Political Commentary

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12min11040

This is the first of a two-part book review of The Lives Of Black Folk, a collections of essays by a variety of Bantu writers. It is the brainchild of online magazine, Culture Review. I was fortunate enough to have first dibs on which two chapters I would review and I instinctively wanted to talk to and about Abantu and Azania-which are the second and fourth chapters respectively. Khulisile Nkushubana will share his two cents on the first and third chapters, A Disturbance and Culture in part 2.

In that disappointing final episode of Game of Thrones, a shrewd Tyrion Lannister said something poignant as he was pleading the case for Bran Stark’s kingship. “What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”

I was enthralled by the 181 pages of The Lives of Black Folk, but the Abantu chapter was particularly special to me as a storyteller and an avid consumer of chronicles. But these aren’t the fictional tales of George R.R. Martin. The stuff on Abantu are real accounts from real people, abodarkie abanjengami nawe. In his intro to the book, editor and founder of Culture Review magazine Kulani Nkuna describes the hardcover as “A disavowal of the black condition as it currently exists, and the seeming disruption brought about contemporary challenges. It is simultaneously a mourning and a celebration-of blackness in all its attendant vicissitudes.”

A Letter To All The White Women Whose Panties & Bras I have Worn by Palesa Nqambaza is one of the stories on Abantu. Nqambaza details how she was a lifetime recipient of hand-me-downs of underwear from white women, who employed some of the women in her family as domestic workers. Nqambaza, who is a ph.D candidate at Wits, Politics Department and is a sessional lecture in the same department, addresses this demeaning part of her life with a sense of humour. “They raised you until they were ultimately employed by you. You in turn, have raised my bum. Yes, white women, you are my bum’s keeper,” she writes. Yet she calls-out this false-sense of goodwill white women possess. “…you just came from a world where someone else could be a site of your garbage disposal; a world of excess. And (thank God for philanthropy) a landfill opened up to you in the figure of my aunty. She represented lack, an abyss waiting to be filled by that which you needed to dispose of.”

It’s cute how Nqambaza’s criticism ends with her aunt’s employers, not her aunt who has been handed these personal and used items for years and yet hands them over to relatives. The letter also highlights the generational disparity between Nqambaza and her aunt’s feelings towards white women’s behaviour in this regard. That her aunt still hands her the black garbage bag with clothes, despite the fact that Nqambaza is now a middle-class educated woman who can afford, is telling.

Under the title Working Women, the real life accounts of black women toiling for their children, interviewed in the 1980s shows just how much things remain the same as they change. The story of Dolly, whose husband was jailed in the 1960s and was forced to do extra work to support her two children, could very well be a story of a women living in South Africa today.  “I became a prostitute because of circumstances. I was struggling. Most of the time I to borrow money,” says Dolly.

She was a sex worker from 1964 to 1984. “I used to operate in Hillbrow a lot. But nowadays I haven’t got a place to go during the day, You’ve got to go maybe in a passage. It’s risky. It’s very risky. Prostitution is not nice at all. It pays…it does not pay. No.”

Perfect Hlongwane’s Dignity Isn’t Always Pretty (for Fikile ‘Bra Fikz’ Magadlela) talks to the struggle black creatives wrestle with, when it comes to the balancing act of making a living through your art without devaluing the artwork or yourself. Yet writer Hlongwane addresses this animal through his friendship with artist Bra Fikz. You can listen to the audio version of Hlongwane’s letter here.

The Abantu chapter has 13 colourful, unique, educational and real-life anecdotes that display the intricate beauty of our humanness as black folk.

Makhafula Vilakazi’s Ulele is a timely opening piece to the Azania chapter. He poignantly titled his poem Ulele, which talks directly to black folk’s lack of urgency pertaining to issues of land. An extract from the poem:

Udakwe kamnandi um’Afrika omuhle,

Udakwe yivangeli;

Udakwe yindlala;

Udakwe yis’thembiso sika Nelson nabashana bakhe base

Luthuli abarhudulwa amaKula nama Juda ngesende;

Udakwe yisikoloto saseNedbank;

Udakwe yinhlamba zononkroyi we’shwaphha om’biza

ngemfene ezweni lakhe

On Whose God Is It Anyway? Pastor Xola Skosana, a former pastor of 30 years talks about unshackling from the chains of slavery, religious slavery that is. “May I add and say that the church captures the heart and imagination. The gun, the school and the church do a complete work, in the process of making a slave,” writes Skosana who now runs Kilombo Village, a home for Run-Away-Slaves.

“So, when a slave burns down a building in a system that maintains his/her slavery, and stands by to watch the flames engulf the building, it is a beautiful moment. It is the closest thing to the possibility of undoing what was done to make him/her a slave. When the slave finally wakes up, not even Jesus will stay inside the church; for the furry will be too much to bear.”

Romantic as this sounds, I was left with more questions than answers after reading the former pastor’s thoughts and ideas. Since religion and spirituality are different things, I got a sense ambiguity about what a run-away-slave is in this sense. I was expecting him to introduce perhaps into the conversation, ideas about black spirituality or a more nuanced conversation about religion. Be in ancestral worship/belief or the discussion about real Jews being black.

Overall I enjoyed reading The Lives of Black Folk. It felt like being in a room with Bantu people, listening to each other’s stories and finding ways to attaining true freedom.

I believe black South African from different walks of life need an opportunity to read this book, as a reminder of one’s blackness. In the book are artworks from black superstars such as Thabo Lehobye, Sive Mqikela, Thonton Kabeya and Ayanda Mabulu- the artworks were a cooling interlude between the hard-hitting black experiences on paper.

The book is available at Book Circle Capital (27 Boxes), 75 4th Avenue, Melville, Johannesburg.

Then via email at
sales@culture-review.co.za

Whatsapp at 076 616 2845

Admin1801/25/2021
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1min12160

In the first episode of Urban Ish On Lock on Tha Bravado, shot at Tembisa’s art hub 4ROOM Creative Village, Bukho and Finesse Keys have a dialogue about the toxic relationship black men have with money. Being the first month of 2021, we thought it appropriate to discuss money because of the role it play in our lives.

In the video the two hosts delve into where this toxicity stems from, its consequences on the black man and greater society whilst searching for ways of mending this fraught relationship.

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7min4861

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

The value of human life.

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8min3831

There is a ninja of mine who is a tenderprenuer, his favourite catch phrase is “everybody speaks from the stomach”. He kept on repeating that annoying-ass phrase as we were vigorously arguing about the moral and social implications of corruption.  The argument took place across the background of eNCA’s live broadcast of the inquiry into state capture.

On a lively Friday afternoon with open beers on the table emotions ran high, as the alcohol ensured that nobody would be pulling back punches in a titanic verbal clash between two know-it-all armchair generals who do not know when to stop. On multiple occasions in the heat of battle I was often struck by flashes of homicidal intent, incapable of processing the words I was hearing from a man whom I considered a friend and a good person.

I am completely convinced that there is a subliminally insidious campaign by Caucasians, Arabs, East Asians and Latin Americans, aimed at demoting the status of black people to that of less than human in the collective consciousness of humanity. The reason they do this, is to justify the criminal exploitation of African resources. While I might not have solid evidence to support my hypotheses, it is close to the truth. My certainty derived from reported and experienced actions of then coloniser. My ninja believes this to be utter nonsense, the paranoid delusions of a naïve idealist and even if I am correct in my assertions. It would not matter if I had “real money” in my bank account.

He is of the view that race is an unprogressive artificial construct, along which people should no longer organize. In the 21st century all that matters is the money. Instead of focusing one’s energy on religious, tribal and academic aspirations, those Africans who are strong enough, should focus on acquiring material wealth at whatever the cost. According to this treacherous shinobi, the ignorant black masses are a lost cause, whose sense of identity and purpose has been irreversibly perverted by centuries of colonisation. Thus when our political, religious, cultural and social leaders sacrifice the futures of black children for financial gain, they are simply saving themselves from an already sinking ship. In the future, my friend deduces, there will only be haves and the have nots, race will not be a factor. Thus it is each person for themselves and god for us all.

Admittedly I have considered embracing my ninja’s loss of faith in our people’s ability to escape the clutches of mass poverty. Which largely stems from the people’s failure to decolonise their minds because if we were to do so, the people would recognize that we do not need the West, nor the east for that matter, in a time where knowledge is readily available. A resource rich continent, such as ours, should not be the basket case that it is at this current moment in space and time. Through tribalism, greed, religious mysticism and hedonism, black people largely remain at the bottom of the pyramid scheme that is capitalist.

With all that taken into consideration, we simply cannot give up on each other. A Tribe Called Quest said it best there’s no space program for niggers.

The money pig’s quest to amass as much wealth as possible, is an act of pure evil. With evil being diametrically opposed to life, with its assertion relative to individual or social interest. The money pig’s hunger for opulence is changing mother Earth’s atmosphere at such an alarming rate, that soon it will become inhabitable for human beings. Simultaneously the money pig is searching for other planets to colonize, them motherfuckers are done with continents, they are levelling up to colonizing planets and you best believe motherfuckers aren’t planning to take any kaffirs with them. They will have artificially aware robots to tend to there every need. Obviously this is a hyperbolic metaphor of the coloniser’s intent but there is more than a grain of truth to it.

Thus I believe a black man’s participation in the corruption of private and public institutions, for whatever reason, is treachery of the highest order. Liberal individualism is not an option for the black person because its logical conclusion is the annihilation of black culture through appropriation and the vilification of black people in the annals of history, through propaganda.

My ninja was insulted by my rationalization but fortunately for our relationship my phone rang. The honies I had organized for the night’s club hopping were at the gate and somebody needed to pay the cab driver. So naturally we put aside the politics to deal with the more important issue of the day, turning up and getting laid.

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9min4170

IT was Kenyan author and philosopher John Mbiti who said “I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.” It’s Ubuntu. I couldn’t think of anything else, as I heard the story behind the making of Cameroonian artist Blick Bassy’s music video, Ngwa.

“…it’s inspired by a Kenyan story and a South African freedom fighter, the whole album is about a Cameroonian guy…and somehow put all that in a pot and cook it and see what comes out. I think if there’s a future for African art that’s it,” said director Tebog ‘Tebza’ Malope speaking at Blik’s screening in Joburg. Hosted in a chic lower ground floor in Braamfontein, where African jazz oozes from speakers above us, under warm burgundy lights at the Untitled Basement, off kilter attendees converse in their huddles as they eagerly wait to see the video on a Thursday night.

From L-R: Director Tebza speaking at the screening, next to musician Blick Bassy. Photo by Sip The Snapper

The song Ngwa is from Blick’s upcoming album, 1958 which comes out in March. 1958 is an ode to Cameroonian trade unionist and France adversary, Ruben Um Nyobè and the heroes of the Cameroonian Independence-all in the hope of reconnecting Cameroonians with their true history. Um Nyobè was butchered in 1958 by the French government and buried in concrete to remove any remnant of his legacy in the memory of Cameroonians.

“…making this project and telling Um Nyobè’s story, it was really important for me to come to Africa, to make it here and with people from here. People don’t know my country, they just know this one view coming from one storyteller, coming from a Western country. But here you have a beautiful storyteller, this is storytelling through this video. We have to show things by ourselves,” Blick shares his thought on the Ngwa video.

“He was a fighter, a visionary…he was someone who wanted to build people, not just for freedom but he wanted everyone to be equal. Um Nyobè was fighting for this. If you look at Cameroon today, we’re just living everything he was talking about-we have a lot of tribalism in Cameroon today, he spoke about this. So if we really wana go forward, we have to be connected to the roots-that’s why trees are beautiful, because with no roots there’s no tree.”

Blick Bassy performing after the screening. Photo by Sip The Snapper

To visually tell this story, Blick roped in South African director Tebza, who borrowed from African narratives, to tell the story of these uncelebrated heroes.  “I was reading Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o’s book called Matigari and the first chapter is about a Mau Mau soldier, in East Africa in Kenya who, in the first chapter has his AK47…somebody runs up the mountain to tell him ‘yo, we don’t have to train anymore, we’re free now. So come down’…” said Tebza explaining the inspiration.

After burying his rifle and descending from the mountain, the soldier grows a sense of disenchantment with this new world, as it seems he was sold a dream only for him to lay down his arms. “Same narrative with South Africa, same narrative with Cameroon. So when I started chatting with Blick about Um Nyobè, I realised there’s some sorta intersection between East, West and Southern Africa…”

The video was shot on the mountains of Lesotho, in wet and icy temperatures. “This was probably my hardest shoot ever. The horror stories behind this; we lost a day because of someone who was stuck at the boarder gate, we lost half a day because of the rain, had some trouble finding the horses because they ran often and just one thing after another,” says Tebza, who last year won the Best Music Video for Kwesta’s Spirit.

Renowned television and movie director Roli Nikiwe, who was present on the night, drove the crew to Lesotho and upon getting there, he offered to help by being the first AD, looking for locations and even assisting with the catering. “Africans always come together to complain about the enemy, the coloniser, but put two Africans together and there’s beauty. To watch the two of you guys, get together and put your heads together, make something work, for me was a beautiful example of what we could do as a continent,” said Nikiwe.

The video has beautiful wide shots that display the beauty of the African landscape. “…There’s rarely a close-up, because I just want you to see it. We’re talking about Africa that was taken from us, so let’s show it and see what was taken,” said the director.

The video ends off with Blick being stabbed with a spear by pursuing imperialists on open land “…The last bit is actually taken from Solomon Mahlangu’s statement before they hung him, ‘my blood will nourish the tree of freedom’…so in death, in Ruben Um Nyobè’s death, Solomon Mahlangu’s death, in the death of so many of our struggle heroes, they didn’t really die, they multiply, they became trees and they live on forever,” shared Tebza.


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