By: Katleho Sekhotho
Once a month on The Arts Report we intend to celebrate a legend who has made an extraordinary contribution to the African arts and culture fraternity.
This is someone who has raised the bar, shone a light or changed the trajectory of a culture.
For our very first Arts Report legends special we hear from poet, author, social commentator and political activist Don Mattera.
He is, quite undoubtedly, one of the kindest people around, and has even been dubbed by a number of writers – ‘the poet of compassion.’
I sat with Ntate Don at his home in Protea Glen on a Wednesday morning, and he gave me almost everything he can still remember.
Mattera was hit by two strokes early last year. Sitting with him, he gently asked me to be patient with him as he gathered his thoughts.
I listened intently as he narrated about how he started to become aware of his talents at a Roman Catholic school in KwaZulu Natal, how crime in Sophiatown began to grip his life and how through the grace of his family and those who loved him, he decided to use his words as a weapon.
Besides his autobiography, his writing includes an anthology of poems, Azanian Love Song; a collection of short stories, The Storyteller, The Five Magic Pebbles; and plays that include Streetkids, Apartheid in the Court of History, and One Time Brother, which was banned in 1984.
Listen to the Arts Report featuring Don Matera:
Disclaimer: The following audio contains explicit language and is suitable for children.
Here is a list of books by Don Mattera: Don Matera books
I first met Ntate Don when I was 13 years old after winning a poetry competition at my high school. Mrs Rice at Mondeor High, invited Portia Monama and I (the two winners) to meet and greet him. We were afforded the opportunity to recite our poems for him. He then signed my poem with the words, “There is no mountain too high, for those who want to touch the heart of life.”
One thing you will hear from listening to this interview, is Mattera’s fervent belief in compassion and kindness, most especially for children.
I feel a poem – by Don Mattera
Thumping deep, deep
I feel a poem inside
wriggling within the membrane
of my soul;
tiny fists beating,
beating against my being
trying to break the navel cord,
crying, crying out
to be born on paper
deep, so deeply
I feel a poem,