Izimbongi Poetry Festival

This year’s annual Izimbongi Poetry Festival will take place on all four of the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Campuses in Auckland Park, Doornfontein and Soweto; from 25 to 29 September 2018.

The Izimbongi Poetry Festival, presented by UJ Arts & Culture (a division of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture), offers students and members of the public an opportunity to engage (some students will even share a stage) with world-renowned poets, and to interact with various on-campus poetry activations and interventions throughout the week, as well as serving as a final showcase for UJ’s poetry students.

The festival kicks off with Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile’s citation by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, followed by the UJ Arts Academy poetry students’ production ‘Behind these Eyes’, and professional poets Sabelo Soko, Vangile Gantsho, Siphokazi Jonas and Mandi Vundla rounding out what promises to be an invigorating opening programme. Admission is free for this first event, which takes place on Tuesday, September 25 at 18:00 at the Arts Centre Theatre on the University’s Kingsway Campus in Auckland Park.

“The professional poets on the bill are a representation of the myriad of voices that have claimed poetry as their medium, much like the students. Each professional poet brings with them a wealth of experience and most importantly a respect for their craft that should serve as an example to any aspiring poet,” explains Festival Director Quaz Roodt.

Renowned spoken-word artists Eugene Skeef and Vangile Gantsho take to the stage on Wednesday 26 September, after poetry students Phumelelokuhle Ngidi and Keitumetse Tlhako have paved the way with opening performances. This programme is hosted at the Con Cowan Theatre on the Bunting Road Campus and starts at 18:00. Tickets are R50, or R20 for students.

On Thursday 27 September, the Top 3 UJ poetry students set the tone for performances by poetry students Refiloe Khumalo and Sbusiso Dladla, followed by professional poets Sabelo Soko and Siphokazi Jonas. The programme begins at 18:00; at the Con Cowan Theatre, and tickets are R50, or R20 for students.

On Friday 28 September, professionals Mandi Vundla and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers graciously share the stage with poetry students Terrance Valaysha and Thama Khumunalo. The UJ Arts & Culture poetry students’ production, ‘The Blues’ will start the evening’s performances, followed by readings by the Top 5 poets from the Word N Sound Poetry League. Word N Sound, one of Africa’s biggest digital Live Literature Production and Development brands, partners with the Izimbongi Festival to present a workshop titled “Digital platforms and toolkits for poets“, and will also be live tweeting from the evening shows to share the event with its audience but also as a practical application of what they presented in their workshop. Friday evening’s show begins at 18:00; at the Con Cowan Theatre on the Bunting Road Campus; and tickets are R50, or R20 for students.

A marathon of words under the command of Sabelo Soko, Vangile Gantsho, Siphokazi Jonas, Mandi Vundla and Phillippa Yaa De Villiers, will follow the announcement of the winners of the High School Poetry Competition on Saturday. This closing event of the Festival takes place on Saturday 29 September at 14:00, at the Arts Centre Theatre on the Kingsway Campus. Tickets are R50, or R20 for students.

The Izimbongi Poetry Festival is the culmination of a year-long poetry programme under Roodt’s direction, offered to and attended by UJ students. The programme’s key focus is on poetry and prose writing, and editing techniques, through weekly classes. In the 2nd semester, students workshop their writing into a performance that is then staged at the annual Izimbongi Festival. This year, all four campuses will be represented on stage by two productions: ‘Behind these eyes’ by the Auckland Park campuses, and ‘The Blues‘ by students from the Soweto and Doornfontein campuses. An anthology of the best poems coming out of this programme is also published, under the title: “Footprints of the Heart”, and will be available for sale at all events at R100 per copy.

For more information and to book, please visit https://arts.uj.ac.za/series/IZIMBONGI/


EUGENE SKEEF is a South African filmmaker, percussionist, composer, poet, educationalist and workshop leader and has lived in London since 1980. He also works in conflict resolution, acts as a consultant on cultural development, teaches creative leadership and is a broadcaster.

SABELO SOKO is a writer (isiZulu and English), performer and creative entrepreneur from eMkhondo, in Mpumalanga. His work has been published by Geko Publishing, Times Media as well as Panorama Publishers. In 2017 Soko released a poetry studio album titled Umkhondo, under the multimedia company, SabzHero Creations. Umkhondo follows his 2014 debut spoken word project, an EP titled 2380. He has collaborated with Kiri Pink Knob Arts, as both writer and performer, on stage productions such as Poetry Overload Vs Sketching Hard. He has also written and appeared on numerous low budget films on the Lokshin Bioskop circuit. Soko structured and facilitated the Hip Hop Meets Literature workshop for the Jozi Book Fair 2013 and 2014. He currently facilitates poetry workshops countrywide. He is the founding member of WordUP, a live performance platform with a diligent focus on poetry and organic music; he is the founder of Mpumalanga Made Me, a lifestyle brand in the province; as well as the co-founder of the Mpumalanga Poetry Slam League. Sabelo Soko is passionate about the art of telling stories and even more so with the skill of owning those stories.

VANGILE GANTSHO is a poet, healer, and co-founder of impepho press. Unapologetically womanist, she has traveled the continent and the globe, participating in poetry plays, events, and festivals. Gantsho is the author of two poetry collections: Undressing in front of the window (2015) and red cotton (2018). She holds an MA, with distinction, from the University Currently known as Rhodes (2016) and was recently named one of Mail & Guardian’s Top Young 200 South Africans of 2018.

SIPHOKAZI JONAS holds a Masters degree in English Literature as well as an undergraduate degree in Drama and English. As writer and performer, she has produced four one-woman poetry shows in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Jonas has been a featured act at numerous poetry sessions and festivals around the country. Her experience with spoken word and performance has led to multiple invitations to judge poetry slam competitions in Cape Town and Johannesburg. She has also performed alongside renowned musicians including, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Freshlyground, Pops Mohamed, Dizu Plaatjies, Dave Reynolds. Jonas made history in 2016 as the first African poet ever to perform at Rhetoric in Los Angeles, California, the biggest Christian spoken word event in the world. In 2016, she was the runner-up for the Sol Plaatje European Union Award. Until recently, she was a Teaching Assistant at UCT and she lectured part-time on South African literature and oral poetry. She runs writing and performance workshops for children and adults as part of her Page to Podium series. Siphokazi also guest teaches spoken word and performance at an elementary school in Gainesville, Florida.

MANDI VUNDLA is a Soweto born writer with a bloodline that runs through KZN. The Co-editor of ‘Home Is Where The Mic Is’: an international poetry anthology of performance poets reshaping the face of poetry post-1994. The undefeated two time Word N Sound poetry slam champ has been working actively in the Poetry Scene for last seven years.

PHILLIPPA YAA DE VILLIERS writes, performs and teaches Creative Writing at Wits University, Johannesburg. Her poetry collections are Taller than buildings (2006) and The everyday wife (2010, winner of the South African Literary Prize in 2011), and ice-cream headache in my bone (August 2017). She co-edited No Serenity Here, an anthology of African poetry translated into Mandarin. (2010). She serves on the Editorial Board of the African Poetry Book Fund and has read and performed at poetry festivals in Germany, Denmark, UK, Cuba, Sweden, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Ghana. Her work is translated into French, Dutch, Flemish, Burmese, Mandarin, Italian, German and Spanish.