I can no longer ask: how did it feel?
This strangling of the yoke cord,
because I have seen it with my own eyes in a chained ox.
Blindness left my eyes as I suddenly realised:
I have seen the making of a slave
in a young yoke-ox.

Glossy he was, beautiful, born to be free,
he asked nothing from anybody.
He only wanted to be proud of being a young ox,
but then somebody said, “Catch him, tame him” – as if it was to help him:
I have seen the making of a slave
in a young yoke-ox.

He strove to resist, strove to win his freedom,
he was surrounded, fenced in by schemes and plots.
They conquered him with cunning, “He has to be educated”,
a harmless word but a mask for calamity:
I have seen the making of a slave
in a young yoke-ox.

He was bound in thongs which carved into his head,
he was whipped, kicked and occasionally stroked,
but the aim remained the same: to get the yoke on his neck.
Only the privileged were educated in their own interest:
I have seen the making of a slave
in a young yoke-ox.

He kicked, tried to break out
but the whips talked.
He twisted around trying to ward them off, but they said, “Beat him!”
A slave is the plaything of a weakling:
I have seen the making of a slave
in a young yoke-ox.

The sky had darkened with gentle rain.
I saw his hump,
it was red with blood, the mark of revolt;
he aches for the place where he once was free:
I have seen the making of a slave
in a young yoke-ox.

I saw him hungry while he worked and sweated,
tears filled his eyes while his soul was destroyed,
he could resist nothing any more.
Only the idea of freedom kept him breathing in hope:
I have seen the making of a slave
in a young yoke-ox.

These are a few verses from a longer poem.

Translated from isiXhosa by Koos Oosthuysen and Antjie Krog
To read the original, click here: Ukwenziwa komkhonzi

Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd from Stitching a Whirlwind: An anthology of Southern African poems and translations coordinated by Antjie Krog. © Oxford University Press (Pty) Ltd 2018