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Haiku in Southern Africa

An awareness of haiku began to spread among poets and literary scholars in the Republic of South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s largely as a result of contacts with European specialists and travel by local academics and public figures to East Asia. Poets writing in English and Afrikaans are not numerous, nor have they enjoyed the benefits of dedicated haiku journals or regular gatherings, but several have had their work included in national and international publications. There has been very little haiku activity in the indigenous languages of South Africa or, possibly excluding Zimbabwe, in other countries in Southern Africa.

Republic of South Africa—Haiku in English

As is the case in most countries on the continent, the Republic of South Africa is multicultural and multiethnic. According to the Wikipedia article on the languages of South Africa, “The most common language spoken as a first language by South Africans is Zulu (23 percent), followed by Xhosa (16 percent), and Afrikaans (14 percent). English is the fourth most common first language in the country (9.6%), but is understood in most urban areas and is the dominant language in government and the media.” For haiku poets, English has been the clear first choice, with some activity in Afrikaans (a variant of Dutch). Few if any haiku have yet been published in any of the eight other official (indigenous) languages of the republic, or for that matter, of any other country in Southern Africa.

The introduction of haiku in South Africa may well have been through the work or European and North American scholars and poets and was certainly accelerated by the activities of academic travelers and diplomats, both to and from Asia. One of the first influences was the 1973 visit to China by Dennis Brutus, a prominent South African educator, anti-apartheid activist, and poet, during which he learned about 絕句 jueju, a Chinese short poetic form, as well as haiku. The following verse of Brutus’s shows the influence of haiku:

That gentle touch on
your cheek many years from now:
ashes from my urn.1

Steve Shapiro creates haiku as well as haiga and has published two haiku books, In A Borrowed Tent (1994) and Of Little Consequence (2007). Here is one haiku from each:

Through a hole
in a borrowed tent
the Milky Way
Collecting mushrooms
my knife blade reflecting mist
swirling through the pines

Perhaps the most internationally active South African haikuist in the 21st century has been Johannesburg resident Maria Steyn, who started writing haiku in 1999 and has been publishing regularly in international print journals. This haiku of hers was selected as an Honorable Mention in the Robert Spiess Memorial Haiku Award (2003):

deep night …
a moth stirs
the windchime

and this one was included in Wishbone Moon, a 2018 anthology of haiku by women:

first light …
the shape of you
around me

Moira Richards of George, Eastern Cape, has written mostly tanka and renku. She once served as renku editor for the Web journal Simply Haiku and as a co-convener of the annual online festival of women’s poetry in South Africa. This haiku of hers appeared in A Hundred Gourds 4:2 (March 2015):

a crusted pier
points to where
the moon just was

Scotland-born Gus Ferguson is a cartoonist, editor, and pharmacist who lives in Cape Town. He is a devotee of short-form light verse possibly influenced by haiku and edits the poetry journal Carapace. A typical ditty of his as cited in Wikipedia:

Gus Ferguson should be martyred
But not with wood and nails
he should be wrapped in lettuce leaves
and thrown amongst his snails.

Charl JF Cilliers has been writing poetry since 1971, but his interest in haiku flowered only recently. He has self-published two collections of what he calls “haiku variations.” This is from the first, titled Karoo (2012):

The Frog

From its huge belly
The frog disgorges a storm
The trees do not move.

In Cilliers’s second collection, Grains of Sand (2013), he explained his use of titles:

I find myself experimenting to an ever-greater extent with impressionistic contrasts, as I do in photography, selecting external images to reflect feelings that the images (their contrasts or contradictions) evoke in me.… I am not at all fond of titling these poems, but here do so merely for reference purposes. None of the titles, however, add anything to, or detract in any way from, the haiku variations.

A poet from South Africa whose haiku began appearing in journals and online about 2015 is Clifford W Lindemann of Broederstroom, North West Province:

Dusk and the moon
smiles at the evening star
Venus blinks2

Hilton Cockcroft, a resident of Gauteng, achieved notable success in publishing his work in the international journal Modern Haiku. This haiku appeared in issue 44:3 (Fall 2013):

old Zulu battleground
sugarcane swaying
in the sunshine

Pat Louw, Marí Peté, and Pieter Scholtz, three writers and academics with interest in poetry, drama, the ecology, and children, especially in Zululand, combined forces in 2017 to produce Current Haiku, a book of haiku for children.

One other event involving a South African poet is significant in the history of world haiku. Richard Wright, a black American author discovered haiku in 1959 when the Uganda-born South African Beat poet Sinclair Beiles (1930–2000) visited him in Paris and gave him a gift of R. H. Blyth’s four-volume Haiku. This Japanese poetic genre came as a revelation to the American writer. Wright specialist Jianqing Zheng has written, “Immediately after Beiles’s introduction, there was an enthusiastic intensity of haiku writing in Wright’s life in Paris. Wright was ‘completely incapable of stopping’ his new obsession with haiku though he was very sick at the time.” Wright seems to have had no other source of information about haiku and no one with whom to discuss his work. Still, Wright produced some 4,000 haiku, 817 of which were selected by the poet himself for publication. His watershed collection, Haiku: This Other World, appeared in print only in 1998.

In discussing South African haiku mention should also be made of Raphael d’Abdon, an Italian-born academic and poet who lectures at the Department of English Studies at the University of South Africa (Unisa), Pretoria. In his capacity as South African representative of the Africa Haiku Network he has interviewed prominent poets on the continent and made other contributions to promoting the genre in South Africa.

Republic of South Africa—Haiku in Afrikaans

A number of poets who write in the Afrikaans language have also achieved prominence in South African haiku. One of the earliest and most eminent was Eveleen Castelyn (1928–2004), who was especially known for her haiku and tanka, published her debut poetry collection, Tussen hemel en aarde (Between Heaven and Earth; 1978). The book won the Eugène Marais Prize of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (South African Academy of Science and Arts). “[Castelyn] deals with the passing of time, dismantling, distance and separation and is probably the first Afrikaans poet of tanka verses and our leading poet of haiku verses in the traditional Japanese form. Her contribution to Afrikaans poetry lies mainly in her exceptional ability to write verses that are almost transparent in their simplicity, but each time betray a fine thoughtful workmanship with a read.”3

Castelyn sometimes concluded her collections of longer poems with a few haiku—a tattoo—like this one from the series in her 1990 collection Minder as die engele (Less than the Angels):

Maanblom speel trompet 
kaktusfagotte blaas ’n 
Moonflower plays trumpet
cactus bassoon blows a
summer-night tattoo4

Active on the South African haiku scene by the late 1990s was Wilhelm Haupt, who wrote in both Afrikaans and English and published in overseas journals. Haupt’s haiku from this period included this one published in 1998 in the Dutch journal Vuursteen:

Daddy, come quick and look:
The sky is so full of
God’s foot prints.5

This one of Haupt’s, from 2001 in the American journal Frogpond, captures the distinctive eponymous cry of the African ibis:

Summer holiday
hadidas laz’ly shouting
“ha ha hadida”6

Journalist Hélène Kesting and her husband, university librarian Deon Kesting, jointly published a book, Klein akkoord: 100 haikoes (Small Chord: 100 Haiku; 1979). William J. Higginson chose one haiku from each poet to include in Haiku World, his international season-word anthology (1996):

Skielik alleen
die gaste het vertrek— 
Slak teen de ruit 
Kruipende mis: 
die kransduif se koer 

Suddenly alone
the guests having departed—
Snail at the window
Crawling mist:
the cooling of the rock pigeon

Based in Cape Town and like Castelyn a graduate of the University of Stellenbosch, was Daniel Hugo (born 1955). He worked as an announcer and producer for the national Afrikaans radio service and an editor at the Protea Boekhuis publishing house. With fourteen books of poetry to his credit, he occasionally has written haiku as well. Some of Hugo’s haiku seem like wry affirmations of a traditionalist view of the genre:

o haikoe sonder 
natuur en die seisoene: 
padda sonder poel 
o haikoe sonder 
getelde lettergrepe: 
lente sonder swaels 
o haiku without
nature and the seasons:
frog without pool7
o haiku without
counted syllables:
spring without swallows8

Marié Heese is a novelist and teacher who won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Africa. She usually wrote in Afrikaans, but her collection Haiku for Africa (2014) was published in English. A sample haiku of hers:

long live the king
vultures are circling just to frustrate them
I shall survive one more day

The seasoned Afrikaans poet and literary critic Joan Hambidge published haikoes in some of her poetry collections, for example, this one from Gesteelde Appels (Stolen Apples, 1989):

‘n Padda se plons
nietig in die vyver vol 
reeds gedoende slyk 
A frog’s splash
irrelevant in the pond
filled with old slime9

and this one from En Skielik is Dit Aand (And Suddenly It’s Evening, 2005):

hierdie klein gedig
soos ‘n uitgewiste
e-pos berig
this small poem
an erased
email report9

The omnibus haiku website Terebess Asia Online (TAO) curated by Gábor Terebess includes a section titled Haikoe in Afrikaans, a fine resource for work in that language. The website includes 76 haiku by poet Arthur Viljoen (born 1923). The haiku are arranged according to season, in the Japanese fashion. Two examples, from spring and autumn, respectively:

Vêr uit op die seë — 
Weerligte blom 
In die nag se tuin 
Herfsswaeltjies ryg 
Pêrelsnoere in 
Op telefoondrade 
Far out on the sea
A lightning flower
In the garden of night10
Autumn swallows
Strings of pearls
On telephone lines11

Other poets whose work is anthologized in Haikoe in Afrikaans are Hennie Aucamp (1934–2014), Floris A. Brown (born 1948), Koos Kombuis (born 1954), Elza Lorenz, and Fanie Olivier (born 1949).

In 2018 Antoinette Olivier published a collection, “Optelklippies: Haikoe” (Potted Pebbles: Haiku), which includes:

geure en kleure                       
vars oor die tafel gestrooi       
die ene monét                          

vanoggend skielik                   
glip die somervenster oop       
hoe rank die jasmyn                
fragrances and colours
freshly strewn across the table
pure Monet

suddenly this morning
the summer window slips open
how the jasmine twines9

To date, no organization or journal has emerged in South Africa to gather Afrikaaner (or English) haiku poets and offer an opportunity to meet regularly and share their work. In 2011 and 2012, however, LitNet, an independent online literary journal, sponsored a competition called “Skryf die Groot Afrikaanse Haikoe” (Write the Great African Haiku). Rules for submissions—slightly different from Japanese and English norms—were as follows:

  • Your haiku must consist of three lines.
  • There are no specific rules regarding the number of syllables, but generally no single line can contain more than 15 syllables.
  • Haiku should preferably contain concrete images.
  • There are often seasonal references in haiku.
  • Describe two separate things that are surprisingly related to each other.

Haiku in Other Southern African Countries

Haiku activities elsewhere in Southern Africa seem scattered and sporadic. The few poets who write haiku work in isolation. No significant activities have been recorded yet in Angola, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Work by these two haikuists from the region, however, has appeared in contests and journals:

I looked around me
In the middle of the street
Suddenly I am lost. 
                        Jacob Nthoiwa, Botswana12
they roam hand in hand
in their deep connectedness
our thoughts and our minds 

                       Lize Bard, Namibia13

Compiled by: Adjei Agyei-Baah & Haikupedia Editors, with thanks to Maria Steyn

Adapted from: Adjei Agyei-Baah, “A History of African Haiku”

Sources / Further Reading (Print)

History, Composition, and Criticism

Selected Collections

  • Atkinson, Peter. African Haiku. Houghton [Johannesburg], South Africa: D. Atkinson, ©2007. Illustrations.
  • Atkinson, Peter. African Haiku 2. Houghton [Johannesburg], South Africa: D. Atkinson, 2012.
  • Aucamp, Hennie. Vlamsalmander. Pretoria: Protea Boekhuis, 2008. In Afrikaans.
  • Brits, Marius. Solo: Africa Zen Poetry and Bush Haiku. Lydenburg, South Africa: Drum Beat Media CC, 1st edition, 2003.
  • Castelyn, Eveleen. Minder as die engele (Less than the Angels). Cape Town, South Africa: Human & Rousseau, 1990. Poetry in Afrikaans.
  • Castelyn, Eveleen. Tussen hemel en aarde (Between Heaven and Earth). Cape Town, South Africa: Human & Rousseau, 1978. Poetry in Afrikaans.
  • Cilliers, Charl J F. African Haiku 2. Houghton [Johannesburg], South Africa: D. Atkinson, 2012.
  • Cilliers, Charl J F. Grains of Sand (Haiku Variations). Malgas Publishers, 2013.
  • Cilliers, Charl J F. Karoo (Haiku Variations). Malgas Publishers, 2012.
  • Clark, Sue. Summer Haiku & New Poems. Illustrations by Julia Clark. Plumstead, South Africa: Snailpress, 2000.
  • Dennis Brutus Collection, Worcester State College, Worcester, Mass. Publications and Printing Services, Worcester State College Press. 3rd edition, 2010.
  • Driver, C. J. Holiday Haiku: July–August 1996. Plumstead, South Africa: Firfield Poetry Press, 1997.
  • Garb, Ivor. Haiku: Some with an African Flavour. Clifton, South Africa: self-published, ©1990.
  • George, Abigail. Feeding the Beasts: A Poetry Anthology. Edited by Ambrose George. Port Elizabeth, South Africa: Drum Beat Media CC, 1995.
  • Greig, Robert. Rule of Cadence. Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu Natal Press, 1st edition, 2005.
  • Hambridge, Joan. En Skielik is Dit Aand (And Suddenly It’s Evening). Pretoria, South Africa: Protea Boekhuis, 2005. In Afrikaans.
  • Hambridge, Joan. Gesteelde Appels (Stolen Apples). Pretoria, South Africa: Haum-literêr, 1989. In Afrikaans.
  • Heath, Elize. Vlugskrif: ’n versameling haikoe en senryu / Flyer: A Collection of Haiku and Senryu. George-Oos, Western Cape, South Africa: Kreativ, 1st edition, 2012. In Afrikaans and English.
  • Heese, Marié. Haiku for Africa. Muckleneuk, Pretoria, South Africa: Unisa (University of South Africa) Press, ©1997.
  • Jacopo, Giovanni. In a Borrowed Tent: Ninety Nine Haiku. Plumstead, South Africa: Firfield Pamphlet Press, 1995.
  • Kellner, Lauren Ursula. Sixty Haiku’s (1989–2008). Wynberg, South Africa: Little Flower Press, Limited edition, ©2008.
  • Kesting, Hélène. Klein akkoord: 100 haikoes. Kaapstad: Tafelberg, 1979.
  • La Grange, Retseh, and Marié-Louise Mullan. Vlinderstiltes: Haiku (Butterfly Silences: Haiku). Pretoria, South Africa: Erroll Marx Publishers, n.d. [1981]. In Afrikaans.
  • Laterveer, Veronica F. Het verschijnsel “haiku” in het Nederlands taalgebied (The “Haiku” Phenomenon in the Dutch Language Area). N.p. [Bloemendaal, South Africa]: Stichting Dimensie, n.d. [1981]. In Dutch.
  • Lorenz, Elza. Transverse: Haiku, 2-toners, Verse. Heidelberg, South Africa: Gnomic Press, 1999.
  • Morrissey, Norman. Seasons: Haiku. Alice, South Africa: Lovedale Press, 1999.
  • Olivier, Antoinette. Optelklippies: Haikoe (Potted Pebbles: Haiku). George, South Africa: Kreativ SA, 2018. In Afrikaans.
  • Oostenbroek, Lucette M. Haiku for Africa. ’Gravenhage: Nijgh & Van Ditmar, 1982.
  • Scholtz, Peter. Haiku for Rapunzel. Durban, South Africa: Horus Publications, n.d. [2014].
  • Shapiro, Steve. In a Borrowed Tent: Ninety Nine Haiku. Plumstead, South Africa: Firfield Pamphlet Press, 1994.
  • Shapiro, Steve. Of Little Consequence. Cape Town, South Africa: Snail Press, 2007.


  • Beary, Roberta, Ellen Compton, and Kala Ramesh, eds. Wishbone Moon. Durham, N.C.: Jacar Press, 2018.
  • Louw, Pat, Marí Peté, and Pieter Scholtz. Current Haiku. South Africa: Horus Publications, 2017. Haiku for children.

Sources / Further Reading (Online)

History, Composition, and Criticism

  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei. “A History of African Haiku,” in World of Haiku, The Haiku Foundation website: https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/files/original/45bbf38ca68bb214b04e4476bdb0b9a2.pdf; posted February 2017.
  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei. “A History of African Haiku.” The Mamba 3 (2017): https://africahaikunetwork.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/mamba-iii-final.pdf.
  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei, and Emmanuel Jessie Kalusian, Africa Haiku Network website: https://africahaikunetwork.wordpress.com/about/.
  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei, and Emmanuel Jessie Kalusian, eds. The Mamba: Journal of Africa Haiku Network (February 2016– ): https://africahaikunetwork.wordpress.com/contact/.
  • Bard, Lize, ed. Haiku Out of Africa: https://wandererhaiku.wordpress.com. Blog featuring photo haiga by the editor.
  • “Eveleen Castelyn.” Wikipedia (Afrikaans): https://af.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eveleen_Castelyn.
  • “Gus Ferguson.” Wikipedia (English): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gus_Ferguson.
  • “Haikoe in Afrikaans.” Terebess Asia Online (TAO): https://terebess.hu/english/haiku/afrikaans.html. A selection of haiku by ten poets.
  • Sicilia Saavedra, Leticia. “El haiku en África,” Haikus por el mundo, El Rincón del Haiku; posted February 1, 2019. http://nueva.elrincondelhaiku.org/2019/02/01/el-haiku-en-africa/. Spanish translation of Adjei Agyei-Baah, “A History of African Haiku” (2017).
  • Viljoen, Ig. Haiku Haikoe. http://haikuhaikoe.blogspot.com. Blog about the haiku of Arthur Vijoen; mainly in Afrikaans.
  • “Writing Competitions.” LitNet website: https://www.litnet.co.za/category/nuwe-skryfwerk-new-writing/skryfkompetisies/page/46/.

Haiku in North Africa
Haiku in East Africa
Haiku in West Africa
Haiku in The Netherlands


  1. From the Dennis Brutus papers, Worcester State College, Mass., U.S.A.cent” []
  2. Asahi Haikuist Network, December 30, 2016. []
  3. “Eveleen Castelyn.” Wikipedia (Afrikaans). []
  4. Castelyn, Minder as die engele (Less than the Angels) (1990). []
  5. Vuursteen, No. 3, 1998. []
  6. Frogpond 24:1 (2001). []
  7. “Haikoe in Afrikaans,” Terebess Asia Online (TAO). []
  8. “Haikoe in Afrikaans” Terebess Asia Online (TAO). []
  9. Trans. Maria Steyn. [] [] []
  10. From the sequence “Lente” (Spring). Ig Viljoen, ed., Haiku Haikou. Also in “Haikoe in Afrikaans,” Terebess Asia Online (TAO). Trans. C. Trumbull. []
  11. From the sequence “Herfs” (Autumn). Ig Viljoen, ed., Haiku Haikou. Also in “Haikoe in Afrikaans” Terebess Asia Online (TAO). Trans. C. Trumbull. []
  12. Botswana Haiku (University of Botswana English Department, 2003). Apparently a website or blog, now defunct. Haiku cited by Gabi Greve, ed., Saijiki for Kenya and Tropical Regions. World Kigo Database: https://kenyasaijiki.blogspot.com/2006/12/african-haiku.html. []
  13. Lize Bard, ed., Haiku Out of Africa, Nov. 29, 2016. []
Updated on April 28, 2024