Mongane Wally Serote - City Johannesburg

This is one of my favourite poems. Almost every night I drive home, from Pretoria to Johannesburg along the Ben Schoeman and when I reach the Woodmead interchange, I think of the Wally Serotes’ “neon flowers”.

City Johannesburg - Mongane Wally Serote

This way I salute you:
My hand pulses to my back trousers pocket
Or into my inner jacket pocket
For my pass, my life,
Jo'burg City.
My hand like a starved snake rears my pockets
For my thin, ever lean wallet,
While my stomach groans a friendly smile to hunger,
Jo'burg City.
My stomach also devours coppers and papers
Don't you know?
Jo'burg City, I salute you;
When I run out, or roar in a bus to you,
I leave behind me, my love,
My comic houses and people, my dongas and my ever whirling dust,
My death
That's so related to me as a wink to the eye.
Jo'burg City
I travel on your black and white and roboted roads
Through your thick iron breath that you inhale
At six in the morning and exhale from five noon.
Jo'burg City
That is the time when I come to you,
When your neon flowers flaunt from your electrical wind,
That is the time when I leave you,
When your neon flowers flaunt their way through the falling darkness
On your cement trees.
And as I go back, to my love,
My dongas, my dust, my people, my death,
Where death lurks in the dark like a blade in the flesh,
I can feel your roots, anchoring your might, my feebleness
In my flesh, in my mind, in my blood,
And everything about you says it, That, that is all you need of me.
Jo'burg City, Johannesburg,
Listen when I tell you,
There is no fun, nothing, in it,
When you leave the women and men with such frozen expressions,
Expressions that have tears like furrows of soil erosion,
Jo'burg City, you are dry like death,
Jo'burg City, Johannesburg, Jo'burg City.

Mongane Wally Serote (1944-) is a South African poet and writer. He was born in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. He attended school in Alexandra where the political conditions of the day lent themselves to him becoming involved in the Black Consciousness movement. and the anti-apartheid struggles of the day. During this period he was linked to a group known as the "township" or "Soweto" poets, and his poems often expressed themes of political activism, the development of black identity, as well as images of resistance. When he left school, Serote began working as a journalist. In 1969 he was arrested by the apartheid government under the Terrorism Act and spent nine months in solitary confinement, before being released without charge. His first volume of verse, Yakhal'inkomo was published in 1972 and in 1973 he won the Ingrid Jonker Prize for Poetry and the following year, he was granted a Fulbright Scholarship and travelled to Columbia University where in 1979 he completed a master’s degree in Fine Arts. He then entered a period in his life, where he was exiled from South Africa. Initially he lived in Gaborone, Botswana , where he continued his resistance against apartheid, largely through the Medu Arts Ensemble. Medu was formed in Botswana in 1977 by South African exiles who included, amongst others, artists such as Thami Mnyele. They saw their aesthetic and cultural approaches as rooted in South African resistance and sought to uphold and affirm African culture, building upon the work of cultural organisations such as Staffrider (which was barely a year old in 1978). From Botswana he moved to London where he worked for the African National Congress and after his return to South Africa in 1990, he headed the Department of Art and Culture for them.
In 1981 he published a novel, To Every Birth Its Blood and in 1993, he won the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. In 2004, he received the Pablo Neruda award from the Chilean government and more recently the South African government has awarded him the Order of Ikhamanga in silver for his contribution to literature with an emphasis on poetry

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