October 3, 2007


Filed under: poetry — ABRAXAS @ 2:25 am


When he said his farewell to the African volunteers who served in France during World War I, some of whom perished when the SS Mendi sank, S.E.K. Mqhayi said: (the English translation follows immediately after):

Hambani ke, bafondini, niy’ eFransi!
Nikhumbul’ indlala eniyishiy’ emakhaya.
Izihendo zOngendawo ze nizoyise,
Kuba nilapho nje namhla, nibingiwe;
Sinenz’ idini lesizwe sikaNtu.
Hambani, mathol’ eemaz’ ezimabele made;
Hambani, mathol’ oonyonga-nde kukudlelana
Hambani, kuba le nto thina sesiyibonile.
UThixo wakowethu seleyijikele ngaphambili.
Hambani ngemilenz’ engenakhinkqi;
Hambani ngeentliziyo ezingenadyudyu;
Ngomzimb’ okhaphu-khaphu, ngomzimb’ ongenantaka,
Nithi gxanya, gxanya, gxanya!
Nithi ngxi-ngxi, ngxi-ngxi!
Nithi ngxi-ngxi-ngxi-ngxilili!

And so leave our shores, my peers, for France!
Remind yourselves of the poverty you leave behind.
Defeat the temptations of the rootless Satan,
Because you are where you are today as our offering,
You go as the sacred sacrifice of the African nation.
And so forward, offspring of the cow of the long udder;
Forward, calves of teats lengthened by sharing
Advance, because the times decreed that this had to be.
The God of our forefathers has gone ahead of you.
March on, your legs free of cramps;
Move on, your hearts free of the fear of cowards;
With a light step, and bodies drilled for brave deeds,
Advance! Advance! Advance!
Left, right, left, right!
Left, left, left, halt!

More than 90 years ago, the poet laureate, S.E.K. Mqhayi, commanded that those who had the responsibility to fight for peace and freedom had to do so with hearts free of cowardice, ready to make the supreme sacrifice for the poor of our land and the assertion of the dignity of the African people, as true products of the African mother who had freely given her milk even to the motherless calf. This, surely, must be part of the heritage on which we raise our new nation that is striving to be born.

Thabo Mbeki

8 Responses to “S.E.K. MQHAYI – A CALL TO ARMS”

  1. Patrick Mangashe Says:

    it seems that in another day and another time it would have been possible for the African People to express themselves in their own way/languages,rich and coulorful in it`s imagery.Thabo Mbeki here interprets and complements the expressions of the great Imbongi admirably well

  2. hintsabe ziduli Says:


  3. Khululwa Says:

    How I’d love to access more African literature more especially Xhosa literature. The words of Mqhayi invoke something deeper and more inspiring…

  4. pumla ginana mtyeku Says:

    Who else could have translated this beautiful work of art from one of our greatest. Came across ‘a call to arms’ while searching for SEK’s poem ‘Mafukuzela’ written for John Langalibalele Dube first President of the ANC.

    Thank you President T. Mbeki.

  5. sibusiso matshabane Says:

    In our days people have forgot about the late great S.E.K Mqhayi .As for articles written about him lacks information for example not even a single one I read has mention his clan name on detailing his life and xhosa literature is fading.

  6. DRW Says:

    This is wonderful, I can really feel the passion here. While I don’t understand it in its original language I can appreciate the words that have been said. Why was I never taught such great indigenous poetry while I was in school?

  7. Lucy London Says:

    I have been looking for poets from all over the world, in order to demonstrate the global impact of the conflict. Thank you for posting this.

  8. bridget cape town Says:

    I heard that after what happened in WW1 ( Mendi and little appreciation of sacrifice) Mqhayi discouraged African participation in WW11
    can anybody contribute info on this?