By Thapelo Matlala
Two of Makhanda’s finest creatives, sangoma and Amazwi museum curator Sithembele Xhegwana and poet Jeannie McKeown have won the Avbob poetry competition.
“How ironic that two Makhanda creatives would scoop the Avbob Poetry Project mini-competition under the theme, ‘Water is life’! For the two, it did not rain but poured… Xhegwana came tops, and McKeown came second. Poetic justice” said Zongezile Matshoba, manager of education and public programmes at the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature.
Xhegwana’s winning poem, Ostrich Egg Carrier of the Kalahari, and McKeown’s poem, Water Crisis, which placed second, can be found here.
Grocott’s Mail caught up with Xhegwana, who said that he had been publishing poetry for the past 32 years. After many years of dedication, consistency, and hard work, Xhegwana said it was clear that success could not be achieved overnight.
With a brief chuckle, the talented writer said he was drawn by the ‘water is life’ theme, and decided to connect water to spirituality in his winning poem.
“If there is one thing I can say, the competition was a great investment because it has opened doors”, Xhegwana added.
The talented poet told Grocott’s Mail how his family was flooded with laughter, victory, and happiness from the win. He also found out that his daughter had won a debate competition at her school, doubling the family’s joy.
He concluded by saying that anyone who has the desire to become a poet or writer should start reading now.
McKeown’s latest anthology of poetry is Fall Awake, published by Modjaji Books. Speaking to Amazwi museum, McKeown said of her achievement, “As I live in a water-scarce area, … this topic is very close to my heart. One night, I was taking a flimsy yellow bucket to fetch water from the tank in my backyard, and it struck me how lucky I am to have such a short way to walk while so many have no running water or water tanks. The poem grew out of this recognition of privilege.”
The two poets recently travelled together to the 2023 Poetry in McGregor Festival where they shared the stage with other Amazwi creatives and mingled with other Makhandans. Both are also working towards their PhDs at Rhodes University.
Johann de Lange, the competition’s chief judge, was ecstatic about the high quality of the poetry submitted to the contest.
“This competition has exceeded all our expectations. The standard of submissions was very high, and interest in our competitions is clearly growing” de Lange said.