Motshekga’s name is mud

Minister Angie Motshekga, two weeks ago writer Njabulo Ndebele told me that some of the members of a delegation to the Eastern Cape wept when confronted with conditions in some of the mud schools there.

In the Sunday Independent of May 12,  the Archbishop of the Anglican Church, Thabo Makgoba, who was part of this delegation, urged members of the public to keep up the pressure on you and your squad in the department of ­education, who seem to have lost the plot. The archbishop said: "Let us bombard her with letters, pleas, prayers, even poems. Hold the ­government to account. Demand urgent action."  

So here is my poem. Maybe, as a result of some miracle, it might also reach some children in schools without proper infrastructure, books or decent teachers. They might have some fun with it. It includes instructions. I will see to it that it gets translated into isiXhosa. – Marlene van Niekerk.


Mud school

(For the children of the Eastern Cape, 20 years after freedom.)

Minister Motshekga, your name is mud. Let's see

what we can do with you. We can fire you and make

of you a brick, and add you to our school, maybe

as the corner stone. In rain you'll turn into a turd.

We'll skip over you and laugh. We can smear

you thickly on our walls and watch you crumble

in the summer wind, we'll use your flakes to learn

subtraction until there is nothing  left to reckon with.

We can bake a cake with you and pretend we're eating

lunch, or mould you to a wafer to serve us as a thin,

melting sacrament. We can press you in a frame

to form a wet slate and write this poem on you

with a twig and send the president a truck of sun-

baked tiles to read until he weeps. But maybe he

will only grin and say, why complain?  Look where I

have got to with only standard six, I hold an honorary

doctorate from Beijing! Mrs Mud, we could erect for you

a headstone in every school and every morning march

around it chanting, till it falls down like the walls of Jericho.

But will it help if the element is air, or song, or pristine hope?

Mud is a multipurpose substance, minister, we can fling

it in your face, if you would show it to us, but you rarely come.

A grateful word for rhyming, too, this mud that is your name,

for chewing on, like a dumb beast on its cud, until one day –

for we have baked, skipped, eaten, written, reckoned,

ruminated, marched, prayed and chanted in its medium,

inhabited its frailty and studied well its force – we mix our blood

in it, and turn it into rock, and fan it into flame and furl

it into smoke and shout and tread under our feet the very buds

of spring, the things you should have nurtured,

the flowers of fresh learning, that we should have been.

We make it make sense

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