“If you are hungry you eat, if you are tired you sleep, if you want land you take it”.
Masello Motana, founder and leader of Matlama Anaha which means soldiers of the land, began her journey to reconcile with land some few years ago.
She founded the task team Matlama Anaha to address issues of housing through art and occupation of abandoned buildings. Her first attempt was unfortunately met with an arrest of the dubbed, “Noorwood trio” made up of Masello, Gugulethu Bodibe and Ntsikelelo Lokwe after being criminalised for occupying an abandoned house in the Southern suburb of Johannesburg in 2016. Motana at the time had declared the arrest only heightened her quest to reunite herself and others with land.
Two years after the arrest, Azibuye was staged at what Motana calls “prime land” in Observatory, Johannesburg. The project is regarded as an experiment in emancipatory use of expression through occupation.
The artistic performance of occupying spaces seeks to address the spatial injustices that Africans still face 163 years since the first legalized act that dispossessed Africans of land. These numerous “legal” instruments through staunch legislation played a pertinent role in legitimizing systematic land dispossession.
Azibuye is meant to address concerns of the artists’ livelihood, who do not make monthly incomes but survive on hand to mouth. This industry does not enable them to pay rent on a monthly basis, nor qualify for financing or be eligible for public housing since they do work.
“The homeless artist will through occupation of land, attempt to take art practise out of standardised commodified cycle of the gallery system. It intends to bring forth a challenge to private ownership patterns in the most unequal society in the world through a class based African analyses” emphasizes Motana on the collective’s mission.
The collective of artists aims to speak to the continuation of spatial injustices not only through occupation but also through dialogues, readings, historical re-enactments and other forms; by interrogating significant historical characters and events, and their consequence in the current narrative of land reform.
The occupation of suburban private property per the collective’s reputation is to address the issues of many South Africans who work in the cities like Johannesburg, and yet are veered into the edges of the city into townships like Alexandra and Soweto. The few who live the city and pay rent Motana concludes that they participate in their own oppression.
Motana’s choice of the “prime land” is to dismiss the continuous occupation of inferior land by skwatta camp dwellers which is in areas that always underdeveloped and overcrowded. To understand such peculiarities that the indigenous people of South Africa find themselves in one must go back into the past, into the history of land dispossession and how Settlers accumulated the land and the wealth. However, one will also have to go into the current condition of the law and leadership to have a clearer understanding.
The 14 different land control system constructed by the Apartheid regime as noted on the walls of the occupied property by the collective, have not been countered by new laws to ensure a proper land reform that close the spatial inequalities long assembled by the apartheid regime.
While the occupation in Observatory by Motana maybe be considered a small act, it is essential in challenging racial land ownership patterns which continue to favour whites a quarter century after the end of apartheid.
Azibuye is a necessary and pertinent movement which not only serves to speak truth to white power, by addressing issues of dispossession within the city but also a force that edges the ruling party to address and heal the spatial wounds inflicted by the apartheid regime.
PEOPLE who know me are aware that I am from a family of healers. Honestly, I don’t know much about ubuNGOMA but I know my way around. I took it upon myself to sit down with my SaNGOMA friends and strangers to ask questions that keep me up at night.
Knowing the sensitivity that comes with this subject, I was constantly praying that my questions are friendly. Also, as much as I have healers at home it’s not easy to just approach them, and they simply dance to your rhythm- hence I had to rely on friends regarding this matter. It really wasn’t an easy path that I chose to embark on but ke, had it been too easy then anyone would do it.
My uncle and aunt (His wife) are healers-I know right, how can a man who is a saNGOMA get married and then later in their marriage, the wife lands herself a calling too and had to heed it. Umalume has always been a strict, level headed and grounded person hence it’s very hard for me to approach him with some of the things I stumble upon as far as ubuNGOMA is concerned.
My aunt on the other hand is the coolest saNGOMA. She loves sharing her experiences and songs mostly-which is my favourite part about intwaso. When I can, I ambush her and ask a shit load of questions and try to remember every word.
In May 2012 I visited a place in Venda called Tshikwarani where my aunt was initiated, I was welcomed by these warmhearted old ladies who were fascinated by this city girl, so interested in learning so much about ubuNGOMA and for the first week I had to learn how to speak and understand TshiVenda. The reason I went there was to get images of what goes on Ephehlweni, but unfortunately I documented sacred rituals that cannot be shared on social media platforms, and to me that was bummer because it meant I had to start from scratch in terms of getting new footage.
I believe everything starts in a dream whereby a person would get visions showing specific things relating to what they need to do, or signs that show that their ancestors require attention. People who have ancestral spirits suffer almost from more or less the same symptoms; like blackouts, fainting during school and going into a trance. In their visions they would see images of people instructing them to perform certain rituals until they visit a traditional healer who would normally advise them to stop wasting resources and should undergo an intwaso (Initiation).
Many would wonder if Izangoma are capable of everything-are they Jack of all trades? There are many things they do but in the same breath, they know what they specialise in. For instance, one healer would specialise in Cleansing, Healing and Initiation.
Gogo Mahlalehlomile invited us to her home to share and educate us more about ubungoma, according to her she says some healers take their initiates to the river for 3 months to fulfill their specific spiritual calling. “I have two types of Amadlozi (spirits) -Ndawu and Nguni. Each fulfills a specific purpose: The Ndawu is for sniffing out evil spirits (Ukufemba) and the Nguni is a diagnosis (Ukuhlola/Ukuhlahluba) using bones. My very first patient was bewitched. She dreamt eating human hair, and during the consultation process I managed to get the poison out and she was healed.” Gogo Mahlalehlomile says.
Note that there shall be no Sangoma without the spirit, these two are inseparable. Idlozi communicates to your family, and to you as well through the healer. When you have idlozi, you realise the need to dress appropriately to appease the spirit. You should eat the food that assists with spiritual growth (ukudlakwama Dlozi). There is a responsibility to respect human life and frequently perform rituals to appease the spirit. As the spirit grows in you, it brings economic development to you.
The purpose of being a traditional healer is to help others – not only for profit gain. However, because healers too need to earn a living, their patients pay.
If there is a client that needs help but can’t afford, they can still get helped-they would have to reach an agreement or barter services.
We asked about charlatans in the profession, Gogo Mahlalehlomile says “I feel terrible. Ancestors should penalize them because of these immortal acts, people lose lives. Let’s practice our art and science with honesty and integrity. Patients have to analyse the person behind the promise, and have the right to establish the healer’s credentials before undergoing any healing process.”
According to our research, most traditional healers don’t really have suppliers for their herbs, but they go and harvest with their initiates. Hence izaNgoma emphasize that amathwasa must respect nature and take care of it.
WHAT IS EPHEHLWENI?
Ephehlweni is an initiation school located in a sacred place where aspiring traditional health practitioners are initiated. The school caters for initiates with different spiritual needs, such as Ndawe, Nguni and others.
WHAT DETERMINES A GOBELA?
To qualify as a Gobela, you must be initiated either in Nguni, Ndawe or both areas of spirituality. A Gobela must have the ability to do proper diagnosis and administer proper treatment. After initiation, you need to recruit at least two initiates to thwasa under you.
LIKE ANY OTHER SCHOOL, EPHEHLWENI HAS RULES AND ETHICS AS WELL, THEY ARE AS FOLLOWS:
*Initiates are expected to wake up in the early hours of the morning before any other person wakes up.
*Initiates should conform to a set dress code
*No sex or sexual favours are allowed.
*Initiates should not be charged monies for beers (for rituals) or blankets, nor are they required to give luxury gifts to the Gobela and his or her family, unless it is a choice they made by iThwasa.
HOW MANY SPIRITS ARE THERE?
In isiZulu, there are seven spirits. There are things that happen to your body and certain dreams that will let you know what kind of spirit you have, ISIBONELO: uMndawe, uMnguni, uMdinki, Amakilimane, uMlozi, Isithunywa or Amabutho. Amabutho are the spirits of soldiers who were cast away, commonly known as the warriors.
What informs the spirit of what you have is private, I can assure you. However, nothing happens unless an ancestor comes to you says ‘I want you to do this and that.’ Uma usuyinyanga, usukhulile.
FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI is a legit icon. An abrasive visionary, very much deliberate with his truth. His music is sonically enchanting, with the political astuteness to match his swagger. Rightfully celebrated in Africa, and throughout the world, his legacy will stand for a very long time.
But the Kalakuta Queens, or the 27 women that Fela married as they are shabbily known, are not acknowledged for the role they played in the life of Fela Kuti.
In today’s language you could say Fela was woke, but it was a woman that woke him up. Before meeting his American girlfriend Sandra Izsadore, Fela usually laughed at proud black Americans’ insistence on drawing inspiration from the African continent. “She was telling me about Africa, she says ‘don’t I know that Africans taught the Europeans everything they know today’ I say you talking shit. She said ‘there are books’ I say show me a book, she gave me Malcom X to read,” said Fela in an interview talking about how Izsadore put him on knowledge that would give his music meaning.
That is only just one aspect of the impact women have had on Fela. Critically acclaimed Nigerian musical play, Fela and The Kalakuta Queens goes deeper into the life-long bonds Fela had with these women who are unknown to the world, who left their homes to build a life with the off-kilter artist.
“History has not been fair to the Kalakuta Queens because they were his pillar and backbone during his struggle. They stood for him against all odds and they were never remembered. It becomes important to tell their story because a story about Fela is incomplete with his women. History will never forget the Queens with the musical we have which shows the role they play in the struggles with Fela,” says the play’s director, Bolanle Austen-Peters.
Fela and The Kalakuta Queens has been at the South African State Theatre just over a week now, until this coming Sunday. It premiered in Lagos two years ago and has been a global hit since. It is choreographed by Paolo Sisiano and Justin Ezirim, with renowned composer, Kehinde Oretimehin on the production. The character of Fela is projected by both OLaitan “Heavywind” Adeniji and Patrick Diabuah who lead the thirty-six members cast, backed by a fifteen-piece band in the ensemble.
Auten-Peters is an award winning writer and entrepreneur who has established different businesses, including Terra Kulture, a combination of museum, an art gallery and a restaurant all rolled into one in Nigeria, and the Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP).
Stories of phenomenal black women who found themselves sharing life with great men, are limited to their roles as wives, with society shunning their individuality and unique contribution.
“Well, overtime I have seen different plays written and stories told about Fela. However, there has been little or no emphasis about his women. I have come to realize that it is time for us to tell our own stories so I decided to tell Fela’s story from a different angle. I took a critical look at the life of Fela and I saw that there is a gap that needs to be filled, an uncharted territory that needs to be covered and an amazing story to tell.”
The musical hasn’t only been appreciated by fans of Fela, but also the real life Kalakuta Queens. “Most of the Queens are alive, in fact some of them came on stage to give testimonials when we first staged the musical. They have been very helpful in the course of this production and I must say without them we would not have been able to put this together accurately,” says Austen-Peters. “They gave us real accounts of what transpired in the house and details of how they lived together with Fela.”
“People leave the arena crying because many never understood the things the Queens went through with Fela. The Musical is not only educative but also very informative as the audience gets to be informed about the ordeal between Fela, the Police and his women.”
THANDAZANI NDLOVU is big, quiet and quite meticulous-like an elephant. A herd of elephants has tight matriarchal bonds, led by the oldest and largest of the female elephants-similar to Thandazani’s upbringing.
The Zimbabwean born artist understands and knows the significance of a home led by a strong woman, so much so that he’s dedicating his first solo exhibition to women, titled Depicting Woman. This of course was inspired by the head of the Ndlovu herd. “My mother, who took over and raised us as a single parent after my father passed away,” Thandazani tells me.
For nearly 10 years it seemed like his passion for the arts was gonna be buried in a nine-to-five he had at a factory. “To provide for my family I designed shoes. The visual arts was my first love and I felt torn not being able to give 100% and dividing my time between both places. I took a chance on my passion and it worked out for the better.”
“I’m inspired by the role my mother played in my life and the role women have in the township and around the world,” says the self-taught artist from Nkulumane Township, in Bulawayo.
Depicting Woman opens today at A-Lounge in Nelspruit Mpumalanga, where it’ll run for a month. “Women are powerful, they are strong and can do anything! Looking at how they raise children manage homes.” Thandazani will have 20 pieces on display for Depicting Woman.
He learnt about dedication and focus during his time in the shoemaking industry, which he still uses today in his art. There’s a sense of abstractness to his work, but with a sharp focus of depicting the emotions of his subject.
Although this might be his first solo exhibition, Thandazani got on the scene after creating a series in which he portrayed fading African cultures-which led to several commissioned work, one of which sits in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. “I will do an exhibition in Gauteng, but [with] a different theme.”
“WHAT I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists, who drive around in Mercedes Benzes and use resources of this country to live in palaces and to gather riches,” said the late Chris Hani.
That quote rushed at me, as I read through the Woza Albert! press release, about the classic play by Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa showing at the State Theatre.
Woza Albert! explores how the second coming of Christ (Morena) would affect the lives of poor black people, and how white apartheid authorities would react. Although the play was created over 40 years ago, it still reverberates hard-hitting truth as it did during apartheid.
The play presents a compelling view of a multitude of black and white characters as they explore themes of race and class and expose the power structures of white supremacy. It concludes with a call for Christ (Morena) to raise the dead heroes and leaders who fought against apartheid.
The likes of Hani, Bantu Biko and Mangaliso Sobukwe would be perplexed by the fact that black people remain impoverished, still grapple with white supremacy and the rise of black elitists. “Even in the current democratic climate, the question that was asked by Ngema and Mtwa during the days of apartheid is still relevant. There is a lot going on in our maturing democracy which arguably makes those who died with a revolutionary sword to turn in their rested graves,” said State Theatre CEO, Dr Sibongiseni Mkhize in the press release.
“Constant contestation over the meaning and direction of the new South Africa’s socio-economic and political dispensation, the debilitating effects of corruption and relentless economic inequalities, are some of the things that perhaps await the second coming of Morena!”
Woza Albert! made its return to South African theatres late last year, commencing at Durban’s Playhouse Company then headed to the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. With its original cast and crew- Director John Christopher, lighting Designer Mannie Manim and stage manager Dickson Malele- Woza Albert! has and will be at the State Theatre throughout the month of March.