Sihle Ntuli


after Nkosi Nkululeko’s poem “The Chessmen

* Note: The poem should be read horizontally starting at the word ‘The’ going clockwise into the inner square & ending at the word ‘Game’.
The poem can also be read vertically [downwards] as an octuple poem consisting of eight three-word micro poems all ending on the word ‘Game.’

¹ African boardgame also playable on sand with beads, coins, or pebbles


Zabalaza Republic

  1. 1.

                                      the coup d’etat would not have been possible

without Azania’s heartbeat       black pain & black voices         of all the struggle
songs turned against us            of revolutions archived,          of our volume lowered
by black hands                              that look just like ours,           the country fell silent
as a nation patiently waits        for the president                         to begin to speak 

  1. 2.

                                                        the people shall govern 

a line borrowed                           from the since withered & sealed     long forgotten Freedom charter,    
of small-a-nyana2 skeletons    hidden under clapping of hands        under stomping of feet, 
& all the cadres left behind      after the black consciousness of Biko               have chosen 
to not let imbokodo3 lead         unless flung towards a window          moments before the catalyst
for an impending war                the shattering sound of glass                  a lesson on breaking 

  1. 3.

                                                     the children of the soil need new songs    

to touch beneath the surface,        the movement is only one by name      when we are at a stand-still, 
& it appears we have a problem      of a rainbow with only two colours          songs of Zabalaza                        
as our inheritance                               from the generation that struggled                before us    
of restless troubled spirits                   there is something among us          that is simply refusing to die,   

we say we are tired of these same songs   we are not yet tired of these same songs
we cannot seem to agree on anything,     
 soldiering on with old songs still relevant
the pain is becoming much too heavy     it is almost time to unburden
in language of screams universal

2An infamous quote by South African politician Bathabile Dlamini 
3isiZulu for ‘a large rock’ also used to refer to strong women as taken from the isiZulu saying ‘wathint’ umfazi wathint’ imbokodo’ meaning ‘you strike a woman you strike a rock’.


Sihle Ntuli is a poet and classicist from Durban, South Africa, he has had work appear in notable publications including The Rumpus, SAND Journal & Transition Magazine amongst others. He is the author of Rumblin (uHlanga, 2020) and poetry co-editor of instagram based zine Wild Pine Poetry. Author photo by Niamh Walsh-Vorster.