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Thursday, October 22, 2020


(Mjele Msimang the Slam Jam winner)

After a weeklong celebration of poetry and poets, the 24th edition of the Poetry Africa festival came to a close during a celebratory closing ceremony. The annual international festival is curated and presented by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The Festival provided a vital opportunity to reflect, celebrate, and critically reflect on the role of poetry in the movement for social change.

The weeklong programme has featured engagements with poets, showcases of readings by emerging and established poets, seminars and professional development workshops, book launches, competitions and a children’s production.

“We are proud to have embraced change, as it gave access to thousands of our followers to immerse themselves in quality programming through our online platforms,” says Siphindile Hlongwa, the curator of the Festival.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed huge divides and inequalities in South African society. The poets who participated in the 24th edition of the Poetry Africa festival have used the power of their words and thoughts to respond to the human condition and the social environment, as the festival was aptly themed: “Poetry for Social Change”.

Competition winners

During the closing of the Poetry Africa festival, the finalists and winners in the schools, open mic and Slam Competitions were honoured. In previous years, the Schools Competition was reserved for learners in the KZN province. This year’s online version made it possible for entrants for anyone in South Africa to participate in the Schools Competition. Next year, the Poetry Africa festival will present a live event for school-level poets in KZN and an online event for poets from across the country.

The schools’ competition was won by Praise Mlalazi, or PRYZ the poet, from Kwa-Bhekilanga Secondary School in Alexandra, with a poem titled after her area Alexandra. The 19-year old poet fell in love with writing at the age of 12, and her poem speaks about all the things he experiences in her area in a poem titled Alexandra.

The second prize and third price when to 16-year old Tumelo Mohoto and 17-year old Lebo Nxele respectively, both learners at George Campbell School of Technology in Durban.

The Open Mic competition is one of the most popular public participation events at the Poetry Africa festival. This year’s competition attracted almost 300 entries. The youngest entrant is 15 years old, and the eldest entrant is 65 years old. The themes have been varied with poets talking about gender violence, homelessness, identity, dreams, love and almost anything that stirs our consciousness. In the past, the Open Mic competition was also reserved for participants from KZN.

In the open mic, the 28-year old Kelsey Tlhosane took the first prize with her poem: If Love Was a Colour, it would be Blue, that was themed around the social issue of Gender-Based Violence. The jury had this to say about the winning video: “An evident winner. The poise on point. The costume, make-up on point! Beautiful writing and so well executed.”

The third prize went to Mondli Kwasa Ndlovu and the second prize went to Floatry.

Finally, the Slam Jam winner, Tshwane-based Mjele Msimang, was announced live on the Poetry Africa stream. “Thank you so much to the fellow poets, I really appreciate your work, you guys inspire me,” said Msimang. Msimang is an educator and writer based in Tshwane, South Africa. His academic work centres on decolonisation while his poetry explores and challenges the impact of neo-colonialism on the continent.

"It was a very tough competition. The poets really brought their A-game and submitted videos that included poetry, music and visual. This pandemic allowed poetry to step out of their comfort zone, and encouraged poets to get creative when submitting their videos" says Ishmael Sibiya from Hear My Voice, heading the technical of the festival and were curators for the Slam Jam.

For those who have missed the 24th Poetry Africa Festival, the content can still be watched on, and

The festival was made possible by the support from US Embassy South Africa, French Institute of South Africa, Total South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts at Culture, Windybrow Arts Centre and Institut Ramon Llull.