(I wrote this essay in 2012 as South Africa was witnessing a reemergence of social movements that all agitated for divergent ideologies, the essay was meant to emphasize the efficacy of Black Consciousness in Southern Africa.)
Black Consciousness Then, Now and In the Near Future: Getting the facts right
It seems like every year in Southern Africa, people keep asking whether Pan Africanism and Black Consciousness still hold any relevance today. The main reason for this paper is to offer some much-needed clarity concerning the development of the Idea of Black Consciousness, a way of thinking and acting that can be called a philosophy yet is clearly much more than that.
I have chosen to use many quotations from people who I consider to be among the most knowledgeable and experienced in the ‘field’.
Of course there are many more men and women who qualify to be in these pages, but aside from Steve Biko and a few others, I have also selected the views of ordinary people in order to emphasize the fact that Black Consciousness is still seen as a relevant and much needed liberating force among the masses of Black people.
South Africa is experiencing some serious challenges in the general leadership department, and while others are working at making a Revolution on the socio-political scene there are many who think that this status quo must be maintained, and that racism and structural poverty are a thing of the past.
Many among us give us the impression that we are living in a meritocracy, where everyone has an equal opportunity to rise out of poverty.
Of course, the adherents of Black Consciousness know that this is far from the truth and many of us are working towards making a revolution that should usher in a Black Socialist system and a put power back into people’s hands. The ideal is to restore the dignity of Afrikan people and elevate our collective living conditions. Listen to what the archbishop Tutu has said:
“Constantly, in the difficult days of our struggle against apartheid, I used to say that the Black Consciousness movement was surely of God. You see, the most awful aspect of oppression and justice was not the untold suffering it visited on its victim and survivors, ghastly as that turned out to be, as the testimonies we have been hearing attest. No, it was the fact that apartheid could, through its treatment of Gods children, make many of them doubt whether they were indeed God’s children. That I have described as the ultimate blasphemy.” – Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
Judging by the words of this famous religious personality, oppression of one race by another is the grossest form of injustice. But dealing with it requires far more than a religious and emotional conviction. There are steps that need to be taken on a socio-political and psychological level.
1: The true beginnings of BC
“The surge towards Black Consciousness is a phenomenon that has manifested itself through the so called Third World. There is no doubt that discrimination against the black man the world over fetches its origin from the exploitative attitude of the white man. — It is true that the history of weaker nations is shaped by bigger nations, but nowhere in the world today do we see whites exploiting whites on a scale even remotely similar to what is happening in South Africa. Hence, one is forced to conclude that it is no coincidence that black people are exploited. It was a deliberate plan which has culminated in even so called black independent countries not attaining real independence.
It should therefore be accepted that an analysis of our situation in terms of one’s colour at once takes care of the greatest single determinant for political action – i.e. colour – while also validly describing the blacks as the only real workers in South Africa.
In terms of the Black Consciousness approach we recognise the existence of one major force in South Africa. This is White Racism.” – Steve Biko ( I Write What I Like, 1971)
“Black consciousness did not emerge in SA in the 1970’s – the meetings that gave birth to black consciousness in SA happened initially in 1966. The South African Students Organisation (SASO ) was formed, interestingly, in 1968 at Marian hill. It was launched the following year at the University of the North. – In other words, there was no SASM before “black consciousness emerged”: SASM was born out of the very melting pot of black consciousness.” – Mandla Selleoane
The BCM’s first political statement was contained in the SASO Policy Manifesto. That Manifesto did not, however, say much about the society the BCM envisaged. The first elaborate attempt to spell this out was a declaration in King William’s Town in 1975 called Towards a Free Azania – Projection: Future State. In this declaration the BPC committed itself to:
- Establish a democratic state
- Introduce a just legal system
- Build a strong, socialist, self reliant economy
- Ensure security and peace of the nation
- Safeguard social rights
- Develop culture, education and technology
- Adequately provide for the health and welfare of all
- Provide adequate housing
- Follow a foreign policy hat respects national independence and international friendship.
The BCM met the following year in Mafikeng and adopted the 16 – Point Programme, also known as the Mafikeng Manifesto. The tenets of the 16-Point Programme do not deviate much from those set above, save that it watered down the socialism component of the King Williamstown Declaration. Instead the BPC now adopted Black Communalism as its economic policy. The economic future as spelt out in the BPC’s commission on Black Communalism was that:
‘Principally the economic welfare of the country is … the responsibility of the state … It shall be incumbent on the state to be the initiator of industry and to use the factors and means of production, provided individuals may individually or corporately undertake such industry or production as they profitably undertake without initiating* (neglecting?) common welfare …While it will be the duty of the state to ensure opportunity for all its members to engage in productive efforts on their own behalf, it shall also be the duty of the state to see to it that everyone …shall have the necessary training ( so that) their productive abilities are topped …
This means that education and training shall be compulsory and free for the young and (for) adults according to the need for production and for their own development as people…’
2: Crucial Conflict
“Ben Mokoena recounts that after Steve Biko was killed in detention in 1977, the 1976 generation of activists in the ANC camp in Morogoro, Tanzania, wanted to hold a memorial service for him. The ANC leadership would not allow that, arguing that Biko was not an ANC member. The Youth promptly reminded the ANC leadership that they had come from the BC movement and that for them it was important to honour Biko. A revolt was looming as the ANC leadership would not budge on the matter. The revolt was averted, in the end, by Oliver Tambo sending Thabo Mbeki to Morogoro with the instruction that the commemoration must be allowed.” – Towards A National Dialogue: A Diagnosis by Mandla Seleoane
“But the real problem lies in the fact that – at the end of the day we have to accept that the programmes (The Unity/Truth Movements 10-Point Programme, the 1943 Bill of Rights and the Freedom Charter ) simply envisaged different societies. Therefore, if South Africa is not approaching certain destinations, ultimately, we would have to accept, once we have consensus on those destinations that, perhaps, those destinations were simply not on the agenda of some liberation organisations. But what must be absolutely clear is that we cannot blame others for not going where they never intended to go.” – M.S.
Franco Barchiesi, in his latest book Precarious Liberation: Workers, the State, and Contested Social Citizenship in Post apartheid South Africa makes a lot of valuable observations and uses much well researched information to highlight the plight of the black masses in this country. He also points out the stark contradictions and outright hypocrisies at play within the tri-partite alliance of the ANC-SACP and COSATU. On page 90 he offers this:
“By the end of the 1990’s, COSATU’s opposition to GEAR had strained its relations with the ANC, as the unions vowed to greet labour market flexibility with ‘blood on the streets’. The ANC’s response, contrary to its usual consensus-seeking aplomb, was equally blunt. At the 1998 congress of the SACP, Thabo Mbeki fulminated against
‘Those who consider themselves to be the very heart of the left that, in pursuit of an all-consuming desire to present themselves as the sole and authentic representative movement, seem so ready to use the hostile message of the right and thus join forces with the defenders of reaction to sustain an offensive against our movement. (Mbeki 1998)’
If left critics were now labelled as extremist and traitorous, unions failing to follow the government’s line became targets of overt threats. The ANC leadership has considerable leverage over COSATU officials as it provides a necessary link to resources and careers in the private sector or in government.”
What one finds here is the usual politicking and gymnastics that the tripartite alliance uses to publically toy with the minds of the masses. The truth of the matter is this is a country which does not determine its own destiny, partly due to the fact that the ANC has long been an anti-black and pro-capitalist movement, disguised as a liberation movement in power. The so-called allies such as the SACP, COSATU and various other institutions simply tow the party line and people such as Vavi only pay lip service to workers and social struggles. A friend of mine with whom we have argued endlessly about the efficacy of an ANC led liberation often states that Vavi is getting paid to call for a march each and every year without fail. The main question is, what are these marches really achieving, is there any one victory over the all-powerful ANC that VAVI and his COSATU ever won?
The answer is an unequivocal NO. Yes, we find the Mbeki’s and other so called communist critics making a noise about the ANC and its anti-black policies, yet come election time, these very same hypocrites become the loudest evangelists preaching the false gospel of the ANC, and at all times using the race card. Many people fall for this ruse as they are afraid of losing the country to the DA, meaning back to White power. But what people fail to see is that white privileges are still protected under the neo-liberal misrule of the ANC and black poverty is still ensured.
During public or even family debates about the state of the nation (or country since we can’t really be called a nation yet), I have become used to hearing ANC sympathisers saying that 19 years is too little time for people like myself to expect real changes to the black condition, that we must give our leaders a chance – I am also no longer surprised to hear even young people saying that there is no need for any talk of radical change or Revolution since the ANC has provided us with adequate and democratic platforms where we can all air our views and frustrations. What irks me is that this is even said by people who are languishing in poverty and tolerating all the lack of proper services.
This apathy and turning of the other cheek would totally drive me insane if I did not appreciate the fact that we are a people who have been through many years of mental slavery, yet I think that conditions are so bad in our country that it is high time we throw all the caution to the winds of change and earnestly take back power as a people.
The smugness and nonchalance of the leading party’s ministers as they sometimes admit to the embarrassing backlogs in delivery and acknowledge some failures is what really frustrates me. During this years State of the Nation address, the ever so disarmingly charming JG Zuma simply admitted that the willing buyer, willing seller policy had failed, but did not elaborate on what would replace it. The point here is that Black people are being psychologically insulted by our so-called leaders who clearly do not see themselves as public servants, but as somehow superior beings who are actually doing their best. Here is what Aggrey Mahanjana, Group Managing Director as NERPO has to say:
“A policy of transferring hectares from whites to blacks …cannot be done by willing buyer, willing seller. We must not destabilise the industry. We do not want to go to zero production and then it takes 10 – 20 years for black people to get going in farming. They identify people to receive farms who are not farmers: someone who has no knowledge, no resources … The government will buy tractors, they will not buy diesel … They will set you up this year, and then not come around until next year … To intervene successfully, you need a holistic approach.” – (Page 25, The Africa Report, Issue 39, April 2012) – Its stated that a total amount of land restituted is = 5% of the 24,9m ha target.
It is really shocking to know that the majority of Black people still wear ANC t-shirts and vow to die for their leaders while the statistics against them are so blatantly showing their failure. Patience, comrade, you’ll soon get yours! Is what the cadres tell one another?
Moeletsi Mbeki, Deputy Chairman of the SAIIA Think Tank adds his own well know criticism to the debacle:
“The ideology of the African National Congress is that blacks were excluded from consumption, and now it is their turn …If you are directing resources towards consumption, it means that you cannot create jobs. We see huge salaries for senior public sector managers and more social welfare. Government spending was 20% of GDP in 1994; now it is 32%. Private consumption is 70% of GDP; in China its 35%. China is a job creating economy.”
As if reacting directly to President Zuma’s state of the nation triumphant statement about infrastructure investment, Mbeki adds “You can build infrastructure, If there is no production, what is it carrying?
There is so much borrowing. There are no new industries to fund all the infrastructure. We are pretending for the ratings agencies that we agree with the Washington Consensus. The real game is BLACK CONSUMPTION.”
Need I say more? The former president’s own brother and author of the Architects of Poverty has put it in economic terms, clearly.
3: The All-Important Matter of Land
“In fact we have all but departed from the liberation programmes insofar as land rights are concerned, and embraced instead the willing-seller-willing-buyer approach, which many have warned might land us in a situation not dissimilar from the land-grab approach that has come to characterise Zimbabwe in latter years. What is remarkable in this area of our political life is the extent to which we have resisted the lessons of history. On the 19th of May 1906 Lenin wrote a pamphlet titled The Land Question and the Fight for Freedom, where he argues, inter alia:
‘…[No] matter how this compensation is arranged, no matter how “fair” a price may be fixed for the land, compensation will be an easier matter for the well-to-do peasants and will fall as a heavy burden upon the poor peasantry. No matter what regulations may be drawn up on paper providing for the purchase by the village community, etc., the land will in practice remain inevitably in the hands of those who are able to pay for it…’
One does not have to embrace Leninism in order to appreciate the point argued here, and to see that by and large the argument has been vindicated by history in various parts of Africa. Our own handling of land claims has moved at a snails pace that has discredited the entire notion. Part of our failure in this regard is evidenced by the appearance of the landless people’s movement.” – Mandla Seleoane, Towards a National Dialogue: a Diagnosis, 20 June 2009
In the Manifesto of the Azanian People: ‘The National Forum, which was a coalition of various political, religious, educational and youth organisations – adopted the Manifesto of the Azanian People in 1983, and demanded :
- The land and all that belongs to it shall be wholly owned and controlled by the Azanian people.
- The usage of the land and all that accrues to it shall be aimed at ending all forms and means of exploitation.
- Reintegration of the ‘bantustan’ human dumping grounds into a unitary Azania.
Whilst making these demands ( and more), the Manifesto of the Azanian People points out poignantly that “Our struggle for national liberation is directed against the historically evolved system of racism and capitalism which holds the people of Azania in bondage for the benefit of the small minority of the population, i.e. the capitalists and their allies, the white workers and the reactionary sections of the middle classes. The struggle against apartheid, therefore, is no more than the point of departure for our liberatory efforts.” – Towards a National Dialogue.
3: Yesterdays Voices Today
I am a part of an online discussion group, wherein we write to each other about various topics which mostly revolve around the African/Black identity, International news, the state of the nation and various other political oriented issues. One of the conversations involved our analysis of a speech delivered by Dr Mamphela Ramphele at UNISA* ( I can’t recall which campus ), Mothepa posted these fragments and so we went on to discuss them:
“We have a fundamental psychological problem as South Africans in that we haven’t yet taken ownership of our citizenship. My conclusion is that South Africans – black and white – still behave as subjects. Instead of looking at government leaders as servants, which they are public servants – we treat them like kings, queens, and viceroys. We forget that we employ them, not the other way around. Our collective mindset has not changed since apartheid. There’s a functional problem behind our tolerance of incompetence at many levels and I believe the psychology of oppression is at the very heart of the underperformance of our society…”
She goes on to say “Don’t look around for great leadership. You are the leader you’ve been waiting for. The Lord created you with enormous potential for greatness…There are three things I want you to do: firstly, promise me that from today you won’t allow anybody to treat you as a subject. Secondly, when you see somebody being treated as a subject, stand up and say ‘no’. Thirdly, each time our public servants step out of line, hold them accountable. If each one of us does this every day, this country will be able to reach its destiny. And that destiny is greatness.”
As lovely as the above words were and as inspiring as they may sound, I found myself pondering what it really meant to be a subject, to be a people who find themselves subjected to neo-colonialism despite them-selves. It is simplistic to find oneself reacting emotionally to such speeches, while they may go some way into inducing a sense of responsibility to young students, they simply sound like a mothers good advice to her child in the ears of an adult citizen of a country which languishes under covert racial injustice.
This is what one of the groups most insightful and intuitive members had to say (I quote Fuzi ):
“On the Dr Rampele speech: I think one of the greatest dangers in this life is to speak with knowledge on something that one feels one is knowledgeable about when that knowledge is not based on TRUTH. I have a fundamental issue with what the good doctor says below. Hayi kabi – I feel like she feels like she knows what she’s talking about, and I believe that her intentions are good, but I think it’s misleading to dissuade people from understanding that they are subjects when they call themselves South Africans. The fact that there is even such a thing as a South Africa is BECAUSE the people of that nation were and are still subjected to those manmade “boundaries” that assist in the creation of a South Africa. And preserving South Africa is preserving the basis on which South Africa was “founded”.
Which is a subjective way of life. South Africa is not a choice of the people living there – it is a consequence thereof…
So yes – for a s long as we are to accept a South Africa, then we are to accept the subjectivity of the occupation, and the people of that South Africa are its subjects. Unless we want to do like the so-called African-Americans who like to say that they have taken the power out of the word nigger by saying nigga.”
Here is what one of our most recent participants had to say on this topic ( I quote Kingdom Williams):
“There is one thing I do understand though; that the answers and truth we seek are all before us. Africans and I mean all Africans should be self critical and ask themselves thought-provoking questions that will bring about effectiveness and efficiency in the social practice of life. It all starts with realising that greatness is in ordinary people. The socially elite do not represent the truth and they way for any populace as everything do must fit into a socially acceptable construct from a higher order not visible for ordinary eyes. All the media in the world is owned by two companies…he first thing for Africa to realise is that when someone gives you freedom they can also take it away. So I guess we will pay the price for using other peoples intellectual property ranging from roads to cars, borders etc. Glitz and glamour are hypnotic tools…All Africans are told what nation they are and have never stopped to ask the relevance and implication for generational progress.”
“Why is it that harm can be done in an instant, while healing requires days, years, even centuries? We exhaust ourselves trying to repair damage faster than the next wound can occur.” – Dr Wellington Yeuh
“If those early forms of social organisation also contained elements of democracy, it was the democracy of that particular time, totally unfitted to the democratic practice of man in the present epoch. To say that an African can learn democracy simply by looking backward to see what our great grandparents behaved is not only meaningless but downright reactionary. As an economy develops, new socio-economic institutions also develop with it and the peoples outlook and aspirations also undergo changes.” – African Socialism or Socialist Africa, A.M. Babu
What would be the function of kings or queens in a modern Afrika, restored and decolonized as so many of us Afrocentric activists agitate for? After having tasted the once forbidden fruits of Western style democracy, experimented with forms of socialism, monopolized capitalism and other structural adjustments, will we ever be able to become the society we once were, give or take the natural progression of time and circumstances?
During the remote past, in the often cited setting of ancient Egypt/Kemet, such was the case: “The function of the state were to own, control, divine, discipline and defend; they were also to cherish, nurture, shelter, and enlarge the population. The god-sent controller of the Egyptian people was the herdsman who kept them in green pastures, fought to secure fresh pastures for them, drove off the voracious beasts who attacked them, belabored the cattle who strayed out of line and helped along the weaklings. The Sun-God appointed him or her to be shepherd of this land, to keep alive the people and the folk, not sleeping by day or by night in seeking out every beneficial act, in looking for possibilities or usefulness.” (1)
This vision of what a ruler was or should ideally be like seems to have been shared throughout the ancient world, and when in the 18th and 19th centuries, the rise of enlightenment, various kinds of new ideas, technology and mass social revolutions swept the world, the power and usefulness of kingdoms was severely reduced. The few remaining places where monarchs are still respected pr honored, have retained for them only a ceremonial status. Still, royals appear to have retained some charming effect on the imaginations of people all over the world. That ceremonial power seems to still mystify many people, but of what use is localized mysticism in a world clearly ruled by material or global economic powers.
One thing is for sure, even in ancient times it was the law that controls even absolute rulers. In most cases, the majesty belongs to the laws of every given land. Kemet/Egypt was no exception to this rule, as it is depicted here:
“The hours of both day and night were laid out according to a plan, and at the specified hours it was absolutely required of the king that he should do what the laws stipulated and not what he thought best” (2).
So clearly it was never a matter of absolute power of either the masses or the elites that controlled how things are done, it has always been the Law. We shall return to how this law is fundamentally similar throughout the great Afrikan continent and perhaps we may find ways to blend whatever works in modern law with customary laws.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Romanticism seems to get the best of us Afrikans when it comes to questions of power, be it political, communal or economic. Many of us dream of an idyllic Afrika where our best traditions are restored along with the land and the resources. We wish and some of us strive to regenerate our ancient systems of ruler-ship, trade and customary laws. Exactly how this can be done is still rather vague. There are several version of history and the notion of nationhood has always been steeped in a multiplicity of conflicts. We know that newly independent pro-socialist leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Nyerere and Leopold Senghor tried their best to unite disparate “tribes” or ethnic groups in their bold attempts and nation building, yet their efforts were still executed within the confines of what the colonialists had left, the imposed borders are just one glaring example.
Is there a feasible reason to believe that the continent of Afrika can once again be ruled by monarchs, whether at decentralized local or provincial levels or otherwise?
There are many regional as well as localized associations wherein those designated as traditional leaders congregate and deliberate about matters of tradition, statutes and power. The pivotal question seems to be just how their power is shared among themselves but more crucially, how that power is shared or split between customary and modern political legislators. Where democracy and customary laws meet is rather vague, what is clear is that who ever wields the most constitutionality sanctified power also controls much of what passes as law.
So the question is, how meaningful is it for Afrikan people to dream of a return to a social setting where generationally or genealogically selected rulers lord it over the affairs of communities? While in the Southern parts of Afrika and surely in other parts of the continent, we still know of chiefs/ Izinduna and other socially and constitutionally accepted stewards who generally wield particular levels of power, their real influence is rather negligible compared to the democratically elected ones. How will the process of decolonization deal with either absolute monarchs or even benevolent rulers and what of anarchy, the notion that people can simply govern themselves?
I think that we cannot relive the past. While there may be localities wherein traditional leaders maintain some semblance of power, their influence will not reach a level wherein they can effectively be called empires. Empire is neither desirable nor feasible in the 21st century. Even the most aggressively imposed empires from Europe, the Far East and the United States of America are showing signs of serious fracture and are checkmating each other as they compete for control of the resources of developing countries. Sovereignty may still sounds appealing to many idealists and ambitious power-brokers, but even such last century ideas are fading away just like the divine rights of monarchs faded.
I am thinking of King Mswati and his precarious kingdom whose many citizens subsist outside the borders of that beautiful country. The Swati Royal House bears many aspects of the olden feudal state while still maintaining a fiction they call “monarchical democracy”. in reality it is a state that could be called a benevolent dictatorship, where the absolute monarch and several of His minions, secretly compete for influence.
The Swati Kingdom’s best asset is the culture and tradition. Is the a way to maintain some positive aspects of these traditions while transforming the Kingdom into a real democratic modern state where the needs of the masses are met in equal measure as the privileges of the ruling house? As a clear sign that rulers simply learn nothing from the examples of the historical revolutions, King Mswati still finds Himself entwined in the same corruption and scandals that former rulers in many other countries found themselves in before they were violently deposed.
Under the chapter titled, Destabilizing Africa, Babu writes: “It will be a sad chapter in Africa’s glorious history of struggle if our leaders allow themselves to be blinded by the pursuit of objectives which, in the final analysis, work against the true interests of the masses. If we are to serve the people effectively, it is our responsibility to examine critically the consequences of our leaders policies, in the revolutionary spirit of criticism and self-criticism, and to chart a course to rapid development.” The sad part is that it is the same corrupt leaders who we find speaking such patriotic words on world stages, but what they do at home leaves much to be desired. How sure are we that the Kings and Queens we say we want will not behave in the same depraved way as present day rulers? In essence, how are we to guarantee that the LAW, or Ma’at /Ubuntu as the Ancients called it, is maintained as a governing principle for both the leaders and the led?
References: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man*.
I am currently reading devoutly a book by Kwame Nkrumah. This particular copy of African Must Unite, is actually signed by none other than Nkrumah’s daughter Sanna, with these words written before her signature, “Our father reminded us that this is our mission.” This copy of Nkrumah’s fourth book, published in 1964 and reprinted again from 1972 onwards was gifted to our esteemed organisation, the Institute of Afrikology by Ms Nkrumah herself. She handed it to the Director of the institute Yaa Ashantewaa-Archer-Ngidi in the year 2019 during her South Afrikan visit.
Towards the final pages of this very important book, Nkrumah confesses’ “I have been accused of pursuing ‘a policy of the impossible’, But I cannot believe in the impossibility of achieving African union any more than I could ever have thought of the impossibility of attaining African freedom. When I came back to Ghana in 1947 to take a leading part in the anti-colonial struggle, I was dubbed an ‘irresponsible agitator’. Independence at that time looked a long way off. None of us really imagined that by 1962 most of the African countries would have thrown off political domination an embarked upon their own national existence as sovereign states. But that did not stop us from going forward with our efforts, buoyed by the certainty of ultimate victory. And it has come, as I said, much sooner than anticipated. This is how I feel about African union. “
Toay more than ever, Afrikan activists are agitating for the very ideas that Nkrumah and other pan-Afrikanists fought so hard for. The language of Regional Integration, Inter and Intra-Afrikan trade must now bear the requisite fruits. But How?
Someone once said that to be well adjusted to a sick or abnormal society is not a sign of sanity. Arthur Koestler in his book Ghost In The Machine writes: “Poets have always said that man is mad; and their audiences always nodded delightedly because they thought it was a cute metaphor. But if the statement were taken literally, there would seem to be little hope : for how can a madman diagnose his own madness? The answer is that he can, because he is not entirely mad the entire time.“
One of Afrika’s greatest and most inspirational leaders, Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara once said that socio-political change in Afrika will require a certain amount of ‘madness’. Did we fully grasp the meaning of this statement, after his untimely demise at the hands of betrayers, can we still find mad-ones today who can dare to invent a better future for Afrika? given the amount of problems that are mostly made worst by the non-abating grip of corporate and political corruption, it seems highly unlikely that a large movement of the mad-ones may arise anytime soon. But then again in Southern Afrika, there are organisations such as Black First Land First and to a certain rather dubious extent, there is also the Economic Freedom Fighters. One of them seems cut from Sankara’s cloth, while the other appears to be larger, but appears similar to an ordinary populist political party – nevertheless, the conversations that these two parties evoke is similar and it leads young Afrikans to boldly seek solutions that appear crazy to most liberal and mainstream observers.
In the daily course of living and aiming to have a purpose driven life, where conscious choices lead to relatively high levels of success in our endeavors, there is the challenge of knowing exactly when and when not to get involved in social causes. As an Afrikan living in an increasingly crisis prone and economically struggling country/region, one seeks to have a healthy balance between personal ambitions and social responsibility.
We are not well as Black people globally. We each have different battles to fight on personal levels, and there are many success stories and inspirational instances where people beat seemingly impossible odds to emerge victorious or successful in relative terms, but how do we measure that success in the midst of severe social degeneration, poverty and corruption? Can one truly be considered successful when that success exists next-door to squalor, violence and social chaos? Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah’s maddening eye opening book The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born was premised on such questions.
While we are striving to better ourselves we are also striving to transform our society’s, to instill the self confidence and cooperative economic ethos that many social activists have striven to establish in our communities.
Surely there are ways for Black Consciousness, the ideals of Kwanzaa and Pan Afrikanism to animate the peoples of the ghettos and the struggling masses of our people. Having many activists and various movements all pontificating and agitating for political powers is not enough – we have to find more ways to create sustainable changes in our communities.
Perhaps we are also overstimulated, there is too much information flowing in and out of our lives, the current affairs and crises in the world are a real distraction from the revolutionary mission that many of us believe must take place. We know that revolution and social change is not an event …there are processes that have to take place gradually but we need leadership at different levels, from the legislation/policies to the implementation stages to see to it that what we envision actually transpires.
Here in Zimbabwe, I am currently challenging traditional healers to become more involved in social revolution. I am urging them to create real solutions to the problems of hunger, ignorance and find alternative economies where more can benefit rather than the few elites. To identify the healers among a plethora of hopefuls is not an easy task, and one has to deal with a lot of deeply set attitudes, egos and preconceptions of what it means to be Spiritually gifted or being ‘possessed’ by Ancestral beings. There are risks and dangers at every side, but there are also infinite possibilities for fruitful collaborations. Perhaps this is where Afrika’s new breed of warrior-priests and priestesses will emerge.
When we receive information from whatever source, when does it become knowledge and when does that knowledge transform to wisdom and by what processes does wisdom become enlightenment?
These are the interrelated questions that we shall tackle under this title. There are also some concerns regarding a subject we have covered before, which is the necessity of Guides, Guru’s and Master-teachers – those individuals and even institutions that purport to represent Source.
“The well based resistance to change which is usually for the worse, explains the obvious reticence of officialdom to release information, because the silent approach offers the greatest prospect of getting the obviously unacceptable accepted, if at all possible.” – John Page in Protest at Urban Environment from Protest and Discontent (The Nature and Causes of Student Unrest)
Harare is about to enter into another period of unrest, and I am reasonably nervous and skeptical about the outcomes. The protest planned by the opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change with a few other affected partners such as members of civil society and workers unions does not seem as well planned or articulated as it should, given the track record and results of such uprisings in this country. What is the value of a protest in a country where many people are ruled by fear? What happens when the uprising fails and who compensates for the loss of lives?
The flippant response from the deputy leader of the national defence forces is both predictable and worrying. By simply dismissing the intentions of the people behind the protest and stating that it will not happen, he is simply playimg to the gallery and stoking the fires for more aggression from both ends. It would have been wiser to simply tow the legal or constitutional line and even pretend to be allowing the democratic process to unfold. I personally have been concerned about the lack of coherent revolutionary strategies and ideological incoherence from the opposition party, even though I had not expected much from the liberal and populist leader, I have been hoping that there is a radical youth or intellectual element within the party or countrywide, to at least formulate some semblance of revutionary direction. I am hoping to hear what happens beyond the protests and “legal uprisings”.
We all aware of the States propensity to unleash violence on its citizens but the silence of the president of the country in the face violations of the law by his subordinates clearly shows that he too has no capacity to lead beyond rhetoric and power mongering. He has to fight external and internal battles and pay lip service to economic fundamentals, while his finance ministers spew incomprehensible nonsense at every gala or gathering. Meanwhile there will be many protests in Zimbabwe yet no one has yet mentioned just what will happen to the economy once the rulers are deposed. The crucial question is How Will Zimbabwe rise from the mire of state sponsored debauchery, steering its society from Fear to Creative and Proactive action ….
Some trust in the Ancestors guidance while others trust in Jesus Christ ….I trust in thw people’s Will to get Free and Create a New Zimbabwe, learning from the Ancient, the present and daring to invent and invest in the Future.
Love and Light, Thokoza, Hutuapo or Hotep …
These are some of the words that we usually use to greet each other whenever we chat with my Spiritual brothers, either Eugene Skeef, Nduduzo Makhathini, Madoda Mditshwa, Zwelibanzi Dlamini and a few others. We do not use typical greetings because we are not typical. There is nothing predictable about us besides the Love we exude for Life, People, the Motherland and the Omniverse. Hold that thought, we will return to those words and their meaning to us later and in other essays too, as the Spirit leads.
Earlier this evening I was dropping off some fliers at my second home, the Ethio-Eritrean Habesha Cafe’ and also still deciding whether I should attend the Poetry/Musical event hosted by my team the Nowadays Poets just across the road at One Two Seven Restaurant – but lo and behold, Mama Nomusa Xaba comes walking up the road and so after we greet the owner of Habesha Cafe’ and also passing some greetings to the Poets/Artists – I had decided to drive her home.
When we got in the car I had to change the music. I had been listening to the Australian avant garde Soul band Haitus Kaiyote, but since I was in the presence of an Elder, I decided something gentler would be better… yet I was now torn between playing Nina Simone or Jay Electronica featuring Kendrick Lemar, surely Mama Nomusa could dig that, after all she is from the USA and her Lifelong partner is the one and only premier Avant Gardist Baba Ndikho Xaba.
Anyway while I was fiddling with the music and driving up to her house, we got to talking about work relationships and how it is difficult to work with people who have not defeated their sense of self-importance, people who are either diva’s or egotists.
Mama gave me such simple yet sage advise, I found myself letting go of so much pain and confusion that had settled in my heart like a some immovable mystical heavy object. But our subject matter shifted to something more beautiful and even though it was related to the first issue of what causes relationships to break down, she was showing me how the opposite is possible if peoples hearts are Open to the Spirit of Love, Light and Godness…
Mama Nomusa being the consummate storyteller, begun telling me the story her last experience of watching and listening to Nduduzo Makhathini at the legendary Rainbow Restaurant this past weekend. Mama was simply awed by the sheer amount of Love and Healing that Makhathini brought to the music.
“He silenced the typically loud place with his big heart Menzi.”
Said Mama Nomusa, spreading her arms around us like a great white headed Eagle. “There is the music itself, but then there is the face and purity of intention, the Heart of Love of the young man … he became an Elder on the stage, as if he was evoking all the wise old men who he can easily summon from the broadness of his Love.”
As Mama Nomusa spoke, I couldn’t help remembering that Nduduzo Makhathini’s music is the daily fix at my home. Hardly a day passes in which I do not play Icilongo for my babies, or Matunda Ya Kwanza or my favourite Inner Dimensions just to cleanse the house of any bad vibes or heaviness that may settle in and hide and fester in corners that we cnnot reach by either prayer or incense. It is only Ingoma that can permeate the very crevices and sinews of the heart and the space we call home.
Ingoma YalesiSangoma iyaselapha. OkaMakhathini wazi kahle kamhlophe ukuthi uzalelweni noma umsebenzi wakhe ngqangi yimuphi emhlabeni. Njengezinye Izithunywa ZikaMvelingqangi namaThongo KaMenzi, uzokwelapha isizwe esimqondo udungekile.
It takes a heart full of ecstatic musical Love to usher in the Age of the Divine Mother. It is not by coincidence that the coming of Makhathini was preceded by two or three other great Healers who happened to be pianists, the tormented genius and Tarot-like Hanging Man – Taiwa Moses Molelekwa and the Krishna-centric Drowning Man – Bhekumuzi Hyacinth Mseleku. These two trailblazing phenomena were to music what Jesus Christ was to the Gentiles – a gate, or a door towards Higher Consciousness.
As human beings they are or were as flawed as any of us, but as Artists, whose work sets them apart as Avatars of the Universal/the Omniversal Spirit or God, they were divine beings, messengers whose sound was poured on our heads to christen or edify those who have the gift of hearing. The music or Ingoma that they do is so expansive and powerfully evocative that it exist as a strong elixir against egotism. If we can listen with a clear conscience, perhaps we can find ourselves bathing in Umsunduzi River or finally heed the message of Mseleku’s Sun Race Arise.
Of course there are many musicians in South Africa or in the world today who exude a similar aura of Shamanism or UbuNgoma. But in an age where the sheer amount of information that comes through is dazzling, where does one go or what can one do to simply soak in the vastness of the gifts of Ingoma – Ingoma ka-Omar Sosa, Ingoma ka-Christian Atunde Adjuah Scott, nengoma ka Kendrick Lemar, The Soil, The Brother Moves On, Existing Consciousness nabanye abelaphi …?
As we do not see each other as much as we would wish to, Mama Nomusa and I spoke about other influential Leaders we both have known. One of them being Shekem ur Shekem aka Ra Un Nefer Amen. I was carrying three Divination cards from the Ausar Auset Society in the car and I had asked her to try and find me a complete pack as these belonged to my partner Yaa Ashantewaa Ngidi who kept them on her desk at our Institute of Afrikology office. I was returning them today, but I seriously need my own and also to learn to use them.
Mama explained in her characteristic lightness of speech, how some of the smartest and most connected people are simply enslaved by their ego and the best way to deal with them is to Love them and leave them. “For the sake of your own journey, my son, the best thing is to leave with Love.”
I did not fully understand what she meant until I put on Joshua Redman’s Timeless Tales for Changing Times – and the song that really brought home the message, was Visions.
It is the kind of music that invokes the past while affirming the significance of the present yet treads firmly as a walking bassline towards an envisioned future. . .
I am trying to put into words, how music / Ingoma helps me to figure out stuff that is supposedly not related to sounds or even to emotional matters. It is as if music is an intelligent lifeform in its own right. The players may be participating in its production but only the music /Ingoma itself knows which direction to go and if we are receptive enough, we can be carried on the wings of its Loving Kindness and perhaps only then would we appreciate the meaning of Hutuapo/Hetepu/Hotep/ Thokoza (Be Joyful) and all the words we choose to use when we see each other as Kindred Spirits.
They call it jazz but this music is much bigger and broader than any definitions.
Miles Davis called it Social Music, Nicholas Payton calls it BAM (black american music) but the closest description has to be Wayne Shorter’s “I Dare You” music.
Call It what we may, this phenomenon known as jazz is fun, intricate, witty and full of whimsical freedom and wisdom; It is music at its most sincere, although often highly enigmatic.
As Amiri Baraka poetically stated “jazz listen to it at your own risk”.
It can literally either heal your soul or blow your freakin’ mind .
Here is a taste of the gloriously visionary maestro Sun Ra and is Solar Arkestra. Its from a record titled God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be.
Just click on the link and enjoy:
“Sovereignty is in essence the existence of a legal authority that acknowledges no other supreme authority.”
We shall return to this quotation/definition in due time, for now I would like us to reconsider the usefulness of kingdoms, absolute rulers as well as ideas of nationhood that may no longer effectively serve us in the 21st century. Although we have dealt with the subject of the efficacy of traditional, customary and even state-centric rulers before on this platform; we would like to continue the topic with regards to the pros and cons of sovereignty under this definition, “Sovereignty is rested in the people, nd that sovereignty confers on the people the right to choose freely their representatives to the National government.”
This definition lifted from an online article by Father Robert Aranjo titled “Sovereignty, Human Rights and Self Determination: the meaning of international Law will be a working definition we shall keep coming back to in order to review or analyse its merits. (http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj )
It should be noted that I am writing this as part of a greater Afrocentric striving for a just society. While many of my peers are nationalists, socialists and traditionalists; all of us are fundamentally searching for ways to rid our Land and our Selves of residues of colonial rule.
Colonialism has negatively impacted on our customary laws as well as the way we approach our cosmology. There are serious matters of borders established during the partitioning of the continent during the19th centuries Berlin Conference as well as the question of how far back do we need to go (Sankofa) if we aim to reinstate pro-Afrikan social institutions. What are the practices worthsalvaging from our ancient as well as recent pasts?
We will also look into Dr Walter Rodneys seminal work How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, to attain mkre clarity regarding a precolonial Afrika so that we can have a dialectical grounding to our propositions. There is so much at stake, we are called to find solutions and present them to those among us now and in the near future, who would put them into practice.
There are lessons to be learned from ancient as well as modern myths. I have been meaning to post a topic on social media regarding how the Myth of Haile Selassie I as the King of Kings of the whole world is useful for a particular section of the world’s population and how it can be used to unite and make further meaningful impact on peoples lives. Of course that myth can be also questioned and subtracted and added to depending on peoples ideological perspectives and beliefs but can it serve the whole world? What about those who do not require Kings or God’s? They too deserve justice and peaceful existence.
The myth of Jesus Christ, the myths of the Ancient Egyptians as well as the myths of the information superhighway with its multitudes of virtual realities, liberties and technological advances and pros and cons; they are all part of a world teeming witg choices. There is also Gaia, New Age theories, the new sciences of parallel universes,Singularity as well as enduring isms such as race, political power and Nature’s laws of attraction.
All of the above will be considered as we seek new Ways of being. All these ways of living may or may not require titles such as Queen or King. Perhaps all that is required is Spiritual or Soul power, a power that is not governed by the efforts of others but contributes to the collective reality of being Umuntu.
While we wait for the poem to become We chant evocative melodies Knowing each other by how we hum