Poetry for Life 2016 










2016 Finalists



PfL Team


Poetry for Life (PfL) held the finals of its second annual competition on 13 May 2016 at the Franschhoek Literary Festival.

This year, contestants from three Provinces - Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu-Natal and the Western Cape - entered the competition.  Once again excellent support was received from the Department of Education in the Western Cape; and all three Provinces were also supported by the Independent Examination Board Schools.  There were eight finalists at Franschhoek – one from Kwa-Zulu-Natal, two from Gauteng, and five from the Western Cape.   The representative numbers in the National Finals were determined by the number of schools which entered from each Province.  Our vision for the future is to include competitors from all nine South African Provinces in the Finals.  We are also looking forward to holding the National Finals in different Provinces in the coming years.

The initial rounds of the competition were run within the schools.  The best competitor from each school in the Western Cape progressed to a regional round, and from those rounds ten learners were selected to compete at Provincial level.  With fewer competitors in the other Provinces, only one competition was held following the school rounds.  At each level of the competition after the school heats, the competitors had to memorise and recite two poems, from a pre-selected list of (a) international poems and  (b) South African poems.   All of these poems are published elsewhere on our website.

The eight finalists once again performed brilliantly in one of the largest venues at the Franschhoek Literary Festival.  Our judges were the well-known South African poet, Isobel Dixon; equally well-known poet and novelist, Leon de Kock; and Linda Koama, who is both a poet and the Manager of Badilisha Poetry Radio Exchange, a platform dedicated to showcasing poetry from Africa, on the internet and through podcasts.  Poet, novelist and scholar Finuala Dowling was our host.  

Israeel Davids, a Grade 11 student from Kensington High School, Cape Town, was pronounced the winner, for his rendition of Tennyson’s Ulysses and I expect more from you, by Vangile Gantsho.  The runners-up were Nontuthuzelo Ncasa, from Oaklands High School, Lansdowne, Cape Town, reciting Prayer before Birth by Louis McNeice and My Name  by Magoleng wa Selepe; and Alessia Lederer from Rhenish Girls’ High School, Stellenbosch, who recited The Listeners by Walter de la Mere and Ingrid de Kok’s Today I do not love my country. 

As part of their prize for entering and reaching the Finals, the top eight performers spent Friday and Saturday at the Franschhoek Literary Festival.   They delighted the audience at the Poetry at Essence reading and dinner, where they all performed their poems alongside well-known international and local poets. Theirs were some of the best performances, because they knew their poems and connected with the audience. They also attended several shows at the Festival, and spent a wonderful Friday night together at the guesthouse, playing the piano and singing, and getting to know each other. 

It is difficult to convey in words the fun those finalists had at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, and to describe how captivated the audiences were who watched the various rounds of the competition, seeing poetry come alive!  This project is definitely worth encouraging, as it benefits audiences and competitors alike.

PfL 2016 would not have been possible without the continued support of Cambridge University, England – without its generous support the National Finals would not have been possible; Fazeela Haffejee, Head of English for the Western Cape Department of Education, and all her regional heads, for promoting the competition with passion, and the Western Cape PfL team for their wonderful efforts through all rounds of the competition; Deirdre Byrne and her group in Gauteng for their outstanding organisation of the Gauteng event; and the teachers in KwaZulu-Natal, who rose to the challenge and ran their branch of the competition with enthusiasm.

With continued marketing, growing support and some funding, we know this competition will grow from strength to strength.  We hope that in 2017 many more schools from around the country will enter, so that within a few years many of our learners will leave school with the words of poets in their hearts and minds – for life.

Celia van Druten  

June 2016