Poet Appreciation | Lebo Mashile

Written by on 21 March, 2024

With today, March 21 being Poetry Day, it is an opportunity for all South Africans to celebrate famous South African poets. Today, is a prominent day to encourage people to read, write, teach, and publish poetry, and to recognize the great cultural contribution poetry makes to human society.

In celebrating World Poetry Day, we highlight one South African multi-award-winning poet whose work speaks to the many issues of not only the country but the continent at large. When we say, poetry, we cannot forget the name “Lebo Mashile”.

Image: Lebo Mashile – Facebook

Born February 7, 1979, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Lebogang Mashile is a South African actress, writer, and performance poet. Mashile returned to South Africa in the mid-1990s and began to study law and international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand. However, she became more interested in the arts, and she founded the poetry group Feela Sistah. Mashile appeared in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda and has performed in a few theatre productions. In 2005, she published her first poetry collection, In a Ribbon of Rhythm, for which Mashile received the Noma Award in 2006. In 2008, Mashile published her second collection, Flying Above the Sky. The poet shot to national fame as the presenter and producer of travel documentary series L’atitude (SABC1). She also presented Drawing The Line (SABC2) and Great Expectations (Etv). For the past three years, she has been the voice of CNN’s Inside Africa


She was voted as one of South Africa’s Awesome women of 2005 by Cosmopolitan Magazine. In 2006, 2007, and 2009 she was named one of the Top 100 Youth in South Africa by the Mail&Guardian. In 2006, she was awarded the prestigious Noma Award for Publishing in Africa, the premier prize for African Literature. In 2007, she was the Recipient of the City Press/Rapport Woman of Prestige award. Mashile was named one of the Top 100 Africans by New African magazine. In 2012, the poet won the Art Ambassador award at the inaugural Mbokodo Awards for South African Women in the Arts. In the same year, Mashile, a self-confessed social media junkie, was named a Twitter Queen by Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Mashile has touched many lives with her pen, and she continues to break barriers with the words she speaks. There is no doubt that she is still one of the best poets in South Africa, and her accomplishments extend beyond our country, reaching the global stage.



Lebo Mashile

It takes just 26 letters to create a universe
The world is dismantled and then reassembled
Through the lens of a pen and verse
I have lost myself in books
And then found myself in words
Living in a world without imagination
I can think of no fate that is worse

I’ve walked through the lives of individuals
Whose eyes I’ve never known
I’ve been to cities and villages and country sides
Whose skies, to me, have never been shown
It was in this solitary cell
That my greatest strength was honed
I saw that my mind was just a shell
And it’s abyss simply a hole
And the hell of a heaving heavy heart
Is still my friend
Every story has its place
And history never ends

The writer is an architect God child at play
On a canvass of memories
She lies naked between the covers
Her own lover
Her own worst enemy
Navigating between extremes
She is both the judge and the judged
The vile despised and attacked
The unashamedly beloved
The unassuming friend who’ll tell your business
When you’re not in sight
She pulls commotion out of stillness
In the cavern of the night

And South Africa is a fractured mirror
A paradox of schizophrenic selves
Who don’t talk to one another
Who fear each other
Who revere each other
Who loathe
And pretend
And try to blend in
With each other

And this is the time when you can become
The greatest substance of your dreams
Unless you live in a shack
And don’t speak English
And don’t know what this poem means
Tell me how it’s possible for people
Who walk on gold to not know how to read
Tell me how publishers who’ll never taste their tongues
Can comprehend the words that these people need
Because they’ve never been scared of stories
The ones who uttered the very first
The ones who’ll hand them to their children
Calling out the rivers of their self worth
The ones who’ll write a narrative in the ear
But who won’t call the ear a page
The ones who’ll rhyme without pens
And perform without a stage

I don’t have all the answers
I’m just a colonized African
Who breaks down the Queen’s English
Until Sesotho understands it
Still I’m compelled by those
Who may never inhabit my language
I wonder if trials and translations
Could help them to traverse my landscape

South Africa is an old fashioned mutt
Who knows how to sing
And knows even better how to cuss
Who knows how to piece together prayers
When she’s about to run out of luck
Who knows how to laugh real hard
When the tears have run her into a rut
Who knows that race is a farce
Because when the light’s are off
Every body’s fucked
And when the welts and wounds
Demand healing salve
Words are just enough


Gagasi FM

What You Want to Hear