Tlotlisang David Mhlambiso, 20 years old, is the latest isiXhosa poet to have a collection of his work published. Like many a young author, his book is the successful ending of a long struggle. In his case, though, it is also a beginning – as we shall see. This year, 2020, he was admitted to the University of the Free State’s Faculty of Education. He is studying towards a Bachelor of Education degree in FET and Senior Phase. His majors are Psychology and English. This is where his hopes and dreams finally started coming together. 

Growing up

In Tlotlisang’s words: 

“I hail from the deep rural areas of Eastern Cape in Mount Fletcher, in a small village known as Lugcadweni. I grew up in a family of five siblings, four brothers and one sister. We were under my mother’s watch, discipline and care while my father was in Cape Town. It has not been an easy journey or life has not been easy. But then Mom’s love and care always made things seem to be easy though they were not. There would be times when I would see that chances of sleeping with a full stomach were rare. Even at school, you would look different from others. I mean the school uniform, shoes and school bag. I remember when I used to wear soccer boots at school because I did not have school shoes. And I would carry books in plastic bags. But then, that is everyone’s journey when growing, even though our journeys turn out to be very different. I grew strong from mine.”

So where did his writing journey start? 

As Tlotlisang tells it:

“I started my primary education at Ngaqangana Primary School. There, I started public readings in the foundation phase and that built my confidence more and more. In 2015, when I was doing grade 9, my English teacher was teaching a poem entitled ‘Africa, My Africa’ written by David Diop. That is when I got inspired and started writing my own poems, which I shared with no one. I continued writing and challenged myself to summarise one of the SA soapies known as ‘Skeem Saam’. I did, but I ended up burning those summaries.” 

A classic picture of the lonely poet, struggling to get published 

“In 2016, when I got to High School at Edward Zibi Secondary School, I started writing in my home language, which is IsiXhosa. From that time, I wrote plenty of poems because most of the time I would sit alone and start meditating. I hardly made friends at school. I have tried several times to get help on publishing them but there was none to be found. Even my language teachers tried, but none succeeded. There was a time when I was totally closing the chapter of writing because I always fell into depression when I asked myself: “What am I writing for? Who is going to read this? Who is even going to help me publish this? But then nothing overcomes talent; even your own toxic thoughts cannot.” 

A leg up

At UFS, he saw a post on a group of the students, which was marketing a book and approached the writer, Ndivhudzannyi.* She gave him the contact details of her publisher, Dr. Nenzhelele. “Dr said that he is going to help me publish my book. In July, the book was done. I did not believe it until I touched it with my own hands. The title of the book is ‘Ukuphuma kwelanga’, meaning, ‘When the sun rises’. I chose this title when I was about to email my manuscripts, because I was truly believing that, indeed, the sun is rising after all the storms. After all the negative thoughts I had and wanting to give up. The sun was rising indeed, my predictions were correct because after that I got nominated for GAMA 2020 AWARDS as the Best Male Individual Poet. Even the poems in the book, they’ll give you hope, comfort, wisdom, and love. They will make you see the bright side of life. They will make you believe that even on your journey. The sun shall rise and shine. That is what they were giving me as I was writing them.”

Why this book?

“What motivated me to write this book, is the lost souls of us, as youth of Africa. How we have lost the true meaning of love and respect for who we are. I also wanted to encourage all the 2000s to know that the sooner we take responsibility for our lives, the better.” One of his poems is “Inyembezi Zelifa” or “the tears of an inheritance”. This poem is about an inheritance that was supposed to be given to the last-born. That was according to the Xhosa and Sotho cultures. But his/her siblings took it. This is a reflection of how traditional practices are crumbling.

 Starting to soar

That is not the end of Tlatlisang’s story, but the beginning of a new chapter. He has a short story that is being featured in one of the projects of the University of Free State. A poem and short story are being included in a book that is about to be published by the University of Fort Hare, in Eastern Cape. And he is receiving recognition in a book of upcoming poets, “Ntinga”, which means “soar in the skies”. He also has plans for a second book of isiXhosa poetry before June next year. Then there are the English poetry book for the youth and an English youth novel all typed up and awaiting publishing.

Tlotlisang has achieved much for such a young man. And it looks like there is much more to come. 

*We published Ndivhudzannyi’s story on this site in April this year. Read it here:

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