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Shabbir Banoobhai PDF Print E-mail

Shabbir Banoobhai (1949 - ) was born in Durban and lived there until his move to Cape Town in 1995. Of necessity he shared the fate of the larger black community of South Africans, and his poetry reflects that struggle. He has also identified with victims of oppressive regimes elsewhere, including the Balkans, where he travelled with a journalist friend on a mission to Sarajevo in 1992. One of the central poems of his latest volume, Sarajevo, for which he received the 2001 Thomas Pringle Award for poetry, records this experience. Shabbir Banoobhai's poetry is interwoven with spiritual, political and personal themes. Douglas Livingstone said of his first volume of poetry: ' An obsessive and talented poet, a precocious master of the word and a fine lyricist to boot, almost every line of the work was subliminally ignited by the ancient great Islamic poets. He shares their prime qualities: sensuality, passion, brilliance of imagery, a holistic approach to nature, and of course, love of God.' Banoobhai's mystical writing has become more clearly directed against narrow-minded and exclusive religious thinking, perhaps influenced by South African society. He has a personal website,, where he writes philosophical meditations, some of which were published under the title Lightmail (2002). His personal poetry is chiefly for his two daughters and his wife, a teacher of Arabic, and for his friends. After his second book was published in 1984, he did not publish again (though he continued to write) until 1999 when he brought out, as a private publication, a book of brief poems and spiritual reflections, Wisdom in a Jug - Reflections of Love. In 2002 he also published Inward moon outward sun, which was launched at Poetry Africa in the same year. Banoobhai has continued to publish prolifically, both in print and on his personal website. These publications include Book of Songs (2004), If I could write - Ramadan letters (2006), Water would suffice - Reflections of love (2007), and A mountain is an upside down valley (2008).

Selected Work

from Inward moon outward sun (2002)

yesterday you left the sun behind it did not set
it simply burst like a grenade deep inside your mind

you left the mountains that you loved you would not have left but they crumpled
under the bombs meant for you

you left your village and your family but that's not true
like your freedom they were taken forcibly away from you

you drank water from a stream that was dying saw the reflection of the sky looked for yourself and found a dark rain-cloud drifting by

it was then that you left the sun your village and your family behind searched out the door of death blew it up and stepped in

yesterday you left death behind
the sun is back, mountains really do not die
other villages will grow, other families return
to live in, love, the land you softened with your blood

your eyes are begging-bowls not even the sun can fill they are like the dark spaces that inhabit the universe they devour the light of your people all laughter, even its memory, is gone from their land

in you the song of their struggle
has become a dirge of bones being crushed ploughed into the ground - to blossom into sunflowers in sealed-off courtyards

when you approach, even children are embarrassed
the morning hastily retreats behind clouds that promise but deliver no rain - those who have vanquished you no longer bother to notice your outstretched hands.



1980. Echoes of my other self. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.
1984. Shadows of a sun-darkened land. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.
1999. Wisdom in a Jug - Reflections of Love. (private publication).
2002. Inward moon outward sun. Durban: University of Natal Press
2002. Lightmail. Durban: Africa Impressions.
2004. Book of Songs. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
2006. If I could write - Ramadan letters. (private publication).
2007. Water would suffice - Reflections of love. (private publication).
2008. A mountain is an upside down valley. (private publication).

2009. Lyrics in Paradise. Cape Town. Peter Strauss Publishers

2009. Dark light - the spirit's secret. Cape Town: Shabbir Banoobhai