Remembering Eric Miyeni’s Work – The Only Black …

I have been re-reading the great work of Eric Miyeni, especially the O’Mandingo series of books, such as The Only Black at a Dinner Party, published by Jacana Media in 2006. The actor, ex-talk-show host and creative director at the Communications company Chillibush, is one of the talented 10th of what one could call the Black intelligencia of Southern Africa.

Although he can’t still be regarded as young, he was among the few real outspoken and cleverly opinionated writer/creative activists of this often perplexed and perplexing country.

Without having to dwell too much on the person, although I would like to celebrate and ventilate the works of many South Afrikans who have directly or indirectly contributed to our freedom of expression, let me turn to a particular article in this aforementioned book.

In the chapter, A Little Politics Perhaps? Why Not?, subtitled Frankly Indian South African, Miyeni touches upon a topic which is always approached but never really unpacked for its nuanced complexity. He first narrates a childhood story of how an Indian shopkeeper literarily short-changes an illiterate Black woman and how this episode made him feel so powerless and  angry at a young age. He then states:

“There are many black people with these horror stories of black South African exploitation at the hands of Indian South Africans. None of these Indian South Africans have ever stood up, like the Afrikaner South Africans and the black South Africans at the TRC, and said, “We are sorry. We benefited largely from apartheid; at times we did horrible things to further exploit our fellow South Africans. We are sorry, and as the Jews say, ‘Never again'”. The Indian South African community has never stood up, spoken in one voice and acknowledged its apartheid sin, asking for forgiveness. And now Fatima Meer has the gall to stand up and blame black people for the lack of Indian South African support for the ANC. This is disgusting to say the least.” (p.201, O’ Mandingo – The Only Black at the dinner table )

What Miyeni is dealing with is a matter that can be stressed further towards many poles. We can either use the tools of analyses learned from our grasp of what Black Consciousness, according to Steve Biko teaches, or we can deal with it as he does from the standpoint of the African National Congresses embrace of a multi-racial democratic South Africa. Whichever tool we use, the Indian South African community will still fall short of the basic test of what it means to be humane. While there is a miniscule number of so called Indians in the ANC or who became members and meaningful contributors in the Black Consciousness movements, the collective amnesia and downright apathy and even cruelty of many of them towards Natives is appalling.

On a personal level, I have been struggling with the tendency of my South African Indian /Muslim comrades to fight for the rights of Palestinians, yet they remain silent or wilfully ignorant of the various struggles taking place all over the Black world, whether it be in the African continent or in Europe or America. It appears as if there is a selective focus on their own ethnic groups or even religious groups. How do I stand up for Palestine when I cannot stand up for Central African Republic, the repressed people of Swaziland or the Shack-dwellers all over Southern Africa.

The only person of Indian origin I ever see flying off to offer humanitarian assistance in African lands and even as far as Haiti is the CEO of the NGO, Gift of the Givers. This is a problem that we have dealt with during my days as an active member of the radical political movement, Black First Land First. We have had seminars where we invited everyone, especially tertiary students from UKZN and DUT etc to deal with the Indian Questions, but guess what, NO INDIAN ever attends. We end up debating among ourselves whether our open armed and BC based inclusion of Indians in our movements isn’t vainglorious?

But then again these days, someone may read this and say “But everybody has their Indian.”, citing the BLF’s defence of the Gupta/Zuma ‘faction’. Suffice to say, the enemies of Black peoples liberation and humanity are many, and even those we may think are for us can be our downfall.

I can go on further, and deal with how the relationship between the black people of Kwa-Zulu Natal and their Indian neighbours is far from healed and is a potential powder-keg just waiting for an accidental or incidental spark to blow up. Perhaps it is only through revolutionary violence that freedom is attained, but we must make sure that we do not turn against each other while the main architects of our division still remain comfortably white.

As he states in one of the essays, titled, Are White South Africans Nice People? “…Based on this definition of the word “nice”, my short answer to this tricky question is “No”. Most white South Africans are not nice people. But do I have any scientific research to back up this claim? Sadly, the answer to that question is “No”. So then, on wat do I base this contentious answer regarding my fellow citizens? Well, the explanation is complicated in its simplicity. It’s based on a little research and a little intuition that comes from this little research. First, the research part. I don’t know a single black South African person who does not have a horror story that involves a white South African person. These horror stories range from being beaten to a pulp for no reason other than being black…to having a chef coming out and asking people at every single table at his restaurant how they are enjoying their meals only to skip the only table full of black people, and then say he did not see them …”  (p.24, The Only Black …)

There is still a lot that can be said about Miyeni’s vision of a non-racial society and whether it is realistic or not, but I would like to honour him while he lives, for daring to speak his truth.




Blame Me On History

 Atiyyah Khan is a writer, researcher and arts journalist based in Cape Town. She has been writing about music and culture in South Africa since 2008. She is also the co-founder of music collective Future Nostalgia, which hosts regular vinyl listening sessions around Cape Town.

At the Cape Town launch of The Initiation, a book heralded as “the first graphic autobiography by a Black South African,” Mogorosi Motshumi, in keeping with his character, gracefully sidestepped having to dwell in the limelight for too long. “Thank you and thank you,” he said to the packed audience before taking his seat.

But it is because Motshumi speaks sufficiently through his art and has done so throughout the last 30 years working as a political artist, beginning with The Friend newspaper in the 1970s. What better way to convey his life story than though the medium he communicates best in and has dedicated his life to. The Initiation is the first instalment of a three-part autobiography which has been ten years in the making – Book Two: Jozi Jungle and Book Three: Back to the Blues are still on the way – but when asked about it, he replied, humbly: “I’m a little bit worried that the lines are too thin, but that’s my fault anyways.”

The significance of the work is doubly important as, at the time of publishing, Motshumi had lost sight in one eye and the other is slowly deteriorating. Like many often overlooked and underrated South African artists, he has not reaped the benefits of a country still in transition. The work put into the book was done with minimal materials, living alone in Bloemfontein, in the home where his story begins.

In the opening pages, we are transported to Batho, a small township in Bloemfontein, and into the house of Oumama, Motshumi’s grandmother. The innocence and naivety of childhood is captured beautifully with lightness and humour, using simple, cartoonlike drawings for the early years of his life. Here we meet Motshumi’s family and discover his deep love for drawing and his respect for his grandmother. Her teachings are carried throughout. In one scene, he is found crouching on the ground in his backyard, drawing in the sand as he fondly recalls his brother teaching him how to draw. Boyhood is a long, sweet kind of nostalgia and through it we discover Gori, Golo, Gurah, Godda and many more of the nicknames he is called.

The story shifts between Bloemfontein and Zeerust, and the difficulty of moving around as a child. There is very little emotion revealed and we get only hints of the commonplace acts of racism experienced in daily life during apartheid.

This quietness that Motshumi possesses today comes after many years of rebellion. Finding his voice and identity begins at school, where among peers there is already motivation to stand up against figures of authority. One instance is pointed out, where he gets beaten by a teacher out of racial hatred rather than discipline. He states: “I grew up with a healthy disrespect for authority.” This loathing continues throughout his schooling career in various instances as he joins the student movement and uprising against an all-Afrikaans curriculum.

For a solid chunk of the book, the pace is slow, each day unfolding a life lesson. Haphazardly, lines get bolder as Motshumi grows older; shades get darker and time speeds up. A turn of a page could mean the jump of a few years and this lends to the later quickness of the read. A look into Motshumi’s earlier work, such as in Sloppy done in the 1980s, shows bolder stand-alone comic strips, whereas The Initiation reads rather like a stream-of-consciousness exploration.

The Initiation also details Motshumi’s political awakening and his involvement with the Black Consciousness Movement. Motshumi’s work as an activist and political commentator is also highlighted, showing the artist following the voice of his own mind, fiercely guarding his autonomy, even if it means falling out of favour with publications. One of the most chilling moments happens when he is arrested and detained by the security police. Motshumi illustrates his inner demons during solitary confinement in the form of amorphic figures, with only a spider on the ground as a companion.

The first part of the trilogy concludes with Motshumi being forced to move to Johannesburg and leaving his wife and newborn son behind. What is redeeming, though, is that the title graphic illustration of the book, showing three generations from boyhood to adulthood, was done by the same son, artist Atang Tshikare, with whom Motshumi reconnected years later over a joint love for music and art.

The Initiation is a transportation to a reality within realities, and manages to resonate even in another time, showing the brave nature of an individual’s struggles. Motshumi’s ability to recall these deeply personal early events of his life and transfer that via images is astounding. While he continues to keep a low profile, the most important result is that we now have an invaluable documentation of this work, with the story continuing in two more installations on the way.

This review appears in Chronic Books Foods, a supplement to the Chronic (April 2017). An edition which aims to complicate the questions raised by food insecurity, to cook and serve them differently.

Food is largely presented as scarcity, lack, loss – Africa’s always desperate exceptionalism or exceptional desperation or whatever. In this issue, we put food back on the table: to restore the interdependence between the mouth that eats and the mouth that speaks, and to delve deeper into the subtle tactics of resistance and private practices that make food both a subversive art and a site of pleasure.

To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop, or get copies from your nearest dealer.

Something About This City

Green Ankh blog

There is absolutely no doubt that Durban aka EThekwini is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The sheer amount of talent and the natural gifts of ocean breeze and mountain shades, lush valleys and a rich socio-political and cultural history all come together to ensure that there is always something to see, feel and enjoy here whether you are a local or a visitor.

But we all cannot shake the feeling that there is something missing here.Despite the Indian Ocean that draws millions towards these shores, the spectacular sub-tropical weather and the vast amounts of talented performers and a great assortment of artistic talent, the Durban natives somehow seem reluctant to support one another where it matters the most: Live Local Shows and purchasing of local content ( Film viewing, Jazz, R&B/Soul, and Good Hip Hop and other not-so commercial genres such as alternative Rock and Electronic…

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Story Tellers : A Review by Nduduzo Makhathini

black heroes etc



Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage, people playing musical instruments and indoor

Though this concert was billed as ‘Tete Mbambisa SA-UK Big Sound 2017 Tour’ sitting [or rather standing as the music had kept on my feet the entire time] in the audience at ‘The Rainbow’ jazz club in Pinetown, KwaZulu Natal, Sunday the 9th of July 2017, I felt as though the responsibility of allowing us on this journey was equally shared between Mbambisa and the great Bab’uBarney Rachabane on alto saxophone, there was a strong sense of trust which obviously supported by the great talents of brother Ayanda Sikade on the drums and Mbambisa’s UK connection featuring; Julian Argüelles (tenor), Chris Batchelor (trumpet) and Steve Watts (bass).

I walked into the venue on the last song the first set, the room was buzzing and I was content from hearing the last couple of bars of the last tune of the 1st set in this fully charged room. The blending…

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Arts For A Change

It was a very moving experience reading Michelle Constants column in the April 2017 issue Creative Feel.

I was first enchanted by the Stompie Selibe artwork featured as the cover, I had not really gotten to the story yet, but the issues that Constant, who is the CEO of Business Arts SA, raised. She essentially wrote about the same kind of social challenges that Nduduzo Makhathini and I were speaking about lastnight.

Makhathini had called me late last-night as he could not contain himself after reading my spontaneous reviews of his latest musical offering, Reflections.

We basically spoke about the Healing and social responsibility of Artists such as himself. He mentioned the designer of Thandi Ntuli and Salim Washington’s albums. I mentioned the primary functions of literary works such as Paolo Coelo’s The Alchemist, Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Healers, KMT and also Baba Mazisi Kunene’s work.

I raised the point that The Alchemist reminds us of the importance of Intention. While there are many books, New Age and otherwise, that speak on this subject, it is the simplicity and rather traditional storytelling style of Coelo that captures the essence of this phenomenon.

So what is our collective intention? In broad terms, we intend to change our society for the better. We believe strongly in the intrinsic goodness and natural progressiveness of our people, the Afrikan people in particular. We know that our political and economic systems and conditions are inherited from an era of ignorance and desperation.

We were desperate for freedom and independence but many leaders and communities had not spend enough time meditating about what the quality of our desired society would be. For an example, how did we imagine crime-free communities where the scourge of violence against women and children is no more? How did we imagine  a society free of vulgar patriarchy, sexism and intolerance?

Michelle Constant writes about the Goethe Institute and the newly established Henrike Grohs Prize for African Artists. Grohs died last year in March in vicious terrorist attack in the Ivory Coast. She mentions Mluleki Sam and Ncedile Daki among some other Artists who recently died under conditions of extreme violence too.

Constant also insists that despite the violence and cruelty in our society, we should never allow ourselves to neglect of forget the Artists, their role as connectors and healers in our society.


song for the teacher


Blues for Dr R. J. Mekoa

Movement 1:

elements of sound

elements of air

airborne sounds circumnavigating the firmament

seeking for hearts to inhabit

we are all echoes of the wind

some hit the trees and fall beneath the leaves

and others caress the bark like a long lost lover

Movement 2:

how long has the wind seeker been gone

some men seek after the wind

while  some find the golden threads

woven by birds of paradise in the air.

“how can you tell the difference

between a seeker and a loiterer?”

the Dr considers the answer

flips through the sheets of music and raises his trumpet

blows just one note

“each one teach one.”

the teacher tells the students

who were told to play the sound of their favorite bird

yet only a handful could remember what a bird sounded like

the teacher had to appeal to the imagination

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Umnikelo KaMoya


Ase (or às̩e̩ or ashe[1]) is an African philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and produce change. It is given by Olodumare to everything – gods, ancestors, spirits, humans, animals, plants, rocks, rivers, and voiced words such as songs, prayers, praises, curses, or even everyday conversation. Existence, according to Yoruba thought, is dependent upon it. 

In addition to its sacred characteristics, ase also has important social ramifications, reflected in its translation as “power, authority, command.” A person who, through training, experience, and initiation, learns how to use the essential life force of things to willfully effect change is called an alaase.

Rituals to invoke divine forces reflect this same concern for the autonomous ase of particular entities. The recognition of the uniqueness and autonomy of the ase of persons and gods is what structures society and its relationship with the other-world.” – Wikipedia definition of Ase’/Ashe.

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