Producer, playwright, performer and UCT Masters graduate, Siphokazi Jonas opened South Africa’s State of the Nation (SONA) address with a poem. Picture: Supplied
Producer, playwright, performer and UCT Masters graduate, Siphokazi Jonas opened South Africa’s State of the Nation (SONA) address with a poem. Picture: Supplied

What does not sink: Read the SONA 2021 poem by Siphokazi Jonas

By IOL Time of article published Feb 11, 2021

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Cape Town – Brave, committed, patriotic and entirely passionate, producer, playwright, performer and UCT Masters graduate, Siphokazi Jonas is not one to mince her words.

This was evident in the poem entitled What does not sink which Jonas performed ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address on Thursday.

“What does not sink is a reflection on the far-reaching effects of Covid. The psychological mass trauma, not only as a country but that suffered by every citizen of the world,” she said.

“My wish is for my poem to be received as a reminder of the importance of community,” she said. “It doesn’t come with easy answers, because we don’t have those. To memorialise and reflect upon those we’ve lost, but also remind ourselves that what we have is each other, the connections, the relationships that help shape our lives.”

READ THE FULL POEM BELOW:

What does not sink

By Siphokazi Jonas

Ufikile unogumbe, ugalelekile

Akankqonkqozi, udiliza umgubasi.

There is a flood inside our house.

The water climbs up the wall when we weep;

it does not let us breathe.

Everything is wet with grief.

Before this pandemic, we would cast a funeral song into the dark like a flare,

and the neighbours would come to hold our arms as we drove the water

out the door.

Before grief reached out ankles.

Before it swept us to our knees.

Before it flowed into our pots and our beds.

To mourn meant a community gathered,

like a bank between you and the river of death.

Now death has dampened this ritual –

We mourn alone.

The neighbours lift their arms to relieve the water in their lungs –

We are drowning.

This flood has reached into the inner rooms

and quenched lives young and old.

It has taken what we are not ready to lose.

It spits the stories of the living into the street as injured furniture.

Like a pensioner in line for a social grant

whose life has no space to protest a beach,

but she still returns home, clothes soaked.

Or the man who dies for a beer in his backyard.

And the nurse tying a tattered mask together with prayer and is still unprotected.

Or the artist who contemplates eating her own words to ease her hunger –

and art starves.

This flood ruins us all.

But what of the after,

when the depth of this moment is absorbed

by history?

Who will we be?

We are a people who know how to build out of the remnants of disaster,

and we will do it again, and again.

When we salvage what is useful,

may we find ourselves baptised into something new:

New ways of mourning,

A people who have learned to breathe underwater,

reciting the names of those we have lost, and memories that never sink.

LISTEN TO #Sona21poem

The poet’s performance was one of the many radical changes to this year’s SONA, which is traditionally opened by a praise singer.

Jonas said the opportunity to share her ultimate wish with the country as a guest of The Presidency points to the power of creativity.

“I am pleased that we can use the arts to acknowledge our collective struggle while celebrating the lives lost in the utmost respectful way.

“Care, respect and empathy, when practised as a people, can support and help overcome even the biggest challenges life throws at us. If we all do this together, as a community, we will rise above it! Of that I am certain.”

As writer and performer, Jonas has produced multiple one-woman poetry shows in Cape Town and Johannesburg and has been a featured act at numerous poetry sessions and festivals around the country.

She is co-producer of the #WeAreDyingHere short film, an adaptation of the stage production of the same name. The play, which Jonas co-wrote and directed, takes a hard look at the prevalence of the violent culture of harassment, abuse, rape and femicide in SA.

Jonas has also performed alongside renowned musicians including, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Freshlyground, Pops Mohamed, Dizu Plaatjies, Dave Reynolds and just recently was a keynote speaker at Music Exchange 2020.

She made history in 2016 as the first African poet ever to perform at Rhetoric in Los Angeles, California, the biggest Christian spoken word event in the world.

She is the English Poetry Editor for the New Contrast journal and also currently works online as the Performing Arts Director of an elementary school in Gainesville, Florida.

IOL

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