Magoleng wa Selepe
Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa
Look what they have done to my name…
The wonderful name of my great-great-grandmothers
Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa
The burly bureaucrat was surprised.
What he heard was music to his ears
‘Wat is daai, sê nou weer?’
‘I am from Chief Daluxolo Velayigodle of emaMpodweni
And my name is Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa.’
Messia, help me!
My name is so simple,
And yet so meaningful,
But to this man it is trash…
He gives me a name
Convenient enough to answer his whim:
I end up being
Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa
Read the poem and write briefly what you think it is about. Your answer should not exceed 500 words.
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What’s in a name?
Primarily this poem deals with discrimination: discrimination on the basis of race. A black woman appears before a government official whose prejudice is conveyed when he finds her name too difficult to pronounce or inappropriate and consequently changes it to Maria. During the Apartheid era, this was the case for many black people. Their names were found to be simply ‘too African’ and in need of change. To Nomgqibelo her name is beautiful, strong and African. It is a name to be proud of because it finds its roots in her family, but to the bureaucrat her name is irrelevant, a mere formality. The bureaucrat responds to Nomgqibelo in Afrikaans when she is clearly communicating in English in an attempt to alienate her. When she gives him her name he is almost delighted: “What he heard was music to his ears”. The impression is given that he enjoys changing her name and that his actions are also an attempt at killing her spirit.
This is what Apartheid is essentially about: alienating people into submission and making them feel so different that they no longer have the spirit to fight. This is not the case with Nomgqibelo. Her name is mentioned four times in the poem. She is proud of her name and she is proud of her heritage, she will never be Maria. In this situation the bureaucrat has the power, but through writing this poem Nomgqibelo empowers herself. She is strengthened by the fact that she knows her name is not Maria. She knows and loves the fact that she will always be Nomgqibelo. She knows that her honour is not to be compromised and that she stays true and African.
The poet Magoleng wa Selepe communicates Nomgqibelo’s outrage concerning the ‘rape’ of her name quite well. Nomgqibelo doesn’t only take this insult personally, but also considers it as an insult to her family. In a larger sense the poem not only deals with Nomgqibelo’s struggle being told that her name isn’t good enough, but encompasses so much more. The fight against Apartheid was known as ‘the struggle’ and that is exactly what is was. It involved moving forward and marching on despite obstacles which are put in one’s way. Despite Nomgqibelo’s outrage she doesn’t lose focus, she holds onto her identity and doesn’t allow that to be perverted.
After Nomgqibelo says her name she immediately mentions where she comes from, because where she comes from shapes who she is. This is her identity. For the bureaucrat he is changing a name, but to Nomgqibelo he is trying to change who she is.
My name is Sean Samson and I am from Hanover Park. I say this with honour and pride, with the knowledge that it can never be changed. Who I am and where I come from is central to what I’m becoming and changing that not only affects my present but reaches out in an attempt to grab my future.
The loss of identity and the inability for people to connect cross-culturally are the two themes found in this poem. The poem examines how a name is much more than a word that differentiates individuals, but is something that creates an individual. This essay will examine how the callous treatment of the persona’s name not only severs her from an identity, but also stops two cultures from establishing contact.
In the poem, the persona laments what has happened to “the wonderful name of my great-great grandmothers”. This suggests that the persona has been separated from the history of those that came before her. In society, the individual is often shaped by the actions and beliefs of their forebears; in other words, culture shapes our identity. So, the disconnection from the name of the ancestors has led to the persona losing a cultural identity. An identity has been thrust upon her which she can never fully assume. There is no cultural history linked to the name “Maria” in African heritage; she has lost one identity only to be denied another. The name which is “so simple, / And yet meaningful” has been replaced with one that has no significance.
The other theme is of how an opportunity is missed for the bureaucrat to have contact with the identity/culture of the persona. The Afrikaner man, by not showing respect for the persona’s name, has let slip the opportunity to bridge the divide between his culture and that of a Xhosa woman. It is impossible to understand and know a person without first knowing their name and the background from which they come.
It can be seen that the poem “My Name” deals with the issues that stop people from truly understanding each other. The poem conveys how in a name, there is power and potential for history to touch the present and mould us.
“My Name”, written by African poet Magoleng wa Selepe, can be described on a literal level as a poem written about a woman whose name is changed so that others can pronounce it more easily. However, on a deeper level, this poem is about the importance of one’s name, the political system in South Africa during Apartheid, and the effect of this system on black South Africans.
The poem focuses on a woman whose name is changed from the one handed down to her from her ancestors, Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa, to Maria by a bureaucrat who finds her real name difficult to pronounce. This prompts her to cry out to her Messiah, “help me! / My name is so simple / And yet so meaningful, / but to this man it is trash…” Firstly, the poem is about the importance of one’s name. It is one’s first form of identification, and without it one loses an essential part of one’s identity. Furthermore, to Nomgqibelo her name represents both her pride in her culture and in her ancestors: “The wonderful name of my great-great grandmothers…” To change her name to a different one tarnishes the memory of her ancestors and damages the pride that she feels toward her culture.
The poem is also about the system of Apartheid that was in place in South Africa. The poem uses the ease with which the bureaucrat changes her name to illustrate the plight of black people in South Africa during Apartheid. The bureaucrat shows no respect for Nomgqibelo’s name, cruelly dismissing it and then simply solving his problem of not being able to understand and pronounce it by changing it to Maria. It is the ease with which the bureaucrat disregards her name that distresses the woman and conveys to the reader the difficulty that black South Africans were faced with.