South Africa: New Books | Our Words, Our Worlds

In this short interview, poet Makhosazana Xaba speaks to fellow writer Natalia Molebatsi about dance as a metaphor for freedom and about how women can finally voice their truth.

This is an excerpt from Our Words, Our Worlds: Writing on Black South African Women Poets, 2000-2018 edited by Makhosazana Xaba (UKZN Press, 2019). This interview first appeared in the South African Labour Bulletin 33, no 5 (December 2009/January 2010), pp. 65-66.

Makhosazana Xaba (MX): Congratulations on your debut collection Sardo Dance. You dedicated the title poem to Silvana – who is she and why is it the title of your book?

Natalia Molebatsi (NM): Sardinia is well known for its beauty geography-wise, as well as the hospitality of her people, and its dancing. So I asked a woman, Silvana – I was interested in this dancing, as it is done in a circle by men and women holding hands, which symbolises unity, as well as coming from death into rebirth. Silvana mentioned that she was forbidden to dance by her father. But she didn’t have any resentment because she watched her brothers dance. But I feel that this is the story of many women globally.

Dance in this way is used as a metaphor for freedom. When I submitted this collection to my editor, she read through the manuscript and said that Sardo Dance speaks to her the most, as it talks to every woman and every little forgotten or forbidden action or voice. Many women, when they take their lives and choices in their hands, are regarded as rebels or outcasts (and sometimes called bitches). They are made to feel they do not belong.

Dance is also used to go beyond borders. Sardinia as a location is at the middle of it all. It is an island outside of Italy, but it is outside many other countries that are close by, such as Tunisia and France. It is therefore used as a metaphor for an outsider, one who does not quite belong.

MX: When I read the poem, I could see Silvana in the eyes of many women. How would you describe your views on women?

NM: As an African, I know dance is vital in the lives of Africans, both men and women. In South Africa, song and dance were used as a means to shake the load of oppression off our muddy hands and sweaty palms. So I was shocked when Silvana told me she was not allowed to dance in her home by her own father. It also says to us as Africans that we need to dismiss the stereotype that African women are oppressed and non-African women are not, particularly those who live in Europe.

MX: Last year you compiled and edited a vibrant volume of poetry called We Are. What motivated this and how did you choose contributors?

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