The 2023 Avbob poetry competition: Celebrating South Africa's poetic heritage



Eleven winners of the 2023 AVBOB Poetry Competition (one for each of South Africa’s official languages) were announced at a sparkling gala award ceremony at Pretoria Country Club on Wednesday evening, 20 September 2023. 


AVBOB CEO Carl van der Riet delivered the keynote address in which he described poetry as a healing place where we find comfort and consolation; renewal and encouragement. “As we honour Heritage Day on 24 September, we celebrate South Africa’s rich and varied poetic traditions. We are particularly proud of how the AVBOB Poetry Competition contributes to and enriches our country’s cultural heritage in all 11 official languages,” he noted.


“From the start, poets have been encouraged to submit work in their mother tongue. We are delighted to see that 55% of all poems entered this year were written in South Africa’s vernacular languages,” Van der Riet shared. He added that the AVBOB Poetry Library now contains nearly 21 000 poems, each of which earned its author a usage fee of R300. This represents an investment of more than R6.2 million in usage fees supporting South African poets since the competition commenced in 2017.


The winner in each language category of AVBOB Poetry Competition received a R10 000 cash prize, a R2 500 book voucher, and an elegant trophy. Each guest also received a copy of the annual anthology, I wish I’d said… Vol. 6, which was launched at the event. The top six poems in each language appear in the anthology (each with an English translation). 


A selection of commissioned poems and six Khoisan poems from the Bleek and Lloyd collection round out the anthology. This comprehensive collection was compiled by Editor-in-Chief of the AVBOB Poetry Competition, Johann De Lange, and the Tshivenda Editor for the competition, Agnes Mawela.


According to De Lange, “Poetry addresses the universal struggle to find meaning and purpose in our darkest hours. The AVBOB Poetry Competition inspires poets to reach deep inside themselves to find words that keep hope alive. Fostering the poetry community helps people find encouragement and camaraderie in the reading and writing of this vital and life-affirming art form.”


Attendees were entertained by talented vocal sextet, Just 6. Their fascinating combination of unaccompanied voices created a distinct and vibrant sound, fusing indigenous African sounds with original harmonies. Their joyful energy set the tone for the event’s glamorous emcee, Bolele Polisa, to introduce each winner.



In alphabetical order of language category, the 2023 AVBOB Poetry Prize (1st place) winners are: Natalie Goetsch (Afrikaans), Lethube Hellen Phaladi (English), Nkululeko Mthembu (isiNdebele), Siphosakhe Gogo (isiXhosa), Zimkhitha Mbhele (isiZulu), Mahlogonolo Shilela Masehla (Sepedi), Brian Makara (Sesotho), Mosimanegape Jasone (Setswana), Prisca Nkosi (Siswati), Rokunda Mulovhedzi (Tshivenḓa) and Bongani Hlungwani (Xitsonga).



To view all 66 winners of the 2023 AVBOB Poetry Competition, and profiles of each of the 1st place winners, view the full press release by clicking here: 



To order I Wish I’d Said… Vol.6 SMS the word 'POEM' to 48423 (at a standard cost of R1.50 per SMS) to have it posted to you at a total cost of R240. Alternatively, email your order to [email protected] or find it at selected bookstores. Visit to access the AVBOB Poetry library and to register for the 2024 AVBOB Poetry Competition (which closes on 30 November 2023).

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