When life is not taking you where you want to go, sometimes you need to change direction, even if the path forward seems uncertain. That’s exactly what David wa Maahlamela did.
David grew up in Mankweng in Polokwane, Limpopo where he studied Electrical and Mechanical engineering. After finishing his studies he worked as a fitter and turner artisan at De Beers Consolidated mines. But then he had the courage to change course and follow his first love – writing prose and poetry in both English and Sepedi, and the promotion of indigenous languages.
“My first poetry performance was when I was five, during a farewell function of the then Standard 5 learners. Since then, I was occasionally tasked to recite poems written by poets I did not know. I only wrote my own works at 14, at Makgongoane Secondary School, at GaMakanya village.”
With his natural writing talent, David quickly developed as a poet, and novelist and playwright. He honed his skills, doing an MA in Creative Writing at Rhodes University. He is a passionate promoter of indigenous languages, writing in both English and Sepedi and attending many international literary festivals and seminars including in the United States, Europe, India, South America and several African countries.
He has featured in Muvhango and on SABC 1 series of 55 South African Poets, Voice of Africa and on the SABC News broadcast, International Youth Expression and Africa in Literature.
“Freedom of expression is my only weapon when I approach controversial issues. The voice I gain as a poet gave me bravery to speak my mind as it is, not as it is expected to be. I have encountered many rules in literature, but I always ask an unanswered question: who wrote them?”
His language is his heritage and he uses it not only as a medium of communication but a way of representing his cultural identities and himself as a human and social being. Language and heritage awaken his self-esteem.
“I grew both as a poet, writer and promoter of South African indigenous languages. No language than the one I master can represent me effectively. I cannot claim to be more proficient in any other language than my mother tongue. Much as I think I speak Sesotho sa Leboa, in essence, Sesotho sa Leboa speaks me out to the world.”
He is the founder of Lesedi Theatre Production, Shanduka Poetry Group and Realmen Talk Poetry concept. He has also chaired the Musina Arts Committee and served as the director of an annual arts festival.
David didn’t stop at an MA, but went on to obtain a PhD in African Languages at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. Over the years he has managed to establish himself as an award-winning multilingual poet, playwright, novelist and linguistic scholar.
Today, Dr David wa Maahlamela is the managing director of Molau Investors (Pty) Ltd, a company specialising in knowledge and content production.
His literary works, written in English, have appeared in over 50 literary journals and anthologies worldwide. His attention remains on the development of underdeveloped indigenous languages. His first four books were written in Sepedi: Moswarataukamariri, Tša Borala, Sejamoledi, Ditlaboanyane, and Tša Borala.
Moswarataukamariri is a poetry collection that mainly explores and celebrates identity, mostly in a form of thetotumišo (‘praise poetry’). Sejamoledi, a novel mainly set in Polokwane and Cape Town, reflects the struggle of an African child in pursuit of education, and of course, decent future.
“The play that scooped the Maskew Miller Longman Award, O jelwe ke Aretse, published as Ditlabonyane, speaks of the dynamics around social media and danger it often exposes youth to, especially young girls. Tša Borala, a 246-paged poetry anthology I compiled and edited, is a groundbreaking, gender-balanced publication of 202 poems by 28 intergenerational poets.”
David’s two-decade experience in the arts, culture, heritage, and creative industry includes heading the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts Centre (2016-2018).
“My entire career is characterised by two strands, namely rural development and advancement of the South African indigenous languages.”
He currently serves as a Digital Editor for Write-Publish-Read, an initiative by Via Afrika, the National Research Foundation (NRF) Chair in African Languages, and the African Language Association of Southern Africa (ALASA).
“Some call me an epitome of defying impossibility. So far, my life has, in many ways, attested that indeed ‘it always seems impossible’, as Mandela observed, ‘until it’s done.’ A defiance of many human laws is a phrase that accurately sums up my life story. Over and above, my soul is rounded and grounded in humbleness.”
Below are two of David’s poems:
Poem to my poems
this earth is garden of thorns,
editors and reviewers speak no sympathy,
they might put a sharp blade on your throats
and drink your hot blood alive
still, no matter how loud death knocks
never pull down the flag nor show them your back,
only you and i know how good you are,
for it’s not the colour of words that define you
but the weight of memories you carry-
is through you, i will collide not with death
till the death of time.
Mosekola ’a Lepunama
Motau ’a Phaga ’a Malala ’a Moenyane
O kalameng phagameng motlhotlwaneng
O lebeletšeng mosekola ’a Lepunama
Thina Shakwaneng, Motshiteng ’a Phageng
O a mpona naa nna ngobiyane ye pifadu hlokaleshatla?
Nna tšhiwana ya go ba le batswadi.
Waka ngwako ga o na sekwalo ga o kgonyetše,
Mahura ga ke a tšibi pelo e a tswetlhatswetlha,
Ke tsoga ka boshego ke hloka moriti wa mooka,
Aka mashaga a ja seghwa sa mbunyane ka lekoma
Ba hlapa ka mapoto, ke tlola ka boraga,
Ba nkona meetshi Lepulane le bowa ka mariba.
Ke tlhaya ke tlhayisela ba nkgapha ka mosuwelo
Ba re ke petapeta matlakala ge ke bolabola theresho.
Ke re tamaneng Motau motlhotlwaneng!
Nna ga ke Mokutswe ga ke Mompaye,
Ke phaga hlokasereto waka moeno ke makgopela
Makgopela ke tšama ke kgopela tša go dya mala go shekela,
Ke sutla mathuding a banna mmane le tatane ga ke batšibi.
Weni Motau ’a Phaga mokalama-motlhotlwaneng
Nngeku ke kgopela ya go gobala, mpefane
Ya go bafala e bakwa boka botlhalo
Ke maseka bohle ba rata go e rwala;
Leshaetšana le letshwefi le lokile, mothosebata
Segolothata ke tšhilo le lwala go kgekgetha thobela;
Setlokaluuta ke nama tše meetse di robile morwa Maripe molala.
Motau Mopulanemogolo, Phaga ’a Malala
Ke re ke tšhiwana ya mathabane sethabanageng,
Shakwana la kgomo le motho ga ke boele.
Bowelakane ke lla ka pelo megokgo ga o tšwe.
Bokaone bitla laka le gatwe ke makoloi
Bokaone topo saka se jewe ke manong.
His website is www.maahlamela.com.