Save South Africa – Poems by Athol Williams

02 Nov 2016
Save South Africa – Poems by Athol Williams

PEN South Africa called for creative responses to the state capture crisis in the form of short essays, fiction or poetry. This is one of the selected entries:

Save South Africa – Poems
by Athol Williams


Heavy in the heavens, a blackened sun
cries death-rays of despair upon the bird
of rising glory with broken wings. One
by one truths fade, every promised word

drips from the scroll, our nation’s motto mist
upon a disheartened, perished protea,
and wilted wheat, which drank, could not resist
the poisoned air. We embrace the idea

of voice, while elephant tusks of wisdom
are cracked, our heritage poached, unity
melted into a deformed golden shield, freedom
defeathered, replaced with insanity.

To the gods of hope, faithfully we pray,
“Give tomorrow the hope we lost today.”


on a grey walk my lungs freeze, suddenly
clogged by flaky ice. a stripped carcass,
bloody, holding onto a black lamppost.
no rust to its bones, but that will come.
its rhombus torso naked, vultured bare of
muscle and meat. a congress of hyenas
have scavenged its plastic seat and spoked
wheels with rubber tyres once inflated
with breath of gods; wheels once racing
with life but now taken, devoured, gone.

handlebars like constitutions are impotent
when there are no wheels and no will and
no place for justice to sit a while; mocked
by the listless lifeless carcass, frame frozen
by two and twenty summers, turned winter.

never, never and never again. did he, did
mandela lie? for here we stand, one blessed,
undressed, oppressed by another, tears from
every mother, salting our freshwater lakes.

we shall overcome. we shall overcome!
we can beat this drum but freedom needs
a heart to get heartbeats from. now! This is
our new 1994! pedals, flywheel, chain and
hope remain, on the carcass; we need a seat
placed high, wheels hard with our breath,
muscles and meat on bones to repair our
dream, to cage the scavengers, unfreeze all
heartbeats. never, never and never again
this is the cry, our cry as we rise to release
the lamppost black, to resurrect
our exodus to a place upon
which the sun will never set.

amandla! back on our bike,
only this time, we all must pedal.


The moon fell,

slowly, like an artwork sliding down a wall,
the string holding it to the nail in the night sky, rubber.

It had become too heavy, the moon –
the sun’s reflected light, blackened
by the layers of soot of our projected darkness.

And so it fell.

But it waits
for the light of humanity’s heart to radiate
and lessen its load,
so the rubber string can pull it back into the sky,
to brighten our path
to beauty.


I tried to quieten the stampede
of my hunger with a serving of
democracy, but the rattle of chains
deep in the dark of my gut only
magnified, as hope, and strength,
faded. It did not fill me. It had
no nutrients, not even any flavour.

I stare bleakly, as the hungry do,
at a blank menu –
I could pay with my freedom,
to get some daily black bread
that will brighten the dungeons
and tame the beasts, make melodic
the rattling. Or have another
serving of their democracy, freely
choosing starvation.

The waitress, like death,
taps her foot impatiently,
waiting for my vote …