Wed, 20 June 2018


On 1 August 2017, a remarkable and unorthodox event took place in the social media space: the launch of a poetry competition in all 11 official languages to serve South Africans as a source of comfort and catharsis.

Sponsored by AVBOB Mutual Assurance Society and funeral service provider, a competition of this reach was unprecedented in South Africa. And while a modest 5 000 poems were anticipated, 20 774 were finally entered. Of these, 3 108 were published on From there, three poems in each language category were selected, and at a gracious gala evening on 20 June 2018, the AVBOB Poetry Prize was presented to the first-placed poets.

The winning poems covered the totemic themes of Love, Hope, Birth and Death, and were drawn from that pool of over 20 000 poetic voices, each bravely articulating the inner life of countless amateur poets across South Africa. Poets as young as 10 and as old as 97 submitted their poems for approval on the website. While Gauteng proved to be the poetic heartland of SA, poems were submitted from Cape Town to Kuruman, from Bhisho to Bela Bela and beyond.

And while English is definitely the poetic lingua franca of our country, the beauty of this project lay in the convergence of all the voices of our land, forming a poetic patchwork quilt in isiXhosa, Sepedi, Tshiven?a, Xitsonga, isiZulu, Setswana, isiNdebele, Afrikaans, Sesotho and Siswati.

We learnt, in Jeremy Cronin’s words, ‘how to speak with the voices of this land’, but finally it came down to the most powerfully crafted poems in each mother tongue. And the range of poems – and the poets behind them – are both a celebration of the richness of South Africa and a collective praise poem of hope and healing.
In alphabetical order of language category, they are:
LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  Afrikaans
WINNER:                                             Lynthia Julius
POEM:                                                 Vir Al Jarreau
2nd place 3rd place
Susan Smith
Poem: passaat
Herman Lategan
Poem: vir ‘n bidsprinkaan

LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  English
WINNER:                                             Caroline F Archer
POEM:                                                 Puppet master
2nd place 3rd place
Helen Moffett
Poem: Brain MRI
Mfundo Mthombeni
Poem: It's been too long

LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  isiNdebele
WINNER:                                             Queen Mahlangu
POEM:                                                 Litjhingile
2nd place 3rd place
Nurse Nonhlanhla Mbonani
Poem: Khetha Yena
Thabi Mahamba
Poem: Ngiyathokoza ngokungikhulisa

LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  isiXhosa
WINNER:                                             Nolusindiso Penxa
POEM:                                                 Akwaba ndandithethile
2nd place 3rd place
Sihle Ndamane
Poem: Ndicela ningandilileli
Simphiwe Nolutshungu
Poem: Ndiye ndalibala

LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  isiZulu
WINNER:                                             Kutsi Emmanuel Lindinkosi Mpanza
POEM:                                                 Wangishiya ngokuzuma
2nd place 3rd place
Lungile Chamane
Poem: Siwile isihlahla
SOZ Mkhize
Poem: Kuzofa ukufa


LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  Sesotho
WINNER:                                             Tieho Mkhendane
POEM:                                                 Ntjapedi
2nd place 3rd place
Deo Mogoera
Poem: Sefofane
Themba Motete
Poem: Nako jwale e fihlile

LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  Setswana
WINNER:                                             Nthabiseng Cujane
POEM:                                                 Go siame
2nd place 3rd place
Keabetswe Ramatlo
Poem: Mma o re siile
Fikile Moiloa
Poem: Se itlhoboge

LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  Sepedi
WINNER:                                             Mosima Phakane
POEM:                                                 Khutša
2nd place 3rd place
Moses Seletisha
Poem: Mahlodi
Mokgaetji Glory Tladi
Poem: Ditebogo di kae?

LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  Siswati
WINNER:                                             Thembi Gwebu
POEM:                                                 Tinyembeti
2nd place 3rd place
Obed Hearthstones
Poem: Kumtsatsile
Ncobile Madonsela
Poem: Kufa

LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  Tshiven?a
WINNER:                                             Ngwedzeni Tshovhota
POEM:                                                 U bebwa ha lutshetshe
2nd place 3rd place
Domina Napoleon Munzhelele
Poem: Ndi nwana wau
Ndivhuyafhi Godfrey Musubi
Poem: Maduvha a kalakataho

LANGUAGE CATEGORY:                  Xitsonga
WINNER:                                             Mashimbye Owners Hluvukani
POEM:                                                 Xihlamariso
2nd place 3rd place
Musa Aubrey Baloyi
Poem: U rhukane swikwembu
Ximbani Eric Mabaso
Poem: Maxangu na nhlomulo



Each of the 11 first-place winners of the AVBOB Poetry Prize received a R10 000 cash prize and a R2 500 book voucher, sponsored by AVBOB. They came to the competition for various reasons, in search of something beyond the ordinary, and gave us poems that comfort, provoke and challenge.

How does one begin to sing their praises? Theirs, and each and every poet who penned a poem and submitted their work for appraisal. The winners, says AVBOB CEO, Frik Rademan, “represent the best, the bravest and most talented of our rainbow nation. What moves me to the core is that each of these poets had the courage to dig deep into their own vulnerability to find the words to not only express their pain, but to help others on their road to healing.”

Lynthia Julius grew up in Kimberley, and is a postgraduate student of philosophy at the University of the Free State. As a child, her mother read her sister and her a bedtime poem to fuel their dreams. The competition offered her a therapeutic space in which to unpack unresolved emotions.

Caroline F Archer grew up on a Free State farm but is now based in Pretoria as an editor, translator, poet and author. She began writing poetry as a school girl and simply never stopped.  She found the competition’s online format a brilliant tool to disseminate poetry in an environment where it is poorly supported.

Queen Mahlangu grew up in Mpumalanga, is a Soshanguve resident and a student of paralegal studies at TUT. At just 19 years old, she’s the youngest of the first-prize winners. She entered the competition – her very first! – in the hope of healing others with her words, and as a nod to the poets who have inspired her.

Nolusindiso Penxa is an admin clerk for the Department of Justice in Port Elizabeth. During her high school years, she compiled a book of poems which she wrote herself. Although she says she loves poetry, as a working mother of four children she doesn’t give herself much time to sit and write. She entered the competition after being motivated by a friend who passed away.

Kutsi Emmanuel Lindinkosi Mpanza is a freelance artist living in Cosmo City who grew up surrounded by community-minded sisters who organised gatherings where drama, poetry, dance and music were celebrated. The competition allowed him to write in his mother tongue and the competition’s archetypal themes resonated richly with him.

Tieho Mkhendane grew up in Ficksburg and now lives in Komati, Mpumalanga. At age seven, a tribute poem to his late grandmother launched his career as a professional praise poet at community functions. He entered the competition to share his own gifts with others and to learn from them in turn.

Nthabiseng Cujane grew up in the village of Verdwaal in North West. After the loss of her father in 2014, she began to write poetry in earnest. But lack of funds forced her out of her studies, and poetry was pushed aside for a time. The competition revived her love of the form, and reinforced her belief in its transformative power.

Mosima Phakane grew up in a village in Limpopo and is currently studying civil engineering at Wits. Encouraged by a school teacher, she wrote her first poem in 2010 and has never looked back. She saw the competition as an opportunity to grow as a poet, and to revisit her mother tongue as a medium.

Thembi Gwebu was born and bred in Tsakane township in Ekurhuleni, and now works as a labour relations practitioner and youth care worker. What attracted her to the competition was the open-ended theme, "I wish I'd said…”, and the fact that it gave everyone the opportunity to write in their own language of origin.

Ngwedzeni Tshovhota grew up in Thohoyandou in Limpopo, and is now a team leader for a major insurer in the region. He was a latecomer to poetry in 2014, but published a collection of poems the following year under the title, Mutshakavhili (Eclipse). The competition offered him the chance to refine his craft.

At just 22, Mashimbye Owners Hluvukani has already packed poetry, teaching and a commerce degree into his short life. A resident of Thohoyandou, he is furthering his career in account management at a major utility, and says poetry offers him a place to express his emotions and serves as a remedy to life’s ills.
The AVBOB Poetry Gala evening on 20 June in Pretoria signalled a celebration of the human spirit, and of the power of poetry to heal and transform.

And that power is captured in a print anthology* –  published by Naledi – under the competition tagline, “I Wish I’d said…”. The two winning poems in each language category will now live on alongside the work of seven accomplished South African poets, each commissioned to write a poem in each language category for the anthology. And, in the spirit of inclusivity, the 100th poem in the collection is written in Khoisan.

Why 100 poems? Because in this, AVBOB’s centenary year, they wanted to give back to South Africa in a deeply symbolic way.

But what inspired it all?

The inspiration for the AVBOB Poetry Project took form at the funeral of a two-year-old boy, who had died from a common childhood cancer. At his funeral, so great was his grandfather’s sense of loss, that he could barely speak. He managed to muster these two words: ‘Ta ta, kiewiet.’ ‘Goodbye, little plover, little bird.’

This loss of words in the face of the loss of a loved one is something AVBOB sees daily. It is a very human moment in which the mind, in the throes of a great sorrow, struggles to find the right words to articulate grief. The words used daily will not do. They come across as mere platitudes, empty phrases that cannot match the emotions at play.

“AVBOB asked, ‘how can we provide all our policyholders, all our people, with a way to give voice to their grief?’,” explains AVBOB CEO, Frik Rademan. “At AVBOB, we make a promise: ‘We’re here for you.’ We wanted to demonstrate this, to provide people with comfort when they are most vulnerable. And we found that, in times of great emotional stress, people often turn to verse to find a way forward. They look to psalms, songs and poems for consolation.”

This is how the AVBOB Poetry Project was born. The competition would serve a dual purpose: firstly, it would provide a safe place of catharsis. Here, ordinary South Africans could weave words about their own wounds. It could be a place for them to unburden, to share stories of their own loss. But it had to be more than this. For while AVBOB deals in death daily, they see themselves as traders in hope.

And so, the competition gave South Africans the gentlest, most inclusive form of bereavement counselling. And that was, indeed, the second aim of the competition: to create an online anthology of original poems that mourners could access and make use of, for funeral pamphlets or for personal consolation.

“The success of the competition suggests that poetry is alive and thriving in SA,” adds Mr Rademan. “If the social media response is anything to go by, there is a profound need for this sort of platform. And so, it is with great delight that AVBOB announces the launch of the 2018 AVBOB Poetry Competition, which will run from 1 August to 30 November 2018.”

In the words of the great English poet, TS Eliot: “For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

And so, it begins again. AVBOB encourages all those who were touched by the 2017 competition to spread the word and sow the seeds for the next season, and to bring the beauty of poetry back to its people once more.

Please visit the AVBOB online poetry anthology, which is freely available on For what was produced for AVBOB’s customers and policyholders, for poets across South Africa, and for all the bereaved across this nation, is a resource of beauty and solace that will endure for generations. In this, AVBOB’s centenary year, this competition marks a profound demonstration of AVBOB’s commitment to the communities in which they operate, of their willingness to give more, and of their ability to provide emotional and intellectual upliftment for all South Africans.

*The anthology can be ordered at or 078 648 8616, and is available from most good bookstores. Alternatively, SMS the word ‘poem’ to 41199 (at a standard cost of R1.50 per SMS) to have it posted to you at a total cost of R200.