Sunday, January 12, 2014

South African Praise Poet Zolani Mkiva - Transcript: Praise Poetry Is Essential Part Of African DNA

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides my transcript of a September 6, 2013 South African television show's interview of praise poet Zolani Mkiva, and my transcription of a poem that Zolani Mkiva recited during that program. This post also includes information about this renown South African praise poet.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, sociological, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Zolani is one of the youngest practitioners of one of the oldest oral traditions in africa, ukubonga (praise singing). Hailing from Dutywa a small town in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, Zolani rose to prominence in 1990 when, barely a year after becoming a fully-fledged Imbongi Yesizwe (Poet of the Nation), the schoolboy was called upon to salute with a red hot rendition the recently released Nelson Mandela at his Welcome Home Rally in Transkei....

1991 saw Zolani complete his matriculation, and during the same year, consolidated his role as Imbongi through extensive work at community projects. The role of an Imbongi is a responsible one in African society, for it involves articulating the feelings of the community, and encapsulating these sentiments in concise poetic phrases. Not only does Imbongi praise, but must also ponder, even offer criticism.

Especially at this time of political transition and nation building in South Africa, Zolani felt the need to broaden his knowledge and analytical tools, and decided to pursue studies in Social Sciences at the University of the Western Cape. His studies included oral traditions, history and cultural issues, and in this way, he became a dual practitioner and scholar of African Poetry as well as Traditional Music. This opened a new path of a wonderful combination as he employed his poetry for musical compositions.

Zolani Mkiva participates in events either as an Imbongi, or alternatively as a Compere. Unlike other performers, he will ordinarily have to give careful consideration before participating in an event, and frequently research the topic at hand, maybe prepare a specific framework for a recital. Like a jazz musician, the lines of an Imbongi are never fixed – they are improvised, at times melodic and at times melancholy. And not always guaranteed to please with tame platitudes - A lion must Roar !"
Click for more information about Zolani Mkiva.

FEATURED VIDEO: Praise poetry essential part of African DNA

eNCAnews, Published on Sep 6, 2013
For more on this and other stories please visit

September 6-Zolani Mkiva speaks to eNCA about African heritage and praise poetry and recited a part of a poem.

TRANSCRIPTION: eNCAnews - Praise poetry essential part of African DNA
[This transcription was made from the video found above. Words that I'm unable to decipher are represented by dashes. Words that I'm unsure of are written in italics. This transcription doesn't capture the intonation that the praise poet used. I represented to emphasized words by capitalizing them. I also am including a few notes after this transcription about the program setting, about clips that were shown during the program, and about certain South African language words in the poem. Additions and corrections are welcome.]

Female host [fh]: September is heritage month and oral traditions are a big part of South African’s heritage. Zolani Mkiva is one of the most famous praise singers in the country. He joins us now.

Zolani, thank you very much for coming in this morning. It’s very good to be with you. Now, I must ask you- what is the place that praise poetry currently enjoys in our country. Does-is there a space for it in our country?

Zolani Mkiva [ZM]: Certainly, there is a huge space for praise poetry. Remember that praise poetry is essentially part of our DNA as a people, that is as Africans in general because we’ve got clan names which form the basis of our identity. And therefore, each and every clan therefore has a praise poet, so to say, what we call imbongis so that the people will articulate thus clan names and they are able to place them back from time immemorial. Because they are the ones that carry the knitting, the lace that laces our history and heritage that dates back from many, many centuries ago. And praise singers therefore are the oral librarians, if you like, of African history and heritage.

fh: How, how are you groomed within your, your clan to become a praise singer?

ZM: It’s a very systematic way of grooming children in general, because it’s not only one child that gets picked up to articulate the clan names and the history of the family, and the history of the community and the nation. It’s something that is done systematically from storytelling, folklore, music, and you infuse all the cultural ceremonies __ __. So you systematically, systematically coached to understand broadly and you are also given the specifics. And therefore one out of those children in that particular community will then rise up and be, you know, the one who carries the flag, ah, of that particular clan, community, nation, and so on.

fh: It’s an amazing tradition. We are celebrating heritage month in the country in September. Of course, the, the bombardment of other media now that South Africa has joined the global village. Is praise poetry becoming obsolete? Or , do, do you think it has had the opposite effect?
ZM – Well, yes and no. You know, that’s how I can answer. It, it depends on what you do with media and what you do with technology. The technology must not lead you. You must guide it to do what you want to communicate. Once you allow yourself to be led by technology, then you will be led behind. So, at all material times as Africans, let’s appreciate the development and integration of the technology but let them happen under our own stewardship. So that at all material times we guide what we mean to happen and what we want to communicate. We take and learn from the best in the world, but it must happen under us-As long as we do that, we will not lose hope as we will be able to communicate what is right according to our values. Once we allow technology and media to tell us what to do, then we will sink.

Fh: That is a very interesting point __. Ah, Zolani, I believe that you’ve been working on a piece of praise poetry for us. And I’m going to ask that you share that with our viewers this morning. Won’t you go ahead and do that for us.

A child was born some time ago.
De-socialized and disorientated
Bad mannered and bad natured.
Today is the rebirth of the African child.
Today the African child is born again
Ready to be issued with a new birthday certificate
The lotion for motion has been issued.
Let us be the thinkers of the great thoughts.
Let us be the doers of the great deeds.
Achievement never yet was given to the people as a gift
But as a reward.
Bring the end through [all of us] at work.
Let us tell the whole world that Africa
IS the mother continent.
Tell them. Them tell.
Tell them that. That them tell.
Them that tell.
Tell them that
Africa IS the continent of the future.
Let us program our heritage.
Let us mainstream our Africanness.
Yes, Africa maluju
Africa Harambee.
Africa Uhuru

Fh – I love that Zolani.

AM – Thank you.

fh- Thank you so much for coming in to join us. Much much appreciated.

Setting: Zolani Mkiva and the female television host [no name given] are seated at a desk in a television studio.

The female host is dressed in Western clothing. Zolani Mkiva is also dressed in Western clothing [The camera only shows his upper body]. He is wearing a red short sleeved shirt and a beaded pendant necklace that looks very similar to a circular Native American beaded pendant with small strings of beads hanging from it. Zolani Mkiva also has a thin red and white beaded band on his head. He is also carrying a thin wand-type object which I can’t identify and which isn’t mentioned in that segment.

When Mkiva was responding to the question about how he was groomed as praise poet, the program showed a silent clip of young South African males and females dressed in traditional Xhosa? Zulu? clothing dancing as they move down the street as part of an urban street parade. Another silent clip follows of young males dressed up in three piece Western suits with fedora hats doing tap dances as part of the same? street parade.

When asked the third question, Zolani Mkiva is shown responding to that question in an inserted small box, while a larger silent clip shows Mkiva dressed in traditional clothing at some public event where he is singing praises to an elderly Madiba [Nelson Mandela} who is escorted onto the stage as Mkiva is talking.
English translation of certain South African language words:

Imbongis - Xhosa term for traditional praise poet. Click for information about imbongis.

Maluju- [I think it's a Zulu word that means "calm or plea for peace".
I found that definition in the summary statement of this YouTube video
Maluju Africa [Lolo Rollins] Published on Aug 4, 2013

Also, from
"The phrase 'Maluju Zulu' means 'it is enough'. It is usually said when an opponent indicates that they want a cease-fire".

Harambee - Kiswahili word meaning "pull together"

Uhuru - KiSwahili word meaning "freedom"

Thanks to Zolani Mkiva for his creativity and his insightful comments. Thanks also to the featured television program and its host. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Awesome to look through your poem, it was so good. After i read this i felt down, thanks for sharing your lovely poem to my knowledge...
    Informatica training in chennai

    1. You're welcome, varshini/

      I'm glad that you liked Zolani Mkiva's poem.

      Best wishes.