The AVBOB Poetry Competition | Blog


Poetry as healing in Human Rights Month with Malika Ndlovu    
Thu, 10 March 2022

In March, the AVBOB Poetry Competition recognises those who work to promote human rights. Historically, we remember Sharpeville (21 March 1960), but the protection of human rights and recovery from human rights abuses are ongoing work. Malika Ndlovu is part of the Spieel Arts Therapies Collective, a South African organisation committed to providing community-based creative initiatives that address inequality and intergenerational trauma.
Malika is a poet, playwright, arts curator and activist with an international following. Her work speaks with power, authority, sensitivity and subtlety to this particular moment in human history. Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have worn our resources thin and our individual and collective grief is messy and complicated. Malika’s answer to this lies in her mantra: healing through creativityWatch her Instagram recitation at @MalikaNdlovu and listen to her on the
Malika’s creative healing practice aids ongoing recovery from the wounds of history that she sees as inextricable from the person. When we discover constructive ways to continuously integrate the trauma generated by historic injustices, we nourish our own recovery and growth. This emerges as statements of faith, songs of triumph, queries reframed, elegies for our unrealised potential and new litanies of hope that help us progress through our bereavement for the lost and unlived lives. Simultaneously unafraid but tender, bold but vulnerable, curious and challenging, Malika’s poetry encourages this fragile yet courageous work of recovery.
This poetry extract from her 1999 debut collection Born in Africa but speaks aptly to the vast scope of this transgenerational restorative work, spanning indigenous wisdom and the universal human challenges within our histories, within our family and community constellations:
beneath the stars we sat
where no researcher laid his hat
or mistook our sacred prophecies
for babble of baboons
i call myself to listening
water knows its path
riverbeds will reconnect the ones
whose eyes have closed themselves
whose words show they don't know
whose tears spring from a source
they can no longer see
that howling wind
that crashing sea
that breaking earth
that starward tree
all revelations of where the treasures be
now the birthing has begun
the spinning now unspun
the turning of the ways
in which we walk
in which we talk
we will not stalk each other anymore
even our mother's voice
our father's choice
must find their resting place
this age of great unravelling
sons and daughters must embrace
“We’re learning ever more about the clinical impact of how poetry works in the brain, particularly after shattering experiences, as we grapple with how to bring the pieces of our lives together. Things are fragmented and unsayable. Poetry makes it possible to tell your story, find resonances with those of others and re-emerge from the trauma never the same as before, but like a mosaic, a new wholeness,” Malika states. 
She continues, “My application of poetry as medicine is rooted in the indigenous understanding of the power of storytelling, of creative expression. It transcends elitist views that define how poetry looks and sounds or what purposes it can serve beyond literary merit or celebration of the individual. 
“Healing for descendants of violated people starts with re-membering after being dismembered, displaced. We are re-collecting the scattered, unearthing the fuller story of our ancestry, re-claiming ownership over our narratives, our mother tongues. Working with memory reconstitutes the fractured parts of the traumatised psyche, restores the body, our individual and communal sense of belonging.”
The AVBOB Poetry Competition is committed to helping people heal through poetry. Writers are encouraged to share their experience in poems of comfort and consolation in any of the 11 official languages. Visit to read poems in your mother tongue during Human Rights Month.