Emergency toolkit on freedom day    
Mon, 24 April 2023

As we prepare to celebrate Freedom Day on 27 April, we naturally think of the many sacrifices that made the dream of democracy a reality for all South Africans.

But how do we carry that dream of liberation into the uncertain future that we all face? What are the essential things we need to carry with us on the road ahead?

In acknowledgement of Freedom Day this year, the AVBOB Poetry Project is celebrating the work of Sisanda Kubeka, a talented young poet, theatre practitioner and researcher. In 2021 Kubeka, who prefers using they/them pronouns, won the New Contrast National Poetry Competition with an astonishing entry called ‘Suitcases’, and their poems have appeared in local magazines. These poems explore the discomforts, fears and hopes of everyday South African life. We asked them how they think poetry could provide a voice to marginalised people.

Sisanda, who holds an honours degree in writing and performance from the University of the Witwatersrand, believes that poetry can help us question why certain stories are heard and circulated instead of others. “I don’t believe that anyone is ever truly voiceless, but when you have to shout from the margins towards a centre that pretends not to see you, how far can your voice really travel?”

In ‘Suitcases’, their winning poem from two years ago, they show just how such voices can be heard. The poem starts with a family preparing for a holiday – the father is laying out his emergency kit for the road like “a map of precious secrets.” But soon it becomes clear that many of these items are not really necessary, such as a cooler box full of drinks no one will bother to finish and a list of names in barely legible handwriting. The father is afraid that people will recognise “the activity behind his eyes” caused by his constant worrying. Meanwhile, the mother of the family carries her own unspoken list of essential items “under the tongue”, unconvinced that anyone is ready for what is coming.

The family in ‘Suitcases’ could stand for all of us as we travel into the future. Sisanda does not offer any grand solutions to solve our problems. “You have to resist the responsibility to save the entire world with every poem you write. There is so much pressure on young writers to be the next voice of their generation; to find golden words and get it ‘right’ the first time. Resist that pressure. The most mundane and seemingly unimportant happenings become monumental when we simply focus on telling our own truths,” Sisanda shares.

We see an example of this attention to detail in ‘11’, another fine poem first published in Odd Magazine. Here, two young friends and contemporaries share an unspoken bond of love, sealed by “an invisible yarn that shoots from the hip bone / and keeps us tied together.”

Sisanda is grateful for the recognition they received for their prize-winning poem. They state, “Of course there is a level of validation that comes with that kind of recognition, especially for someone like me who is at the beginning of my career. The validation really came from knowing that the ideas I sent out into the world somehow managed to land in someone’s heart and leave a lasting impact, which is the point of storytelling – at least for me. Nonetheless, I’ll never run out of ways to say I’m grateful to the judges for selecting ‘Suitcases’ for the top prize.”

Visit the AVBOB Poetry website at to stay up to date with competition deadlines and receive regular tips on how to edit and improve your writing.