Welsh Dragon Silhouette - Wikimedia Commons
Guangzhou at Night

"...and a facinating evening it was"

Café Poetique:
Where It All Began

Towards the end of the last century, a movement, called the Café Philosophique, was established in France, where matters of a philosophical nature were discussed by interested amateurs in cafés, over coffee or wine. Soon the idea caught on in the UK, but under the title Café Scientifique; the meetings were held outside of a traditional academic context, being held in cafes, bars, restaurants and so on, where anyone could attend and explore aspects of science and technology. This concept was popularized by The British Council and such events were held in many countries, with different formats but usually involving an expert speaker, followed by intellectual conversation. On a British government sponsored visit to China, I gave a Café Scientifique in Guangzhou on the topic of medical engineering, and a fascinating evening it was.

It was the start of something beautiful. The unification of intellectual, philosophical, contemplative and poetic perspectives effortlessly blended together in a symphony of thought, emotion and creativity with depth and impact transcending beyond what words can express.

2012 | Café Scientifique

Straight to the Heart of a Child; Communicating Science the African Way

In 2012, soon after our company Strait Access Technologies was formed, Peggy and I decided to organize a Café Scientifique in Franschhoek, as far as I know, the first of its kind in South Africa. The theme, related to our medical technology, was “Straight to the Heart of a Child; Communicating Science the African Way”, and Professor Zilla and I were the speakers. We held the Café in the Ebony Gallery, courtesy of the owners, and with local sponsorship. There was a very good attendance, which was the starting point for introducing our concept of treating young patients with rheumatic heart disease to the population of the Western Cape.

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2014 | Café Poetique

Heart of Lightness

Just a couple of years later, when we were somewhat better known in the village, we thought that we could repeat such an event, but this time focusing on poetry rather than science. We converted the event title into “Café Poetique” and the evening session on March 28th 2014 was advertised as the “Heart of Lightness” in contrast to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness’. It was held again at Ebony, this time with four speakers, two females and two males, the program being under the guidance of local author and resident Jenny Hobbs, who was one of the founders of The Franschhoek Literary Festival. The two female poets were Beverly Rycroft and Finuala Dowling, both well-known poets from the Cape Town region. The two male poets were myself and Jamala Safari, an interesting contrast of an older, white Welshman and a black, young man originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Jamala’s story is profound, having escaped from the war-torn eastern part of the Congo, finding his way to the Western Cape of South Africa, and fighting his way up the educational ladder to achieve an MBA at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

2018 | Café Poetique

The Same But Different

In March 2018 we hosted another Café Poetique, this time with the banner “The Same But Different”. It was also held at Ebony, courtesy of the Directors (and friends) Dewald Prinsloo, Marc Stanes and Leonard de Villiers, in their beautiful new gallery, also in Franschhoek. This was a little different; apart from some poems by myself (which are all reproduced in other collections in the Poetry & Art section), we invited a prominent South African journalist / broadcaster, John Matisson, who had become a friend of ours living in Franschhoek, and who had recently published a book about the South African political and corruption crisis, “GOD, SPIES AND LIES; Finding South Africa’s future through its past”, to recount some of his experiences. Then we introduced Malefa Khama, a 19-year-old young lady from the local township, who enthralled the audience with her own short poems, spoken in the Xhosa language, well-known for its use of clicking sounds as a form of speech.

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Cafe Poetique Same but Different - Jamala

We had invited Jamala back and he enthusiastically accepted the invitation, but he was in a road traffic accident the previous day and had to cancel; he did, however, send me a poem he had written for the occasion and asked me to read it. It is reproduced here:

Nostalgia for Bukavu
By Jamala Safari

I wandered on your lands
A lost buck, exploring your paths
I smelled the whiff of your dusty soil
Transformed into muddy porridge
After your tropical rain
Flashing in heavy thunderclaps
That we always thought were soldiers raiding

Then the soldiers came
Militia, Lord armies or Loyal soldiers
With the rhythm of gunshots
Resonating in my heart like
The tam-tam of the local Burundians
Leaving your streets paralysed I lose my appetite

I remember the stories and my family tales
That plunged us into once upon a time
Which sometimes like the sleepy tortoise
We listened when sad
Sometimes like excited goat kids
We listened animated

Yes I remember Bukavu
This way I will always miss you
The motherhood-land, childhood-land
Forever my home longing
Will flow like a stream
Till I see you again.

Bukavu is the city in the DRC from which he escaped.