It is said that it’s not about how thick the book is, but about the knowledge you get in those thick books. With less than 70 pages to it, Surviving Loss is as thin as they come. It is a collection of poems written by Busisiwe Mahlangu about her abuse-ridden childhood.
The physical copy of Surviving Loss is a reflection of Mahlangu. Petite and pretty on the outside, but weighing so much because of the accumulated experiences in the inside. “It was written solely around surviving depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of the issues there are around poverty, abuse, rape and violence, and it’s written in a style of searching for healing,” she says.
Chilling on brown leather couches at Black, a restaurant at Pretoria’s State Theatre, I have a two-on-one with Mahlangu and Palesa Olifant. The latter is the director of the play, Surviving Loss-an adaptation of Mahlangu’s book, which opens at the Pretoria theatre today.
The book and the play are more than just close to Mahlangu’s heart, they are her. The abuse she writes about in the book is something she experienced growing up at the hands of her father. When I ask about her dad’s thoughts on the book, with a straight face the poet from Mamelodi says “My father is dead. He passed away end of Grade 10, in 2012. No, it was not good. In all the mental issues, my father always shows up during therapy, during relationships. It was a very violent relationship. Most of the abuse I talk about, is the abuse from my father.”
“I don’t like talking about the specifics of the abuse, but it was physical and emotional,” she tells me. She grew up with both parents, two older siblings and a younger one. “With abuse and violence that happens in the house, everyone gets abused and gets violated in a way. Even my mom went through the abuse, and she was aware that we’re feeling the pain and are being abused. But to an extent, it’s kinda difficult when you’re going through the same thing, it’s not like someone from the outside walking in and saying ‘oh, this is so hard’ and then saves us. It’s different when someone is living in the abuse.”
It was only when she got to Wits that she sought therapy from school, after a friend advised her to seek help from professionals. She only spent years at Wits, then got excluded because of outstanding fees. That’s when her poetry became more of a catharsis, even though she had been writing since high school, the 23-year-old had no inclinations of becoming a poet.
The poems on Surviving Loss date back to 2015. “When I left high school my poetry became more personal, writing more about things that I experience, see and feel. In 2016 is when I started performing, I took poetry more serious.”
“I was studying electrical engineering at Wits. I entered slams because they said you can win R500 and I was a broke student. So I thought, since I do write I might take advantage of the platform”
After her exclusion, she entered the Tshwane Speak Out Loud competition where she made it the finals, and walked away with a big cheque. “R30 000 could’ve paid for my debts at Wits and allowed me to continue with my studying. But poetry was setting my soul on fire, it made me feel lively,” she says without a drop of oomph missing. She decided to put the money into studying Creative Writing at UNISA.
“Then last year, Vangile Gantsho asked for my manuscript of poetry, and when I sent it to her she said ‘we’re publishing you’ and at the time I didn’t know they were opening a publishing company.” The book is published by Impepho Press.
Reception of the book has been amazing, Mahlangu has done readings across the country. “I didn’t think I’d get to experience so many things. I grew up in Gauteng and whenever I left the province, was whether for a wedding or funeral or some big event in Mpumalanga. But within a year into poetry, I was travelling to Cape Town and other provinces and seeing more of South Africa. I was wowed, and I keep getting surprised with the journey poetry has taken me.”
She had been praying to be part of State Theatre’s Incubator program, and then last year she received a call to come to the theatre’s offices. “When I got there, they told me about the incubator but first, they wanted to have an idea of what I will do. I knew I wanted to adapt the book for stage.”
“I knew I want it to be called after the book because every title I came up with, it didn’t feel like it was strong enough. The title of the book was very strong and every other title that came to us at the time, felt like it was underplaying it.”
The play’s director, Olifant says images shot at her as soon as she began reading Surviving Loss. “Her writing is very raw, and I think that’s the thing I enjoyed most about reading the book, because of how raw and relatable it is, it’s sharp. You can’t ignore it. Those images stick out. Coming into the space, I wasn’t trying to make work that’s polished and pure, I wanted to stay true to her voice. It’s so fragmented and that’s how memories are,” says the director.
Olifant continues “She’s talking about so much, that we actually had to make it smaller; we had to find specific points to focus on, so relationships with her father and men, her admiration and the tensions between her, her mother and female members of her family-how all those inform her healing. Then we found music and dance that could speak to what that journey looks like. Basically, adaptation of the book into a production has been about finding her voice through the music, through the movement and through the poetry as well.”
Mahlangu performs her poetry for the play, with Susan Nkatha doing the choreography and a musician, Darlianoh who wrote original music for the piece. “I was very direct. I wanted a black woman director. A young black woman director to direct the piece. I didn’t want someone who’s older and established, besides the fact that I couldn’t afford them [bursting into laughter], but I wanted a young black woman director, and on stage I wanted young black women as well.”
“…the piece is very intimate and I don’t think a man would be able to access some level of intimacy that was needed for the piece because of the different experiences, also some of the poems speak directly to men.”
“I’d be okay with a man coming and giving an opinion, but not the man adapting the whole production. I needed someone who could relate to what I was talking about. As women we share most of our suffering with each other, even if you haven’t experienced it, you kinda understand.”
The play is on for two nights at State Theatre, at 20:00
In 44 BC, The Ides Of March became famous as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar,making it a turning point in Roman history. It’s the theme for this Saturday’s Zulluminati rap battles.
“It’s also the day that when all debts must be settled in the Roman Empire, and we have a couple of grudge matches on the card and we’ll be crowning our first champion on the day. So the name was just perfect,” says Zulluminati organiser Pava Gunz.
A name known very well on the battle scene, Pava has proved his worth as a battle kat. His most popular battle could be when he battled Kriss, with his back turned against the rambunctious emcee from Benoni at Scrmables4Money. But Pava, having already organised five Zulluminati events with his team, has realised that the administration side of things is another beast which demands that he face it straight on, if this league is to make an impact in the battle scene.
“Finding sponsors is definitely the biggest challenge, as putting together these events is a financial strain on its own. And sourcing new talent, I believe there’s a multitude of dope rappers in the country, they just don’t wanna show themselves.”
Introducing new acts to the scene is important to Zulluminati. Earlier this year, they put out a poster for the Shoot Yo Shot event, specifically searching for eight unknown emcees. Shoot Yo Shot is Zulluminati’s undercard event to the main. “We try to unearth new talent and give overlooked emcees an opportunity to get their names out there. As the battle events out now are just recycling the same emcees, and that stunts the growth of the culture,” says eMalahleni’s very own.
Leagues such as this one and the likes of Hip Hop 411 are important for South African battle rap. Especially after Scrambles4Money came to a sudden end. A number of kats were anxious that would be the end of battle rap in the country. “We are in the right direction, but still haven’t reached the level I think it can. Even during Scrambles heyday, the hype and buzz was more than this. But we’re growing and that’s all we need right now,” says Pava, speaking with a tone of an OG.
Some tantalising matches for this weekend’s event will be Don V taking on the Vaal’s Willy Wroth; the title match between Cerebro and Kano as well as Fahrenheit versus Osama Bin Chaplin.
“On the main card I have King Zodiac, a relatively unknown emcee but with loads of talent and potential. We gave him a chance at the previous event Backlash, and he grabbed it with both hands.”
The Zulluminati battles are put together by a team, which affords Pava time to still put on his cape and get in the ring. “Got one or two battles line up for this year that will rock the culture, so I will get back in the ring soon…but right now I’m focused on elevating the culture.”
In the majority of cases children are the unintended consequences of their parent’s reckless or ignorant behaviour. This goes beyond our instinctive dislike of latex between a vagina and penis which is the primary reason for reproduction amongst South African youths irrespective of the fact that most of you niggers call your children a blessing.
Who and what a child grows up to be is an unpredictable endeavour, with the existence of the pornography being sufficient evidence to support the above assertion. Thus in a fast changing world, family relations are becoming less homogeneous within a variety of demographic divisions. Through the prism of these rationalisations, I am bothered whenever the older generations express disapproval of our generation’s propensity to value friendship over family.
We are all slaves to our truths, with these truths being subject to our unique perspective. The previous generations truth was that in life, the Bantu had to find a person (or people) they could tolerate, control or love. Then they breed with that individual(s) with the primary purpose being the expansion of the paternal family name, through as many male children as possible.
While apartheid ensured that the Bantu had no need for silly abstractions such as self-actualisation and self-determination. Without doubt the life of the Bantu was difficult but on the up side it was a simple and humble existence. With minimal choices in life, the family was the corner stone of the Bantu’s sense of identity. Especially with the Bantu being forced to live in concentrated labour camps called townships, alongside strangers from different tribal, cultural and geographic backgrounds. Thus an ever present feeling of distrust for one’s neighbour always existed in the depths of the Bantu’s psyche on many different levels, which made friendship rather difficult to establish. This was not the case for the Bantu’s offspring.
The children of Bantu did not simply see the township as a labour camp instead they saw a place they could call home. These heavily myelinated rascals went bird hunting together and played soccer for hours until their entire bodies were covered in that distinctive red township dust. They did not communicate in their mother tongues when they were around each other, the Bantu offspring used a localised township dialect called Tsotsi taal and consumed copious amounts international cultural content through whatever medium was relevant at the time. Unlike their parent’s childhood, the texture of their reality was fragmented between home, the streets and sometimes the model C education they received in the suburbs of urban South Africa. Their sense of belonging was constantly called into question by the ever changing spaces that the found themselves in on a daily basis which created tension in the process of forming an identity. To para phrase a monologue from Alfa mist’s Potential, it is broken pieces that causes us to replace family with friends.
I am not assigning blame and I am not passing moral judgement, it is what it is. The effect of a cause upon our liner perception of time. It is intuitively natural for a parent to be unsettled when seeing a stranger in their own child. In the same breath people develop a lot of identities throughout the course of their lives, gravitating towards a diverse number of groups in the formation of their social identity. The reasons for this are different for each human being but biology is one amongst a plethora of explanations. Sometimes the family you choose is the healthier choice than the family you are born into. But only sometimes in a world with snakes and wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing.
While most of the world unites in their muting of R. Kelly’s music, DJ Akio on his first night playing in Bangkok learnt that locals couldn’t be bothered by the world’s latest fad. “Surprisingly they haven’t muted R Kelly yet. The DJ before me dropped a couple joints and people were getting down to it like it was Kelly Rowland,” says the DJ.
Akio was DJing at a spot called Marumba Bar last week Friday, showing the people in Thailand why he’s known as the most Shazamed DJ in Africa. “It was cool. Cops shut us down at 2AM so a bit anticlimactic. These first bookings in a new country are always a feeling out process because you never know what goes down. You really have to give the crowd a taste of everything and then process it as you go.”
He plays another set tonight at Marumba Bar and tomorrow at the Continental Hotel Pool Deck for Sunset Splash. Early into the year the Kool Out man put out a list of cities he wants to tour in 2019, with Bangkok sitting at the top. “Most of the cities I mentioned I got a seed planted or a plug that side. I got a lot of goals I keep to myself, because people don’t need to know what you’re cooking but sometimes it’s good to make them public to motivate you further,” the DJ says.
“I feel pretty confident about getting at least three more this year. The opportunities are there. It’s mainly about timing. Realistically I can only go to the city once in a year so I want to get the most out of the experience.”
He’s been in the Asian country for more than a week now and that his gigs are far apart in days, bar tonight and tomorrow’s sets, this has given him time to explore the metropolitan in its fullness. “I love how open the city is. Life is on the streets. Everyone eats outside. You always feel the warmth of other people and it’s also mad safe.”
“I still handle all my Kool Out responsibilities so I spend a good portion of the day working and then I just hit the streets and engage. People think I’m joking when I say I just want to be surrounded by Asian people. I’ve been making it a point to go out and find basketball courts so I can run some pickup games with the locals.”
Rapper Soulja Boy has forced his way back into the mainstream, through the countless interviews he’s done on various media platforms in the US. But despite this, Akio was shocked by the number of times he’s heard Soulja’s Crank That in Bangkok. “It’s like Sister Betina out here. I don’t know why, but I’m assuming it’s because of the dance. They get hella white tourists out here and I think Young Draco stays big with that demographic so it stays on the playlist.”
Akio says Hip Hop remains on the final frontier in Thailand, like most parts of Asia. “While there is a new school/trap market emerging, it’s still very Pop and EDM. I feel like there is a place for me to make an impact, but I’m really gonna have to spend some time here to figure out gaps.”
The DJ isn’t sure whether he’ll fly back straight to Mzansi. “I’m booked for two events at SXSW in Austin, Texas so I might go straight to the States from Bangkok.”
It has been almost ten years since I was traditionally initiated in Xhosa manhood and I remember it like it was yesterday. The blood, the gore, the endless days of pain mixed with sleep deprivation, wishing that this archaic shit would end so that I could get back to civilization and resume my life in modernity. Personally I was indifferent to the whole idea of ukwaluka but at the time I was living under my parents roof and they are rural to the bone, so a ghetto kid did what he had to do to survive.
The ritual is designed to be traumatic so that the knowledge imparted unto you by elderly ‘wise’ men is seared into your memory like a brand on a cow’s behind. Unfortunately most boys come out of the whole shebang with a solid grasp on the finer points of misogyny and alcoholism.
Xhosa initiation rites seem to no longer serve their intended purpose, which was to nurture loyalty in young man and instil a sense of pride in them for being tough enough to survive the entire brutal experience. This was necessary in a precolonial South Africa, where bitch-ass-niggerisms couldn’t be tolerated because as the saying goes ‘you are only as strong as your weakest link’. The tribe could not afford to be weak, with megalomaniacs like Shaka Zulu prowling the land for villages to conquer.
Traditions should only survive due to the pragmatic value they have to a society or a community. If that set value is no longer readily apparent, then modes of thought, attitudes and behaviours become toxic. Their preservation is generally due to sentiment. As an economically poor people who do not have a working knowledge of our culture before colonialism, we desperately hold on to pieces of ourselves. Like a tortured soul tightly holding on to a piece of a broken mirror hoping to get a full picture of the beauty they once had. I think the reason we do this is because we want to feel like haven’t assimilated the coloniser’s way of life, it is reactionary.
Tradition is a function of culture, along with language, fashion, art and belief to name a few of its elements. Its unadulterated practice in isolation does not make sense because its intended function out of context will not bear the anticipated results. For example, educating children in their mother tongues but public and private institutions of consequence communicate is English. Having worked in the retail sector as a cashier, I saw the inferiority complexes that my co-workers had when they had to deal with an unreasonable Caucasian customer because they did not have a proper grasp of the English language. The very same people would have no problem dealing with an African customer who spoke the same language and exhibited the same kind of unacceptable behaviour.
I can already hear the culture Nazi’s shouting “in order to know where you’re going, you must know where you come from”. In principle I agree with this idiom, but in life I’m not a prisoner to it. I understand the profound desire that we have, as Africans, to be masters of our own destiny but we should not let it blind us in our actions. We should look at the world for what it is, rather than looking at it as what we think it used to be. The reactionary tendency to romanticize precolonial African culture is doing us no favours in reclaiming our sense of identity and sense of being. Instead we should consciously and consistently repurpose elements of our culture so that they are useful in addressing present day challenges.
For instance I think the tradition of ukwaluka should be used to instil:
· A culture of brotherhood amongst Xhosa men
· Tolerance for other people’s point of view and cultures
· The value of discipline and perseverance
· A demonization of alcohol and drugs
· An internalized understanding of how to treat African people regardless of gender, tribe or class