The Broken men Chapbook is Thabiso Afurakan Mohare’s first collection of poetry, published under Vanilla pod and RYB(Re Ya Bala) publishers.
Thabiso is the founder and CEO of one of South Africa’s most popular poetry platforms, WordNSound and is also an award-winning copywriter. He’s had a strong presence on the South African poetry landscape since the early 2000’s. So many, like myself, have been feverishly anticipating his first book. Afurakan has finally taken a moment to give the world a piece of himself (well, that’s if we are going to be literary snobs and disregard his audio projects; the seminal Slamathology Ep released in December of 2004 or his most recent collaborations with producer Cyrus on ‘The Broken Men Tape’ and the ‘Alkebulan Dub System’ album.)
But let’s talk about The Broken Men Chapbook. It is short. Sad face. With only twelve poems in the book, it was over even before I started reading it. It felt like I just read a, uhm, chapbook. But, as Terri Guillemets says:
“Many words: boring. Few words: stimulating.”
The twelve poems are a carefully curated intervention. It laments and celebrates the realities of blackness. It evokes Johannesburg and the poisoned chalice it offers its inhabitants every morning. It points at politicians and their money-hungry lust. It applies ointment on to the raw wounds inflicted and boldly reprimands the claws responsible for the injury. It asks for forgiveness. It hopes to forgive self. It questions the privilege behind statements like “I don’t see colour”. But most important, it speaks of and to men. Black men. Broken men. Which is all of us. Afurakan is not looking to make friends. The Broken Men Chapbook paints men in all their repulsive, sexist, misogynistic garb.
The Chapbook opens with a tone-setting dedication :
“For all black men
unlearning the sins of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers”
Afurakan then immediately delves into our ugliness with the short poem @pulane248
“Biko. Black men hate themselves. Our Rage burns our
women raw. Forgive us. We forgot what we’re fighting for”
‘In Morning Flowers’ Afurakan paints the city and its many faces and welcomes readers to Johustleburg.
“Nothing grows here,
and later in the poem he continues
“A garden of buildings
Where the harvest is not for everyone”
The poem ‘Black Man Guard’ says
“I know black men who leave their families
to guard empty buildings at night”
The poet speaks of the black men that guard the rich, privileged and tenants like himself. He reminds us that those are people with dreams and hopes, families and lovers.
Poems like ‘Where were you?’, ‘A blues for Mandela’, ‘Black people rock’, and ‘#Colourblind’ guides readers through patches of the socio-political landscape that we find ourselves trudging through daily. In these poems, Afurakan touches on corruption, white privilege and black power.
In ‘Where were you?‘ he asks:
“Where were you when they ate cake
Toasted on your behalf?”
This serves as a cynical reminder of that moment in 2012 when ANC leaders literally drank champagne and ate cake and said they were doing it on behalf of the people. ‘Where were you?’ Is a reminder of the widening chasm or disconnect between elected leaders and the masses that elected them. How the fruits of freedom and post-apartheid South Africa is only for a few chosen mouths, Mouths that will gladly gobble it up on our behalf. It makes for a great metaphor. Only it is not just a metaphor. It actually happened.
In the poem ‘Black People Rock’ Afurakan sings the story of black folk, using miners and mining as a vehicle to drive his views home. The poem speaks of the musicality in everything black people do. He laments the toils and hardships of black lives. He celebrates the strength and resilience of black people. This poem is a bold affirmation of black power.
“We have danced bullets and rocked oppression out of fashion
Tattooed rock on the tongue of memory and now the world
sings our name”
‘36 shot Salute‘ is a brief four-line poem that sums up the bloody finger-pointing-aftermath of Marikana tragedy perfectly:
“It was self-protection” -Police
“It was the Police” -Union
“It was the strikers”- Lonmin
“Nothing”- said the dead miners
‘#ColourBlind‘ addresses the idea of colour or race. The poem speaks to the old liberal “I don’t see colour and I definitely do not notice my own privilege” response to the reality of blackness. Afurakan writes:
“#Colourblind until America shoots you for everything but the
truth. For wearing a hoodie. Skittles. Toy gun. Being black
‘Sins of our Fathers‘ is the poem that seals in the theme of this chapbook. It is a raw reflection of all the ugly. The poem calls out men and casts a light on our vile, deplorable actions and predatory behaviour. The violence. The sins black men have inherited from their fathers. The sins we commit against women.
“Black man can kill with his mouth…”
and additionally states:
“Black man hunts black woman in the night
Like predator to prey
Black woman prays and hopes
Black man won’t rape daughters today”
‘Sins of our fathers‘ is a necessary and important poem. South African men need it. Now more than ever.
The poem ‘Inner sense‘ made it’s first appearance on my radar in 2004, thirteen years ago, on the Slamathology Ep. In it, Afurakan narrates the aftermath of a young girl’s traumatic experience. The ghosts and tears that linger after the violence. It is sad that this poem is just as relevant and still resonates as much today as it did thirteen years ago. In it he writes:
“She now wears fear as a cushion in case she bumps into memories haunting her sleep. Rests with one eye open”
He concludes ‘Inner sense‘ with a dedication; to both the victim and perpetrator.
“This is for every woman and child who has suffered the wrath of my father’s hands. Whose wishing well has run dry. Who now looks up to a blue and purple sky. This is for every woman with a battered smile. For every Child robbed of her innocence
And for my father who has lost his inner sense”
The final poem ‘Molahlehi 6:9-13‘ is a prayer. Afurakan separates himself from his father’s sins. He asks for courage to speak of his father’s sins. He asks forgiveness for his own transgressions and pleads to be lead to a path away from patriarchy, rape and wars. For the cycle to be broken.
Molahlehi is Afurakan’s late father’s name
In whose art
I am fashioned
Feared is your name
This is not a collection of poems looking to placate women. It unpacks our perverse socializing and speaks of the violence against women and black men that courses through society today. It shows men their ugly. These poems are telling men enough! It implores us to stop. To become new. This chapbook is what happens when men take a step back to reflect on their deplorable behaviour. When we question the sins we’ve inherited from our fathers. It is a response to the call for men to fix themselves. To reimagine their masculinity. To be proactive in their own evolution from monster to decent, not trashy, human beings. Afurakan makes no excuses(Thank God!). The Broken Men Chapbook is a bare stripped down reflection of today’s men, the mirror held up by Afurakan, a man himself coming to terms with his own demons and the sins he inherited from his father. This is, however, just a start. A small contribution to our unlearning. A catalyst for reflection, conversation and action. Because men are in need of a whole lot of fixing. And poems alone won’t get the job done.
Copies of The Broken Men Chapbook can be ordered from here.
Alternatively Email Afurakan: [email protected]