“Our subject is not music as an abstract art, but music as a force which affects all who hear it. Music – not as entertainment only, but as a literal power. Whether we are within audible range of music, its influence is playing upon us constantly.” – David Tame, The Secret Power of Music
Towards a much more in-depth essay on Nduduzo Makhathini’s Work
It is written that in a beginning there was the word, so to avoid any sense of confusion or misinterpretation, let us start with a definition of one of the words that will be used here.
Although this brief review of the work of a very exciting and quintessentially focused artist will lean heavily on the cultural/spiritual aspects of the production and reception of the music, we would like to begin with some disclaimers regarding the sound popularly known as jazz.
The music itself is considered by its listeners and producers as being one of the freest mediums of artistic expression. But the terms jazz as well as the connotations of what was considered ‘free-jazz’ or even ‘African jazz’, do not fit comfortably in the contexts of many of its listeners and most especially its practitioners. Nduduzo Makhathini himself considers himself an Improviser. While improvisation is nothing new in the art-form, there is distinctive shift of perception when an artist decides to define himself in terms that are distinct in word and sound.
The erudite and prolific Afrikan-American composer/trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has an elaborate explanation on what he prefers to call Systemic Music or simply Art Music (insert reference link).
The fact is definitions are rather unwholesome as well as increasingly unnecessary as ways of describing many practitioners of this kind of music. The fact remains that considered in relation to many other modes of musical communication, the sound formerly labeled jazz is quite unique and there are specific traits that compel us to categorize or distinguish it; despite the remonstrations of many generations of its creators and some of its audience.
With all this considered, let us look at the following definitions and see how they may assist in a common or layman’s analysis of the multifaceted and layered sounds of Nduduzo Makhathini.
Listening to an artist who considers himself a healer and a conduit of Spirit requires much more than an ear for good or quality entertainment. In the words of a famous South African radio advert, you must “Listen with your Soul”.
Firstly, I will dare to call this “sound we revere”, an elite music. But what does this word elite mean?
“Elite or é·lite
[ ih-leet, ey-leet ]
(often used with a plural verb) the choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons.
(used with a plural verb) person of the highest class: Only the elite were there.
a group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group: the power elite of a major political party.
a type, approximately 10-point in printing-type size, widely used in typewriters and having 12 characters to the inch.
representing the most choice or select; best: an elite group of authors.”
Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini might be the first person to refuse to be ‘labelled’ an elitist in any shape or form; but how far can producers of art control their own sphere of influence or even their reception by the listeners and the industries they operate in?
The option of using the word elite to describe both the perception of what is called real jazz as well as the character and psychological state of its producers is quite deliberate. It denotes the difference between the elevated and pristine state of the music as compared to the run-of-the mill/mainstream or what is termed popular music today.
Fans of this music have always been the vanguard of any society, the ones whose taste for other modes of artistic communication and expression have been more discerning compared to the average enjoyer of music.
It is as if jazz is an actual language on its own. The musicians may be ordinary artists pursuing a music that gives them joy; but after all the work is done and they have communicated their message, it is up to us to enjoy it and allow it to take us wherever it does. The music of Nduduzo Makhathini uniquely takes us deeper into ourselves, exploring both our ancestral heritage as well as our place in a universe populated by various often unnamable forces. In other words, the music transports us into realms that lie just beyond the mundane, causing us to strive for better or clearer reception, to receive the messages of the Ancestors as much as we are compelled to offer our prayers for the present and future.
As stated in one of the essays in my book Rock ‘n Rule – jazz is an intellectual choice. This does not mean it is not to be enjoyed solely within its recreational or fun contexts, it simply means that it has a built in quality of endurance, a deliberately created permanence that the band members all contribute in communicating.
While not being deliberately exclusive, it is not overly inclusive either. Despite the fact that Leo Smith calls it the most democratic art-form, referring to how each member in the band strives to be as honest and harmoniously participatory, there is still individual freedom within the perimeters of a seemingly boundless ‘system’.
It is an elite sound; a bespoke cultural phenomenon and each audience member has a unique approach to how they appreciate it.
Questions of influence, power (spiritual and economic), control, reception and receptivity must be considered when dealing with a sound that has for a long time been considered proto-classical.
While the African-American roots of what is considered jazz today are worthy of reverence, there has been considerable work done to support the notion that what is called jazz is truly a unique amalgamation of Afrikan idioms, tones, cultural cadences and harmonics developed through exceptionally Black American styles using European instruments. Ironically, artistes such as Makhathini are creating a language that shatters the elitism while keeping the tradition distinct. It is a mode of communication that brings in the listener through a shared narrative, while offering a sense of education.
The difference between Western or European classical music and jazz/Black American Music goes beyond the point of fixed composition, improvisation, and individual interpretation of the musical score. The people who have developed the sounds of jazz/BAM far more than anyone else are a people who have imbued the music with their unique cultural and ancestral flavors.
There is an distinctive disciplic succession in the way the jazz/BAM tradition has been handed down from one generation to another via a plethora of compositional and improvisational styles and Afrikan and Diasporic contributions can be considered as much influential to the development of today’s artists as the mainstream and readily quotable names from the United States of America.
So much of this music exists outside of the mainstream and popular canon’s that have been controlled by Eurocentric and America-centered tastemakers that many generations of artists and listeners have been robbed of the omniversal/omnispacial nuances of this music.
Just like there has been a hegemony of religious, cultural and economic dogma that was deepened by the advent of globalization, there was been a deliberate attempt to either ignore or only pay lip-service to musical contributions by Afrikan artists in the sphere called jazz. The induction of Southern Afrikan pianist/Healer and storyteller Nduduzo Makhathini into the Blue Note jazz stratosphere is a fulfillment of many musical prophecies.
The sheer breadth of sounds that make up the album Modes of Communication: Letters From The Underworlds, make it clear that Nduduzo was very cognizant of the fact that he is carrying the hopes and dreams of past, present and future contributors to this auspicious tradition. The songs range from the clearly ancestrally or spiritually inclined narratives, to the gospel nuanced as well as the socially conscious.
The socio-political aspects of the narrative cannot be ignored as the artists are deliberately compelled to confront the Black condition with fervent intentionality. While the act of communicating at a universal level is important, each member in this group is perceived as chanting or conjuring up something that can potentially healing towards the global African race, to heal the social ills before we can be ushered into the proverbial imagined race.
While there are many great South Afrikan artists who could have been elevated to this position much earlier, it is a highly significant that the forces that be, have begun with a powerful artist such as this one.
Let us briefly look at the musical output that has led to this moment …
- Mother Tongue (Gundu, 2014) with Sakhile Simani, Mthunzi Mvubu, Linda Sikhakhane, Ariel Zamonsky, Benjamin Jeptha, Ayanda Sikade
- Sketches of Tomorrow (Gundu, 2014) with Sakhile Simani, Mthunzi Mvubu, Jonathan Crossley, Ayanda Sikade
- Listening to the Ground (Gundu, 2015)
- Matunda Ya Kwanza (Gundu, 2015)
- Icilongo – The African Peace Suite (Gundu, 2016) with Sakhile Moleshe, Justin Bellairs, Shabaka Hutchings, Benjamin Jeptha, Ayanda Sikade
- Inner Dimensions – Umgidi Trio & One Voice Vocal Ensemble (2016) with Fabien Iannone, Dominic Egli, Lisette Spinnler, Jule Fahrer
- Reflections (Gundu, 2017) solo piano
- Ikhambi (Universal South Africa, 2018)
- (Universal Music (Pty) Ltd., 2020)
- Mbuso Khoza: Zilindile (Winner Best Contemporary Jazz 2013, Metro FM) Lindiwe Maxolo: Time SAMA Best Jazz 2013
- Tumi Mogorosi’s Project Elo
- Sisa Sopazi’s Images and Figures
- SAMA Best Jazz 2014 Nominee Xolani Sithole: Limitless Produced two of his own albums: Mother Tongue and Sketches of Tomorrow.
- African Time – Herbie Tsoali
- Movement – Ayanda Sikade
- Uthingo Lwenkosazana – Omagugu Makhathini
There are many more collaborations and work that can be mentioned here, but for the sake of time and space. Let us call this part one. Donda! We are grateful for your channeling of the messages from your Ancestors unto our realms. May we all learn to discern the languages of the Ancients as well as the tones of the present and future yearnings. The music belongs to all.
A conversation that turned into an argument on Facebook today, which was about the lyrical prowess of US rapper Jay-Z really got me thinking about Black aesthetics in a general sense. The debate was sparked by someone who said that they were alarmed at how much praise that Jay-Z gets for displaying a skill that he neither invented nor is he superior in it. Since rap music is part of the highly competetive segment of Hip Hop culture, many die-hard fans are quite picky about who really is the best at a specific aspect of rhyming. It was Mos Def aka Yasin Bey who once rapped, “This thing called rhyming/ is no different from coal mining/ We’re all on assignment / to un-earth the diamond …”
You see, the whole argument was really about the use of something called ‘the double entendre’; it’s just a fancy way of descibing an ambiguous turn of phrase or saying something with a double or triple meaning. In the art of storytelling called Rap, there are so many gimmicks and stylish ways that the artists use to stand-out, be unique and basically become ahead of their peers. It is a great feat that after more than 40 years of its existence, despite commercialisation and so many practitioners pandering to capitalist/materialist interests, Hip Hop artists can still be distinguished through their work ethic, skills and excellence. Jay-Z happens to be one of the most successful artist/entrepreneur in the game at present. I do not wish to get into the merits of demerits of whether he is The master of the double entendre or not, suffice to say that there are hundreds if not thousands of less commercially successful MC’s/rappers out there in various languages, who can boast of being the masters or even geniuses in the same game. Someone in the Facebook debate even mentioned Aesop Rock and I later mentioned the recently belated MF DOOM. The rapper Mos Def whom I quoted above can also be mentioned among the top experts in the art of story-telling, but we can mention many others beyond the shores of the USA. The late Ben Sharpa as well as The Hymphatic Thabs and Supa Mpondo are some of the South Afrikan luminaries that come to mind and so does Yugen Blakrok.
|When Blakrok rhymes, “immaculate entanglement …chromosomes have relapsed the hidden element/ chosen matriarch walks with the ghosts of elephants …” – ( Metamorphosis), it may require someone who either understands her mieliu or simply has a grasp of the semiotics of Afrikan cosmology to decipher her meaning. On Morbid Abakus, she raps quite succinctly , “A Neo moving counter-clockwise, til this cipher is complete/ False prophets are the first to seek the shelter of cocoons /Like a newborn retreating back into its mothers womb/ out of this world I search space like quantum physicists/ scaling the mountain like Moses only to find out where the lizard lives/ I crash imbecilles and elevate seers/ My order is psychics that levitate above fear…”
The music is not particularly designed for the clubs or for mainstream audiences entertainment, it is like some forms of what is called jazz, only for ‘Heads’, or those among us who enjoy art-music. It is a proverbial and actual music of the spheres. Of course, not all music can be described as art. Some of it is specifically created with the profit motive in mind, and a vast amount is made for the sole purpose of mind-less entertainment. For those who art fans, the lines are clearly drawn and heated debates have always ensued between purists and hedonists. The latter being part of the mass population. It is no surprise at all that less discerning listeneres who are mostly spoonfed their art, would attribute mastery to artists who are either mediocre or predictably over-rated. The music of the spheres is not found on radio stations and the television broadcasting is owned and controlled by people who have no interest in cultivating a culture of provocative or regenerative thought.
The purpose of this essay though is really to engage with how many of the cultural aesthetics found the the art of Hip Hop are not only traceable to earlier expressions from jazz to Mbhaqanga to the Blues as well as more traditional Indigenous performative arts, but that the intellectual property really does not belong to persons but to the entire Afrikan community as well as other members of humanity who are eble to embrace it and therefore reproduce it. It is during this stage of reproduction that the complex socio-political and economic dimensions manifest fully.
It is very important that as Afrikans engaged in the preservation of our creative economic production, we remain aware that there have always been forces that thrive on distorting and destroying what we create. We may enjoy some moments of frivolous entertainment and even self degradation/humiliation now and then, but there are still spaces of sacredness and conservation. Traditions in musical history as well as cultural life are establish for a reason, they are the stuff that guides us and restores our confidence that our lives have more meaning than the stuff that can be bought or sold. Our resistance to erasure is not a resistance against natural progression of change, we know that culture is dynamic and that traditions must adapt to contextual realities, yet we also are aware that without institutions there will be no systemic or functional best practices.
Note this passage from Frank Tirro’s book Jazz, A History: ” Jazz became a symbol of crime, feeble-mindedness, insanity and sex, and was under constant attack from the press from the early 1920’s on …. it is ironic that we preserve, study and enjoy a music today that was felt to be insidious and lascivious only yesterday.”
Perhaps the obvious question from this statement is who exactly considered Black music in those terms? What was the contextual or even pychological background of the critics at that particular time? It would emerge that the so called taste-makers or opinion makers of that era were the same ones who later began reproducing the music albeit a poorer version of it and constructed a whole new branding of it complete with their own prefered stars as well as the very identity of the sound. Somehow someway, Afrikan people are still able to withstand all this negative onslaught against our creativity and emerge shining forth with boundless expressions of pure Soulful, Spiritual genius. Perhaps the best and only way to preserve our creations is to find ways to remain our authentic selves, undilited by the whims of trends, brands and opinions. We are not just here to create content and cater for the gullible masses, we are here to make life and art rhyme so eloquenly that no one can dare to copy or fake it without sounding inauthentic. The same agents who have created a Hip Hop industry that lacks Soulfulness and spiritual harmony are the same descendents of the people who attempted to stifle the organic grouwth of what they called jazz. There is an undeniable Afrocentricity to the art-forms in question here and they cannot be alienated or removed from the very politics or sociological being of the Mother continent. Note what David Tame writes albeit simplistically in his book The Secret Power of Music, in the chapter Jazz and The Blues:
“On the physical level the rhythms of jazz, like their parent sounds of Africa, literally forced the listeners to do something rhythmic with their limbs. The faster the tempo, the more the emotional tension created. . . -When pulsation and syncopation are the rhythmic foundations of the music at a dance hall, the movements of the dancers can invariably be seen to become very sensual and oriented around the loins. Such rhythms actually posses the capacity to force the subtle energies of the body downward into the region of the anatomy, therefore increasing the outpouring into the bloodstream of sexual hormones. Once such biochemic and more subtle forces have been concentrated on the loins , they must find some manner of expression.”
In part 2 of this essay, I will explain through a Fanonian and Cesairean approach just how racist these statements are. Racism camouflages itself within the cloaks of anthropology and white pathological paternalism. This is the sense of cultural delusion of supremacy that thrives on making sweeping judgements on matters that white intellectuals and even colonised Black writers know very little about. In prepaation for part 2 I woulod advise the reader to seek out Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Notebook of A Return To The Native Land as well as Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks.
“None of us can control every situation we find ourselves in. What we can control is how we react when things turn against us. I have always seen failure as a challenge to pull myself up and keep going. A struggle is only one step in the long path we walk and dwellinjg on it only postpones the completion of our journey. Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times.” – Wangari Maathai, Unbowed, One Woman’s Story
“The future is now drawing us in faster than the past can hold us back. An obvious consequence to this scenario is the end of the conservative, the traditional and the archaic, plus the naive notion that somehow we can return to childhood, to the fantasy of any creation myth, like the Garden of Eden. But nothing will stop the evolutionary momentum. The conservatives and the traditionalists are on the verge of extinction and the institutions associeted with them can sense it. ” – Mike Kawitzky
“Real and sustainable economic empowerment aims at evening out the spread of wealth across the demographic spectrum and not to perpetuate its skewing. The implicit mandate of any government anywhere is to economically empower the citizenry.” – David Magang, Delusions of Grandeur, Paradoxes and Ambivalences in Botswana’s Macroeconomic Firmament
We need new creation stories. We need stories without queens, kings, serfs and imaginary monsters or gods. Yes, there will be fantacy and magical realities and even so called false-positives. Archetypes are the stuff of our human experience, both good or bad and everything else inbetween, but our new stories must be based on truly new inventions, where old habits have been proven to be obsolete and not useful. Royalty is one of those habits. A dirty habit which is held aloft by demagogues, just as nationalism is. Politics as well as money or fiat finance are the other unfriendly ghosts we ought to exorcise if we are truly serious about the pursuit of happiness, prosperity and mutual wellbeing.
So many ages have passed unto infinity, history fills a space and time that we can neither fully grasp nor accurately tell. We relate to the past merely because we have been there, it is part of our old skin, a presence that is always shifting, snakish, moving with us as we grow into the next moment. We also relate to the past because we are connected to it through ancestry, our collective evolution as a species is as cyclic as it is relational. It may not always be fair or even rational, but it is relational. “Every little action, has a reaction …” Bob Marley
Afrikan Warrior Teacher Dr Baba Buntu says that we are ‘relational beings’, meaning that humanity is in a cosmic relationship not only as homosapiens and the various human families/races that are within it, but that we are interconnected with everything else both visible and unseen. We relate. As racial relatives as well as beings with common histories.
All of the earth’s peoples have their creation stories, and some view them clearlly as part of their particular folklore and mythologies, while some cultures hold a more myopic view, the fundamentalist opinion that their own stories are realistic or truthful, that they are a universal truth.
There are certain cultural motifs or systems that havce transcended these differences. These tendencies, whether based on basic instincts or our part animal /part systemic intelligence that keep us needing certain kinds of leadership so that we can feel secure as groups or ‘tribes’, are in fact part of what keeps us competing instead of relating. Kingship is one of the outmoded systems that almost every nation has either had or still holds on to. The purported divine right of royalty is by far one of the most fantastical of all human inventions. That a certain group of members of the race is somehow preordained to rule or ‘lord it’ over others. It is quite amazing just how this institution has managed to last well into the 21st century.
As much as kingship faces a myriad of challenges, it appears that new intelligence and peoples traditional habits remain at an impasse. The political systems such as constititutional democracies, communism and even so called monarchial democracy and feudalism all appear to be alternating forms of the dictatorship of some by others. While there may be many other ideas from scientific socialism to arnarchy and federalism, none have shown any significant success as allowing humanity to gravitate to our natural states. Peace, equity and justice are still very much a struggle to achieve, even in most developed or technically advanced countries. Dominant ideas still find more expression than individual or even communal liberties.
In the United States of America, which is known as the land of the free, there is as much injustice if not more, than in any other dictatorship. A semblance or pretence of freedom is sold to citizens as part of an American dream. Yet, both government and corporations have created a system wherein the profit motive has become more powerful and influential than the vote or peoples actual choices. In simpler terms, it is money or wealth, not merit or service excellence that determines leadership.
In his book More Together Than Alone, the power of community; Mark Nepo writes: “In America, our sense of self-reliance is so embedded in our “Live free or die” ethic that, when we mean to honour what we’re been through as a society, we often re-enact the conflict. For example, there are annual re-enactments of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg ( July 1-3, 1863) rather than annual healing conversations about race. And there are annual re-enactments of the Revolutionary War battles at Saratoga ( September 19 and October 7, 1777) rather than public forums on the deeper meanings of freedom.”
What this warrior writer of ‘new ideas for new ways of living’ states here reminds me of something I have always questiond regarding the history or story of the people known as AmaZulu. These famous nation within the Republic of South Africa has long been famous for all the wrong reasons. The Zulu is almost always defined as a warrior and even the women are defined as sturdy and rock-like. It is a stereotypical image that many Zulu’s and South Afrikans have embraced unquestionangly.
These are the toxic stereotypes that are repeated and performed in the arts as well as in various other national and even global spaces, they reinforce a narrative that traps the people into a cycle of psychic as well as actual violence. It also also diminishes the value of the many other beautiful attributes of this culturally rich people.
New storytellers understand that complexity is as importance as simplicity. It is the healthy tension between the two that creates an atmosphere of inventiveness. When we tell stories of peaceful warriors rather than two dimensional kings with killer instincts, we allow the quiet to be articulated as clearly as a sounded bell. Surely we are more than the sum of our conflicts. People are more than the minions and subjects of their rulers or kings.
In Southern Africa, traditional leadership has been afforded a place in the globally acclaimed constitution or the Bill of Rights, yet traditional leaders hardly have any power to make any significant decisions among their constituents. The very government that is in power through the ballot still receives instructions from global powers and funders in making decisions that directly affect citizens. It is as if the proverbial pyramid of power has remained intact beyond the collapse of colonialism or imperialism.
While one appreciates the schemes of geopolotical macroeconomics, and that no country is an island, it is important to still ask the questions of whether anything is still sacred, whether soverignty is a reality or a thing of the past?
The people of the land called Afrika are as diverse as we are uniquely gifted. The land is rich in every conceivable natural resource. Our endowements, on a human and environmental level should mean that we should not be beggars or the wretched of the earth. The so called resource curse seems to follow us despite the many global conferences, United Nations and other institutional policies that are aimed at ensuring that human rights and planetary justice is observed, yet neither traditional leadership, Indigenous Knowledge practitioners nor socio-political elites have been able to clarify just how we can trascend our state of collective wretchedness.
Our story is not one-sided. We are as wonderfully creative and industrious as anyone else, if not more, given our experiences and circumstances. Afrika influences the world in uncountable ways. Our story is a story of rising each time we have been brought down low, resilience and tenacity are part of our narrative. Reinvention is in our DNA, it is all a matter of finding the right catalysts to activate it. Yet, we still need to do more. We need to unlearn many of our old habits. Some that have been acquired through the colonial traumatic experience, and some that are part of the deadly past. Yes, the past is both life-giving as well as death laden. We must move as a people that has discerned just what we can use and what we must discard if we are to thrive in the brave new world of this here future. There are institutions that have already been formed which work on how to use history in a positive or proactive way. We will need them to refine their data and methodologies. We are always telling new stories and there are industries that thrive on distributing those stories through various media internationally, let them be cognizant of the impact of such stories on the collective psyche of the new world’s children. Let us guard against poisoning our children with the debris and violence of our messy past. While it may stroke our national egoes to tell stories of our own blodied heroes and struggle stalwarts, it does not make the world a more peacable place to pollute fresh springs with our muddied feet.
“Everybody has enough personal power for something. The trick for the warrior is to pull his personal power away from his weaknesses to his/her warriors purpose.” – The Second Ring of Power, The Shamans of Ancient Mexico
“For a Warrior, to be inaccessible means that he touches the world around him sparingly. And above all, he deliberately avoids exhausting himself and others. He doesn’t use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people he loves.” – The Wheel of Time, The Shamans of Ancient Mexico
“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” – Native American, Chief Seattle
Bringing Traditional Healing Under the Microscope in South Africa
December 30, 2020 by Sarah Wild
In June, Artemisia afra was in high demand on the streets of Johannesburg in South Africa. To treat Covid-19 symptoms, the Indigenous herb’s silvery leaves were for sale at roadside vendors and in the city’s popular traditional markets. Some people even pulled the plant from private gardens. And on the sides of nearby highways, people held signs for “mhlonyane” (A. afra’s isiZulu name) and offered bushels to passing motorists like bouquets. Between February and July, the herb doubled in price.
People in the region have consumed the bitter plant for centuries to treat illnesses from colds to intestinal worms. With deaths rising as South Africa battled its first Covid-19 wave, people have turned to A. afra and other traditional medicines, including cannabis. (They were not the only ones. In April, Madagascar’s president, Andry Rajoelina, had launched Covid-Organics, a herbal concoction containing another artemisia species, A. annua, which he claimed — without evidence — could cure Covid-19.)
As with most traditional medicine in South Africa — a broad category that relies on a variety of herbs, rather than the refined molecules of Western drugs — there is no robust, peer-reviewed evidence that A. afra has any utility against any ailment, including Covid-19. Local medical doctors and officials have cautioned the public against using the plant instead of seeking medical attention for Covid-19, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has similarly urged people to avoid using untested medicines to treat the disease. But that has not stopped demand for A. afra — and that demand now has some mainstream health advocates calling for greater scrutiny of traditional remedies — including submitting them to clinical trials.
Whether this will come to pass is far from clear. Despite South Africa having a large number of practicing traditional healers and millions of mostly Black South Africans who use their medicines, traditional health care practices stand well outside of mainstream health care in the country. Although there have been efforts to regulate traditional healers, their remedies, for the most part, have not been subjected to scientific scrutiny. This is in part due to South Africa’s history. While people in the region have used traditional medicines for millennia, in 1957, the racist apartheid regime suppressed traditional healing through the Witchcraft Suppression Act, labeling many of its practices as criminal offenses and forcing it underground. There is also a long history elsewhere in the world of scientists and companies turning Indigenous knowledge into Western medicines, and many stakeholders fear that, once healers divulge their secrets and methods to expose their therapies to the rigor of clinical trials, this will happen again with South African traditional medicine.
Indeed, many herbal remedies are closely guarded secrets, intertwined with a philosophy in which health is inextricably linked with spiritual life. And unlike other ancient health care systems that rely on written texts, African healers share and preserve knowledge largely through oral tradition, so there is little record of how the medicines were made and used hundreds of years ago. This lack of ingredient information and recorded longitudinal safety data make African traditional medicines particularly difficult to test.
Still, the WHO and the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with the Developing Countries Clinical Trial Partnership (EDCTP), have developed guidelines to evaluate the medicines’ safety and efficacy against Covid-19. And while some experts lobbying for more scrutiny of traditional medicine noted that South Africa’s drug regulators have been historically antagonistic to the idea, the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic may well be helping to change all that. Indeed, government overseers have established a special unit to evaluate these traditional products, and while answers may come too slowly to address Covid-19, the investigations may have long-lasting implications. “Covid has been a game changer for traditional medicine,” said Nceba Gqaleni, a traditional medicines specialist at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, adding that the Covid-19 treatments haven’t faced some of the same controversies as past traditional medicines — especially therapies for HIV/AIDS.
A. afra is one of a number of herbs that the government is investigating against Covid-19. In July, officials set up the African Medicines Covid-19 Research Team, which includes scientists and traditional healers, and diverted about R15-million (at the time equaling about $880,500) from existing Indigenous knowledge projects to fund the collaboration.
The project could lead to other research outside of Covid-19, since the country is home to 10 percent of the world’s plant species and remains a largely untapped pharmaceutical resource. Nox Makunga, a medicinal botanist at Stellenbosch University, says that since the abolition of apartheid, the South African government has been expressed eagerness to investigate and develop effective herbal medicines. “They see it as ‘green gold,’” she said. But that hasn’t yet come to fruition. In 2008, the government published a draft policy for traditional medicines, which was subsequently shelved, and while South Africa’s 2013 Bioeconomy Strategy laid out ambitious plans to investigate herbal cures, the country has not yet managed to formally evaluate traditional medicines or discover any new drugs based on their constituents.
The Covid-19 pandemic may be providing new impetus for such efforts, but experts say it won’t happen without compromises.
Modern medicine, of course, hinges on the ability to show that any particular compound — be it from nature or synthetically-derived — is effective and safe at an established dose. Such demonstrations are generally obtained through clinical trials, and while the process is not without shortcomings, it has generally yielded tried, tested, and — importantly — reproducible results. “Clinical trials are the best and safest way” to evaluate medicines, said Francois Venter, deputy executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand. The drugs are tested for safety in animals and humans, and this way of testing is widely accepted, he added. “But there are no shortcuts, they are expensive.”
This standardized approach, however, is at odds with the opaque and complex belief system that underpins African traditional medicines. “We are responsible for the body, the mind, and the soul,” said practicing healer Phephisile Maseko. “We are the only healing system that looks into all three, unlike Western medicine which just focuses on applying bandages.”
In this system, ancestral worship is intertwined with people’s health, and is just as important as the plant formulations a healer dispenses. When a patient comes to Maseko, she says she asks questions about not only people’s ailments, but also their histories: “‘What happened to your mother? Why is there no connection between your mother and the family of your father? What happened when you were born?’”
Similarly, when Hlupheka Chabalala, head of Indigenous knowledge-based technology innovation in South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation, refers to traditional medicines, it is typically a mixture of various whole-plant extracts, rather than single, isolated compounds. The different plants in the medicine work together, he suggests: One may act as the primary medicine, while another promotes the body’s absorption of the drug, or the bioavailability, and another might curb the side effects of the other plants.
The importance of family history and the benefits of complementary drug interactions are, of course, not foreign to Western medicine. The problem is that formulations and ingredients in traditional cures vary widely, making most assertions of efficacy exceedingly difficult to prove — and leaving many experts dubious. “Most things are not safe if you get them from nature,” said Kelly Chibale, an organic chemist who heads a drug discovery group at the University of Cape Town. “They’re actually very toxic.”
But testing such custom-made, non-standard preparations can prove advantageous. “If you want to push biodiversity or African traditional medicine, you have to conduct a clinical trial, a clinical study, because that’s the only way scientifically you can prove something works,” said Chibale. He pointed to sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), the cousin of A. afra used in Covid Organics and an important plant in Chinese traditional medicine: “For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese have been using that drug in a concoction, as part of traditional Chinese medicine.” It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that Chinese scientists derived molecules from the feathery green A. annua, called artemisinins, that now form the cornerstone of malaria therapies around the world. Artemisinin-based combination therapies have more than halved annual malaria deaths globally.
That accomplishment required modern tactics. Scientists needed to understand the chemical structure of sweet wormwood in order to identify its active pharmaceutical ingredient, Chibale explained — and along the way they discovered it was poorly soluble and not absorbed well. Scientists were then able to chemically modify artemisinin to produce better-performing derivatives. In that sense, the traditional medicine served as the pathfinder for a drug that would save millions of lives — but modern science was needed to bring that about. “Everything is just a starting point,” Chibale said.
That notion, however, does not sit well with many traditional medicine proponents, including Chabalala, who says they should be considered an end to themselves, and not individually dissected to identify one active compound. “We use everything as nature intended it to be, even if mixing herbs,” he said. “If you isolate compounds, that’s when you start having problems with side effects.”
Venter, a proponent of evaluating traditional medicines via clinical trials, dismisses this as unscientific. “There is this idea that something natural is good for you, but heroin is natural,” he said. “I’d rather take a highly synthetic compound than chew a leaf that is going to give me heart failure.”
(While A. afra does not contain artemisinin, it has also been proposed as a treatment for malaria. According to the WHO, however, chemical compounds found in the plant can vary widely and concerns about damage to the brain and heart have been reported.)
Despite the South African government’s stated interest in developing drugs based on traditional cures, many people involved in traditional medicine, including Gqaleni, say South Africa’s Medicines Control Council (MCC) was historically reluctant. “They thought they were lowering their standards to approve traditional medicines,” Gqaleni said. But legislation to replace the MCC with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) was passed in 2015, and amid the pressures to find new ways to treat Covid-19, the agency has recently come to the table with traditional medicine advocates. Sahpra has “begun considering appropriate mechanisms of regulating proprietary African traditional medicines,” spokesperson Yuven Gounden told Undark.
Historically, traditional medicines research had not been scientifically rigorous, says Salim Abdool Karim, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the chair of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19. “So it has given traditional medicines research a bad name. But we shouldn’t let a few lapses in scientific quality put us off a fundamentally important issue.”
Scientists, public officials, and traditional healers all seem to agree that traditional medicines must be shown to be safe and effective. The sticking point is how this should happen. And despite a newfound willingness to engage with traditional medicines, Sahpra’s evaluation unit will face practical difficulties in evaluating African traditional medicines — including the lack of written records.
In China, some medical scripts date back centuries, says medical botanist Makunga. “They formalized their own traditional medicines: x amount of this plant, x amount of that plant, x amount of that plant is good for treating disease y,” she said. South Africa’s traditional medicine system — in which dosages are based on individual handfuls and plants may be included because in a dream ancestors told a traditional healer, or an inyanga, to add them — is playing catch up with these more formalized systems.
Meanwhile, disagreement over just how traditional remedies ought to be scrutinized under Western protocols has already surfaced. In September, a regional expert committee on traditional medicine, set up by the WHO, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the African Union Commission for Social Affairs, endorsed protocols for traditional medicine clinical trials, although the traditional medicine regional adviser for WHO Africa, Ossy Kasilo, told Undark in an email that the protocols were currently being finalized. The guidelines, Kasilo wrote, include a “standard protocol for a multi-center, randomized, double-blind clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of herbal medicine compared to the standard of care for the treatment of hospitalized patients with mild to moderate cases” of Covid-19.
In standard clinical trials, after researchers show that their drug is safe in animals, there are four phases. The first includes a small number of healthy people to test for safety and dosage over a few months; in the second, up to several hundred people with the health condition being treated are given the drug for up to two years to gauge efficacy and side effects. The third phase involves giving the drug to between 300 and 3,000 people who have the disease, and can last for a few years, while the fourth phase continues once the drug has been made available to the public. Pharmaceutical companies have to jump through these hoops, says Venter, so other industries, such as supplements and traditional medicines, should have to as well. “The important thing is that the traditional medicine industry — and it is an industry –– doesn’t get a free ride,” he said. “It has to subscribe to the same scientific methodologies.”
Not everyone feels that this elaborate and painstaking system is necessary for traditional medicines. While the medicines need to be subjected to scientific rigor, they should not be treated as new chemical entities since they have been in use for centuries, argues Motlalepula Matsabisa, a pharmacologist at the University of the Free State in South Africa who chairs the WHO expert committee. The duration of phases one through three should be shorter and should include the minimum number of people, he says, and phase four should not be necessary since the therapies have already been subject to long-term use.
For all of Undark’s coverage of the global Covid-19 pandemic, please visit our extensive coronavirus archive.
“People want to know: One, it will not kill me and, two, it will relieve my health problems,” said Matsabisa. He later added: “There is science in African traditional medicines, and let’s prove the science through the methods everyone believes in and understands.”
Others go even further, suggesting no version of a modern clinical trial is appropriate. The Traditional Healers’ Organization, a voluntary national nonprofit headquartered in Johannesburg, is advocating for self-regulation, rather than the imposition of an external value system. The group’s perspective is that only healers should be able to evaluate traditional medicines and practices, says Maseko, who is also a spokesperson for the organization. “We can’t be Western medicine,” she added. “And we can’t aspire to be.”
Venter calls self-regulation a shocking idea. “Ask them,” he said, “how they would feel if the pharmaceutical industry self-regulated.”
For many experts, Covid-19 is a stark reminder that humanity is continuously confronted with new diseases. Traditional healers adapt their medicines to this changing world; their formulations and applications have changed as new diseases become more prevalent and others disappear, and they are also used in conjunction with Western drugs — something that did not occur in past centuries.
Indigenous knowledge evolves too, says Makunga. As an example, she relates the story of what happened when she accompanied a healer on a walk in the Eastern Cape province. In the forest, the flowers of Bulbine plants stand out like tiny yellow stars. Traditionally, people have used the plant to treat a range of ailments — from cracked lips to parasitic worms — but Makunga was surprised to be told it was also good for erectile dysfunction.
“This one is really potent,” Makunga recalls the healer saying. “We give it to guys and it makes you come on.” Bulbine plants were particularly important for men who were “full of sugar,” the healer told her, in isiXhosa, the local language. An inability to get or maintain an erection is common among men with diabetes. Diabetes prevalence has more than doubled in the last two decades, with 4.5 million people in the country suffering from the condition. “Twenty-five years ago, this was not something I was treating all the time,” Makunga remembers the healer saying.
Still, there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence that the plants are an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction in humans, nor has there been any examination of how these plants are used in traditional healing, in what dose, and in conjunction with what other plants. Indeed, the slippery nature of traditional medicine and the context in which it exists presents many challenges for anyone hoping to evaluate its safety and efficacy.
Few studies have been done, for example, on how traditional medicines interact with pharmaceuticals — even though millions of South Africans likely use both on a regular basis. Makunga gives the example of pregnant women who are rushed to hospital. Sometimes they drink a traditional tonic to induce labor, but the contractions become “too intense,” Makunga said. “In the hospital, the doctors didn’t know what they’ve taken.”
Despite these risks, traditional healers often have justified concerns that outsiders will steal knowledge about plants for commercial use without recognizing the community from which the knowledge originates. They can point to Hoodia gordonii, a succulent that rises out of the deserts of southern African like fat thorny fingers, as one example. For millennia, hunter-gatherers in the region — in particular, the San people — have chewed its watery flesh to suppress their thirst and appetites on long hunts.
South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), tipped off by ethnographic reports of the plant’s use, began investigating the plant in 1963. By the mid-1990s, they had isolated its active pharmaceutical ingredient, P57, in the hopes of developing an appetite suppressant and, without the knowledge of the San, were granted an international patent for the ingredient. In 1998, CSIR entered into a licensing agreement with U.K.-based company Phytopharm. Following international attention and accusations of biopiracy, the CSIR entered into a benefit sharing agreement with the San people in 2003.In 2010, Phytopharm returned all development and commercialization rights to the CSIR.
Despite the furor around H. gordonii’s appropriation, to date no blockbuster weight-loss drugs have emerged from it and in trials there were a number of side effects, although the plant alone is still widely used. “There is a lot of mistrust of scientists, the belief that scientists steal the information and then make a lot of money,” said Vinesh Maharaj, a plant chemist at the University of Pretoria who was at the CSIR when it brokered the H. gordonii benefit-sharing agreement. Based on how little progress has been made in identifying novel drugs in traditional medicines, the idea that scientists are making money “isn’t true,” he said.
Still, scientists do sometimes publish traditional healers’ knowledge in academic papers without consent, and the history of traditional knowledge theft looms large for many traditional practitioners. Maseko pointed by way of example to the highly-protected, proprietary formula for Coca-Cola. “That’s the thing that makes it Coca Cola,” she said. “If we expose our secrets to the vultures, healing is gone.”
There are other reasons for secrecy. Chabalala, for example, would not reveal which herbs, aside from A. afra and cannabis, that the government is investigating to treat Covid-19. “The minute we say we’re working on it, everyone will hit the forest to unsustainably start harvesting them,” he said. “People will start harvesting them and preparing them not in the way healers use them. People will start researching without benefit sharing and thinking of the wisdom keepers.”
On the streets of Johannesburg and on its outskirts, there are still people claiming to sell A. afra, he said. But they are not healers and there is no certainty that they are actually what they say. Patients could die, Chabalala warns. “Then people will say, ‘You see’,” that’s what happens when you take traditional medicines.’”
Even advocates for greater scientific scrutiny of traditional remedies say that outsiders need to understand the complex system of healing of which they are only a part. Healers are not only doctors, but also counselors and spiritual guides, Makunga noted. “There is an incredible amount of power in somebody just going to a healer, before you’ve started to give a herbal remedy,” she said.
“You would describe a feeling,” she added, “and they start burning imphepho” — a musky sweet Indigenous herb that is used to commune with spirits — “bringing the ancestors, speaking to parts of our feelings aside from the physical.”
But as both a scientist who investigates medicinal plants and as someone who understands their spiritual significance, says she knows the value of evidence. When someone tells her they use a plant to treat a specific illness, she says she wants to see the research showing that “it works 99.9 percent of the time.”
The statistics are necessary, she said, “because that is my training and line of thinking.”
” In distant days, in those days, after destinies had been decreed, after An and Enlil had set up the regulations for Heaven and Earth, Enki, the exalted knowing God …by the rules for heaven and earth, the fixed rules, he set up cities.” – The Creation of the World ( according to Mesopotamian mythology)
“What a country and developmental strategies really require are policies that foreground culture – value and belief systems, social mores, traditions that inform behavior and interpersonal relationships, self and group identities etc. – and the manner in which these could impact adversely on, or help to facilitate developmental goals.” – Mike Van Graan, in Locating the Revised White Paper in the context of Development ( his critique of the Revised White Paper, the 4th Draft of the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage)
It can be reasonably argued that modernity has ushered in various progressive ideas about human development. From scientific invention in every conceivable field, to the way we interact with each other and nature, our understanding of the issues of our existence has significantly improved from our collective primitive beginnings.
Yet it can also be sufficiently argued that much of humanity’s progress has been deleterious or regressive. We can read or hear about civilizations that were much more sophisticated and culturally impressive than us, out of every continent.
Perhaps we can return to the question we have explored before, regarding what constitutes a successful civilization, by what or whose standards can it be measured?
Much of what we know about these great civilizations which had risen and fallen through the sands of time, we have learned from stories passed along from generation to generations. Many of the stories are subjective, or are told from the perspective of the outwardly powerful, so we really never get to know exactly how the ordinary folk lived and whether they felt liberated or oppressed.
While our knowledge of history is not perfect, we can at least be assured of multiple faculties of reasoning and methods of measuring or ascertaining whether some stories are purely fantasy/ flights of fanciful storytelling or they are actual recollections of what indeed took place in the past. The past is relative, but what does that tell us about what we deem to be reality today? Additionally, how can our perception of todays reality help us to create futures that are more just and healthier than our present state?
Different civilizations approach their respective pasts in various ways, while some place more value on the exploits of heroes and nation builders ( strong and cunning men and strong and beguiling women), some civilizations placed more value on subtler stuff, such as medicine, arts, cultural motifs, religion. Other cultures have a well developed or sophisticated and detailed appreciation of all facets of their history and this is evidenced in the way they choose to tell their stories.
The question of equality and equity between the various classes of society has been one of the most insidious subjects. The 21st century began with a massive re-evaluation of what freedom, human rights, ecology and justice really should be about. In addition to the subject of climate change, the entire question of the wellbeing of the earths sentient beings has been in the forefront of many debates and inventions.
We have been questioning the efficacy or the pros and cons of nationhood, race, theories of economics as well as what technology means to us in the age of mass media, artificial intelligence and population explosion … While it may appear as if nothing is sacred anymore – there has been a healthy integrative communication happening between metaphysics and the ordinary science, between spirituality, religion and physics. This robust interrogation of the meaning of life and our responsibility in it is actually a real return to the sacred – not as religious fundamentalism but a philosophy of knowing better and choosing to do better for the greater good.
As much as cultures undergo contextual transformations, so too does science. Once science is static it no longer serves it primary purpose, which is to inquire into the inner workings of physical life. These days this quest for the how and what of life has become so much more intermingled with spiritual exploration that in some disciplines, it is difficult to separate the two. Some of those disciplines include holistic health, music and sports. We shall return to each of those subjects in a more in-depth essay.
- The Pan African Pantheon – prophets, poets and philosophers; edited by Adekeye Adebajo
- Sage Philosophy: Indigenous Thinkers and Modern Debate on African Philosophy
- African Philosophy: Myth and Reality by Hountondji by Henry Odera Oruka
- Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists ( The Myth of Spontaneous Philosophy) by Louis Althusser
- Paulin j. Hountondji: Africa’s Quest for Authentic Knowledge
How do the symbols and natural energies support and empower us in our striving to become virtuous divine beings. Even while we are existing in a state or stages of being human?
The ancient Afrikan ways and rites of passage were established to offer us guidance and practical steps towards living our best life. It is important to note that these methods were never matters of individual practice, but necessitated the contribution of family, community and even the whole nation to participate in. The reason why this is significant resonates more today then ever, since many people have given their own spiritual development to Holy-Men, so called Men and Women of God to whom they offer not only their financial resources but most crucially, their energy.
“Men and women are to become God-like through a life of virtue and the cultivation of the spirit through scientific knowledge, practice and bodily discipline.” – Ancient Egyptian/Kemetic Axioms
This season we call Geb, the Earth Father is one of great importance in the scheme of all things. We are being asked to cultivate an attitude of industriousness and exert great effort in foundational work. Whether that work involves financial gains or spiritual goals, the same amount of discipline is expected. We are supposed to draw from both terrestrial and celestial energies of the Earth Father, to become the best that we can be in all endeavors.
In this space we will deal with the details regarding how to take the necessary steps towards attainment of these goals, these virtues, to achieve results and divine life right here on Earth.
“In Abundance of Water the Fool Is Thirsty” – Water Work vs Wage Work.
“Well above the timberline and only a short distance from the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine, where the sun first hits the United States each morning, is a spring of water. Above it is only hard rock. So where does that water come from? It cannot be rainwater percolating down from above. It’s primary water, and it comes from way below the base of that impressive mountain.” – Sig Lonegren, Dowsing for Water (page 137 of Masaru Emoto’s The Healer Power of Water, 2004)
It is now not a mystery that my upcoming book, the House of Plenty is a work that is shaped like a jig-saw puzzle or even a spinning chessboard. In this scheme of things and telling’s, there is neither respect for time nor standardized rules of literature. We are dealing with the simplest as well as the most complex of Afrikan problems. Next to finding workable creative/economic programs and models for creative cultural networks, Land is high up on the agenda.
I will be quoting from essays I wrote between 2018 to 2020 while I also add emerging concepts and thoughts to the foundations of this House, the walls, windows, and the roof will be built by our children and their offspring. This is an intergenerational mission. We do not write to entertain but to regenerate and sustain a Ma’atic civilization.
It is the year 2021 and South Africans are still debating the merits and demerits of the Expropriation of Land Bill.
At its 54th National Congress, the ruling ANC decided that the land reform program had to be sped up. The ruling party announced that it would pursue a policy of land reform without compensation if it were done in a sustainable manner that would not disrupt the economy or the agricultural sector. To this end, much dialogue between opposing parties, the state and the citizens has occurred.
Some heated debates have been aired on state and private broadcasters, civil society groups have issued out questionnaires and much robust conversations have been had around the details of this issue, but it appears as if not much progress has been achieved in the implementation aspects.
The actual decision to review the bill by an amendment of Section 25 of the Republic’s constitution was made in 2017. Some scholars and economist offered many reasons why the ANC should not pursue such a decision, citing the ‘Zimbabwe situation’ as one of the scare tactics. In fact, the so-called Zimbabwe situation has always been brought up in the last two decades whenever South Africans even mentioned land redistribution, or what some more Pan Afrikan and Black radical citizens prefer to call Land Restoration.
This essay will not delve on the pros and cons of a constitutional amendment, but instead we will try to point out that the Land question is tired to the not so hotly debated challenge of water and climate changes. Both these challenges are also tied to the critical matter of Afrika’s regional integration which is also linked to the core focus of this book: Creative and Cultural Unity of Purpose of Black people, beginning in the South.
We are on a mission to define a new economics. We seek to grow wiser and then share the wisdom of both our Ancestors and the new generation, within and beyond the 4.0 generation. In this pursuit of Self realization and self-determination regarding Land, we ought to be very mindful of the past to ensure that it is not repeated. Despite what the various scholars have to say about the matter of Zimbabwe, we should not that just like in all the countries throughout this continent, millions of people were displaced and rendered slaves. Consider these excerpts from some notes I jotted down from a library in Harare:
“Between October 1893 and March 1896, anything from 100 000 to 200 000 cattle were seized from the Ndebele. Armed gangs of settlers and contingents of B.S.A. police equipped with Maxim guns roamed across the countryside, taking what they could.
Although the invaders were sometimes driven off by a show of force, refusal to reveal where cattle were hidden could end in death, as indeed it did for four women shot in cold blood.” (Phimister, 1988, p.16) – The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe, 2010.
“Marandellas* (Marondera) District was established as a trading station in 1892 when Cecil John Rhodes offered land to any group of European settlers willing to accommodate traders between Umtali and Salisbury. By 1896 the British South Africa Police had already claimed more than 1023538 acres (409415 hectares) of land in exercise of its powers over the land as enshrined in the Order-in-Council of 18 July 1894.” (Palmer 1977: page 182)
Addressing the challenge of land redistribution is a simple matter, only complicated by how we approach it. It is important for people to have a healthy appreciation for the significance of land, it increases respect and value. The settlers simply and forcefully took possession of land belonging to Abantu and proceeded to trade with it as they pleased. As Afrikans we have an Ancestral and futuristic duty to restore our land and proceed to use it as we see fit. All other debates about constitutional amendments and what any settlers have to say about it should be secondary.
Just like the water springing up from Mount Katahdin in the United States, the water belongs to the mountain like we belong to this land. The sacred duty of each Afrikan is to strive towards restoration of land in this generation and we can then begin the secondary tasks of whether we need to save an economy founded on stolen goods. This is not a negotiated settlement, it is a war, a battle for our very survival and wellbeing.
The unmaking of Zimbabwe and its socio-economic conditions cannot be solely blamed on its corrupt leadership, but it is based on a historically progressive erosion of Ubuntu and communal values among its ‘first citizens’, the ruling party structures, its systems as well as a neglect of the principles that defined its people before the aggressive arrival of European and other settlers. Let us take a brief look at Zimbabwe, its cities, towns and a historical perspective on Harare.
“Before the arrival of the Pioneers Column in 1890, the main part of Salisbury District was Chief Gutsa’s territory. Originally a member of the Mutukedza and Nyashanu Chieftaincy in Uhera, part of the Nyanja Confederacy. Chief Gutsa accepted by Chief Seke of Chitungwiza into the area and allowed to co-exist with Chief Mbari who ruled part of the Salisbury District around Mount “Hampden” area. (p. 65, The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe)
This book describes the occupation of Harare as a series of balancing acts where rural and urban development, the industrial and agricultural economy coalesced to form a new reality for the natives and the settlers. It shows just how there is a seeming separation of these equally vital economies. The people who live and work in the cities and urban areas need the produce of the land just as the rurals who work the land need their sisters and brothers emadolobheni*. The symbiotic relationship makes any separation of these peoples rather superficial, but it has been the legacy of colonialism to ensure that Afrikan people are as divided psychologically as we are spatially.
There is a way of being a rural Afrikan which allows one to remain rooted not only to Nature but also to the values that have sustained our people for generations even before colonialism. The urban Afrikan however has been created or constructed out of the steely vibrations of industrial machines, a peculiar brand of Eurocentric education and ambition to become just like the European ‘boss’.
Very few Afrikans ever manage to escape this entrapment of affluence. Many stories have been told illustrating the dichotomies of the rural – urban exchanges and changes, suffice to state here that there is hardly an aspect of Afrikan life that has not been adversely affected by colonialism and its accomplices, Western religion, and racism. European settlers have not only tainted our bloodstream and thinking, but they have also effectively and literally polluted our life-giving waters.
A Poem: Songs for Trumpet / Dream Making
- And our lives are unfinished business.
Cynicism and optimism cohabiting the Amen Corner.
Both peddling dreams of utopia
We are both in the middle of a waking nightmare.
Visions steeped in darkness and ghetto squalor.
Yet our minds are ultra-light.
Once lost in the West
But our orient was found.
The journey took us through blood, chaos, blinded faith and Sounds not our own.
(Discordant Trumpet and Ngoma-drum)
Yes, the sound is our heat
The sparkle of blood on the tar
Sunbaked molecules swirling in the whirl of wayward uncivilizations.
We are becoming the culmination
Of all our ancestors libations
Yet our lives are unfinished business
The prayers of our enslaved grandparents
Sweat drenched parents
Burying their knees on concrete
Wood and stone and shifting sands
Offering all that we have
Crying faithfully to an earless
Eyeless, unkind, uncruel
Yet we must repent
For known and unknown sins
We must repent
For willful omissions and
We are the experience of the divine experiment
For polluting the Earth with noise, plastic and other toxins
Repent for committing present, past and future sins
For being all too human
When we know we have been divine
What does walking on water mean
When the forest is a spectre of shadows
Of trees struck by lightning –
And the poor are always with us –
Acts of God!!!
We live in a house of plenty
But we are begging for pennies
At the bottom of a snake filled wishing well
From the scum of the Earth
We are supplicating and bending over backwards
Ubuntu bethu in tatters
Like the ruins of our partitioned land
We need to re-examine the starts of our birth
Check the constellations
For what is the consequence of our collective breath – Ask the trees –
Our Ancestors bled for an Afrika for Afrikans
A lofty dream
Yet today what is it all worth?
We are still Gods bits of dry wood
Slammed from pillar to post
Trying to find who’s got the maps
And remind us how we used to dance.
How exactly are we to harness the Indigenous Knowledge Systems or the Afrika centered technologies to build a prosperous new Muntu? The maxim that says, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu has been dealt some serious and almost deadly blows since the advent of the inexorable rise of industrial revolution, colonialism, Western theology as well as wage-labour. The latter has been the source of a multitude of false identities. The Marxists/communists have sufficiently dealt with the essential dynamics of the precarious class wars …. We now should be in a better position to offer a perspective that goes beyond simply countering capitalism and private property lore. We should be looking at interventions that reflect the desire to implement laws and actions that show wisdom of two hundred years of knowledge. This is because we are the generation that has seen great tribulation.
We must now be able to take the lessons of the past 500 years and begin to construct ways of being that are not only unique but also in harmony with Nature. There are several avenues which we can pursue towards doing this, beginning with Education. A transformative education requires the participation of many sectors o society. It also requires a re-view of how we use Land, Water, and other resources at our disposal. We ought to pursue a transformative education that is based on an evolved, involved and resolved appreciation of Water.
SANKOFARING: Consider the Source and Uses of the River Nile
Inside one of the pyramids in Khemethi (Ancient Egypt), there is a lake. While there are other waterways and water related rituals and customs in the Beloved Land of the First Times and there are still mysteries yet to be uncovered. Did the pyramid builders build this structure on top of an existing spring and then widen it for their purpose or is it a completely man-made?
It is up to us to study deeply, reflect, meditate and rediscover how our Ancestors were able to utilize these Waters. Our lives depend on the resurrection of such memories – the proper use of the post-Atlantean wisdom.
What does this have to do with the politics of land today? The landmass we call Earth, rests upon watery foundations. The beings that exist on the Earth are all composed of parts of carbon and even larger parts of water. The water is something which is worth much more than gold. Yet we have been fooled into believing that it is Land and the minerals and other treasures in it that are more precious and to some people, even worth dying for.
Wars are fought over territory and finite resources and contentious matters of who owns what and who deserves which share are part of the historical underdevelopment of humanity. Humanity has found many ways to digress or become distracted and far removed from what our priorities should be.
When we consider the supposition that the next world wars will be about the struggle for Water, what should we be preoccupied with right now? The work of the scientist and the philosopher and the guardian of Ancient ways should be all connected to the preservation of Water.
Let us tell you why:
‘How We and Them A Go Work It Out’: A new way is possible
“The roots of underdevelopment lie in the entanglement of African societies in the mercantile capitalist system of the world through the nexus of international trade. The main architect of Africa’s underdevelopment was, and remains, Western capitalism.” – S.Ndlovu-Gatsheni, decoloniality as the Future of Africa, 2015
Disclaimer: The title of this essay is inspired by a line from Bob Marley and the Wailers Song, Rat Race.
They call it Speculative fiction, magical realism and even phantasy or science fiction. We just call it Indaba. Siyazixoxela nje: This one is called Newness Unlocks Time aka NUT
Newness Unlocks Time
The eighth floor of The Meikles Hotel does not feel like it is eight stories up. Somehow, it seems much lower, compared to the buildings around it. Neith has finally forced herself up from the immense bed, Queen sized, is her educated guess. When she looks across from the balcony, all the buildings heave back and forth like grey pines in the August wind.
The stars, her garment, are a dirty swirl. She squeezes her eyes shut and takes seven calculated deep breaths. Maybe it is the jetlag, or it could be last-nights cocktails. She had not drunk in aeons, until recently. She does not remember too much about last-night though and that is extremely concerning.
How could she? Harare was still abuzz with the jubilation from yesterday morning’s announcements. The national broadcaster Zim-Zim FM had confirmed the capture of the arsonists as well as, perhaps more importantly, the infamous fugitive poachers.
The acting President Mkhandawire gushed polemically, “Our Great Zimbabwe has finally shorn off the head of the pestilential scourge which sought to devour all our wild live, even us too in its centuries long wake. Let us celebrate the return of our sacred totems; The Ngwenya, the Rhino, the Elephant, the Black River Serpent and the Fish Eagle and Mwari knows what else.” No one had anticipated it.
Not even She, as well versed in covert operations as she was. All she could remember now as the nearest skyscrapers stopped wobbling and the stars resumed their normalcy, was a deep male voice with its classy Oxford accent, explaining the meanings of Her name. She also remembered how She had pretended to not care.
Her mind had been completely occupied with the skull. Then, as if suddenly struck by a stark realization, she remembered who and when She was. What was she doing at a hotel in the Southern parts of this largely corroded continent?
“The Head.” Neith exclaimed to herself as she stepped back into the dimly lit room. “I hope these white jackals haven’t stolen the Chiefs Head.” Rummaging deep into the drawer next to the bed, she retrieved a large, oblong speaker-box with M.E.L.T. 2000 engraved on both sides of its wooded surface. “Ah Bhambada!”, She intoned gleefully before inspecting its contents. Someone outside her door walked past playing music.
It sounded like Dendera, or something with Mbira. She remembered the first time she and her ex-husband Geba had attended a Thomas Mapfumo concert at some Chicagoan day-club. The noisome affair had lasted a whole three hours. The only things she cherished from the performance was the spritely sounds of the Mbiras, but there was also something about the language.
The lanky dreadlocked man sang in a tongue that reminded her of her most ancient past-lives. The music passed. Neith could tell that it was incredibly early morning, perhaps 3.30am although it was difficult to remember what the faithful stars had confirmed.
Before opening the box, Neith recites some Heka. The mantra of the recently deceased. The sound of this coded music brought back memories of her most cherished sister Seshat. Old Mama Seshat of the multi-syllable magical mantras. Seshat of the building blocks of sacral language itself. Oh, but for the multi-millennial plagiarisms of men and their manmade gods.
When she finished her prayer she opened the speaker-box dexterously with her nails. Revealing another box, time worn and inscribed with the once secret runes of the Ngoni people. Once again, Neith remembered why it was she who had been assigned to Zimbabwe. There are absolutely no coincidences.
It was AmaThongo, the divine beings enshrined in her DNA that had painstakingly coordinated Her presence here, this moment is no coincidence. Now that the embalmed head of the legendary Chief of the Zondi rested in her palms, “Justice -” she thought. “Ma’at can once again be restored on this beleaguered land.
It had to begin here near the Great Zimbabwe walls.” After examining the severed head of the Ngoni rebel warrior. She was about to place it back in the box when she heard stampeding feet. The sudden din seemed to be coming from both outside the door as well as from the looming mobs outside.
Perhaps overnight, the celebrations through the city had turned into a riot. She turned on the television and behind the bold red letters screaming BREAKING NEWS, scenes of hooded youths wrestling with army officers and night-time burning, and looting filled the screen.
People have been warned to stay indoors for at least 24 hours. The voice of the bullet proof clad young man reporting was almost totally drowned by the mayhem ensuing behind him. All she could pick up was something about Fake News and a massive Prison Break.
Neith was not too concerned about the rioting or the fake news part. She had to get to Azania as soon as possible. The Sanusi 4tet needed the Head before nightfall. It was a matter of many lives and many averted deaths.
What worried her sick was the part about the prison breakouts. The one person who she had to evade by all possible means may very much be at large and searching for the Chief’s head. She did not bother with bathing and putting on henna and make-up. After securing the head back into the boxes, she loaded it into the duffel bag and threw on her star-studded Panther tracksuit.
Last-night’s high-hills would not serve in this situation. She had to make a quick exit, she donned her aerodynamic All-Stars, slung the bag on her back and mumbled a prayer as she headed for the door. Soon as she reached for the handle, she thought She heard the music player walking nearby her door again. She froze in her tracks. Tightened her grip on the bag and listened pensively.
This time, whoever it was out there with the music, possibly from a cell-phone was walking eerily slow. As if waiting. Baiting. She recognised the song, The Reason Why or Hat Dzemurara by Baba Harare. The jiti beat was a typical KaRaNga dance style. The BaKaRaNga, the fabled Souls from the Sun, still kept their own memories alive through music.
This was someone who knew Her. She peered through the peephole but saw nothing. Left and right as far as she could see. There was nobody there, but the beat persisted even though the steps had fallen silent.
Her heart skipped, she made sure that the door was locked before turning around to look for an alternate exit. There was nowhere else but the balcony. The sliding wind-doors were wide opened and the noise from outside seemed to animate the bellowing lace curtains.
Aside from recalling Her father who was an archaeologist and an investigative journalist, she had a nagging feeling that there was something else amiss. Perhaps some untapped power? Besides being part Zulu and part Dogon, her father was also a world-renowned illusionist. “What would Baba do in a situation like this?”
Her lingering thought was interrupted by an abrupt knock on the door. By that time, she was already clambering over the concrete balcony to care who was knocking. The knock became more urgent, but so did the ruckus below. She could not shake the thought that this could be infinitely easily done. No need to go through all this physical trouble. But how? Eight floors up were not so low after all.
Neith considered whether she should clamber up the drainpipes towards the roof, or else join the throngs down there. While the roof was closer, the thought of having to devise another escape route toward the backstreets dissuaded Her.
Not allowing that limbo to collude with the urgency of the moment, she decided to climb sideways and look for an opened window among her neighbours. Three windows rightward a curtain was billowing welcomingly. She made for it. For a man whose body was allegedly found maimed and beheaded on the banks of the Mome River’s stream more than a century ago, Bhambada’s head sure was heavy.
Perhaps it was the added boxes or else it was the oils and years of congealed incense used during and after its embalming. Why was the top of the skull left to calcify though?
The Dogon monks who had ‘stolen’ it from the English Kabbalists so many years ago knew why. She did not have a full grasp of the whole Redemptive Plan, but surely hoped to find out once she had crossed over to Botswana and finally to Azania. Anticipation was a gross understatement. But making it out of this city was priority number two. Off the walls of The Meikles was priority number one.
As soon as she stepped onto the balcony with the wafting curtains, she turned back and saw the head of a tall, silver haired figure looking menacingly at Her. He wove a glowing cellular phone at Her, smiling grimly before dashing back into the room. For some reason, Neith had not expected anyone to be in the room, but as Her luck would have it. The two European men who She had been drinking with last night sat at their respective small tables, staring at Her fretfully as if they had seen a ghost. She was quite an apparition standing there in her Black hooded tracksuit with stars gleaming from head to feet.
The first one who stood up was the one who had been telling Her the meaning and variations of the name Nwt. He was now standing there exposed except for his beltless black pants. Lord Scranton was his name. She now recalled everything, including Her refusal to engage in more drinks and his suggested erotic tryst last night.
Too anxious about the silver haired man outside to waste any time. The first thing that entered Her mind was to turn on more lights and initiate a conversation. But first She had to show them that she was in danger and had no time for small talk, at least until Sunrise.
This She did while the two men scrambled for their vests and T-shirts. Then without much procrastination, Neith explained that She was being pursued by an extremely dangerous character and why She had to be in South Africa before the close of day.
Then while securing the door yet without fully knowing why, she asked the men what they knew about String Theory; how weaving matter in two or more ways could be used in practical situations.
“Well, to begin with, an act of perception changes waves into particles.” Gushed one of the men, now fully clothed. “Yes, but how does that get someone out of a tight situation?” Exasperated by the perplexed expressions on both men’s faces.
She shouted. “You”. Pointing a now gloved hand at the one who had mansplained to Her last night. “You called me NUT and NET after I told you many times that my name was Neith. It’s Greek. You said that I should know some kind of magik and that in my hands lay the lay lines of All Signs and All Possible Worlds. Could you kindly remind me how to use all that knowledge – practically?”
The man was visibly perplexed. Pausing before continuing to put on his shirt and then his shoes. Neith continued. “Right now, all I know how to do is pray and chant what often sounds to me like gibberish. I learned these prayers from my father.” The man stepped towards Her as if examining Her suit. Neith moved back, protecting the prized possession behind Her.
But the man did not seem interested in that. He was marvelling at what or whom he thought he was seeing right before him, in the flesh. Could it really be?
When he read Egyptology those many years ago, it was merely a fascination triggered by his obsession with etymology and numerology. It never crossed his mind that any of the characters he was informed are deities would have any human parallels. Surely it was part of the mysterious African superstitions. Mysticism, or folklore at best. Or was it?
“Of course. Of course, that is it exactly. You said you were born in Washington DC? And your Mother was part Zulu and part South American. And your father, was, what? Nubian or some other ancient race?” Before Neith could reply that She had not mentioned any Zuluness but had specifically said Ngoni, or that She had said South Mexican, not just South American. They were interrupted by a loud banging on the door.
Her first instinct was to simply jump out of the window. But the stocky European, who had been silent all along, firmly grabbed her forearm. Noticing the panic in Her eyes. “Well, then. Pray. Pray for us all and not just for yourself. If my partner here is not hallucinating. You must be Nut. Named after the Great Goddess who covers the whole Earth with Her garment of stars. Surely Some One will answer Your prayers.”
With that said, he loosened his grip on Her arm. “We Westerners have long ceased believing in prayers. We have literally cast our fates upon the wind. Fate might not even be the right word. We have become lesser beings that the Greeks or even our Druid forefathers were. All we have is are these cold buildings, fickle economies and even fickler science. But you. Your kind may still save us all. Look outside.
You can hear that this world is falling apart. But you have something that the world’s destroyers really want. Do pray for us. In fact, no. Forget the outside. Perhaps we can help you to look inside.” The knocker was now banging incessantly, it sounded as if he was now kicking the door.
Neith made a swift move towards the balcony. Mumbling some invocation in what sounded like a mixture of the Zulu, Karanga and Badarian languages. The thought of jumping eight floors into a rebellious throng made her shiver. She continued intoning the prayer as everything became silent, the men were talking to her furtively but all she could see was their mouths moving. The room began to wobble and the more she spoke, everything became hazy like an out of focus camera. Yet she remained calm. While she chanted;
Anuk Wsr Anu ki Ma’Nuti
Un Nefer Ausaru Mwari WeZanusi
Manje dala indlela!
The door to the lobby bursts open and the man who was pursuing her could only make two lunging steps into the room, before grabbing his eyes bawling. The room had become suffused with a terrible light. Piercing shards of light beamed from Neith’s body as if her whole being was the centre of megavolts of blinding shimmer. The two men in the room were now kneeling before her in stupefied reverie. They were unable to move but she found herself not just able to float, but she became translucent, her skin becoming a darker shade of blue blackness.
When She looked at the silver haired man’s eyes, a cold trepidation gripped her, but she stilled Herself from panicking. Lest the spell be broken.
His name was Ap-hep.At least the humanoid version of the great primordial serpent. What could he possibly want from the head of a slain Zulu warrior, and how could someone as powerful as Him ever be imprisoned. By whom? This was no time for speculation. The intonation of the last heka, the magical formula which she had always thought was mere prayer – Mwari Dala Indlela – sucked her and the two kneeling figures out of the room through a mirror like watery vortex.
She found herself in the shade of tall jacaranda trees surrounded by recently harvested maizefields. While she was still stunned by her surroundings, the first thing she did was stretch her arm behind her and feel for the box inside the bag. Thank Goddess it was still there. But where was here?
Neith or was it now Nwt or Neter Nut, had been teleported to a 600-hectare farm just outside of Mashonaland West. While still trying to adjust her eyes to the now dazzling midday Sun and to the new environment, she heard the barking of what sounded like many dogs barking. Before succumbing to panic, she took seven deep breaths and straightened herself up to listen carefully.
All else was utterly silent except for the dogs. But in hind-hear, they were not approaching. They seemed to be barking at something or someone else in just beyond the stretch of no more than forty-two trees. She was on the north eastern edge and the sound was coming from the west.
Should she approach it to find out what or who it was? Or should she find her orientation and make her way towards the airport? After all, she was not here for sightseeing and now that she had rediscovered her space and time weaving powers, couldn’t she just quantum leap to her choice destination?
Another idea sprang into her teeming mind. Perhaps she was translated here for a good reason. So why attempt to mess with the program? She decided to take her chances with the West. Walking briskly yet careful not to crunch too loudly the leaves beneath her feet, she reached the fringe of the jacarandas and looked northwards before emerging fully into the khaki coloured cornfield.
One of the Labradors that she could still hear yelping and growling stood just outside a thicket seemingly unsure whether to join the others or not. Neith recalled that she too had once had a dog named Sirius in her childhood. What is the worst that could happen if she attempted to win the trust of this nervous one?
Surely it was no puppy but aren’t canines meant to be man’s best friends? She decides to risk it. Stepping out into the open, she walks toward the mutt with her hands stretched out towards it. She is whistling an old Dogon hunters tune.
As the dog turns to regard her curiously, the rest stop barking and all four of them leap out of the bushy patch and charge towards her but stop immediately along the dusty path to run around in circles in front of her. She too is perplexed by this. When she stops whistling they charge again. When she resumes, they whimper and continue chasing each other’s tails again.
Their movement reminds her of the ouroboros symbol. The snake that appears to swallow its own tail. While the black and tan Labradors continue their spellbound dance. Two figures emerge from the thicket. It is the two Europeans men and they are still on their knees.
Perhaps it was the whistling that made them not get up and run in the opposite direction. But why are they still kneeling, with the same expressions as they had at the hotel? She stoops on one knee before the dogs and pets the first one on the neck before she stops whistling. “Hlala phansi. Hlalani phansi.” She finds herself saying. And surely the dogs all stop whirling and sit down on their hindlegs. Smiling in relief, she begins petting all of them one by one and they all sit all the way down. The men get up and scurry around the dogs towards her, careful not to offend the friendly beasts. ‘What on earth happened at the hotel?” Gushes the one.
“And where the hell are we?” Asks the stockier one as he looks around only to see hectares upon hectares of maize field. The only green patch being the trees next to them, casting slanting shade over the path. “I can merely assume we are somewhere on the North Eastern farms of what Zimbabweans call Mashonaland.” Offers Neith, observing the way of the shadows. “Mashonaland East?” The etymologist taps his stubbly chin thoughtfully.
“This might be the land that was also previously owned the owner of several buildings in the Harare CBD, including the hotel we were in.” “Well the mobs are the current owners right now. And by the looks of this place, it’s the dogs that now own this one.” Says Neith, getting up to brush off the chaff from her track-pants. “Ah, ownership. What a fatally foolish notion.
Whoever came up with it had to be one of us. The know-it-all European folk of obsolete traditions from the previous generations.” “Well, it’s too late now anyway. Regret can never right the wrongs. That is the work of bitter-sweet Justice.” Neith states this matter-of-factly as if to halt this conversation before it goes out of hand. They must find a way out. At least she must. She has no time to consider what the agenda of these uninvited guests is. Show me a woman who knows what men want and I will show you a liar.
The dogs became a little restless, the Europeans became visibly nervous, hiding behind her like little boys, and out of sheer irritation, she had to stop herself from whistling again. The dogs suddenly got up and started past her. Running along the path and behind the trees as if someone was summoning them.
Cumulous clouds begun gathering around and past the Sun, casting swiftly moving shadows on everything. Although the fist instinctive reflex told her to start praying again, Neith stopped herself and simply started running in the same direction as the five dogs. Humanity’s best friends cannot be wrong, she figured.
The Europeans also followed suit. What lay beyond this farm had to be better than this desolation or the anarchy in the city. Isn’t the old alchemical adage that ‘Out of chaos comes order’?
‘Vula okuvaliwe, Ndiphe Izimpendulo.” She repeated that part of her previous chant as if it was a key mantra. “Open want is closed. Grant me the answers.” To whom were these words addressed, and who granted the much sought after answers? How she needed the wisdom of both her parents right now.
As they turned towards the direction where the dogs went, she felt a deep foreboding pang in the pit of her stomach. The clouds had almost completely covered the Sun now and it was becoming dark very quickly. At a short distance beyond the field, some trees took the form of hollowed out skyscrapers. She felt that she had to lose her unwelcomed accomplices.
Of what use were they? They had not helped her one bit. Or was there really something to her name? As she ran, she remembered her mother reading a poetry book to her during her early teens. “There is magic in a Zulu name.” Those were the only words she could remember. But her name was not Zulu. She was no longer sure that it was Greek either. “Magic in a Zulu name, huh?”
What could it mean? And how can a European stranger be the one who reminds me of the significance of my own name?” Perhaps she need not get rid of them yet. Back at the hotel, they had suggested that they could help her look within.
Had they already done so or was there still more? Just when they could see the dogs still running at a distance of a few paces, she made out a reptilian figure on the hillock right next to the hollowed buildings. She stopped dead on her tracks when she realised who it was. She immediately regretted following the dogs.
Between the silver haired reptilian faced man who stood as if just waiting for her at the dimly lit horizon, a tree appeared to be growing on an impossibly green meadow. Everything around it was changing and becoming darker, only it grew greener and it almost obscured the menacing figure beyond it. But he also appeared to be approaching now. They were moving towards each other, or at least towards the mysterious tree.
The dogs had now vanished, and she looked behind her to ascertain if the Europeans could also see what she was seeing. They only seemed to be focussed on her. Should she leave the duffel bag with them while she confronted the beastly man near the tree or was that too risky?
She was not sure. But she stopped running. They too stopped on their tracks, exasperated. In the now oppressive darkness, she asked them what they knew about Chief Bhambada from the twice great Zulu nation. She needed answers fast and she also wanted to know what their business was in Zimbabwe? Was there even time for such questions?
Realising that she had to act fast. Neith took a deep breath and threw the black duffel bag into a yawning gap between a cluster of young jacarandas. Just far enough so she could still see it protruding. The men simply looked at it once without much apprehension and continued staring at her.
She realized that they were not at all interested in the bag, so she turned to look towards the tree and beyond that to the gradually approaching threat. The first man to speak was the Etymologist. “We are traders now.
We haven’t known each other that long though, we only met at a conference held a few Months ago at the Hotel Cassiopeia in Lilongwe. Although we are both from Greater Britain, we have mutual business interest in the Southern African extractive industries. The Lilongwe conference whetted our appetite for prospecting, diamond mining to be specific. What better place then Zimbabwe, the city of discreet Embassies, and of course, the many ancient abandoned mines?”
Neith had listened cautiously even though her attention was also divided. She asked the two man to remain where they stood. It was a test, but also a way for her to mark the location of the bag.
Between her realization that what she had thought were abandoned apartment blocks from afar were rather reconstructed silos, and the men’s stereotypical yet feasible story. She decided to trust them. At least for now. “So, this place used to be a maize and wheat farm.” She thought. But where was the farm house and who had transformed all those silos into living spaces then abandoned them?
When she had walked about fifty paces towards the tree, she paused. What did she really plan to do or say to this man, did she even know whether he sought her life or simply her precious possession? “I will know what to do when we are face to face.” She muttered to the breeze. It was as if the wind had carried her whisper to the tree-leaves, because they shook as if something had quickened the branches.
Before she stepped onto the meadow where the tree stood luminously, she could already smell its musky scent. It reminded her of jasmine, but it did not appear to bear any flowers. Just a crystalline, deep green foliage. “Zodiac!”
She could have sworn that the voice had come from that tree. She told herself she was merely hallucinating or perhaps it was the reptilian man who had spoken, because he too had stepped into the lush grass of the meadow where the solitary tree stood, as if fully sentient. How can a tree be aware of our presence? Besides, trees do not speak. That is the stuff of fairy tales and religious mumbo jumbo.
But as that thought coursed through her mind, she looked back only to see the men talking to each other and looking at her. “These suckers see something in me. Something I can only barely perceive. If I ever needed an omen, I sure do need it now.” Right then, Neith got down on her haunches. Her mind reeled back to the hotel, before she met the men at the bar, before she had ordered the drinks and back to when she had arrived by taxi-cab to The Meikles.
The man was now standing right in front of her kneeling self, but her eyes were sealed, yet it was as if he suddenly could not see her. Yet behind her eyelids, she saw his searching eyes. The pitch-black elongated face, “Be careful of those Horoscopes.”, She now remembered the taxi driver telling her just before she got off the taxi. She had been reading the astrological charts from the Inflight magazine. “They are not of God.” The driver had said this so casually.
She was not a religious person. Her prayers had only been mantras she had used to deal with her bouts of anxiety. But they were also more. An uncanny inheritance from a life she could barely remember. Her parents who were neither religious, traditionalists nor atheists had always told her to use her head wisely.
But she had just thrown away a head entrusted to her. A head she had been assigned to return to those responsible for rewriting the fortunes of this unsettled land. Had she succumbed to fear, using her instincts instead of her head?
When she opened her eyes, the reptilian had passed her, and he was now heading straight for the two white men. Could they not see him? Why were they not running and how was he unable to see her crouching right there before the tree?
Perhaps she was not meant to reach Azania? A land she had only heard and read about but has never really seen. So, what about the head of Bhambada kaMancinza? There was just so much she did not know, but at least she had started on a journey to know herself. She stood up and approached the tree. Leaning with both hands on its luminous trunk. She felt invincible. Something about the permanence of this tree reminded her of the faithful yet evanescent beauty of the stars. When she heard the European men screaming behind her. She awoke, still looking out at the Gardened City of Harare, from the patio of The Meikles hotel. The screams and the music she had heard were just people downstairs, still celebrating yet another day of co-dependency.
D’vices, Democracies and Devotions
A Prelude to an Essay: The Ancestors Write a Letter to Their Lost and Found
Abadala/The Ancient ones of the first people wished to write a letter to their offspring. Many generations had passed since this council had sat for the sole purpose of communicating with their children’s children. So much time had passed that not one of the Ancient Ones had any memory of the specific Zep Tepi, the place of the First Time.
“In all of the Twelve Houses, now spread out through-out the Earth, To Whom Shall We Address These Words?” After some deliberation which took just a few days, a couple of lifetimes in human years; the decision was made. They chose to begin at Tanganyika. But the decision was not fully welcomed by the entire council. While others fretted about imagined language barriers, some questioned the Beautiful Bearded Mother’s choice. It was neither out of disrespect nor disbelief in the reasonability of that particular place, it was that among the Ancient Ones, there were those who’s Ego had not yet been expunged in the Fire of Truth. Although now dwelling in the Spiritual realms, many of the Elders still regarded themselves as humanoid and longed for yet another embodiment.
You see, there are those among the Dead, who are never really dead, who still feel. They feel that their time on Earth was not sufficient and since they could not discover their Purpose while still breathing, craved to be embodied once more. Never mind the many scriptures cautioning about the Lust of the Flesh. Flesh was still one of the most sought after prices in the Known Galaxy. Some Gods still require it as a sacrifice in their devotion. Some even ransom their precious Immortality to the fleeting Glimmer of Mortality.
The Great Mother had used the Apparatus of Music to Reign in the rebels and voices of Dissent. Many knew that the Great Mother’s music was one aspect of Black Magik that was impossible to resist. The blind, the hearing, the deaf and the dumb could find something that they loved about Ingoma, since it had long been established that Music was much more than noises or dead notes strung together, it was more like a Ngoni Love Letter in vibrational tones.
Before the Mother Ship was set for the Sequence to Earth, the Elders gathered once again to select a Soundtrack for Contacting the Souls. By the time the Sun began casting red, gold, orange and purple hazes on the Mountains of the West, a twelve bar Blues was composed by the Celestial Choir and these are the 7 refrains that were selected. These seven songs formed a seamless medley, the keys to the world’s heart.
- Folon – a song from Malian Salif Keita’s fourth album, released in 1995, produced by Wally Badarou, with track extracts by Jean-Phillipe Rykiel.
- A Common Wonder – a mash-up of MC/Poet/Rapper/Actor known as Common, paired with Stevie Wonder ( Add Production Credits )
- Wadada Leo Smith’s Mbira – Dark Lady of the Sonnets – an Avant-garde jazz album featuring songs such as Blues: Cosmic Beauty; Zulu Water Festival with Pheeroan akLaff on Drums and Min Xiao-Fen on voices and Pipa.
- Moyo Wangu and Kufa Kwangu – a medley of two songs by Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited, recorded 1985 and 1989.
- Everyones Child and Nhemamusasa ( From Ancient Voices) by Chiwoniso Maraire ( There was another contestation regarding this particular choice as the composer was ‘One of Us’)
- Ibusise – a song composed by the Black Baptist Nazarite Prophet Isaiah Shembe kaNhliziyo
- Journey to Satchidananda – the fourth studio album by Alice Coltrane, featuring Shiva Loka, the third member of the Hindu holy trinity.
Although the Abadala transmuted these songs in Mdw Ntr, the primary barrier to communicating with the humanity was the quality of their Questions. Unlike the days of yore, the species of hominid that now roamed the earth had degenerated to such deplorable levels of materialism; even some of the brightest minds had stunted intuitive faculties. They had forgotten why and how they were Natures members of a New Race. After travelling for three Moons through the Great Lakes Region, the council of the Elders had visited Great Zimbabwe.
“What on Earth Are You Doing In Zimbabwe, of all places?” Asked some of the locals where the council had chosen to quench their thirst. This was a common refrain from the people of Harare, surprised by why any sensible person would choose to sojourn in their stricken land. The Elder would simply answer with one word. Living! You see in the land of the lost and found, colonial limitations had created a situation whereby people who were close relatives barely even recognized themselves in each other.
Five Elements of Invocation:
Fire – Am : Awaken Qebsenuf
Water – Nu : Awaken Hapi
Air – As : Awaken Imset
Earth – Ta : Awaken Duamutef
Quintessence – Sa : Awaken Khephera !!!
Chant: Am Nu As Ta Sa!!!
We used to be a people of invocation. NATURAL MAGIK, scientific ingenuity, rainmakers, HEALERS and seers are still among us, but we are somehow either unable to make a new Afrika or we are left with scraps of knowledge from other religions to comfort us – the masters tools are still expected to help us to undo the masters work.
A wise old Zimbabwean man once told me while we were queuing at a fuel station, that Zimbabweans are not well educated as it is claimed, but they are rather well ‘trained’ mimics of their former colonial masters. We had been talking about the impact of colonial education, religion and economic systems on the present generation. The elder and I agreed that a completely new education system is required throughout the whole continent of Afrika, an open system as well as several levels of secret societal systems, where the real essence of Afrikology is taught and practiced.
The following is a story I wrote on my journal right after seeing another biblical sign boldly advertising quite a peculiar message. The Israelite religion is still quite appealing to Africans, in spite of all we have been through, but it is not a mystery why this is so. As the elder said, we are well trained.
Once, driving along Harare’s King George street, towards the suburb of Avondale this afternoon, I noticed a sign outside a church wall; it read or quoted the biblical verse Genesis chapter 26 verse 18. I memorized this scripture as I could not read the entire quote fast enough from the car. It was the graphic image and the message that clearly showed that it was now time to dig the old wells anew – that resonated. But what does it mean?
The significance of this scripture for Zimbabwe was very poignant and once again I drove on contemplating just how much the church means to a people who have been and are still undergoing severe economic troubles as well as social degeneration.
While it is clear to all that this is a wealthy country or a potentially prosperous people who are suffering from severe cases of misrule in addition to cultural and spiritual genocide, there is so much dependence on the unseen, the hoped for and the often mysterious world of Gods, Ancestors and sundry invisible forces.
The tormentors of the people are known. They are the people in powerful positions, some elected and others imposed through cultures of compliance and convenience and connivance. The land is thirsty for fresh and vigorous leadership. The land is thirsting for progress and an end to the brutality of a regime that squanders the resources and saps the energy of generations of hopeful and faithful people. The people are creative and ingenious in how they manage to keep above the sinking sands created by both failed internal systems as well as international misunderstanding resulting in sanctions and repression.
While we are acutely aware of the geopolitical or macro-economic environment that the country is operating under, it is not a subversive idea to call for a radical revolution. From the political, governance and business standpoint there has been plenty offers of advise or possible solutions given to the rulers or decision makers but it appears that there are forces who are not ready to see the end of their peoples suffering. As long as they are comfortably numb in their own false opulence.
This biblical verse is just one thread of the greater puzzle, a significant populations very needs. There is scarcity of clean water, there is scarcity of living wages, jobs and opportunities for the educated youth. We depend on wells or borehole water in Harare and many other locales. The biblical verse is not something that should only be taken metaphorically or evangelically, there are many ways to interpret Water, but let us look into the purport of this scripture: Note the story of Isaac found on Genesis 26 verse 18 –
“He dug once again the wells which had been dug during the time of Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped after Abraham’s death. Isaac gave the wells the same names that his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug a well in the valley and found water …The names of the wells were Quarrel, Enmity and Finally the last was named Freedom and the other one was named Vow, in Beersheba.”
Many people all over the world find affinity to these stories which are collectively called the Gospel. Afrikan people in particular have found such deep resonance with Biblical scripture that there are various interpretive routes under the banner of Black theology and scholarship that supposedly prove that the very roots of Hebrew /Judaic religion are to be found in the continent called Africa. This is a subject we shall revisit in due time. Suffice to say, there is something remarkably strange about substituting an original for a copy.
“In the Kemetic Tree of Life, each sphere and its divinity represent a particular human and / or a transcendental philosophical issue ( lower 5 spheres) and cosmic issues ( upper 5 spheres) that must be experienced and mastered in order to progress. Once the aspirant progresses to mastery of the 10 spheres ( branches of the tree), they can transcend all and enter into the realm of cosmic-consciousness, in other words the mystical awakening, oneness with the Absolute ...” – Sabau Muata Ashby, cht n ank
A Brief Background:
There is a song by a Reggae band from St Croix, called Midnite, the chorus goes “Drastically resistant to Rome / drastically resistant to brush and comb …”, we will return to the meaning of these lyrics on Part 2 of this telling. We will strive to make the essays as brief as possible, as we are going to be telling a story that spans almost 30 years of Soul-searching.
It has been about 13 years since I began studying the deeper knowledge of one of Afrika’s most enigmatic civilizations. I specifically begin to count from the year 2009, since that was about the time I had undergone a kind of existential recalibration, a crisis of religious and philosophical proportions.
In simpler terms I had been looking for a Spiritual discipline that is as authentically Afrikan/Sintu as possible. But all I had been taught about Isintu had included matters of slaughtering and appeasing ancestors. As a practicing Rastafarian, the thought of animal sacrifice and having intermediaries between myself and the Creator did not sit well. Surely there must be something in Afrikan traditional spirituality that did not require me to sacrifice innocent beasts. Of course I knew that it is more complex than that. This was just the simplistic view that I had acquired from my Christian upbringing.
In addition to this, it was clear from just observation and listening in, that many Afrikan people simply did not delve very deeply into the practices that had been passed on from their forebears. But there were things that I desired to know or to learn regarding rites of passage for boys, rites of passage for men and how to conduct certain simple rituals that connect the Self to Nature and to the Spiritual world.
I had been a fervent Rastafarian / Christian since 2001, but there was a strong pull towards the more Afrocentric way of living, as my soul searching had constantly created friction between my zealously Christian family and friends, it began to dawn on me that one could not continue to be ‘luke-warm’ or serve two masters as the Christian bible had warned.
Even though I had always viewed the Rastafari way of living as the best middle-path between Ancient Afrika and modern messianic expressions, I had struggled to reconcile some of the glaring contradictions between a colonial or borrowed religion and the social realities pertaining t Afrikan people in particular. Even earlier in my Christian life, I would question my parents and my fellow church members about the dichotomous relationship between what the Word of God is supposed to represent and the harsh realities of being Black in a world that was so aggressively anti-Black.
There is a lot that I can write that is positive about the journey through Rastafari, the many rural community and urban social development projects that my brothers and sisters and I began or envisioned but never quite brought into total fulfilment; there are many positive personal habits that I learned through adherence to what we call Ital-livity or a Natural and vitally righteous lifestyle. There are also many stories of negative or heartbreaking events where humans were just being our fallible selves in-spite of external or verbal posturing. The reality is that any alternative lifestyle that questions and attempts to upend the status quo is bound to face all kinds of resistance, depending on the levels of discipline and organization that the practitioners display.
It was in the midst of personal and social upheavals that I kept on finding the wisdom of Ancient Afrika, the East Afrikan region and Nile Valley civilizations more intriguing than the shouting and testimonies of Christians. Rastafari, despite the many redeeming aspects, began to seem like all other Bible based ways of being in this world. The petty and self-righteous behavior of the believers in either Jesus Christ or in Emperor Haile Selassie I, all displayed a similar intolerance for new knowledge, even when that knowledge was clearly part of the Ancient Afrikan variety. Until this day, I have been trying to find a Rasta who is interested in the Oromo or Waaqeffaanaa religion of the most populous and most historically afflicted people of Ethiopia.
While an increasing number of Rastafari and people of Afrikans in general do dabble into the Kemetic yoga, meditation and symbolic space, there appears to still be a reluctance to become fully submerged in the Tree of Life as a holistic and complete way of being. It is mostly the Rasta’s who have totally turned away from biblical interpretation of life who have begun to embrace the Nile Valley renaissance as something that is truly ours. There are a few who still romanticize and are still stuck in the Pharaonic phases, but there are also some earnest seekers who are manifesting in the truest sense of Kemetic magical/cosmic reality. It is after all in our Nature to become one with Ntr.
CULTIVATING NATURAL JOY
Black Economic Power Matters:
“If the heart is the image of the Sun in man, in the Earth it is gold.” – Juan Eduardo Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols ( Great Zimbabwe: Resting Place of the Lion)
As healers, we are constantly working on ourselves. Our own weaknesses, shortcomings and fragility. It is very instructive that one of the primary ways in which Nguni/BaNtu shamans/sangoma’s/Nyanga’s become initiated into their powerful duties as mediums is that there must be a recognisable illness or sickness that they have to go through. This sickness is usually impossible to define in western terms, but it usually involves a kind of psychosis and sometimes strange inexplicable misfortunes and physical suffering.
Part of Initiation involves overcoming or conquering ingulo/ the sickness and occurs in the early stages. The healer never forgets this usually near death experience, it is a constant reminder of the fragile bond between the visible and invisible worlds, between wellness and infirmity.
We have to be healed and cleansed in order to guide and heal others. Cerebral or mental Consciousness of this is not quite enough. We have to strive to walk this path daily with the required sense of purpose and keen vision. Our guides can teach us so much, but we walk the road alone. Healing may be for the community but it is also a solitary road. We must embrace the loneliness as much as we must enjoy communal living.
While working on my own deficiencies and striving to improve my character as well as my practice, I have been studying various books in addition to a deeper meditation work. One of the key books is Anodea Judith’s Eastern Body Western Mind: Psychology and The Chakra System As A Path To The Self. I hereby quote from a chapter titled Excess and Deficiency.
“In order to develop love – universal love, cosmic love, whatever you would like to call it – one must accept the whole situation of life as it is, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad.” – Chogyam Trungpa
“Excess in the heart chakra is not an excess in actual love, but an excessive use of love for our own needs. Excess occurs when we overcompensate for our own wounds. Since love, by nature, involves others, then others become victims in our drama of overcompensating. Excessive love is desperate in its need for constant assurance, and does not uphold another’s freedom to be who they are. It is love that is used like a drug, where the goal is to get high and remove ourselves from our responsibilities and unresolved pain. We are in excess when we use love to compensate for the incompleteness in ourselves, or when we use another to go where we cannot or will not go ourselves.
Excess – An Excessive fourth chakra has such a strong movement outward that very little can get in. This eventually depletes the core, which tries to replenish itself by connecting with others in the same excessive manner that caused the depletion.
Deficiency – Rigid boundaries keep the inside from coming out and the outside from coming in, resulting in isolation, which perpetuates deficiency.
By definition the heart chakra is about reaching beyond the self and connecting with others. Codependency expresses an excessive heart chakra, where the emphasis on the OTHER is out of balance. The compulsive need to fixate on others with excessive care taking and meddling is a behaviour that arises from our own denied need for such care. Codependency is not an act of love, but an obsession clothed in the guise of love.
An obsessive heart chakra can be demanding and possessive. It is passionately connected, but often blindly so. ”
There is so much illumination in these pages, but we have to stop here and contemplate, meditate on Self care and how to let go of our own compulsive behaviour that hurts us as well as others. We often do this without noticing. I am constantly reminding myself to be aware and to act accordingly.
The next post will focus on Healing The Heart Chakra. This is a topic that the author of this book deals with deftly on Chapter Four. She begins the theme of Healing / Restoring the Lotus, with the following words, which shall be the closing of this post:
“Love is the essence that heals. Patience, skill, training, and talent all play their part, but without love they are merely techniques. All wounds cry for the universal medicine of love. As the cosmic glue of the universe, love is the force that bridges the gaps that cut us asunder. In the gap between Heaven and Earth, love is the binding force that holds together the many-coloured steps of the rainbow Bridge.”
As we close this episode, I must state that, not since reading Ayi Kwei Armah’s books Two Thousand Seasons, The Healers and The Beautifull Ones Are Not Yet Born, have I been so moved by the written word. In the next episode we shall also explore just how words can both heal and harm.
“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 writes in the Financial Mail, August 15 – August 21, 2019; “SA is sliding inexorably into a debt trap, with the government unable to make the hard political choices necessary to spark growth, or to prevent a steady rise in the country’s debt ratio. Though finance minister Tito Mboweni has warned that “we really and truly cannot go on like this”, there is every indication that this is exactly what will happen.”
Afrika is committing an acquired form of assisted-suicide at an unprecedented scale. This is happening at every level of society from the individual, the social to the economic as well as, most disturbingly, on a spiritual level.
There are more ways to die than there are ways of living. Paradoxically, Afrika has a lot of intellectuals. The continent boasts thousands if not millions of individuals as well as institutions specializing in various disciplines ranging from cutting edge-science, engineering, architecture, applied mathematics and a myriad of technological fields of endeavor. Afrika is also most revered for its Creative economy, an ungovernable and wholly innovative and lucrative sector.
Needless to mention that we have been known to produce artistic and entrepreneurial geniuses in vast numbers too. Afrikan genius has enriched the whole world since the dawn of recorded history. We are not short of human or intellectual capital.
The recent death of former Zimbabwean founding ‘Father’ Robert Gabriel Mugabe has brought this fact so sharply into our collective psyche. How can a highly educated, revolutionary and industrious people fare so poorly in the development spheres? To put it bluntly, how can such a rich people remain so impoverished? What is it that we, our former liberation heroes and general leadership have been doing so wrong that we fail so dismally to thrive and beat the usual threats to ours and future generations wellbeing?
Many Afrocentric scholars have offered that Afrika has to create its own path to economic and social development. Yes, we can an should play our part in this world of capitalist /neoliberal competition, but that part should be clearlly defined by Afrikans, united in purpose with definitive collective goals.
We have harped on and on about the practical value of Afrikan and Black people’s unity, but perhaps our voices are not audible enough to the powers that purport to be. Our voices are hoarse and our minds and hearts often grow weary, yet there are still so many untried avenues. Perhaps we have been going about it the wrong way. In the words of S.M.E. Bengu, we have been ‘Chasing Gods Not Our Own’. Is it not high-time we strive towards making Indigenous Knowledge Systems part of our training/education in the formal education circles? It is not enough to host numerous conferences and write thick volumes and actively pontificate on pulpits and social media.
Yes, Afrika must wake up, but the awakening must not be towards contributing so gallantly to economies or systems that have not improved our wellbeing. Even the institutions that monitor and claim to promote our progress must be re-evaluated from an Afrikological perspective. We cannot continue to be appendages in a dying capitalist system.
Former President R.G. Mugabe and the incumbent President E.D. Mnangagwa are clear examples of how power and opportunity are not enough to turn peoples lives around. Praise them or reject them, the point is not really about their individuality, it is about the fact that they represent a breed of Afrikans who are Christians and clones of their European foes. How can one honestly defeat the plans of an enemy they secretly admire and seek to become? There are so many examples of how many Afrikan leaders simply mimic the ways of their former masters in their daily living. They may speak their Mother-tongue and pay lip service to their respect for Afrikan traditions, but their general outlook is Eurocentric and verging on superstitious. It is power that is scared to dare to be different. Afrikan economies and the underdevelopment of the lives of Black folks are the direct result of detached and visionless leaders.
We may react emotionally to the passing of these leaders, but until we question their roles or culpability in our mired existence, we shall repeat their costly mistakes. The institutions that our leaders depend on and preside over, are not our own creation, so are the borders and the monetary systems that we are fighting to control. They are out of control in-spite of us and our contributions.
Let us no longer squander our gifts. Afrika must and can define itself. We can escape the double edged sword of contradictory economic growth figures. We can start by being clear that economic growth as well as technological advancement does not benefit Afrikans in any significant scale.
We can also note that mineral resources have not benefited us neither. Then we can start answering the questions such as, when exactly will we rid ourselves of the parasitic corporations that make billions from the rest of the continent yet have not helped us to lead better lives? Again the onus is on our leaders, from the political, the business as well as the traditional levels. Afrikan leaders have failed dismally to protect its inhabitants from extractive and exploitative commercial farmers, minders and other speculators. Our intellectuals are merely playing musical chairs, writing about an economy in industries that WE DO NOT OWN.
Here is a brief look at some recent statistics from the African Development Bank:
This year’s African Economic Outlook from the African Development Bank shows that the continent’s general economic performance continues to improve. Gross domestic product reached an estimated 3.5 percent in 2018, about the same as in 2017 and up from 2.1 percent in 2016. Africa’s GDP growth is projected to accelerate to 4.0 percent in 2019 and 4.1 percent in 2020.
But even that growth is not fast enough to address persistent fiscal and current account deficits and unsustainable debt. Indeed, countries have to move to a higher growth path and increase the efficiency of growth in generating decent jobs. The 2019 Outlook shows that macroeconomic and employment outcomes are better when industry leads growth.
The special theme this year is regional integration for Africa’s economic prosperity—integration not just for trade and economic cooperation but also for the delivery of regional public goods.
New research for this Outlook shows that five trade policy actions could bring Africa’s total gains to 4.5 percent of its GDP, or $134 billion a year. First is eliminating all of today’s applied bilateral tariffs in Africa. Second is keeping rules of origin simple, flexible, and transparent.
Third is removing all non-tariff barriers on goods and services trade on a most-favored-nation basis. Fourth is implementing the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement to reduce the time it takes to cross borders and the transaction costs tied to non-tariff measures. Fifth is negotiating with other developing countries to reduce by half their tariffs and nontariff barriers on a most-favored-nation basis.”
Lastly, David Manang, former Mines Minister and Second In Charge at the Exchequer in Botswana, had this to say in his book, Delusions of Grandeur: Paradoxies and Ambivalence in Botswana’s Macroeconomic Firmament:
“Botswana’s territory is a 582, 000 km affair. The population therein is a sparsely distributed 2 million. The proportion of unused land is practically infinite. Yet land acquisition both for citizens and investors is one hell of a headache. The hurdles in land acquisition are in fact one of the most commonly cited impediments to investment besides immigration permits. —Government, as the primary provider of serviced land, is guilty of failing investors big time. Puzzlingly, it is not aware that it is its own road-block to inward investment traffic in this regard.”
That sums it up.
As we say Rest in Peace to Robert Gabriel Mugabe aka Gushungo, let us make sure as younger Afrikans, to not repeat the gullible and arrogant mistakes of our ancestors. Afrika can still create its own path to prosperity and we do not have to do it in any one’s terms. Who ever seeks to do business with us can do it in our own way. But We Must Find The Way.
“Magic consists of KNOWING the correct, exact gesture, word, pronunciation, all at the correct time; if these are not so, the system will not work. Those who go against nature may do so for a short time, but will undergo the correction of nature at their own peril.” – Ancient Kemetic (Egyptian) Proverbs, On Right Action
“Ain’t no rules ain’t no vows / we can do it anyhow / neither can be bought or sold / Cause everyday we pay the price with the rebels sacrifice / Life is worth much more than gold.” – Bob Marley and The Wailers, Jammin’
Being an artist in the ‘modern’ capitalist society is no joke. Being an artist who is not business minded in a capitalist society is a recipe for tragedy. But then again what is Art for, and in how many ways can it be appreciated without succumbing to preconditions of the market or the “Faka Imali Uzobona” ( Put it money you shall see ) paradigm?
In searching for the Essence of the Arts, I am seeking to figure out how Arts can exist and flourish independent of commercial interests. But then again, perhaps financial gain and commercial success is a veritable motivator for many modern Artists, especially those in the entertainment field or industries.
I am trying to find out whether true Arts could or should be bought and sold, but I am fully aware as an artist myself, that I cannot toil on my work only to give it away to people who may or may not value it. How else can we measure value and appreciation outside of the commercial or financial markets?
The essence of the Arts is not really to always pursue commercial interests, yet in a society where sustenance means one must sell what is most precious to them including one’s “Soul”, the spiritual or ritual significance of Art becomes contentious. Where does one draw the line between true personal expression and doing it to survive, to make a living or even to be a commercial success?
Let us not assume that the commercialization or commodification of Art is a new thing. Throughout history and in many varying societies, Artists have held different leadership and hierarchical positions. While some were porters, artisans, trained and skilled craftsmen and women, others were entertainers for aristocrats, the noble and the affluent, there have always been those Artists who are simply born to do it. Others were trained to imagine and/or build the images of State and affluence. Only the Creators know why some are predisposed to fashion something of aesthetically interest out of base materials while others are simply there to enjoy and benefit from such creations.
The question of what is ethically sell-able and what should not be bought or sold, is an old one. But for our interest as Afrikan people whose Arts and Crafts often holds sacred value, we need to look at commercialization for what it is. The corruption or profanation of the naturally sacred – leading to the undervaluing of divine objects and divine actions or creations. But if I do not buy a Charles Mingus, Joe Henderson, Zim Ngqawana or Winston Mankunku Ngozi album, how else can I get a chance to appreciate the work and contribute to the wellbeing of the Artist?
Art is work and to some people who are not even considered Artists, their own work or even their sporting activity is considered an Art by themselves or even their admirers. To many people, a sportsman like Lionel Merci is an Artist. When I was younger, watching Maradona, Pele or Jomo Sono was like watching an Artist weaving his magic on the theatre of dreams.
When we were young and innocent, it never dawned on us that these Artists were involved in business transactions worth millions in cash and other lucrative benefits. In short, someone is always making money or profiting from someone else’s talent. How that advances or negatively affects the Art and the Artists him or herself is another longer debate that requires deeper analysis on various levels. Such as what are the motivating factors that compel an Artist to do what they do, and how much coercion is involved in the transaction from pure artistry to the market for talent. Malcolm Gladwell’s observations in his books The Tipping Point and Outliers offers great insights into these questions and provides answers to questions such as how the Best or the most successful competitors and players are selected.
Perhaps the question we should ask is, when exactly did we start buying and selling our Arts? Perhaps the simple answer would be, whenever we started setting up communities that were defined and fixed in the varying traditions of increasing and competitive people. In other words, we started trading in artifacts around the same time we began identifying ourselves as different from each other in terms of clans and different identities and professions. It was distance, variation of talents and environmental factors that compelled us to seek out what we did not have or did not know how to create or fashion for ourselves. I do not want to speculate on which Age or Era, but the moment we each discovered that certain specific communities specialized in whichever Arts, that is when the trading and bartering began.
We each possess something that the other does not. The moment we identify that something and figure out that we want it for ourselves, that is when the deal begins. Whatever price is put on it that is the price we will pay if we can afford it. The market provides a space for availability and choice, but the problem with the capitalist market is that it allows for unfair competition where advantage is given to those who can produce more rather than those who specialize in quality rather than quantify. This is how commercialism and materialism becomes corrosive and destructive in society.
This kind of unfair competition exists in all forms of Art, including literature. While writers and song-makers from all nations have the capability to produce Fine Art, it is the ones from the recognized and hegemonic commercial hubs who get to monopolize the markets and flood the whole world with their own ideas of what is true, beautiful and valuable. But they also never shy away from stealing directly from the rest of the world.
But then again what does it mean to be Afrikan in a world that has become so globalized and an Afrika which operates on Western value-systems?
Let’s see what one of Afrika’s greatest philosophers and writers had to say:
“I am an Ibo writer, because this is my basic culture; Nigerian, African and a writer …no, black first, then a writer. Each of these identities does call for a certain kind of commitment on my part. I must see what it is to be black – and this means being sufficiently intelligent to know how the world is moving and how the black people fare in the world. This is what it means to be black. Or an African – the same: What does Africa mean to the world? When you see an African what does it mean to a white man?” – Chinua Achebe.
I know a lot of Artists who have sold more of their visual Arts work to Europeans than to other black people. They have even begun to believe that Black people simply do not value Art in general. Is this part of the modern culture or is it something to do with how we view Art in general?
My simple answer is that, We Art. Art is everything to the Afrikan psyche. There are many among us who believe that everyone is an Artist or at least a potential one. This is where the expression, “if you can talk you can sing and if you can walk you can dance” comes from. But can everyone draw, paint or do what Bheki Mseleku does with the piano, or what Shaluza Max Mtambo does with his voice?
How much should Artists be paid to attend a Festival such as the one happening now, the essence Festival. There are so many questions demanding real answers as to how exhibitors and Artists were chosen. Where does the money go and does it sufficiently support local talents …
Some will say very much so, but others whould strongly disagree … Who is selling what to who and who is fooling who?
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.
The world is exploding, but whose world is it? Have the masses of impoverished people in Southern Afrika reached the level of disenchantment with the ruling elites that pushes them to really go beyond just looking?
There is a tidal wave of social turmoil currently gripping much of South Africa these last few days, one could say it began in the Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland as the impoverished masses attackd and looted establishments linked to their despotic absolute monarch, but then again it can be said that each of the incidents are related to the socio-economic conditions pertaining to each country.
The burning and looting in the Republic of South Africa has been described by various media houses or broadcasters as #TheZumaRiots by those who connect the whole situation to the supporters of the recently jailed former state president Jacob Gezeyihlekisa Zuma. Some have simply and without proper understanding of the words,called it an uprising or even anarchy while many are simply calling it acts of criminality, opportunism and desperat\ion by masses of the economically marginalised Black folks of this country.
The assessments may all have some degrees of truth but there is also evidence that these are not just a result of spontaneous mob mentality but they have been strategically plotted and activated by certain forces who are disgruntled with the juditiary and the whole state machinery. Whatever ones opinion on this, it is clear that many residents are not in support of these acts of destruction, and that despite the assertions of many Black radicals many of whom I agree with, that the whole economy of South Africa is anti-black, there is reason to believe that these are factional politics of the ruling party being brought to the surface using Black bodies as usual. This line of reasoning posits that the whole economy has robbed Black people of equal opportunity and resouces, therefore it must be burnt down so that we may be able to start over. But conditions in the rest of the African continent have proven that this is a daunting task filled with many perilous instances of violence and political instability which plunges whole regions into intermetent states of war.
In this assessment it is clear that no one will emerge a victor in this whole debacle, especially considering the fact that there is no indication that any revolutionary or vanguard movement is channeling this violence into specific demands. There are also those who state that many of the large companies or warehouses being looted and burnt and trucks being burned are well insured and will easily recover their losses. That remains to be seen …
My view is that Nothing Comes From Violence and Nothing Ever Could … We will explore the many reasons why shortly.
Lalelani bantwana bami. Umkhulu wenu uGudu Thomas Maseko wayeshaya umkhalambazo …
Ake ngiyibeke ngokucacile nangobunjalo bayo lendaba. UBaba ongizalayo owayaziwa ngelika Tom-London ngenxa yokuthi wayedla ingqephu noma wayenguSwenka ongusaziwayo, wayengu- “Master” weKung-Fu okungumshika-shika wokulolonga umzimba nengqondo nokuzivikela (Martial Arts/Self Defence) owavela ezweni lamaShayina. Sizobuye siyidingide eyokuthi wawuthola kanjani lomkhuba wasemaShayineni owake waduma kakhulu emhlabeni jikelele ngaphambilini. Okubalulekile ukuthi nani nazi ukuthi umkhulu wenu eningalitholanga ithuba lokumbona ngokwenyama wayengumuntu onjani.
Ayikho indlela esingayixoxa ngayo lendaba ngaphandle kokuqala ngokunichazela ukuthi mina nginguyihlo ngikhuliselwe endaweni enjani. Okwamanje sizoqala ngokukhula kwethu sikhuliswa ngubaba no mama elokishini ekuthiwa iKwa-Mashu elisenhla neTheku /eThekwini. Ngokuhamba kwesikhathi siyoze sigxile emlandweni wakhe uqobo uBaba Maseko, uMkhulu wenu kanye noyise onguMkhulu wami, siphinde sinilandise umlando wesizwe sakwaMaseko esithechithisaka emazweni ahlukahlukene ezwekazi ekuthiwa yi-Afurika; siyogcina ngokunilandisa ngobukhulu beSintu sonkana okanye Abantu Abamnyama.