Poet Keorapetse Kgositsile casts an unflinching eye on the fallout of imperialism in Africa, refusing to let the struggle die while arbitrary borders break up the continent.

Keorapetse Kgositsile took a job at the political newspaper New Age in the late 1950s. In 1961, he went into exile, first to Tanzania and then to the United States, where he flourished as a poet. He moved to Dar es Salaam to teach at a university in 1975 and returned to South Africa in 1990. He became poet laureate in 2006 and died in 2018.

This poem is taken from Lyrik Line, which was published by Flipped Eye Publishing, under the Defeye series in 2009.

An omelette cannot be unscrambled. Not even the one prepared in the crucible of 19th-century sordid European design.

When Europe cut up this continent into little pockets of its imperialist want and greed it was not for aesthetic reasons, nor was it in the service of any African interest, intent or purpose.

When, then, did the brutality of imperialist appetite and aggression evolve into something of such ominous value to us that we torture, mutilate, butcher in ways hideous beyond the imagination, rape women, men, even children and infants for having woken up on what we now claim, with perverse possessiveness and territorial chauvinism, to be our side of the boundary that until only yesterday arrogantly defined where a piece of one European property ended and another began?

In my language there is no word for citizen, which is an ingredient of that 19th-century omelette. That word came to us as part of the package that contained the bible and the rifle. But moagi, resident, is there and it has nothing to do with any border or boundary you may or may not have crossed before waking up on the piece of earth where you currently live.

Poem, I know you are reluctant to sing

when there is no joy in your heart

but I have wondered all these years

why you did not or could not give

answer when Langston Hughes who

wondered as he wandered asked

what happens to a dream deferred

I wonder now

why we are some

where we did not aim

to be. Like my sister

who could report from any

where people live

I fear the end of peace

and I wonder if

that is perhaps why

our memories of struggle

refuse to be erased

our memories of struggle

refuse to die

we are not strangers

to the end of peace

we have known women widowed

without any corpses of husbands

because the road to the mines

like the road to any war

is long and littered with casualties

even those who still walk and talk

when Nathalie, whose young eyes know things, says

there is nothing left after wars, only other wars

wake up whether you are witness or executioner

the victim, whose humanity you can never erase,

knows with clarity more solid than granite

that no matter which side you are on

any day or night an injury to one

remains an injury to all

somewhere on this continent

the voice of the ancients warns

that those who shit on the road

will meet flies on their way back

so perhaps you should shudder under the weight

of nightmares when you consider what

thoughts might enter the hearts of our neighbours

what frightened or frightening memories might jump up

when they hear a South African accent

even the sun, embarrassed, withdraws her warmth

from this atrocious defiance and unbridled denial

of the ties that should bind us here and always