Palesa Makua

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This is the other half of the two-part book review of Pen Still Inking by Xitha Makgeta and Philani Nyoni. Palesa-Entle Pulse Makua first shared her thoughts on Xitha’s poems in the chapbook that’s accompanied by Phethego Kgomo’s illustrations. The baton is now with Zimbabwean based poet Takudzwa Goniwa who on this article, reviews Philani’s body of work in Pen Still Inking.

Anyone familiar with Philani Nyonis work will know he enjoys towing the line. His wordplay and choice of content often border on indecent, but never enough to completely alienate you from diving into his work.

THA POET: Philani Nyoni. Photo supplied

Case in point would be the first poem I perused through in the chapbook Sonnet on the crapper. The crude title shocked me. As one does not often see those two words together in the same sentence.

But one should not judge a book by its cover or a poem by its title as it is anything but crude. He then proceeds to lay down his technique that makes one forget  their momentary flare of righteous indignation at the onset.

Illustration by Phethego Kgomo.
EN-COUNTER:Illustration by Phethego Kgomo

I quickly learnt that it was the poems with the seemingly harmless titles Number 1 that pushed my delicate sensibilities to the limit. But the use of punctuation to create the lovely phonetics the poem produces when read aloud make you forget the content for a second. I must admit, this is what makes his work such a joy to read.

While his content may not be everyone’s cup of tea, no one can deny that his grasp of technique and usage of literary devices is stunning.

 

DRUNK ON A ROSE. By Phethego
DRUNK ON A ROSE. By Phethego

The illustrations done by Phethego Kgomo compliment his poetry well. Painting a slightly morbid atmosphere which creates a fitting background to the various poems in the chapbook.

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This is a two-part book review of Xitha Makgeta and Philani Nyoni’s Pen Still Inking, illustrated by Phethego Kgomo. I decided to co-write this book review with my friend Takudzwa Goniwa, a poet based in Zimbabwe. I will share my views on Xitha’s poems in the book in this article. While Takudzwa reviews Philani’s contribution in part two.

Xitha’s collaborative work with Philani on this collection of poems is a mind-blowing fusion of poetry and illustrations by Phethego. Xitha’s poetry has evolved so much compared to his previous book Bits and Pieces. I think this chapbook is a necessary collector’s item because he vividly covers the state of the times we live in. On the poem Half Asleep he speaks about how he uses poetry to stay afloat in a country that has no respect for artists.

THA MAN: Xitha Makgeta. Photo supplied.
THA MAN: Xitha Makgeta. Photo supplied.

Burning is one of my favourites as he speaks directly to Gender Base Violence(GBV) and how a woman’s body has become a battlefield. The first part of the poem addresses the rainbow community the LGBTQIA+

He writes…

Maybe God is a Lesbian and her pussy has learned its lesson, to forget how to breathe, to remember the closet

Its no secret how the LGBTQIA+ community is dying at an alarming rate due to homophobic attacks, Xitha continues lamenting GBV…

 …We taught you how to become fire, now the flames are burning our daughters

They are burning

it was their bodies doused in gasoline

 they are burning

Our country is experiencing  two pandemics all at once- COVID19 and GBV. In this piece Xitha shines light on women  like Uyinene, Karabo, Naledi Phangindawo, Motshidisi Pascalina, Noxolo Mabona, Lindo Cele and many others who remain unnamed.

ART AT WORK: Songs of Akiliz. By Phethego
ART AT WORK: Songs of Akiliz. By Phethego

My only disappointment was that I expected more words because two poets collaborated here. But that was my error. I mean, I’m sure chapbooks are usually this size…right?

Every generation has an icon who inspired everyone who had an opportunity to work with them and Xitha pays homage to his icon, Mama Myesha Jenkins.

XITHA'S ODE: A poem for Jenkins, beautifully illustrated by Phetogo
XITHA’S ODE: A poem for Jenkins, beautifully illustrated by Phethego

Born in San Francisco California in 1948, Jenkins was a poet, a cultural activist and a spoken word performer. Jenkins passed away last September. I loved how Xitha chose to honor her the best way he knew her, through poetry.

THA ILLUSTRATOR: Phethego Kgomo. Photo supplied
THA ILLUSTRATOR: Phethego Kgomo. Photo supplied

Phethego Kgomo’s illustrations  complemented the type of poems in the book and I think that was an  amazing choice of artist. Xitha’s love for illustration goes back to Bits and Pieces where he also had artwork complementing his poetry so effortlessly. I would defiantly recommend this book to poetry lovers and MCees (not rappers) because there is that Saul Williams typa vibe in Pen Still Inking.

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My typing cannot keep-up with the pace at which this rain is coming down. For some people, this here downpour could symbolize their growth, rebirth or sum like that. While for someone squatting in a shack somewhere, it’s simply a pain in the butt.

In the same way some still believe that any talk of miscarriages or child loss is taboo or a no-go-area. So much that a term like ‘fetal demise’ is preferred over ‘death’ or ‘passing away’ when talking about this kind of bereavement. But there are rebels out there, with a cause and without a pause, fighting against this stereotype. Palesa Makua is one of them.

EYES OF THE WARRIOR: Palesa Makua. Photo by Sello Majara
EYES OF THE WARRIOR: Palesa Makua. Photo by Sello Majara

Through her movement, Her Skin Speaks, which is dedicated at celebrating women’s ever-changing bodies, Makua put together a photo exhibition titled What Do We Call Women Who Have Lost Children? as a way of healing herself and other women who’ve lost babies.

“I was miserable and almost losing my mind, I then decided to quit my job to fully focus on myself and those like me,” she says. The Mamelodi-native lost her son through stillbirth in 2017 and has experienced two other losses after that. The idea to do this project came to her in January this year.

A patron appreciates the Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara
A patron appreciates the Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

“This project has been what therapy is for most who find it useful for them.  It has not only given me the chance to openly deal with what has happened to me but also gave an amazing sisterhood with women who are strangers yet relate to my story wholeheartedly.  This project has been a healing space for me and it continues to serve that to those I have not yet met.”

Since this was also a therapeutic experience for her, Makua found herself reliving what she had gone through. “I also struggled with holding back my tears when we were documenting real conversations with the women who have lived these stories (which is totally understandable because we don’t necessarily get over the loss but with time we learn to coexist with the pain).

The Her Skin Speaks exhibition. Photo by Sello Majara
The Her Skin Speaks exhibition. Photo by Sello Majara

The exhibition was launched in August. “Showcasing at Vavasati International Women’s Festival hosted at The State Theatre was absolutely a dream come true, having to step on that much of a big entity’s stage and bare my soul was absolutely amazing.  The platform has added enormous weight to Her Skin Speaks ExHERbition as a brand.”

The exhibition has also made its way to the Kingdom. “Lesotho has become my second home and show casing there was absolutely needed as I have featured two ladies based in Barea and Morija (Lesotho) It was an honour seeing the subjects there with their loved ones to witness their contribution to such a movement and even heavier topic,” she says.

A photographer herself, Makua took photos of the four women who were part of this project. “The initial women whom the exhibition was about did not feel comfortable with being shot nude so I had to make a call out for women who are able and would like to embody their stories and it wasn’t really hard for them to agree to this idea as some of them knew why I needed to do this shoot because they are familiar with my story.”

Cafe What? – Her Skin Speaks exhibition in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

The vulnerability that comes with nudity is no child’s play, especially in a society that sexualises the female body. It makes sense why some women would pull out of such a project- we live in a world where people even shun being naked by themselves. But not Palesa Makua, she has a liking for the bod. She embraces the beauty of her body without shame.  “The reason I am fascinated by telling stories through human nudity is because for a very long time women’s bodies have been a battlefield and unfortunately they continue to be.

I honestly couldn’t think of any other way to portray this “Battlefield” in its truest, most beautiful and sincere form as we know it and call it what exactly it is.”

“All these unfortunate events are taking place emizimbeni yethu or it is the foundation of the amount of damage that happens emuntwini, I couldn’t have chosen any other way to document our stories.”

– Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

“What I hope that people take from this is that no one has to suffer in silence and in the words of Zewande ‘The soul of a miscarried child never leaves the womb’ also hope that more women finds comfort that we are here holding space for them and that they should never go through this loss alone.  I hope this inspires more women to open up to other women about such events (I know I wish oh I had someone walking me through this).”

Makua will today showcase her work at Black Labone in Pretoria (381 Helen Joseph Street African Beer Emporium)

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Palesa Makua is the founder of HER SKIN SPEAKS. Through HER SKIN SPEAKS, Makua has addressed body shamming in an exhibition titled All bodies are perfect. In this heartfelt piece, Makua details her ordeal of losing her son through stillbirth in 2017. She’s currently documenting women with similar stories of losing their children which will be premiered in August. Through her work, Makua has proven to be an epitome of “Mosadi o tshwara thipa ka bogaleng” a force to be reckoned with.

 

FINDING OUT I’M GONNA BE A MOMMA…

In April I found out that I was pregnant. Hahahaha, yup!! I am going to be a mother. Feeling sick and being agitated all the time and my boobs being excruciatingly painful; fighting with my lover over nothing, crying and then apologize to him; not once did it occur to me that these were possible signs of pregnancy.

I think I had long believed that maybe I am barren because I’ve had unprotected sex here and there and I have never even had a pregnancy scare, so when I asked a roommate to buy me a pregnancy test while in was chin deep in bed;I found that I’m actually pregnant and was instantly happy. Then the thought of telling my family crept in. I decided to keep it myself for a while because I had an Idea of how my family is going to react and I wanted to bask in the happiness that had just leaped into my hands, I didn’t want them to rain on my parade.

I sent a friend a text message telling her the news and her response was just pure heartfelt laughter, I reckon it was because I had been stalling to see her. I had always been scared of pregnant women; I had not seen her throughout her pregnancy. I later paid her a visit, I was really happy to see her and excited to meet her son.

Her mom was really not pleased that we “decided” to have children at 25 years old, only because she expected more from us and not because she was disappointed per se. She expressed how we need to do better now that we are parents, basically told me things I knew but wasn’t really shaken a lot and I realized that damn, shit is about to get real. What killed me most was after that, she gave me a hug and asked if I needed a peanut butter and jam sandwich. I was glad that happened because it prepared me for telling my family.

My lover was the easiest person to tell because well, it’s his seed growing inside of me. I told him the same day I found out, he was shocked as expected…him and I have not been dating for that long and now we’re expecting a baby. I think we were both worried about what our families would say regarding our dating track record. Eventually I got settled with the idea,but a bit worried as to where his train of thought was at. I mean the last thing I needed was for him to be unsure and nowhere in my plans do I raise a baby alone.

I love him and think I always confessed with my mouth that I want to have his children and that I’d make a good and cool mother, so now he gets to see me through all this and remind me when I feel I’m not doing my best. I’ve always known that he is a good person and I couldn’t have chosen a better partner to have see forever with (Yes, I made a conscious decision). I say forever because I honestly do not see myself with anyone else but him.

I told my mother that I am pregnant around May/June and she thought I was joking. She asked if I had been drinking alcohol while she was away and I told her no, she then asked why and I just told her that I’m with child. I expected her to kill me but nope, she was happy…absolutely happy. She had been really supportive throughout, I asked her to tell the rest of my family as I was still scared of breaking the news and when she did.

Surprisingly, everyone was happy and excited. I don’t really have a relationship with my dad, I told him via text that I was pregnant and he too has been really supportive and extremely kind. He drove me to my doctor appointments, picked  me up in the morning, wait for me outside the hospital then takes me to lunch and drives me back home. He has always been supportive in his own way despite how he left.

One of the most heartbreaking experiences is trying to find your place in womanhood. Women go through the most to find space, to hold space for other women. This constant stretching and shedding and accommodating is heavy but vital, it somehow builds your character among other things

HER SKIN SPEAKS has done some amazing work on the ground with women and has given me a platform to dance better with my demons. While most believe in therapy, I have always turned to using my pain to fuel my art. The best therapy for me has always been talking about my scars to strangers and friends, while most feel sorry for me I am slowly healing in ways they can never imagine.

LOSING MY SON…

August 30th 2017

I woke up and decided to do my laundry. By mid-afternoon I had these annoying cramps that came and went every second. They didn’t bother me much because I just thought it was my uterus stretching and making space for my baby (at least that’s what abadala said every time I asked why I had cramps in my abdominal area). I took naps throughout the day, but the cramps were persistent. Around 5pm I went to bed and as the night progressed, the pain got worse, my mom kept waking up to rub my belly and my waist and to check if I was fine and ask how and where exactly the pain is.

AUGUST 31ST 2017

It’s 4am and her last resort was getting warm water and a towel to put on my lower belly. She asked to put my feet in that tub of warm water and I did, while we were talking I felt a sensation as though water was about to come out my vagina and when I pulled down my underwear, a huge clot of blood fell in the tub, at that very second I knew that there was something wrong with me. My mother called my brother who he drove like a mad man straight to Steve Biko Hospital where I got examined. The doctor told me the baby is fine but I am actually going into labor.

I couldn’t understand why now because I was only five months pregnant. They took me to the labor room and that’s when I gave birth to the tiniest person I have ever seen, my son who was the size of my palm.

The nurse took him and placed him on my chest and said “look, it’s a boy. Unfortunately as small as he is, he will not live long.”

Hella confused and not present I laid there and held my baby in my hands until he was taken away and then back. They placed him under a warmer no oxygen machine…nothing, he kept breathing on his own for a few minutes.

The nurse called in my mother to come see him before his little lungs couldn’t keep him alive any longer. They asked us if we wanted to take him home and have a burial for him or leave him at the hospital to be cremated, we called my grandmother and she said we must leave him because he is too small (I honestly didn’t understand what that meant but I did as instructed), I also consulted my lover’s family to see what they think and they too agreed to what uMma (Grandmother) said.

I called my lover to tell him the news and he rushed to the hospital, he got there and he looked as though he was still dreaming, that this was some sick joke, it was just so hard to look at his peaceful nature tackling this much tragedy. He spoke of many things, but the actual thing he was there for and I understood why, we don’t deal with loss the same way. I just worry that him not talking about it might kill him inside. I hope he doesn’t blame me and then resent me for this, I do take full responsibility for this as it was my body’s fault that couldn’t carry his son till full term.

OCTOBER 4TH 2017

Some mornings are heavier than others. I could have sworn I felt my baby kick; since I lost my son I have not been able to breathe, I am struggling to make peace with the month of August. I’ve sat up many nights and asked myself what the point is when women get pregnant but cannot see it through? Why are women given the opportunity to incubate a human being inside of them and feel the little person kick and move around but never take the baby home?

I have marks that validate that even for a few minutes, I was a mother. I don’t know where to get up from now. I do know that things don’t happen and then disappear. Once they happen, they still are there. And we can move on and forget them but they still exist elsewhere…we give what we have lost names so that they continue to live.

Zewande Bhengu says “The spirit of a miscarried child never leaves the womb” I have found so much comfort in these words and have been breathing easier each day.

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NEVER have we seen, at least in recent history, South African females channelling the spirit of the women in 1956 as they did yesterday with the Shutdown marches that took place throughout the country.

A noble initiative organised by ordinary women, that charged females in South Africa to shut down the country by staying away from work to march against women abuse that the country has disgustingly and embarrassingly gotten use to.

“…Only to have one of the female march marshals to say ‘Leave her, let’s go comrade’ and for the life of me I couldn’t fathom what she said….”

Whether you were in Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit or even Maseru in Lesotho- all women were invited to join this historic and important occasion. The marches were delivering 24 demands to the government, including President Cyril Ramaphosa.

#Total Shutdown itinerary.

Thousands of women were part of the procession in Pretoria, which Palesa Makua was part of. It had women gather at the old Putco depot, where they walked to the Union Buildings to leave their demands at the President’s office. Makua caught up with the march in town. “The atmosphere was so intense…heavy…somewhat triggering. Not merely the physical presence but also the virtual world made sure that we knew we were not the only one,” says Makua.

“I also imagined how the older generation eyabo Mama Lilian Ngoyi and her likes felt when they marched. Even though it was for a different cause but still, the fact that women stood together side by side was absolutely moving and heartfelt.”

There was adequate police presence that helped regulate traffic. But at the arrival to the Union Buildings, a scuffle broke out between police and women protesters. Protesters refused to hand over a memorandum to Minister Naledi Pandor on behalf of the government and demanded President Cyril Ramaphosa personally receive their demands.

Makua, who is also the founder of the Her Skin Speaks exhibitions, was disheartened by the inhumane act or lack of sympathy, by some of the women marching. En route to the Union Buildings, the marching females came across a woman from Venda who was robbed. “She was promised a job interview, only for it to be a scam. She had nothing but her qualifications with her.”

The traumatised lady was crying hysterically as Makua and her friend walked past her, then approached to find out what happened. “Only to have one of the female march marshals to say ‘Leave her, let’s go comrades’ and for the life of me I couldn’t fathom what she said. I mean, we are claiming to march for women who are victims and here is one, a practical example and we’re told ‘move along comrades’ I was so livid and sad. My friend gave her money to get home and we caught up with the march.” Makua says.

“To me, that showed just how much middle class these marches have become. Ignoring the primary women who are actual victims. Even the language we use to communicate our cries, does not accommodate women and children in the townships who had no idea what actually happened today.” Among those in attendance in Pretoria, was the mother of Thembisele Yende who was murdered at Eskom in 2017.

There were schisms days prior to the march between #Totalshutdown organisers and the ANC Women’s League Young desk. The Total Shut Down march organisers made it a prerequisite for women to be draped in black with a touch of red, to which if not heeded, you wouldn’t be able to be part of the march. The ANC women’s league young desk had apparently also planned a march for August first. The ruling party then proposed the idea to march together with the momentum-gaining Total shutdown, but instead they would wear ANC doeks with all black attire. That didn’t go well with the Shutdown group, as they are an apolitical movement that had strict rules against party regalia. Also, the Total Shutdown made it clear that no men should be part of this march, which the ANCWL also disagreed with.

The ANCWL march took place in Joburg, where ladies and some gents met at Constitutional Hill and marched to the Luthuli House in the CBD and also where a moment of silence was observed.

It’s rather disappointingly childish that one, who endorses the same policies you do, is barred from marching together with you merely because they are wearing different colours. Imagine Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates supporters, arguing about team colours on a march to the Premier Soccer League offices about how the league isn’t commemorating victims of the Ellis Park massacre.

A woman, who said she was ANC’s provincial secretary of the Women’s League in KwaZulu-Natal, was marching together with the Total Shutdown women in Durban. Speaking to the eNCA’s Dasen Thathiah, she said “Yesterday we spoke to them telling them, that this is a united march against gender based violence. [They] said no political regalia is allowed, but we told them that people are from different wards and different branches, some came with their regalia on.”

The sisters of Zolile Khumalo, the Mangosuthu University Of Technology student who was allegedly murdered by her boyfriend a few months ago, were also present in Durban to support the purposeful march.

Makua says another friend of hers, who was in Joburg was prevented from getting on one of the buses that picked people up from their various stations, to the meeting point. “…Just because she wasn’t dressed in black…what the hell is that?”

Except those little big things, Makua believes the march served its purpose. “I actually hope it did. Although we were marching, there were cases of some of the women we marched with, one car got broken into and another stolen. This to me, means even when we are trying to communicate with the male figure, they are still not interested.”


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