Maverick Life


Siphokazi Jonas’ poetry reminds us that we’re not alone during Covid-19 pandemic

Siphokazi Jonas’ poetry reminds us that we’re not alone during Covid-19 pandemic
Eastern Cape poet Siphokazi Jonas. Photo: SUPPLIED

‘What does not sink’, performed ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address on Thursday evening, is a moving poem about what we’ve lost during Covid-19 and a reminder that we are not alone. 

Standing on the steps of Parliament, poet Siphokazi Jonas tells us that: “There is a flood inside our house. The water climbs up the walls when we weep; it does not let us breathe. Everything is wet with grief.”

“It was a big scope (to cover) because the effects have been far-reaching (as)  schools were closed, people had their salary cuts so I needed to balance that and our reality of how Covid-19 has changed our sense of community,” Jonas told Daily Maverick on Friday.  

Jonas is a poet and a playwright from the Eastern Cape. This isn’t the first time that she’s used her craft to reflect on our realities. 

Her play, #WeAreDying was described by critic Jabulile Dlamini-Qwesha as “a meditation on what it feels like to be a woman living in South Africa today”.

That’s her job as a poet, to reflect on what we’re going through, explained Jonas.

What does not sink addresses the lack of PPE, Collins Khosa’s murder by police for drinking on his property, and our inability to comfort loved ones at funerals. 

“A friend of mine lost her father and we attended the memorial online and there were technical difficulties and I kept thinking about how a year ago, we would’ve been there with her, comforting her and that’s why I say (in the poem): 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.”

We’re all in this state of trauma, constantly hearing of death, which feels never-ending, and alienating, she said.

Jonas’ poem, What does not sink was performed at the start of this year’s State of the Nation Address. When briefed for the poem, she was asked to memorialise those lost due to Covid-19. 

Water is the central theme, used to illustrate how the pandemic has changed our work life, school and our families.

“Water has multiple interpretations, we all feel like we’re drowning – and we are.” 

Jonas drew on the idea of a flood because its movement is constant and we’re all bombarded with the constant news of death; “flooding is something we can’t control”.

“The thing about water is that it seeps into the cracks and it can reveal things, it can reveal what’s not working in our society,” Jonas told Daily Maverick

“This flood has reached into the inner rooms and quenched lives young and old. It has taken what we are not ready to lose…

“We are a people who know how to rebuild out of the remnants of disaster, and we will do it again, and again. When we salvage what is usable, may we find ourselves baptised into something new.”

It’s hoped that others will find comfort in her poetry – that people know they’re not alone – without giving false hope, she said. DM



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