Amandla Awethu I

December 5, 2013

Amandla Awethu I

It was 1976.
A fine time to be alive in soweto:
for a change.

(just to be alive is a fine time)

We whispered about it
on the way home from the school
where we were told.

(we hated afrikaans too)

We uttered the word amongst ourselves.
Amandla passed from matchbox house
to squatter camp and back again:
when it came back it was loud as thunder.

(they were our children.
they were children)

We didn’t tell our mothers and fathers.
They were used to existing under apartheid.
in the name of protecting us
they would have denied us the right
to protest against the Boers’ foul policies
but what kind of protection is that?

(we worked in their houses, tilled their fields;
we knew the ugliness they were capable of)

We didn’t want to speak their language.
It was bad enough having them on our land
constantly telling us what to do and how to do it.
And now they wanted to control our speech?
To free our tongues of perversion
we took to the streets.

(we didn’t know.
they didn’t tell us)

The scent of the air changed
and our bodies suddenly knew bullets.
We saw hector being carried.
We ran every which way but the right way
because there was no right way away.

(we ran too
but we ran to the children, our children)

As we ran we picked up stones
and aimed with the precision of hatred
but stones against bullets…
stones against teargas…
fire became our ally
and raged in our defense.

(our children shamed us.
our children shamed us into defending them)

We ran every which way but the right way
because there was no right way away
except for those who ran into exile
except for those who were taken and hidden
in rooms with cement walls
where their cries became the soundtrack
that dominated life in soweto.

(what could we do?)

Love reawakened in those of us who stayed
as our mothers and fathers buried our classmates.
We raised our fists as our mothers and fathers
embraced us with the words amandla awethu
we stomped the ground as nkosi sikeleli ‘iafrika
replaced the burial hymn of amazing grace
and the tears we cried at funerals
became rallying cries for further resistance.

(what else could we do?
they were our children)