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The Nation’s Bounty

The Xhosa Poetry of Nontsizi Mgqwetho

(Edited and translated by Prof Jeff Opland)

In her Foreword to this monumental work, Isabel Hofmeyr makes a pertinent comment that it “is a national cultural treasure.” I can only add that its value is greatly

enhanced by the outstanding skill of its editor, Professor Jeff Opland.

The book reflects the fascinating talent of Nontsizi Mgqwetho, a poetess who regularly contributed isiXhosa poetry to the newspaper, Umteteli wa Bantu in Johannesburg, in the 1920s. Jeff Opland has mined this treasure and presented it to the nation with impeccable translations, in spite of the archaic nature of some of the words and expressions used in those early decades.

Professor Opland has not only managed to bring back to life the contributions of this powerful Xhosa poetess, but he has also challenged the view that poetry among the amaXhosa was, and still remains, a male preserve.

It is always unwise to generalize about collected poems as these are bound to differ in content, depth and even quality, but one can safely say that Nontsizi’s style in close to 100 poems is consistently fresh, elegant and artistic. She was not scared of tackling issues that lesser poets would think twice about challenging.

Nontsizi’s sharp eyes and philosophical comments on various socio-political matters make her one of the most outstanding poetic commentators of her time and beyond.

Congratulations to Professor Opland and Wits University Press for a book that will certainly restore the integrity of isiXhosa female writing.

Reviewed by Prof P T Mtuze.

Published by Wits University Press, 2007.

Last Modified: Fri, 31 Mar 2017 12:25:47 SAST