Poetics: Global Afrikanness and The Legacy of Eskia Mphahlele

As I have mentioned on one of my earlier posts, I leave books everywhere. I do not only sell them, I also share many books among my friends and colleagues and sometimes perfect strangers. One of my Eritrean friends runs a restaurant called Habesha Cafe’ on 124 Helen Joseph Road, Durban. When I visited last-night I just couldn’t resist taking browsing through one of the many books and journals I have ‘donated’ there for the reading pleasure of his patrons.

The book, which I ended up taking home for further perusal, was ESKIA: Education, African Humanism and Culture, Social Consciousness, Literary Appreciation, published by Kwela Books, in association with Stainbank & Associates. It is part of the momentous Eskia Mphahlele Project, sponsored by Eskom. This particular copy was published in 2002, you can find the rest of them on: http://www.eskiaonline.com

As can be anticipated, the large tomes are collections of the many essays, articles, reviews and literary productions of the great South Afrikan scholar and cultural activist.The main current that runs accross most of the writings is Education, which was Eskia’s main passion. In one essay titled ‘Educating the Imagination – 1993, Eskia reflects :

“Nature led me along its own rugged and smooth paths according to its integrated curriculum – I have been recounting this in order to place the development of the imagination in a proper perspective, i.e. as a social process and as a prominent feature in the natural growth of the individual.”

Later he continues to reflect: ‘I only wish the West could begin to re-educate itself towards a conscious synthesis; and that “the other” could assimilate and synthecize on its own terms, not those of the master race… And in situations of political conflict and violence we can rescue the imagination, at least for an interim period, from the kind of programming that compels us to repeat ourselves.’

In the main body of Eskia’s reminiscence on his childhoodin the rural areas, he notes that: “Poverty, together with its companion malnutrition, stalked the rural ares. Landlessness became a permanent condition. Even when the land laws are repealed. Africans will not be able toafford to buy land, nor do they possess any farming skills. The drift to the towns seems irreversible for now. What has happened to the oral tradition in the poverty striken countryside? Until the 1930s, people grew the food they ate. Today they buy their food from the nearby store – in small, miserable, absurdly overpriced quantities.”

Interestingly, even though my friend Binium Misgun, who is the owner of Habesha Cafe’ had not read this book, which had sat on his shelf for months, our conversation was exactly about this topic of Landlessness, food production and the futility of aid controlled economy. Binium is a Sociologist and he is doing his PHD at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and I always emerge more knowledgeable about Afrikan and global politics and economics whenever I spend time with him. Such are the friendships I most value.

While our conversation ranged from the pros and cons of the Mugabe led Zimbabwean government and the Eritrean conditions and govenements relations with neighbouring Ethiopia and the West, our main focus was how South Africa can rescue itself from a puppet of the Western powers.

Eskia Mphahlele offers an insightful perspective on this,in one of his essays penned as far back as 1973. Titled African Literature: A Dialogue of Two Selves and the Voice of Prophecy -1973,by way of an evocative poem by African American poet of the early 20th century:

But the great western world holds me in fee,

And I may never hope for full release

While to its alien gods I bend my knee.

Something in me is lost, forever lost,

Some vital thing has gone out of my heart,

And I must walk the way of life, a ghost

Among the sons of earth, a thing apart.

For I was born, far from my native clime,

Under the white man’s menace, out of time.

Still writing about the psychological and social crisis of exile, he quotes from many African American and other writers who were forced from their homelands by the colonizing enterprise.

‘The one world holds me when I want to go away‘, said Langston Hughes, another African American. Quoting the Ghanaian poet, Francis Parkes, he states that the coming of the white man was a holocaust, but as a disaster that we must willfully raise ourselves from, a situation we must escape, by any means necessary, the poet cries out:

Let us build new homesteads

New dreams to decorate these ruins

Let us weave fresh rafters from rescued stalks

Let us start all over again

The past is a pitiless dream

A dread nightmare, you may remember …


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