Poet Ayanda Billie tells of his life in troubled township

Billie chronicles harsh realities of day-to-day life in KwaNobuhle

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It has been said that some of the best poems are sad, dark, haunting works about suffering, despair, loss and death.
Enter KwaNobuhle-born author Ayanda Billie, 44, whose latest work is a first-hand account of an often hostile and unpredictable environment that he is all too familiar with and describes in vivid detail.
His book, KwaNobuhle Overcast, is a series of moving poems that the Rhodes University master’s graduate said was his personal observations of the place he has called home for more than 40 years.
The poem that the book is named after paints a gloomy picture of one the largest townships in Nelson Mandela Bay, and reads, in part:
“KwaNobuhle just for once keep those who can make you a place to raise children not this sulphurous cage where we watch dreams suffocate. Everything is dying here . . . ”
Still, Billie remains rooted there, with his love of jazz and a belief in humanity.
KwaNobuhle Overcast is his third book – following the publication of Umhlaba Umanzi in 2016 and Avenues of My Soul in 2006.
Umhlaba Umanzi, which means “the soil is wet”, is a collection of Xhosa poetry, Billie said.
“It’s also about the sadness that’s in our township, and the Marikana massacre, as well as about the plight of factory workers.
“I write because I want to write, because I have something to say.
“I write because I believe we must tell our own stories, not other people.
“I write for the next generation [so that] when they look back they have a reference [for] what was happening in KwaNobuhle.”
Billie has dedicated his latest book to the memory of his friend, Mziwoxolo Palie Sidzumo, who was killed when hijacked in Motherwell in 2016.
“The book is more or less about my experiences, my observations, what I see and what I feel and what I hope for for this township of ours, KwaNobuhle,” he said.
“The crime is unbelievable, unemployment is high and the drinking, especially among the youth, those are some of the big problems here.
“And I believe that, through my poetry, my writing, I’m the voice of the voiceless.
“I’m also trying to show those who do not live in KwaNobuhle, who do not know about it, how I observe it.
“For me, it’s easy to write because it’s my passion.
“It’s also been relatively easy to have my work published.
“The problem is that people are not buying the books. We’re not a reading nation.
“You’d find that even your own friends are not buying your books, and you can’t blame them because some people have other priorities in life and for [some of them] reading is for intellectuals or for school,” he said.
“I’m primarily a writer but the unfortunate thing in South Africa [is that] when you’re a writer you have to do other things to support that.
“I work at Volkswagen as a quality operator. I’ve been working there for more than 20 years but I’ve been writing since long before that.”
Billie said his dream was to build a creative arts centre for the youth of KwaNobuhle.
“Should I win the lottery, that is the first thing I would do because there is no such space for the youth here, the only thing [some of them] do is drink and if not that they stand on street corners.”
He runs poetry and creative writing workshops at schools in the area, and is the co-organiser of the Mandela Book Fair...

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