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By Mazisi Kunene


Tuesday, May 20, 2008.


Was I wrong when I thought
All shall be avenged?
Was I wrong when I thought
The rope of iron holding the neck of young bulls
Shall be avenged?
Was I wrong
When I thought the orphans of sulphur
Shall rise from the ocean?
Was I depraved when I thought there need not be love,
There need not be forgiveness, there need not be progress,
There need not be goodness on the earth,
There need not be towns of skeletons,
Sending messages of elephants to the moon?
Was I wrong to laugh asphyxiated ecstasy
When the sea rose like quicklime
When the ashes on ashes were blown by the wind
When the infant sword was left alone on the hill top?
Was I wrong to erect monuments of blood?
Was I wrong to avenge the pillage of Caesar?
Was I wrong? Was I wrong?
Was I wrong to ignite the earth
And dance above the stars
Watching Europe burn with its civilisation of fire,
Watching America disintegrate with its gods of steel,
Watching the persecutors of mankind turn into dust
Was I wrong? Was I wrong?


© Mazisi Kunene


Mazisi Kunene was one of Africa’s greatest poets and literary icons. He was a talented writer whose inspiration was the history of Zulu people, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the oral tradition of African literature.


Kunene stressed that his literary goal is the re-telling of African history in a way he believed would make it relevant and authentic to the non-African.


In 1972, Kunene became ANC director of finance in London, establishing the South African Exhibition Appeal which raised funds for the organisation. He received significant support from notable figures in the art world, including Pablo Picasso, Chagall, Giacometti and Rauschenberg.


He later left London for America, first teaching at the University of Iowa and Stanford University before joining the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1975 as a lecturer in African literature and Zulu. 


As apartheid began to crumble, Kunene decided to return to South Africa in 1993, the very year that UNESCO honoured him as Africa’s Poet Laureate. In 2005, he was named South Africa’s poet Laureate. He died on August 11, 2006.


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