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The Prisoned Poet

The Prisoned Poet

by Brandon Edmonds / 27.10.2009

Anyone who paid their dues in student politics in the turbulent 1980s, knows the voice. A proto-rapper, imperiously proud and immediately commanding, it was as if he was channeling Shaka and lived exclusively on a diet of Black Power smoothies. His articulate, strident poetry was an important reminder in wild times that education is liberation. The People’s Poet carried the fire and spoke out. Tortured by the SAP, he spent six months in solitary, and miraculously, like Castro and the CIA, survived several Special Branch attempts on his life. In most rational, respectful country he’d be the Culture Minister for such a legacy. So what to make of his turn of the century arrest for armed fucking robbery? Had he fallen on hard times? Nope. The guy has an international world music career and is signed to EMI. The amount involved in the ‘bank heist’ is less than he makes in a single performance. At the time of the ‘robbery’, Mbuli had been increasingly vocal about police and wider corruption. He expressed disappointment at the emerging reality of liberation which kept the majority in abject poverty while enriching a thin layer of black insiders and white owned companies. “Our situation is like a powder keg,” he said. “The people on the ground are angry. Failure to alleviate unemployment, homelessness and untold poverty in the townships will result in an uprising. In the future mass anger will transform itself into civil disobedience.” Mbuli has been proven right. He’d been fired on by gunmen in 1996 and the police never fully investigated. The case against him was ludicrous. Mbuli had been called anonymously with information about the gunmen. A meeting was set up and he was handed an envelope. It had R15000 in it not the names of his assailants. Police suddenly appeared and arrested him in the street saying the money was the precise amount stolen in a recent bank robbery! The trial was a joke. Bank security camera’s mysteriously failed. None of the key witnesses could identify him. “I remain the victim of a grudge and political vendetta,” he said. Was he framed? Ya think. Conspiracy theories abound. Remember the Polish nut job who shot Hani? They put Mbuli, a close friend of Hani’s who’d delivered a powerful eulogy at his funeral, in a maximum security cell with him! Nice. Though since released, his conviction restricts his ability to travel and perform. Supporters are pushing for a Presidential pardon. Mzwakhe found God in the meantime. Who can blame him?

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RESPONSES (6)
  1. djf says:

    Thanks for this. Back in the day when Mbuli’s conviction made the news I found it hard to understand how such an erudite and socially conscious person could get embroiled in something so nasty and pointless. It didn’t make sense then and it makes even less sense now.

    Is he totally restricted from performing today? Any chance he could record and release something new or speak more openly about the way that he has been treated? Last time I checked this was a constitutional democracy with certain guaranteed freedoms.

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  2. Mandla says:

    NOw we need to know who is responsible. Will President Jacob Zuma Pardon him?
    I mean why not?? The Freestate boys are getting pardoned. Funny how they get more love than Mbuli.

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  3. Beeekaay says:

    I had forgotten about Mbuli and his bank robbery situation……FREEDOM…FREEDOM…FREE…FREE

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  4. Andy says:

    “Now is the time to give me roses, not to keep them for my grave to come. Give them to me while my heart beats, give them today while my heart yearns for jubilee. Now is the time…” – Mzwakhe Mbuli

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  5. Badabing says:

    Poet by robbin’ … they be hatin’

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  6. Dorothy Flynn, Campaign for Release of Mzwakhe Mbuliwww.mzwakhe.org says:

    Yes, now is the time to give Mzwakhe roses: the sweet roses of FREEDOM that has been denied him for far too long… I have heard that the pardon application prohibits application by someone who maintains his innocence. So, what does an innocent man have to do to get justice?

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