This book is a product of many discussions with colleagues in the African network of civil society formations. Portions of it began as papers and presentations in consultative conferences of the African Union platform for NGOs known by the acronym, CIDO, and later those of the Economic and Social Committee of the African Union. Some elements have been presented in the meetings of the SADC Council of NGOs where I have sought to focus on the workings of the NGO environment rather than just the substantive agenda that NGOs pursue. The Trust Africa sponsored continental consultative workshops on the legal framework and civil society as well as one on NGO responses to illicit flow of capital. The ideas have also been refined in several other more academic conferences on the African predicament, the impact of global imperial designs on African civil society, and he question of development in the global south. I would like to acknowledge, therefore, all these networks of NGOs that provided a stimulating environment for me to contribute to creative thinking about how the African civil society ought to response to the shifts in geopolitics and geoeconomics that have a bearing on them, including the question of creative alternative imaginations for NGOs in Africa.
Extensive discussions with the likes of Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Morgan Ndlovu, Edith Phaswana, William Mpofu, Vusi Gumede, the late Sam Moyo, Jimi Adesina, Candice Moore, Peter Vale, Puleng Segalo, Charles Nyukyonge, Serges Kamga, Kwesi Prah jnr and many others on decolonial perspectives and political questions covered in this book have helped me shape the epistemic orientation embedded in this book. But the errors of thought and approach are fully mine. My family has also encouraged and graciously allowed me time and space to work through this book.
The book is designed to stimulate a debate about the predicament of the NGO and the African condition in the current global climate. It is meant to encourage discussions on African civil society to make connections with the African post-colonial condition and the imperial designs ingrained in the structure of global power. It is an invitation to a brutally honest conversation about the domestic and eternal conditions that explain the deferred dream, shattered expectations and abiding illusions. There is also an interest in contributing to imaginative thinking about possible and decolonial future as represented by the discussion in the last three chapters. It does not exhaust all the angles from this analytical approach could have been conducted.
These poems emanate from a challenge to my writerly self. After submitting six poems found in Lauretta Ngcobo’s novel, And They Didn’t Die, Barbara Boswell – the co-editor of Scrutiny 2: issues in english studies in southern africa, volume 22 (1) 2017, a special issue commemorating the novelist Lauretta Ngcobo’s life and writings – asked me to write notes on my finding and writing process. I did. And then I wondered if I would be able to repeat the process and if so, how different it would be. Then I waited for the novel that would urge me to repeat this process.
A few months later in early 2017 Barbara asked me to write a back cover blurb to her then manuscript, Grace: A Novel, I read the manuscript and wrote the three sentence blurb. I promised myself I would read the novel when it comes out, this time, for sheer pleasure.
It was during this reading in August that the words began to reveal themselves as they jumped off the pages and demanded my attention. At first I thought it was because the words were just beautiful. I continued to read determined not to read Grace for the second time aiming for a tangible outcome beyond the sheer pleasure of reading. In time, further along the chapters, I realized that these words were in fact formatting themselves into poems somewhere in an unknown part of my brain. I started paying attention. Then I remembered the vague wonderings I had had the year before, about whether a whole collection of poems from one source was possible.
I was reading chapter five when it became clear to me that I could no longer ignore the poems screaming away pleadingly at me. I decided then to return to the beginning of the book and be deliberate about my watching the words, just as I had done while reading Lauretta Ngcobo’s novel.
Why did Grace: The Novel, urge me to repeat the process? Because, I think, it is exquisite. In its exquisiteness, it opens up avenues and villas – avenues to stride through with confidence and villas to luxuriate in, gratified. It allows and welcomes exhilarating literary endeavours. This is how I felt as I worked through “finding” these poems. In fact, I did not do much finding work, the words found me, lifted off the page, screamed poetically at me, welcomed me and let me be – with them, among them. At times it felt as if the words were daring me to find the unique combination of mystery and beauty they possessed so I could have fun playing this literary game with them. So I played. In this game there is no better fun than the type I had while reading Grace, rereading it, watching words pop and speak to one another further down the pages, creating a new and unique unity.
In November 2017 when I realized that I was indeed going to be able to create a poem per chapter as per my challenge-to-self, I decided to share the draft manuscript with Barbara over coffee, just to see her response to it. I was affirmed and assured that the project was worth pursuing to the end.
My poem-finding journey with Boswell’s, Grace, was similar to Ngcobo’s, And They Didn’t Die because of the creative energy both journeys generated and the persuasive urgency with which the words lifted from the page, surprised and delighted me. Working on Grace took a much longer time once I accepted the challenge to find at least one poem from each chapter of the novel. And, the process became a tad daunting. My notes on the finding and writing process appear at the end of these poems, followed by Boswell’s Afterword.
The novel, Grace, and the characters Barbara created: Mary and Patrick, Johnny and David, Sindi, Grace (the central character) and Aunty Joan, accompanied me during this joyous journey of a yet unfamiliar form of creativity, creativity akin to the surreal, albeit confusingly, this experiment in imagination, this unknowing-waiting-and-seeing-and-trusting-and-recreating. These characters have been a gift of grace and as I finalise the collection I feel a special kind of intimacy with them. Barbara’s descriptive narration is drenched in cinematic images that provided me with landscapes, sea and mountain views I could see, smell and touch. It evoked memories particularly those of the southeaster, in unique ways. During all my visits to Cape Town I endured the perennial, menacing southeaster. In Barbara’s writing via the many mentions and descriptions of the southeaster I felt connected me to her the characters. We shared the wind. The most surprising aspect of this journey was the urgency with which the work needed to be begun, pursued and completed.
I am eternally grateful to Barbara for her elegant text of twenty-two chapters that has made possible this collection of forty-three poems. The art of waiting for tales is a manifestation of what it means to show up for one another as Black women writers. It is a product of a political imagination. This is the kind of imagination that has a higher purpose than an individualised creativity and focus on oneself; it reaches out and pays tribute to the community of writers and readers and therefore it is a political initiative. It is political-and-feminist because it prioritizes another woman’s writing and consequently builds a text-founded bridge of a feminist sisterhood and solidarity.
To my surprise in December of 2017 when I was devouring my to-do reading list, I was sitting with Mohale Mashigo’s novel, The Yearning when the words began lifting off the pages. By now I felt well practiced. I allowed the urge to write these poems. Only three seemed to want to be written. I submitted them to the editor of the online literary journal The Johannesburg Review of Books and they were published on 15 January 2018 with these accompanying words: “As part of our January Conversation Issue, we present new found poetry by The JRB Patron Makhosazana Xaba, a creative effort that creates a dialogue between two literary imaginations.” The titles of the three poems are: “Yearning”; “This togetherness”; and, “To necklace”. I also indicated the chapters, pages and line number where I found the words in the novel.
I also shared the complete submission-ready, draft manuscript with Barbara, who after reading it sent me a long affirming email on 16 February 2018. In this email she mentioned her favourite poems, commented on the process notes as well as the feelings she had while reading The Art. The final sentence in this email reads as follows, ”…It is something larger than both of us and it’s a testament to the utterly amazing healing power of creativity and black feminist imagination.”
A journey that began with a challenge to my imaginative-yet-unsure self, shifted to an experiment in creativity, and moved to an engagement with poetry as a genre in ways I had not done before. The process ended as an even higher honour and regard for Boswell. Dear reader, here then is, The art of waiting for tales.
The purpose of the book is to highlight the plight of widowhood among women. It is a memoir reflecting personal experience by the author, a widow for 33 tears. The book seeks to expose ill cultural practices, myths, tradition, beliefs and societal expectation towards women widows.
Harmful-cultural practices highlighted by the author include imposed cleansing rituals before and after the burial of her late husband, the ill- treatment she received in the so called ‘widow’s room, the isolation from family members, exclusion from the funeral arrangements of her husband, imposed wearing of black attire for one year as a sign for mourning and grieving her husband, property grabbing by the members of the husband’s family, gross violation of her human rights; cutting of the private parts as a ritual in preparation of the prospective husband, the shaving of the hair, imposed cleansing of the house to dispel the spirit of the dead husband, arranged marriage, and the fights over her husband’s estate by the in-laws.
Furthermore, the book highlights the gross violation and abuse of women by women in the name of culture and religion. It shows that the crafters and implanters of the ill cultural practices are women, most of them coming from different religions. The author shows how powerful, how ruthless and merciless these women can be. She went through it all for the duration of twelve months.
The book also shows the silence engraved in the minds of widows. The author was groomed to keep the secret of the harmful rituals to herself, the secret she kept for 33 years until the present moment when she decided to break the silence.
The author warns women of all colours, level of education and class that the harmful cultural practices knows no colour, class, nor respect of one’s education. In her personal narrative she highlights her level of education and class at the time of her ordeal, she holds a degree in Nursing, a working-class lecturer, yet she regrettably submitted to the ill-cultural practices.
The last aspect of the book is to empower women, married, single and elderly women to become aware of the torment, cruelty, violation of rights and abuse of widows in the name of culture and religion. Women are encouraged to stand united against the scourge of abuse of widows and to break the silence.
The collection is clearly aware of its place in South African contemporary politics. There are references to Marikana, to the so-called ‘poo protesters’ and to service delivery protests in a poem like ‘Time Warp’. While ‘At Sea’ is equally concerned with delivering a political message, but chooses to do so in the form of an allegory – rather than in direct reference.
The collection also demonstrates an awareness of socio-cultural ills such as the sexual abuse of young girls in ‘Peek-a-boo’ and social inequality in ‘Grahamstown 2001’. In this sense, then, the collection is decidedly topical and current. It also addresses the reader directly, with clear and simplified language that is immediately accessible.
The poems in the first section, “Political reflection”, very stirring – strong, relevant and powerful in the snapshots they convey of where we are. These poems are strong in their women’s voice, speaking to a place that many of us are feeling right now, of betrayal, disillusion, difficulty, yet defiant hope.
“The Handover”: is very strong.
“At Sea”: is a lovely poem.
“I Call It Home”: Another winner. I love the final line that delivers such an indictment on those who don’t get it – ‘I live here where Africa mixes with itself’.
“Fyah”: has strong (though uncomfortable) things to say.
“Dear Daughter”: It is clear that this poem has arisen out of a sincere relationship, and out of a strong feeling for the author’s daughter.
“Peek a boo”: Chillingly relevant.
“I call it home”: Now this poem works and works very well. Why? Precisely because the writer has based her expression, her imagery, on the senses, and on observable detail. She uses observation and memory combined to create small stories and pictures that are alive and evocative.
“Sunday Flight”: A poem that is very powerful, evocative and rich.
“Car Watcher”: Powerful poem! Beautiful combination of line phrasing, strong effective imagery, and a message that resonates with the reader, and makes the reader think differently about an event and about the world. Excellent poem!
“Oriental Plaza”: Another extremely effective poem. It works very well. It reminds us of Mzi Mahola and Ayanda Billie locally. And Charles Reznikoff abroad.
“Piano man”: An effective poem. It works.
“A Builder”: Excellent poem! Now here the writer comes into her own. Powerfully. Here she reaches her audience and makes them see her father and makes her audience think differently about fathers and daughters. Very good.
“Blood Bond”: Excellent. This is real writing. This is a real poem. This is the kind of depth and strength that is rare to find in poetry. It is here in front of us. The poet has stopped thinking about the market and readership (and what they want) and focused on the words in front of her. This is excellent. The poet has listened more to the voices inside her. This is the kind of poem that makes a reader sit up and pay attention. It is real!