On 24 September 2013, Remi Kanazi, a world-renowned Palestinian-American performance poet, gave a performance of his poetry in Khayelitsha in Cape Town. Kanazi's poetry covers a range of topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Islamophobia and imperialism.
Despite it being Heritage and Braai Day, and the Pirates and Chiefs semi-finals, about 40 people attended the event. Kanazi went through a small selection of his published and unpublished poetry. Rasta, a local poet and Palestine solidarity activist, also joined Kanazi on the stage to give a taste of local performance poetry.
Kanazi says that his poetry, particularly regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, does not speak from a nationalist perspective. Rather, he says that his writing focuses on human rights and bringing the human perspective of the Occupation, "it's about a system of oppression and what's being done to a people". Kanazi's family, Palestinians on both his mother's and father's side, had to flee their homes after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
The floor was opened for audience members to ask Kanazi questions after he performed each poem. Questions ranged from topics on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, technical question about writing poetry and life as a performer to his thoughts on his walk through Khayelitsha before the performance.
Nkosikhona Swartbooi, a resident of Khayelitsha and the Secretary of Open Shuhada Street, said that "Kanazi's poetry brought home the human suffering of not just Palestinians, but all people suffering under oppressive systems. No report or news article can capture those emotions in the way that performance art can".
Zukiswa Qezo, an SJC member, said that Kanazi's poetry showed her a "different perspective on Israel's Occupation of Palestinian Territories. He also explained the issue of Palestinian refugee camps and what is like for Palestinian refugees who have to live in them. From what he told me, it seems that they experience similar living conditions to us in Khayelitsha".
Prior to his performance in Khayelitsha, Kanazi was shown around RR and BM sections in Khayelitsha by members of the Social Justice Coalition. Here he witnessed the living conditions of many of the people that live in, such as the disastrous effects of the fires that swept through parts of Khayelitsha in January this year, which left thousands of people homeless; flooding that takes place every winter; and the poor sanitation conditions that people have to live with.
Responding to a question about activism through art, Kanazi said that "a performer's job is to make people feel uncomfortable and to present a different perspective on things". He also said that "justice and freedom are more than just words, it's about community safety, proper schooling etc."
Kanazi is currently based in New York and is currently the editor of Poets for Palestine (2008) and recently published a collection of his own poetry in Poetic Injustice: Writings on Resistance and Palestine (2011). He has also been the writer in residence and an advisory board member for the Palestine Workshop.
Kanazi's trip to South Africa was made possible by the Tri-Continental Film Festival.