Home Institution

Illinois Wesleyan University

Publication Date

Spring 2013

Program Name

South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights


Beginning with a look back to historical Xhosa oral traditions and then examining the role of performance poetry in resistance during Apartheid, this paper explores the existence of contemporary Cape Town performance poetry in a setting that has been a home to poets for centuries. Specifically, this project is a look into the space, mental and physical, that exists within Cape Town’s current performance poetry scene for themes of resistance and activism. Through the observation of public poetry performances in local bookstores and coffeehouse, and through interviews with poets and audience members, contemporary attitudes of writers and community members toward activism and resistance poetry in Cape Town are examined and situated in Cape Town’s larger historical poetry narrative. The contemporary conflicts between traditional “page poets” and performing poets is discussed, as well as the racial, wealth, education, and age make up of the two differing groups. This paper further researches Cape Town citizen’s access to poetry, poetry as a status symbol or a privilege, and the dangers of viewing performance poetry through a narrow westernized ideal. Basing its relevancy in recognizing the effect of art as a tool of social change, this paper argues Cape Town poets, some of whose cultures have historically incorporated oral narratives, can uniquely garner activism performance poetry to spark empowerment and establish a voice for both marginalized and wealthy communities if the conflicts between poets of altering genres are dismissed.


Civic and Community Engagement | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Performance Studies | Poetry | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Social Psychology and Interaction | Sociology of Culture


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