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Water and Lights: A chapbook about water shortages and load shedding

Water & Lights, Zama Madinana's latest poetry chapbook. Picture: Nkululeko Zondi.

By Nkululeko Zondi

here taps wail without weeping

just air seeping for days

And a stink of toilets

that cannot swallow

grows in the township

These lines are from a poem titled The Wailing Taps in Zama Madinana’s latest poetry chapbook, Water and Lights. The book addresses issues like load shedding and water shortages that the country is currently facing. Madinana is an accomplished poet who has been published on platforms such as Botsotso, Stanzas and Poetry Potion. An Accounting graduate, he is currently pursuing a creative writing degree at the University of South Africa. reporter, Nkululeko Zondi, had a chat with the Madinana about his latest book as well as what inspires his writing.

NZ: Apart from the fact that you are a Johannesburg-based performer, poet and writer and were long-listed for the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award in 2018, as written in your recently published chapbook, who is Zama Madinana? When did you grow up and when did you start writing?

ZM: I was born and raised in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal and I started writing at a very young age around 13/14 year's old, even though it was not that serious then. I relocated to Johannesburg in 2004 for study purposes.

NZ: When did you start taking your writing seriously?

ZM: After I started attending and performing in poetry sessions around Jo’burg and when my first poem was published in Botsotso magazine in 2005.

NZ: And how did you feel when you were short-listed for the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award in 2018?

ZM: It was a great feeling, and it also gave me confidence that what I'm doing is not bad at all.

NK: What inspired the titling of the chapbook? The book has a preface as well as only six poems that can be read in not more than thirty minutes, why such a thin volume?

ZM: The intention was very clear. I wanted to publish a poetry chapbook that would address specific themes. We have water shortages in this country, more especially in the rural areas and black townships. Load shedding has become part of our lives. We have learnt to silence ourselves because our leaders are not willing to listen, even though the economy and our lives have been affected very negatively.

NZ: In his book, Sigh the Beloved Country, Bongani Madondo says "people are correctly impatient about artists not aligning with people." What do you think of this? Do you consider yourself an artist? Are you in alignment with society and the people?

ZM: I believe so. Nina Simone says an artist’s duty is to reflect the times. If you can, check my poem The Wailing Taps. I am reflecting on what has been going on for a very long time back in eZakheni, my township. There’s a serious problem when it comes to accessing clean water.



i wish to sit in the lap

of your strength

& enjoy lullabies

of your compassion

sending my stubborn nightmares to sleep

while my baby-mind


for the breasts of your wisdom

and my back

dances to a freedom song

that lives in the palm of your hand

This first poem song for Mashombela seems to be more of an ode. You call Mashombela as "mama" in the poem. Is she your mother? What influence does Mashombela have in your writing?

ZM: Yes, Mashombela is my mother. My mother always comes in my writings, deliberately or subconsciously. I believe our mothers play a huge role in our lives.

NZ: Is it safe to say that the book and the poems are sociopolitical in nature? Sociopolitical in the sense that they address the social and political issues the country is currently facing especially the black communities?

ZM: Absolutely. It is so disappointing that the conditions we live under in black communities are still unpleasant.

NZ: The poem The Wailing Taps talks about the inaccessibility of fresh water or water shedding as some have called it. You write: eZakheni is burning/and there is no water/to kill the fire. eZakheni is a township in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal. Is eZakheni another word just for all other South African townships?

ZM: The social issues that we are faced with at eZakheni, I believe, are common with most of the townships in this country.

NZ: In another poem, Mandela, you write: my generation doesn't know/the grave of apartheid/my generation knows/a huge economic prison you built. My understanding here is that those who benefitted from apartheid are still benefitting from it economically and otherwise. Apartheid has not died. What is this economic prison?

ZM: They gave us political freedom, but socially and economically we are still in chains. There’s a high rate of unemployment. How many graduates are unemployed? The economy is still in the hands of the few. Why is it still difficult to redistribute the land? That’s the economic prison I’m talking about.

NZ: Water and Lights, your latest book, was self-published late last year. Why go through the self-publishing route since you have two previous books under your belt? It is hardly heard of as a well-known and accomplished writer.

ZM: I have been writing for a very long time. I am also a regular contributor to literary journals, both locally and abroad. It becomes a simple process for me and I also retain my creative control. I am also free to sell my books from my backpack.

NZ: The Zulu poem Ebumnyameni is translated as "in the darkness" in the glossary of the book. Why do you have a Zulu poem in a book that comprises English poems without providing a translation for it?

ZM: Again, that’s the beauty of self-publishing. I didn’t want to translate it. I wanted to keep the authenticity of it.

NZ: We heard via the grapevine that you will be offering your readers a new book early next year. What should they expect? 

ZM: I am finalising my full-length book, and I am very excited about it. A lot has happened in the last few years in this country. The Fees Must Fall Movement, the COVID-19 pandemic, Thuma Mina, former president being arrested, the riots, etcetera. So the book will address socio-political issues and again will be soft poems about romance.

NZ: Okay, Zama, thank you for your time and patience.

ZM: One love


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