Photo of Kwanele Nyembe. Credits to Niamh Walsh-Vorster.

After a weeklong celebration of poetry and poets, the 26th edition of the Poetry Africa festival came to a close on October 16. During the celebratory closing ceremony, all poets said goodbye with one last poem.

The annual international festival is curated and presented by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The festival is one of the most important contemporary poetry events in the African continent. It offers a ten-day celebration of wordsmiths across all ages and diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This year the events took place in Johannesburg, Durban, and virtually.

The weeklong program featured poets’ engagements, performances, book launches, panel discussions and webinars. The Slam Jam Saturday evening at Howard College Theatre was one of the festival’s highlights. The six best slammers in the country battled out who would represent South Africa at the World Championships in Brazil in 2023. The finalists were: Patience Labane, Lethu Nkwanyana, Jonathan Lefenya, Olive Olusegun, Khayalethu Mgozulo, and Kwanele Nyembe.

Durban-based poet and UKZN student Kwanele Nyembe walked away with one of the most wanted awards in poetry. Winning the competition carried extra weight this year, as last year’s champion, Xabiso Vili, was just crowned World Champion after he represented the country in Brussels.

Nyembe reacted to his win, saying: “South Africa has the best poets in the world, and I am grateful to Poetry Africa for echoing this established belief. I am looking forward to retaining the title next year in Brazil.”

Kwanele Nyembe is a Durban-based poet, writer, actor, and dancer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama and Performance Arts and Media and Cultural studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is currently pursuing his Honours degree in Drama and Performance Arts at the same institution. Nyembe has facilitated numerous writing and performance workshops along with organizing and hosting monthly shows called “In My Own Voice.” He is also the co-founder of the Sink or Swim Podcast, a media platform that allows Durban-based performing artists to talk about their work and themselves.

It is not the first time Nyembe participated in the Poetry Africa slam jam competition. He was the runner-up in 2018 and Slam Jam champion in 2019. In the subsequent year, he was selected as an honorary poet for the 2020 Poetry Africa festival as part of the New Voices Segment. That year, he was elected to be part of the judging panel for the 2020 slam jam competition.

See Nyembe’s performance from this year’s slam jam below:

A member of the jury, Philip Meersman from Belgium, who was also the organizer of the World Poetry Slam, said:

The use of his voice, the deliberate delivery in (not) using the microphone, the audience interaction, restrained emotions, biblical references together with decorticating the human body into its essence with texts that were harsh as well as blaming and bringing people together has made him the deserved winner, even when he surpassed his given time with 1 minute. A true winner in every sense of the word, capturing and captivating his audience with every syllable, every stuttering and every move he made. He is a kind of magic that must be experienced live by the whole world.

The organizers of Poetry Africa looked back on a successful gathering of international poets. The Centre for Creative Arts director Ismail Mahomed remarked:

The 2022 Poetry Africa was an incredible success. The Festival affirmed its place as the most relevant platform that brings together poets from across the world to share, critique and celebrate each other’s creativity. At the same time, the festival is a barometer of how poets read and interpret our social, political and global conditions. Poetry Africa is a dynamic advocate for social justice!

See more photos from the Slam Jam competition below, including stills from the finalists’ performances:

The festival was made possible with support from the National Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, Institut Francais Afrique du Sud, Total Energies and the University of Johannesburg. Poetry Africa Festival’s partners include Wits University, Jacana Media, Goethe-Institut South Africa, Hear My Voice, the Stand Foundation, General Representation of Flanders, Wallonie-Bruxelles International, Imbiza Journal and South African History Online.

For those who missed the 26th Poetry Africa Festival, you can watch the content on Facebook and YouTube.


Image credits to Niamh Walsh-Vorster.