Big Brotha

This poem was written in response to the senseless execution-style gunning down of six young black petrol attendants (Sazizo Bashe, Arthur Ngxumza, Alfred Nyumbeka and Sibongile Same) by a seriously disturbed off-duty policeman in Grassy park, Cape Town in June 2002..

It was published in 2002 in Illuminations a longstanding poetry journal published by The College of Charleston, in the state of South Carolina .

The poem Big Brotha (with its ironic reference to the world of reality television, and more widely to a South Africa that is more and more finding its meaning in media representation) tries to create a chilling atmosphere set against the dankness of a Cape winter, and explores (obviously) the question of human life and meaning if it can be extinguished so peremptorily. The poem also raises the issue of the unsettled nature of human relations in cape Town with racial tensions and divisions, and the growing uncertainty of purpose and direction in a south Africa that appears to have lost it’s way. I love the contrast between the two epigraphs: the fatuous comment by Felicia Mabuza-Suttle (not actually made in response to these murders) is played off against the killer analysis of Neville Alexander, one of South Africa’s finest left wing intellectuals, pointing to the presence of the irrational at the heart of bourgeois normality (a word which he is obliged to put in inverted commas).

As a poem i think my writing is more expressionist than usual, and the key theme is one of a haunting – with the image of the ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman providing its most pointed expression. But the poem spends much of its time trying to explore the inner jangled world of the killer, suggesting interior collapse and fragmentation that runs very deep – but in which, even in his horrible frustration and hopelessness – he is not alone (as the pronoun significantly changes from third person singular to first person plural).

The poem ends with a very oblique echoing of the idea in the Torah that each human life is itself a world (a universe even) and with the terrible paradox that in a few brief seconds so much hope, meaning, life …could be extinguished..


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