Review: Collective Amnesia by Koleka Putuma



I want someone who is going to look at me

and love me

The way that white people look at

and love


Someone who is going to hold onto my memory

the way that white people onto Mandela’s legacy.

A lover who will build Robben Island in my backyard

and convince me that I have a garden

and fresh air, a rainbow and freedom.

A TRC kind of love

You don’t know love

until you’ve been loved like Mandela.

You don’t know betrayal

until you have been loved like Mandela.

You don’t know fuckery

until you have been loved like Mandela.

You don’t know msunery

until you have been loved like Mandela.

And this is one of the many residues of slavery:

Being loved like Mandela

Book Review

Title: Collective Amnesia

Author: Koleka Putuma

Category:  Poetry/Narrative Poetry

I came to learn of Koleka Putuma when I stumbled upon a poster that was talking about her event alongside Victor Ehikhamenor, a Nigeran based artist, photographer and writer in Nairobi. Dubbed ‘Artistic Encounters,’ the event brings together the work of two different artists in one space and at the same time.

The event which is organized by Goethe Institut, Nairobi, took place last week on Thursday, 16th March, and saw Koleka reading from her debut poetry text while Victor painted the words of Koleka. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in position to attend but following the reviews and conversations people had about it, it’s so evident that it was a show stopper event.

Here’s a glimpse of how the two paired.

Victor painting the words of Koleka. Photo courtesy of Goethe Institut.


This was the first time Koleka was reading her poetry book and in Nairobi! If this doesn’t count as an honor Nairobians, I don’t know what does.  Again, just like 14 by Nanya Kooper, Collective Amnesia has not yet been listed by Goodreads. Matter of fact I guess am the first person to review this poetry text. Yah you heard me.

Back to the matter at hand, Collective Amnesia is a collection of poems divided into three sections;

  1. Inherited Memory
  2. Buried Memory and
  3. Post Memory.

In this book, Koleka has explored the subject of politics, religion, womanhood and sexuality. Nonetheless, the author has also infused societal issues like race discrimination, Queers, and loss of life. One of the sensitive topics she had me aloof is the one that touches on how families deal with the sexual vices when it comes to close relatives.

Some mothers set their daughters alight to keep their men warm.

and some family members would rather describe the smoke than smell like it.

 This statement summarizes the unreported rape cases found in present day African societies. The reported cases of such incidents are usually less when compared to the actual number because families tend to ‘protect’ their family names and dismiss or settle such cases amongst themselves. As Koleka puts it, ‘the woman in the family would rather toil in the kitchen than crucify their husbands and brothers or sons or respected elders,’ that, ‘neighbors can never see your dirty laundry.’

Sad as it may sound, this’ exactly what is taking place not only in South Africa but in most homes in Africa.

Reading through the poems I kept on wondering why society sometimes just plays dumb on such matters. Why we allow ourselves to be manipulated by crazy ideologies of ‘upholding our families and religion beliefs all in the name of been seen and regarded as saints. Hypocrisy is the root cause of most of the adversities we experience in our societies today.

Koleka Putuma has approached these subjects fearlessly and in a very bold way!

Collective Amnesia is a must read and worth the time and money if you are looking for an unwavering poetry book.

Visit for details on how you can get yourself a copy.

About the Author

Koleka Putuma is an award winning theater director, writer, and performance poet based in Cape Town. Some of her plays include “UHM” (2014), “Mbuzeni” (2015), and “Woza Sarafina” (2016). She was nominated for the Rosalie van der Gucht Prize for Best New Directors at the annual Fleur Du Cap Theater Awards (2015), named one of the young pioneers who took South Africa by storm in 2015 by The Sunday Times, and awarded the Pen SA Student Writing Prize for her poem “Water”.

I had mentioned in my previous post that I met her and got my copy autographed. Here are the photos I captured when she visited my work place for a Kenyan art experience before jetting back to S.A, accompanied by Victor, James Murua (a Kenyan literature blogger) and Zukiswa Wanner! Yes I met Zukiswa for the second time people. By now I’m sure you know just how much I love her.

My autographed copy
From left, Me, James (squatting), Koleka, Jess (my friend), Victor and Zukiswa.

3 thoughts on “Review: Collective Amnesia by Koleka Putuma”

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