A Poem to Celebrate Mandela Day (July 18)

July 15, 2015

ukufa kungekafiki (death would not come)

by Peter Midgley


Ah Rolihlahla lakulo Dalinyebo,

Nkunz’ akuthi eQunu, siyabulele.

Ah, Madib’omde, lala ngoxolo!


Rohlihlahla, Shaker-of-Branches, you Troublemaker you!

You shook the trees and the vultures took off in fright!

Verwoerd and Botha trembled!

They tried to hide you from us,

They tried to hide you from us on that rock in the bay.


You took the rocks from that quarry on the island of Maqoma,

the island of Krotoa, the island of Nxele and Nongqawuse and Sobukwe

you took those rocks

extended your hand of peace

laid those stones beside Moturu's kramat.

You built a cairn to our ancestors

and Verwoerd and Botha trembled.

Yes, Botha and Verwoerd trembled.


Nyantsula wenjenje, Tata!

Ungoyiki, Sivuthuvuthu ndini.

Xhentsela izinyanya,

Yanga loomimoya ingakulondoloza.


You fought well,

left us with good steps to follow

endured with grace the discomfort,

your machine breath rattling

over the divining bones of your mouth:

speak once more in the voice of the imbongi,

speak once more Imbongi Yelizwe.

Poet of the World, speak once more.

Speak your prophecies of undeath,

blow your spirit over our restless bones,

lay your own unquiet bones to rest.


Ukufa kungekafiki, Tata.

Lala ngoxolo, mntaka Madiba.

li yabulel’ ilizwe.


Ncincilili! I have said enough!



Ah Rolihlahla lakulo Dalinyebo...:

Ah Rolihlahla from House of Dalinyebo,
Ox of Qunu, we thank you!
Madiba the Tall One, rest in peace!

Nyantsula wenjenje...:

Dance, Tata, dance the dance of the ancestors!

Do not fear, Big Wind.

Dance to the rhythms of the ancestors,

may their spirits watch over you.

Ukufa kungekafiki, Tata...:

Death would not come for you, Tata

Rest in peace, Son of Madiba.

The world thanks you.


Excerpted from Unquiet Bones by Peter Midgley, due out this fall from Wolsak & Wynn.

Happy Mandela Day!


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