Get To Know Sim Matyobeni (South Africa)

Posted on Posted in Featured Creatives, Poets

• How can you describe yourself in a summarized manner?

I like the idea of being an in-crowd person—I am gregarious. It’s only natural that at times I should want to cultivate privacy in order that I should feast upon my life, and maximize my moments of reflection—to write, really.

I don’t, however, believe in making a mystery of myself, or in making a mystery of other people. It would be too boring, too tortuous, an enterprise to undertake. I guess I don’t have the kind of temperament which most writers have; the kind of temperament that makes them thrill to solitude. I have no great sympathy with being all by myself. My daily life is peppered with a refreshing fraternal congress, in the name of friends. As it happens my friends and I are frequent supplicants to Bacchus. And we are not yet weaned from fermented hops and barley-malt. For archetypes to sum up my life at the moment, we could look at Nietszche’s formulation about Appollonian and Dionysian impulses, and Soyinka’s Ogun. Apollo reminds us that we should be rational and reasoning, while Dionysus urges us to engage our animal instincts. Ogun, on the other hand, is the principle of contradiction—a veritable synthetic human co-ordinate. Is it not Bertolt Brecht who reminds us that contradictions ‘are our only hope’? In Yoruba religion, in Nigeria and certain parts of America, Ogun looms large as a warrior god who also loves palm-wine. He is the god of the lyric, creativity and destruction, and metallurgy. I may not embrace wholeheartedly the principles of the three gods, but I know the trajectory of my life has progressed-fast and furious-through them.

• When did you pen your first independent piece (away from school work)?

I took my first tentative steps towards writing in 2005. During the month of World Book Day Celebrations, the department of education would organize literary competitions. The activities included storytelling, poetry, and reading skills. I wrote poems in both isiXhosa and English—I still do. I made my first debut as a poet in A.C Jordan’s (a 20th century isiXhosa author and scholar) birthplace, Mbokothwana. There was a literary event there hosted in memory of A.C Jordan. I was among the people who performed. As it happens with these things, I would hate to see whatever it is I had written; even though winning some awards in those competitions was not such a bad thing.

• What inspires your writing?

In one of his poems in the poetry collection called ‘Letters: New Poems’, Don Maclennan says love and death are things you cannot fake. I like that idea. I am also fascinated by Yoruba Mythology. Although I have the greatest distaste for reciting bibliographies (the running mate of name-dropping) I think Wole Soyinka’s play ‘The Lion and the Jewel’ got me interested in Yoruba Mythology. This is so because I was interested to know what a character meant when she said ‘let Sango strike me’. I think the two people who appear in my mind whenever I think of writing are Salman Rushdie and Lesego Rampolokeng. If you want to see what great things a language as fake as English can do, read the poetry of Lesego Rampolokeng. Salman Rushdie’s view about English, the language, is more charitable. He thrills to its malleability, as you may expect from someone who has hoisted James Joyce onto his shoulders. Language may not be everything, but it is rewarding to know something about it. While I am totally indifferent to the word ‘inspire’, I think the people and ideas I have mentioned have helped in shaping the eventual person—me.

• Apart from writing what else do you do?

I am still reading for an MA in African Languages.

• What do you think is man’s greatest invention?

Flush toilets. When Zizek says, ‘It is easy for an academic at a round table to claim that we live in a post-ideological universe, but the moment he visits the lavatory after the heated discussion, he is again knee-deep in ideology’, he does not overdo its tutorial insouciance. He posits that since German toilets have the hole placed at the front, the idea is that the dejecta must be inspected before it disappears because the Germans like to reflect thoroughly on things. The French toilets have the holes placed at the back so that the excrement makes haste to disappear, because this bespeaks French ‘revolutionary hastiness’. He then says that American (Anglo-Saxon) toilets are a ‘synthesis’ of the two. The toilet bowl has water so that the taken dump may be disposed of in a neat way, because the English are ‘pragmatic’. I think flush toilets remind us that there is a very close relationship between toilets and politics.


• Who would you term as an African hero? Why?

Wole Soyinka. Although he refuses to play to the gallery, he knows that when infractions against human rights are committed by the state he should marshal his skills and resources into projects aimed at redressing that wrong. Plus, he is nonpareil when it comes to both spoken and written English. And age has not withered him nor did custom stale his infinite variety in letters and the extension of the human entity.

• The world ends tomorrow. What do you do till then?

Revisit The New Testament to check how the whole event will take place—until it happens.

• What’s your furthest memory backwards?

It was the year 1997:- At Kwanceduluntu Store in my village I was driving my bus (a Coca-Cola crate whose rump I padded with red sacks of oranges so that it could move smoothly over the cement floor) to while away the time. An old fellow-a gangling man who was popular among the elderly-made his way into the store. It wasn’t long before he saw me and bought me a packet of Willards Cheaz naks (or it may have been a packet of those rationed Kulu maize snacks). Perhaps reckoning me among his potential squeezes, he asked me to accompany him on his way to the pastureland. Since I had not got used to the blues, this was a moment of respite. Off we went. Some distance off from the meadows, when we were about to ford one river, he said he felt fogged in the head. We sat down.
‘I feel woozy,’ he said.
‘Let’s go home. We can call people over,’ I ventured a solution.
‘No, no. I’m comforted by having you alone here.’
‘What if you die?’
‘I’m dead anyway.’ He outstretched his left arm.
‘Come closer,’ he said, at which point I determined to stand up, clutching at my stick.
‘I want to go home,’ I said.
‘I love you, kwedini,’ he said, advancing towards me. In our language when we want to say ‘love’ and ‘like’ we only have ‘thanda’. It’s difficult to gauge the intensity of his ‘love’ for me, or to know what kind it was. My lungs were close to bursting through my mouth. He clasped my right shoulder and muttered, ‘You’ll be fine. You’ll see’. I was the light of his life. A group of boys, who were far older than I was, appeared. They chased after the man who had taken off upon seeing them. He had already undone his belt, so that as he ran his pants sagged and revealed a swarthy behind. Children must be kept from seeing the denuded rumps of their elders. One of the boys said to me, ‘Are you mad? Why do you truck with that loony?’
‘He said we were here to see about the cows,’ I replied, rather shyly. I don’t know what to make of that event, but three things gambol over one another in my mind. One: I was pampered by a pedophile. Two: that was my first encounter with the poet’s counterpart, a mad man. It is said that poets and mad men speak in tongues. Three: if pertaining to that encounter sexuality is anything to go by, I learned very early that the human world is blessed with variety.

• If you were a cartoon character, who would that be?

Spongebob Squarepants. What would be cooler than living under the sea in a pineapple?

• Three words to describe your brain?

Capacious, shrewd and restive.

• That song that never gets boring to your ears?

Vesti la Giubba by Luciano Pavarotti. What do you do when the audience pays you to laugh and you hear disconcerting news just before your performance? It’s a sad song, but Pagliaccio must laugh, nonetheless. Again the theme of love crops up.

• What do you fancy most: writing or performing (poetry)?

Writing. I have no talent for performance.

• What is that thing you did as a kid you wish you still would?

Watch TV the whole day, every day.

• Who’s that character you wish you’d pull out of the screen/book and elope with?

This one is interesting. Let me see. USA: Miranda (Meryl Streep) from The Devil Wears Prada or Aaron Rhodes from Rhodes Bros on YouTube. South Africa: Nikiwe (Linda Sokhulu) from Isidingo or Otelo (Jafta Mamabolo) from the film Otelo Burning.

• What do you think of the African creative and artistic industry?

It’s great. Online platforms such as StoryZetu and Aerodrome also help in disseminating African literary work in Africa and the world. The artists whom I like in South Africa today include the poet Lesego Rampolokeng, the painter Ayanda Mabulu, the singer Simphiwe Dana, and the columnist Ndumiso Ngcobo. The film industry is also growing. There’s a lot of positive stuff that’s happening. The future is not bleak at all.

• Any random question you’d like to ask the world?

World, do we really need the rainbow?

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