Senior Writer Thato Rossouw reviews Sipho Mnyakeni’s anthology Dear Oliver Tambo.
Title: Dear Oliver Tambo
Author: Sipho Mnyakeni
Publisher: Smile Publishers
Number of Pages: 120
Category: Fiction and Nonfiction (anthology)
Our Father by Lindy Dlamini
Our Tambo who art in Lusaka
Freedom Charter be thy name
Thy freedom come
Thy will be done in South Africa
As freedom is reigning in Zimbabwe
Give us this day our docility
As we forgive them thy greediness against us
Lead us not into oppression
But deliver us from exploitation
For ours is the AK-47, the mortar and the grenade
Forever and ever;
Like many other brave people whose bodies once lay lifeless on the pavements of the once-upon-a-time bloody streets of the country, Oliver Tambo is slowly becoming, to the contemporary youth of South Africa, a man whose name has no significance other than being part of struggle songs.
As hard of a truth as it might be to swallow, the truth of the matter is that, other than during the times when it is vehemently sung during protests and demonstrations, the name “Oliver Tambo” has lost domicile on the tongues of the youth of the country.
It has become a name whose meaning is slowly ebbing from the consciousness of the country and, if nothing is done soon to preserve it, might be lost to us forever.
It is because of this that I believe that it is important that the reiteration of the significances of such names, because of how crucial they are to the understanding of the past and future of this country, be something that is continually done.
I believe that it is important that, for the purpose of preserving the past that led to the political freedom of this country, names such as Oliver Tambo be a regular feature in the country’s contemporary life, and this is why I loved the book Dear Oliver Tambo by Sipho Mnyakeni. The book is an effort by the writer to, in his own words, “entice young people to seek to acquire more resources that speak about this hero of our people.”
I first came across this book when I went to watch the stage play of the same name in Welkom, early October. The play, which is both written and directed by Sipho Mnyakeni himself, is a brilliantly arranged musical about the “coming of consciousness” of a young girl, and the journey that led to her discovery of Oliver Tambo and the work he did during the fight against apartheid.
This book is a five part collection of essays, poems, a short story, songs, and other writings about Tambo.
The first section of the book features a collection of semi-autobiographical essays about the author’s personal encounters with the works of, and works about, Oliver Tambo.
Written in first person, this section of the book is more of a collection of personal lamentations by a man who was and continues to be heavily influenced by Oliver Tambo, than it is a collection of details about Oliver Tambo himself. In other words, it is not a truncated biography of Tambo.
Because of this, we as the readers are led into the personal world of the author, and we are therefore made to learn more about how he and other people from his generation were influenced by Tambo.
The world we are led into is an interesting one filled with guns, bullets, and funerals, and because of this, we get to see Oliver Tambo through the eyes of people who saw him as a hope of the nation.
The second part of the book, which is also the longest, features twenty-two poems written by Sipho Mnyakeni. These poems, according to the author, were written with Oliver Tambo as an inspiration. Some of them, having been written for stage performances, are long. The longest poem goes for up to three pages. The shortest poem is made up of just one word: Read.
The poetry section as a whole brings to the body of work and interesting feel. Instead of being restricted to the usual literary tools that are used when documenting historical figures – long fiction and nonfiction – we are given a look into Tambo’s life through a much shorter and more poignant literary form.
The third section of the book contains a short story called “Who is this Oliver?” The story takes us on an emotional journey as we follow a young Lindiwe on her quest to understanding the social conditions that caused her friend, Nonkululeko, to jump out of her apartment window and plummet to her death. It deals with issues of inequality, especially amongst veterans of the struggle, and why only a few continue to benefit from the freedom they all fought for, while others die in poverty.
After Nonkululeko’s dramatic death, the young Lindiwe strives to keep the promise she made to her friend on the last day of her life: to learn as much as she can about Oliver Tambo and the political history of the country.
To buy a copy of Dear Oliver Tambo, contact Sipho Mnyakeni on Facebook, or call 076 313 7872.
Thato Rossouw is a Senior Writer at ART STATE. He is a renowned literary critic and blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @Thato_Rossouw