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Sunday Times - - REVIEW -

OUNG peo­ple in South Africa and In­dia are fac­ing sim­i­lar prob­lems,” says out­spo­ken Pre­to­ria poet and so­cial ac­tivist Xabiso Vili, 26.

“There is a grow­ing prob­lem with lead­er­ship, a gen­er­a­tion of adults that cling on too tightly to power (un­will­ing to ac­knowl­edge the piv­otal role youth play in shap­ing our re­al­ity), and ac­cess to univer­sity is be­ing lim­ited to a great de­gree.”

Vili, who was in Ban­ga­lore, In­dia, last month, or­gan­is­ing a po­etry fes­ti­val as part of a six-week tour of the coun­try, is not your typ­i­cal poet.

“I see three ma­jor is­sues fac­ing South African youth right here, right now, start­ing with femi­cide,” he says.

“The oth­ers are lim­ited ac­cess to knowl­edge in­sti­tu­tions and a ten­dency to rely too heav­ily on oth­ers to solve our prob­lems for us. “But we are re­silient.” The tour of seven In­dian ci­ties, where he col­lab­o­rated with young cre­atives, is part of a project Vili is work­ing on with a post-doc­toral fel­low from In­dia, ex­plor­ing cross-cul­tural artis­tic dy­nam­ics.

When he’s not tour­ing, a typ­i­cal week for Vili in­volves per­form­ing at var­i­ous venues in Pre­to­ria, in­clud­ing the State Theatre and Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy. He acts as MC for po­etry ses­sions, in line with work he does to ac­ti­vate po­etry spa­ces in and out of uni­ver­si­ties.

Vili is also a res­i­dent artist and or­gan­iser at venues that were aban­doned and are now oc­cu­pied by artists.

Vili says of his start as a poet: “I was an awk­ward child, I started writ­ing po­etry at the age of 12 and through this I was able to ver­balise and ex­ter­nalise what was hap­pen­ing within me.

“This al­lowed me to com­mu­ni­cate with my peers and con­tem­po­raries. That re­mains true to this day. Us­ing po­etry I am able to con­front my­self and oth­ers around many top­ics. This be­comes my so­cial ac­tivism.”

In his one-man show Black Boi Be, Vili ex­plores the “in­tri­ca­cies, beau­ties and hor­rors of be­ing black and male in these times”.

“I’m at­tracted to won­der­fully strange, sur­pris­ingly beau­ti­ful, vi­o­lently del­i­cate things — I kind of gather them all and keep them in my po­ems. I never quite know what it’ll be.

“I love an un­der­dog story, so I put much of my en­ergy into help­ing many an un­der­dog. And love, lots and lots of love, a whole polyamory of love, redefining love, re­find­ing love and its mean­ing for our­selves.”

Vili moved from Pre­to­ria to Cape Town and en­rolled at Cedar House School. The fol­low­ing year, 2008, he was elected head boy.

“It def­i­nitely had a lot to do with my po­etry. I put my suc­cess with peo­ple in gen­eral down to that,” he says.

Vili’s tran­si­tion from the school en­vi­ron­ment to the “real” world had its bumps. Af­ter three years at Rhodes Univer­sity and a year work­ing as an as­sis­tant teacher at Cedar House, he moved back to Pre­to­ria.

“I was go­ing through a lot at that time and ex­pe­ri­enced a type of men­tal break­down,” he says.

“Go­ing back to Pre­to­ria was a re­turn to my ge­n­e­sis, to dis­cover where and how my heart beat. Pre­to­ria re­ally opened me up to my­self and the po­ems flowed out from that point.” LS

• Vili will tour South Africa in June and July, be­fore a visit to the US in Au­gust. To book con­tact vil­ix­[email protected]

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