A shy Wits metallurgical engineering student stole the show and walked away with the top prize in the Lover+another National Performance Poetry Challenge held at the Wits Theatre last Saturday night.

The competition was part of Drama for Life’s Sex Actually festival, which opened last week.

Nosipho Gumede blew the judges away with her poems The Breeze and I just pull up my panties and walk, on the theme of multiple concurrent sexual partners and the spread of HIV.

Gumede and fellow Witsie Vuyelwa Maluleke, 4th year drama, were chosen to represent Johannesburg in the regional finals held at the University of Johannesburg two weeks ago.

During Saturday’s grand slam, Gumede and Maluleke competed against 10 poets from Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, Grahamstown, Durban and Zululand.

Gumede, who had never participated in a poetry competition before this, had modest expectations on Saturday night.

“Can I just get through to the second round so that I can get to say my second poem?” she told Wits Vuvuzela.

Her poem dealt with the way people fail to talk about their emotional problems, but try to “fix” themselves by “pulling up their panties and walking” into one sexual relationship after another. It had audience members clicking their fingers in appreciation.

Competition organiser Malika Ndlovu of Drama for Life said “originality of perspective” was one of the criteria in the judging. Gumede’s fresh angle and innovative metaphor was just what the judges were looking for and secured her a spot in the top six.

She performed another hard-hitting poem, comparing the way people ignore HIV prevention messages to the way they ignore the weatherman’s predictions that there will be a strong wind rather than just a breeze.

Maluleke’s poem He said was about a mistress who regretfully accepts that she and her lover “are not for keeps”.

Maluleke, who is well-known on the Jo’burg slam poetry scene, was disappointed not to make it into the Top six, but focused on the message rather than the outcome of the competition.

“I told them a story and I hope they heard it. If they heard the story, then that’s all that matters,” she said.

Gumede won R2000. The second and third prizes went to poets who used vernacular languages and audience involvement to great effect. Durban sound engineer Mzamo Dlamini won R1500, while Pietermaritzburg rapper Nqobile Ngcobo won R1000.