Steve Biko

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10min1263

AT the time of typing this, the number of COVID-19 deaths in South Africa stands at 15 168. Fatalities, especially when expressed in big numbers can simply go over one’s head as just statistics. But even one death hits hard when you lose someone you love.

I lost my brother, Thulani Ntiwane two months ago and this writing is no way about the virus. But a way of healing and honouring my brother who was by far the biggest influence in my life.

So while awaiting a match between Thulani’s beloved Real Madrid taking on Alavés in a La Liga game, we watched a recorded episode from season five of Black-ish. Aptly titled “Black History Month” the arch in which Octavia Spencer makes a special appearance, where her character pays homage to black persons she believes should never be forgotten. It’s only right I jot this, so that Thulani is never forgotten in the jam of all these numbers.

It is said that influence is when you’re not the one talking, and yet your words fill the room. The influence my brother had on me was just that.

As his name suggests, he was a quiet, reserved and nonchalant lanky dude who understood the power of being an African, who loved music, appreciated sport and who had reverence for knowledge.

HE NURTURED MY EAR IN MUSIC

Thulani would always say that I’m his student, to which I’d reluctantly (’cause of pride) admit. My brother’s music collection, over a thousand discs, was like a radio station’s playlist. A childhood friend of his would always joke that Thulani should be a music producer or a DJ.

In his collection you will find The Legendary Roots Crew, Khabzela’s Mekonko, Busi Mhlongo, Incognito, Mfaz’Omnyama, Maxwell, Masibuyele Kujehova, Brothers Of Peace, Gang Starr, Bill Withers, Hotstix, Lenny Kravitz, DJ FRESH, and so on and so on.

In the mid-90s my Thulani appeared in the Tembisan newspaper, after winning a music quiz that ran in the local publication. He walked away with 2PAC’s All Eyez On Me double-disc.

Thulani was a big advocate for buying original albums. He enjoyed tagging all of his CD covers with the trademark ‘Thulas’…this too was etched on me because, when I started buying CDs, I vividly remember scribbling ‘Bongs’ on my Like Water For Chocolate album cover. He shared music with me, this is why I enjoying doing the same for others today.

I grew up listening to a lot of music, hence I never had any problems even in my career when I was presented with the opportunity to interview great artists such as Musiq Soulchild, Ray Phiri, Mary J Blige or Raphael Saadique- I’d always find confidence in the knowledge my brother instilled in me. I could sense his pride-nothing egotistical, but happy that a seed he planted had sprouted in ways he also couldn’t fathom.

HE INTRODUCED ME TO JOBURG

Thulani was the one who showed me Joburg and how to carry myself in the big city. It must’ve been around 2004 when I first went to Carlton Centre, where we took that long and seemingly unending walk on Small Street. He bought me lunch at legendary boxer Baby Jake Matlala’s restaurant while we waited for the movie Troy to start-also my first time at the cinema.

Although I later grew to know the city for myself, it was Thulani who literally held my hand when I first came to eGoli.

HE SPARKED MY INTEREST IN MEDIA

I remember the days when the YFM studios were still in Rosebank, at the mall. I will never forget the feeling of being inside the Y Store-it felt like I was right inside their studios. He somehow knew it would interest me.From then on, the love for journalism, albeit broadcast journalism, began.

It was Thulani who got me reading newspapers every day. He got a subscription for the paper, and even after he moved out of home, he never stopped the paper from being delivered. Making sure that I carry on reading and engaging with the world around me.

HE CONSCIENTISED ME

This happened through music, books and in conversation. I was listening to the Wolves interlude on the Dead Prez Let’s Get Free album recently and it hit me, that at 10/11 years-old I was listening and reciting lyrics about imperialism and how evil the white man is without real comprehension of what was being said.

I remember when I told him that we’re reading Animal Farm in high school. His strong interest in the book (which he later borrowed) grew my interest.

I’ve read Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like a couple of times. I was first intrigued by the title, but more fascinated that my brother was reading such content. I went in and gobbled me some Biko and nothing was the same.

I doubt Tha Bravado, which has a strong voice in telling stories that are for Bantus by Bantus and inspired by Bantus, if it weren’t for Thulani.

SHARED THE BEAUTY OF SPORT

It’s very normal to support the team your dad or your older brother supported. My dad was a Kaizer Chiefs fan and so is my eldest brother. But I became an Orlando Pirate fan and a Gooner because I grew up watching Thulani cheer on Amabhakaniya and Arsenal.

He taught me how to watch the game of soccer. I remember watching that FIFA 2002 World Cup Semi-final between England and Brazil. Sport really brought us together.

I’m the rugby guy in the fam and he played a bit of cricket and soccer . We both had a strong love for sport, hence we spent his last moments watching a Real Madrid game. Whenever we’d see each other we would catch up on what’s happening, on and off the field.

Till we meet again bro,

Your faithful student.

Thulani Ntiwane is survived by his wife and four kids. His mother, two brothers a sister and two nieces. He was 44 years-old.

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16min1450

Nyeleti Ndubane is black, Tsonga and female. This innate power combination has put her in a lifelong tussle for representation and equality in society, which she does unflinchingly with grace. But the untimely demise of her partner Manoko ‘Snooks’ Ramotshela in 2018 gored her with a novel sharp pain of loss.

“Snooks’ death had a profound effect on me. When we started dating, we fell madly in love and started making plans for our future together. I declared to everyone in my life that I had found my husband- I was done! So his accidental drowning knocked the wind out of me because that was not part of the plan!” Ndubane tells me.

The love they shared was mighty palpable, beautiful and rich in uniqueness. Snooks the musician, model and all round creative with Nyeleti the actress, writer and a fireball. It was reminiscent of a young Zam and Khensani Nkosi. Funky, genuine and authentically black.

BLACK LOVE: Nyeleti and Snooks . Photo supplied
BLACK LOVE: Nyeleti and Snooks . Photo supplied

They met at a house party six years ago and hit it off immediately. “To my disappointment, he told me he had a girlfriend. So as attracted as I was to him, I knew that I couldn’t pursue anything with him because I’m a big believer in the girl code so he was off-limits!” After two years the two met again and they were both available this time. “And so began our whirlwind romance filled with incredible highs and heart-breaking lows.”

Snooks drowned on December first in 2018. In her 1969 book titled On Death and Dying, American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief, a sequence of emotions that terminally ill patients or someone whose lost a loved one goes through. “…I remember feeling very angry with him for dying because I felt like he left me all alone. I swam in this anger for a long time but luckily, I didn’t drown in it.”

According to Kübler-Ross, Denial comes at you before Anger but it was the other way around for Ndubane, who tried hard to push herself to being better by putting a big smile on her face and pretend as though the loss was a case of shit happens. “But that way of thinking backfired on me because what I went through was a painful trauma that completely shifted my world. It was then that I realized that being healed doesn’t mean that my pain and trauma magically disappeared. Healing for me means that I acknowledge that my pain may always exist, but I won’t let it define or break me.”

STAR GIRL: Nyeleti Ndubane. Photo supplied
STAR GIRL: Nyeleti Ndubane. Photo supplied

And so the real healing began, where she says there was a lot of crying, reading, art and family. “Whenever I would get consumed with the knowledge that I will never see the man I love ever again, a good cry would make me feel a little bit better. Any chance I could get during weekends or days off; I would go straight to my mother’s house for home-cooked meals and hugs,” the Soshanguvan tells me.

Sometimes you just need to hear that everything will be okay and more often than not, those words have more assurance when coming from a parent. “My mother is my best friend and biggest cheerleader, and if it wasn’t for her talking me through it and assuring me that I will heal and be okay- I don’t know where I’d be.

It also helps a great deal listening to people who’ve gone through exactly what you’re in the midst of. It serves the same purpose as group therapy- taking in people’s testimonies as encouragement that things do pass. “I read a lot during my grieving period… there were two books in particular that helped soothe my soul: Elizabeth Taylor’s autobiography, and Jackie Kennedy’s autobiography. Both of these women lost the men they loved, and reading about how they dealt with the pain and made it to the other side gave me hope that I too will be fine.”

Photo of Nyeleti. Photo sipplied
Photo of Nyeleti. Photo sipplied

Going through grief, as it was just three months after Snooks’ passing, Ndubane landed a part on TV series Giyani: Land Of Blood. “Being an actress of Tsonga heritage, I really wanted a role on Giyani- any role in fact! Being a part of the first Tsonga TV series to grace South African screens was a dream job for me. But when I found out exactly which role I landed- a woman who becomes a widow after her husband is murdered at the end of the first episode- I started to get scared…”

Ndubane has been acting professionally for a decade now “but I do consider it[Esther] to be my break-out role because of all the characters I’ve played, this character really connected with audiences. I get stopped by fans of the show all the time and they tell me that they really felt for Esther and what she was going through.”

But the trepidation that came with the role wasn’t because this was her biggest in term of impact, but the fact that she was going to play the character of Esther, a woman who becomes widowed on the first episode. “I was hoping to play a character that was on a completely different journey to what I was going through so that I could escape the pain and grief that was engulfing me at that point. But lo and behold! Esther ends up being on a closely identical journey to what I was going through. Sure, there were a few differences: Esther was a newly-wed, pregnant humble village woman who works on a banana farm. But our similarities overlapped greatly: we both had to deal with the sudden loss of the man we loved, and we both experienced the gut-wrenching pain of seeing the body of our loved one at the scene of his death.”

IN CHARACTER: Nyeleti on Giyani: Land Of Blood
IN CHARACTER: Nyeleti on Giyani: Land Of Blood. Photo supplied

She played the part so brilliantly, you’d swear she’s a widow who resides ka Malamulele not the feisty damsel who could take on anyone on MTV‘s Lip Sync Battles performing Kendrick Lamar’s For Free. “The shoot was right in the middle of my grieving period, the pain was still raw and I feel like it enhanced my performance because I could relate to Esther’s pain on a genuine level.”

“Lauryn Hill once said: ‘As an artist, you have to live your life so that you have something substantial to share with your audience…’ This quote perfectly encapsulates my experience playing the role of Esther,” says Ndubane who is also a teacher’s assistant at the Joburg Theatre for the Duma Ndlovu Academy (DNA).

‘Language-hierarchy’ in South Africa is realer than the chaos at Eskom. If you don’t speak isiZulu, isiXhosa or Sesotho you’re an alien or less of a human being in this country. That Giyani: Land Of Blood is the first ever Xitsonga TV series is embarrassing, but it’s a start none the less. “…The existence of ‘Giyani: Land of Blood‘ on our screens is huge because it speaks to representation. Growing up, I never saw Xitsonga-speaking actresses on TV speaking our language and representing our culture. Society has always made Xitsonga people feel ostracized and ridiculed for our looks, culture and language. So to be on a show that celebrates the things that we were made to be embarrassed about for so long is simply incredible!”

Having proud, beautiful ambassadors of the all cultures is important to breaking down pillars of ignorance. “Hopefully, South Africans will begin to un-learn the insulting stereotypes and misconceptions about the Xitsonga people because the show will help to put our culture in the mainstream in the same way that Sho Madjozi is doing so beautifully.”

HER AND ART: Nyeleti standing in front of artwork
HER AND ART: Nyeleti standing in front of artwork

Ndubane is currently busy with theatre rehearsals for Alice In Wonderland which will be staged at the Peter Torien Theatre at Monte Casino in March. And also “Writing a feminist theatre piece about the plight of black women. It’s a work in progress, and my working title for the project is: ‘Black girl, you are on your own’, which is a wink to the Steve Biko quote: ‘Black man, you are on your own’.

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8min900

Humanity is a disease to mother Earth thus motherfuckers don’t deserve my love. Why are we so destructive, unprogressive and hopelessly retarded in our pursuit of happiness? As I pen this piece of mind it is the 7th of May 2019. The day before South Africa holds its sixth democratic election to select the political organisation which will get to rule my home country for the next half a decade.
The winner will most certainly be the African National Congress. A well organised collection of liars, thieves and killers. Everybody knows what they are but nobody can prove it and most of us do not care. Admittedly lying, thieving and killing are a necessary component in a social struggle against oppression.

That does not translate well when a liberation movement becomes the governing party. The history of Africa since its independence bares testament to this unfortunate truth. Although that history is not without its heroes and heroines. Thomas Sankara, Steve Bantu Biko, Ruben Um Nyobè, Tambo just to name a few. Their courage in the face of Caucasian tyranny transformed their lives into monuments of beauty in this cold white world.
Beauty is the source of joy in life and for this not so humble writer, the beauty in anything lies in the thought behind it. This is why some of us as pretentious Hip Hop heads do not fuck with Trap music and refuse to acknowledge it as a fundamental part of Hip Hop culture. We simply do not understand the intent and the thought behind it.

I only started to appreciate the beauty of Trap after watching a documentary series called Noisy Atlanta. In the series a nerdy and scrawny white male follows influential Trap artists through the American city of Atlanta. The city is a critical transportation point for that country’s economy. Consequentially illegal drugs coming in from Mexico have to go through the city. This creates an opportunity for the disenfranchised African American population in the city. With a heavy drug and gang culture, Trap houses spring up all over the city like mushrooms.

A Trap house is basically a comprehensively fortified house in which dealers produce and sells narcotics. Those menaces to society live in a constant state of fear. They are always on the lookout for the pigs and snitches who try to put another black man behind bars, but there need for the all mighty dollar drives them to remain in the game. Some of these delinquents are able to express that state of mind through music. That is how Trap music came to be.

Generally Trap beats are filled with sonic textures that create an atmosphere of fear, which is contrasted with cheerful bells or strings. The lyrics are always about drugs, money and sex. With that said, when one takes a deeper listen to the music, you will come to understand that Trap is about the hustle. Trappers take pride in their work ethic and the ability to come out on top with the odds stacked against them. Which is quite effective when one is in the gym or on their way to a stressful meeting and they need to kill it. Trappers do not allow fear to get in the way of what they want and what they need.

Fear is a necessary evolutionary response when one finds themselves in a dangerous situation. It inspires action where a person either has to fight or flee to survive but fear stifles thought. Without thought there is no beauty and a life without beauty is a life filled with misery. This is the reason why the South African Bantu is such a sorry excuse for a human. We are filled with fear.
With 17 million people on social welfare, we have chosen to live on our knees rather than dying on our feet. We afraid of truth, sacrifice and change. The truth is that the consequence of capitalism is inequality. Free markets do not give a fuck about social cohesion and the common good. Its only concern is profits and losses. We as a people have to sacrifice luxury and a bit of comfort. In order to effectively address the issues that we face as a society. We are afraid of change. We need to let go of unprogressive tribal, cultural, and social norms that are no longer relevant in this current space and time.

Thus it is fear that retards our pursuit of happiness. It has turned us into illiterate, binge drinking and brash people. In other words fear has made us ugly.

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5min3181

WE’RE mortal beings whose existence on this planet has an ending, but through a legacy one can live forever. Ask Bob Marley, Steve Biko or Flabba, who today would’ve celebrated his 41st birthday.

Real name Nkululeko Habedi, born in Soweto but raised in Alex, Flabba passed away three years ago after an altercation with his girlfriend Sindisiwe Manqele, who stabbed him. I remember that Monday morning in March when former Skwatta Kamp member Infa, confirmed that Flabba was no more. The whole Hip Hop community was frozen in shock, that ntja ya Gomora was gone.

Flabba left us with music he recorded with his group Skwatta Kamp, but we were fortunate enough to get one solo project from him which was the 2006’s Nkuli vs Flabba. The album won Best Rap album at the South African Music Awards in 2007.

I write this listening to a track from the album which he did with Lira, Gotta Let You Go. In the short song, he talks about the battling pain of losing his father and brother. This was a rare appearance by Nkululeko on record talking about his emotions, something which Flabba wouldn’t do because he was Nkuli’s Black Label drinking out-of-this-world alter ego.

Like the Kea Go Rata skit on the album where he’s in a club with a girl, tryna mack on her over loud music, but changes his story as soon as the music abruptly goes silent. He gave us himself in the album, the ying and the yang.

It wasn’t a traditional Hip Hop album marinated in lyricism and intricate rhyme schemes, like the stuff Proverb and Zubz were doing at the time. But like a proper comedian, he was far observant of what’s happening in society than people gave him credit. Kats like Lil Dicky are being given tags such as a comical rapper, while Flabba exposed us to such years ago. He was ahead of his time.

Zubz’s Heavy 8 is probably South Africa’s best posse cut, but Flabba’s Is’Bhamu Somdoko remix follows close behind. It pinned down the various Mzansi rap styles in one song, with everyone trying to channel their twisted sexual side which Flabba did so seamlessly. On the track Nkuli Habedi, he says he’s not your average rapper, but your favourite porn star. Flabba could rap, but was wise enough to avoid sounding like everyone around him who was chasing that US flow and style. He carved his own lane.

Gifted individuals live with an unfathomable and sometimes careless realness as if they know that their time on this earth won’t match any country’s life expectancy number.  His clique, Skwatta Kamp was often juxtaposed to the US’s Wu Tang Clan because of their influence in the culture and also because both groups were bigger than the average Hip Hop collective.

Writing this, I can’t help but think of Flabba as SK’s Ol’Dirty Bastard. Both are deceased, they were both comical, abrasive, genuine and intelligent. Thank goodness he wasn’t part of Club 27, otherwise we wouldn’t have received what he gave us in his last 10 years on earth.


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