Poetry Africa Festival crowns the new South African Poetry Slam Champion

After a weeklong celebration of poetry and poets, the 26th edition of the Poetry Africa festival came to a close this weekend. On Sunday afternoon, during a celebratory closing ceremony, all poets said goodbye with one last poem. The annual international festival is curated and presented by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of Kwazulu-Natal. The Festival is one of the most important contemporary poetry events on the African continent. It offers a ten-day celebration of wordsmiths across all ages and cultural and diverse linguistic backgrounds. This year the events took place in Johannesburg, Durban and virtually.


The weeklong programme featured poets’ engagements, performances, book launches, panel discussions and webinars. The Slam Jam Saturday evening at Howard College Theatre was one of the festival’s highlights. The six best slammers in the country battled out who would represent South Africa at the World Championships in Brazil in 2023.


Durban-based poet and UKZN student Kwanele Nyembe walked away with one of the most wanted rewards in poetry. Winning the competition carried extra weight this year, as last year’s champion, Xabiso Vili, just was crowned World Champion after he represented the country in Brussels.


“South Africa has the best poets in the world, and I am grateful to Poetry Africa for echoing this established belief. I am looking forward to retaining the title next year in Brazil,” says Nyembe.


Kwanele Nyembe is a Durban-based poet, writer, actor, and dancer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama and Performance Arts and Media and Cultural studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is now pursuing his Honours degree in Drama and Performance Arts at the same institution. He facilitated writing and performance workshops and organised and hosted monthly shows called In My Own Voice. He is also the Co-Founder of Sink or Swim Podcast, a platform that serves as a media outlet for Durban-based performing artists to talk about their work and introduce to the world the person behind it. As a performer, he has worked with the Embassy of Sweden in Pretoria together with Hear my Voice, which curated a virtual series that incorporated creatives from different art sectors, including fashion, literature, music, spoken word, media, government, and academia, for co-learning, adapting to change and support during the peak of the Covid pandemic. It is not the first time he has participated in the Poetry Africa slam jam competition. He was the runner-up in 2018 and Slam Jam champion in 2019. In the subsequent year, he was selected as an honorary poet for the 2020 Poetry Africa festival as part of the New Voices Segment, which was held virtually due to Covid-19. That year he was elected to be part of the judging panel for the 2020 slam jam competition.


Member of the jury, Philip Meersman from Belgium, who is also the organiser of the World Poetry Slam, said the following: The use of his voice, the deliberate delivery in (not) using the microphone, the audience interaction, restrained emotions, biblical references together with decorticating the human body into its essence with texts that were harsh as well as blaming and bringing people together has made him the deserved winner, even when he surpassed his given time with 1 minute. A true winner in every sense of the word, capturing and captivating his audience with every syllable, every stuttering and every move he made. He is a kind of magic that must be experienced live by the whole world.”


The organisers of Poetry Africa look back on a successful gathering of international poets.


“The 2022 Poetry Africa was an incredible success. The Festival affirmed its place as the most relevant platform that brings together poets from across the world to share, critique and celebrate each other’s creativity. At the same time, the festival is a barometer of how poets read and interpret our social, political and global conditions. Poetry Africa is a dynamic advocate for social justice!” said the Centre for Creative Arts director, Ismail Mahomed.


For those who missed the 26th Poetry Africa Festival, the content can still be watched on www.facebook.com/poetryafrica, and www.youtube.com/centrecreativearts.


The festival is made possible with support from the National Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sports, Arts and Culture,  Institut Francais Afrique du Sud, Total Energies and the University of Johannesburg.

Poetry Africa Festival’s partners include Wits University, Jacana Media, Goethe-Institut South Africa, Hear My Voice, the Stand Foundation, General Representation of Flanders, Wallonie-Bruxelles International, Imbiza Journal and South African History Online.

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