets do it and then it turns out that I have to leave the country or I have a show somewhere els, but yo, you got my mail, lets work it out.

KHN:  How can we stay in contact with you and your work?

Mak Manaka: I am on Facebook, my name is easy to remember and pronounce, Mak Manaka, its like saying Coca-Cola.

KHN:  Any last words:

Mak Manaka: ART LOVE SUPREME!!!!!




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