Sydney Sipho Sepamla spent most of his life in Soweto, the enormous township southwest of Johannesburg. Sepamla has been grouped with poets like Oswald Mtshali and Wally Mongane Serote, the group is often referred to as the ‘poets of the big cities’. These are not Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, but rather the ‘Black’ cities of Soweto, Langa and Kwa Mashu.
For a long time, the new city poetry was self-assertive, wrathful and disconcerting. What has distinguished Sepamla from the other poets, however, is that his work is not entirely focused on political themes.
However, in 1976 and 1977 Sepamla became a member of Medupe Writers Association, and here some of his poems, though satirical, had a political undertone. One of these was “The Blues is you in me”, and the collection ‘The Soweto I Love (1977)’ in which he compares the township with fermenting dough. This collection was banned during apartheid.
He has used the Black girl as a metaphor of Africa and has provided us again and again with surprising imagery that depicts the South African situation. The satirical poem ‘To Whom It May Concern’, which has been called `a form of self-preservation', made quite an impact in its time. Sipho Sepamla has also written novels, including “The Root is One” (1979) and “A Ride in the Whirlwind” (1981). The daily circumstances in which the author and other black inhabitants in Soweto live is the subject matter. The second novel, about the uprising in Soweto, was banned at first but released later.
The early 1980s were a challenging period for Sepamla, as it was for many who were active in Medupe. It marked a transition from producing poetry that was performed live, with a focus on protest content, to publishing in the monthly periodical Staff Rider, dedicated to publishing literature coming out of Soweto.
Later in his life Sepamla moved from Soweto to Brakpan where he died on 9 January 2007.
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