This article is re-shared from New African magazine:
Ubuntu and Jazz have been misappropriated and misused, how do we rescue them from the hands of unscrupulous opportunists?
This morning, at about 3.30 am after changing baby’s nappies, I just could not sleep, so I put on my earphones to listen to some music I’d downloaded from You Tube. Since I am learning to play the trumpet, I selected a recording by the The Blue Notes, a song called Schoolboy, recorded live at Rondebosch Town Hall, Cape Town, circa June 1964. A band of South Africa’s heavyweights of the genre known as jazz was in full-swing. Dudu Pukwana ( the composer of the tune) on alto-saxophone, Chris McGregor on the piano; Nick Moyake on the tenor saxophone; Louis Moholo on the drums and Johnny Dyani on bass; but being a trumpet student, it was Mongezi Feza’s long solo that really mesmerised me. I fell asleep later to Sun Ra and his Arkestra’s organ heavy I Pharaoh.
The reason I begin with a personal story of music is because among the languages that connect the world, music reigns supreme. While the words, messages and voices are equally important to understand, it is that intuitive appreciation of the sound that truly cuts through the barriers and creates bridges, even patterns of thought and intercultural relatability. Yet we are still not utilizing our music, Black music to gain the power we require to triumph collectively as a people. Much of the cultural productions of Afrikans and Black folks globally still benefits White owned record companies while also enriching the cultural pool that we all drink from. There is disproportionate sharing of power due to the pervasive scourge of structural racism.
When I woke up, I began thinking about Afrikan scholarship, cultural productions and their global reach, Afrocentricity and its pros and cons. There have been so many activists who have either subtly and militantly advocated for the renaissance of Afrika centred scholarship, the reevaluation and valuing of Afrikan cultural production and institutions – some are still at it as we speak. There are scholars, teachers, researchers, artists, astrophysicists, cosmologists, engineers, architects and mathematicians, nutritionists and virtually people in every imaginable field of endeavor who keep insisting that Afrika and Black folk globally have all that it takes to attain the power necessary to achieve our individual, communal and civilizational visions. Some of these visions are articulated clearly in the Afrikology, Afrocentric and Black radical schools of thought, but they are not as popular due to the scattered nature of our institutions, run by individuals and groups whose ultimate agenda’s differ. While we are are not a homogeneous bunch of robots, there are certain aspects of our being that define us as Abantu. These aspects or attributes which are intrinsic, meaning they are not just part of the social constructs that emanate from environmental determination, can be harnessed to hoist us from the social death that is a symptom of the worlds anti-blackness.
As should be expected, there are various other voices, other opinions which insist that humanity is essentially the same, and that we would be falling into the trap of eugenicists and racists if we define ourselves as unique or outside of the accepted scope of humanism. My intuition says that we must define ourselves anew, while we share various other norms, needs and identities with other peoples, it is our diversity that will allow us to thrive within our parallel economies.
Let us face it, Nina Simone and Dolly Parton may both be Americans, beloved by both Black and White folks, but it is not hard to tell who has had more impact on the world of music. This is not to put down the great Dolly, but Nina’s impact is based on the reach of her Soul, while Dolly’s is also based on the reach of her White privilege. Study that for yourself and use other examples if you have the time. Th point we are making here is that Ubuntu Bethu Asikabi Nawo Amandla Aphelele Okubusebenzisa Ukuze Sizuze Amandla Njengohlanga Lwendlu Entsundu.
An alternative view is expressed by a Black scholar named Nyasha Mboti, and I am taking the liberty to share an excerpt from his paper “May The Real Ubuntu Please Stand Up”, published in 2015 by ( Journal of Media Ethics, 30:125–147, 2015
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 2373-6992 print/2373-700X online DOI: 10.1080/23736992.2015.1020380), here:
“Gade (2011) has studied the evolution of the notion of ubuntu over a period of 165 years. He demonstrates that the term “ubuntu” has appeared in writing since at least 1846. Importantly, Gade analyses the definitional changes that the term has undergone in written sources between 1846 and 2011. Particularly telling is Gade’s observation that the aphorism umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu was used for the first time to describe ubuntu in the period between 1993 and 1995. That is, this use is actually quite recent. Subsequently, a preferential consensus of sorts grew and accreted around the application of the aphorism. As Gade notes, “most authors today refer to the proverb when describing ubuntu, irrespective of whether they consider ubuntu to be a human quality, African humanism, a philosophy, an ethic, or a worldview” (p. 303).
I aver that the preferred reading of umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu since 1993 is, in fact,
hegemonic. I am obviously drawing narrowly on the definition of hegemony popularized by Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci in the Prison Notebooks (1971). Gramsci (1971) regarded hegemony as a kind of “prestigious” moral and intellectual leadership predicated on “educative pressure” and majoritarian consent (p. 242). On the one hand, my reading of Gramsci tempts me to regard umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu—in the custodial hands of ubuntu scholars and theorists writing since the 1990s—as a particular kind of “superstructure.” This is obviously a reference to how umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu gradually became an institutionalized idea or prestigious way of seeing spread through “educative” and other pressures. Shutte’s preoccupation with an ethic for the “new” South Africa suggests that one source of pressure was political.On the other hand, the scholars and theorists of ubuntu—due to their narrow adherence to, and influence over, a specific reading of ubuntu as umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu—constitute what Gramsci referred to as a “fundamental group” or “civil society.” It is this “civil society” of ubuntu scholars that is behind the “prestigious” adoption and spread of the particular “superstructural” translation, interpretation and definition of ubuntu as “a person is a person through other persons.” The hegemonic use of umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu as a catch-all distillation of ubuntu has resulted in a more or less widespread uniformity of definition. Such uniformity reflects, on the one hand, the prestige and confidence in which extant definitions are held and, on the other hand, a general state of inadequate rigour in attempts to define ubuntu.”
While I agree and disagree with some of what is stated in this paper, I do think that Mboti makes some strong points. I think that there are some problems related to the sort of ideological spectacles he is using to dissect this topic. The quoting of European or non-Afrikan researchers/scholars who have probably never been to Afrika is rather problematic to say the least. I would assume that the best folks to learn about Ubuntu from would be Abantu themselves and we are not only situated in Southern Africa. He appears to be weighing the hegemonic ontological perspective of Europeans and others against the lived experience and scholarship of what he perceives as an Afrocentric hegemony, perhaps that is not the best way to begin. But further reading may reveal something more, so I am sharing the link to his entire paper here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/23736992.2015.1020380
In my upcoming book, The House of Plenty, we shall speak about how Mongezi Feza’s trumpet playing and personality was transmuted into Afrikan-American trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s music, noting hoe that itself is another example of Ubuntu. We shall further show that the idiom Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu is highly valid and relevant even as a recent invention, but we shall also show how it had been misused and appropriated just as the word jazz has.
I found this article from the New African journal quite well balanced and it shines a light on a subject that is perennial. My personal take is that we cannot Afrikanise these festivals, we need to simply rediscover what is our own heritage and work on our own Afrika-centered identities. This is the age of decolonization and rebuilding.
“In a spiritual tradition that believes the ancestors live on, watching over the living, the belief in vadzimu holds that ancestral spirits can choose to return, in times of family or national crisis, through living mediums. Nehanda, a royal ancestral spirit, is one who has come back again and again, answering the needs of the children of the soil, the descendants she watches over.” – Panashe Chigumadzi, These Bones Will Rise Again
As a person who is currently residing in Zimbabwe, the land of the Mbira, the land of great beauty as well as seemingly unceasing turmoil, I am sensitive to both the living conditions of its peoples, while at the same time keeping an ear to the ground for the murmur, whisper or cries of their ancestors. My country Azania/South Africa and my great grandfather land the Kingdom of Eswatini are also lands of deep conflicts both hidden and visible, yet without neglecting them, I have become acutely drawn into the cultural heritage of this land wherein I dwell with my wife and children.
My deepest concern is with the spiritual health and socio-economic well-being of the youth of this land. What are they losing while these politically motivated conflicts rage on to the detriment of the economy? While I am attempting to answer such questions in my upcoming book The House of Plenty, there is a sense of urgency that pushes me to share some of my thoughts here, while I also reference the works of other like-minded cultural workers, writers and activists …
In this article we will speak about ancestral spirit mediums, diviners, healers, blacksmiths, artists and other cultural workers in order to glean some wisdom that we require to create a well balanced and progressive New Afrikan society.
A day after the president announced a 150 percent hike in fuel prices, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions and others called for a peaceful three-day shutdown. Their demands were simple: end the economic crisis and hardships, reverse the fuel price increase and pay US$ salaries. By the end of day one, there were several dead and many injured. There were riots in many towns and cities. Property was destroyed, road blocks mounted, police stations attacked, and there was widespread looting. The security forces responded brutally, as tear gas filled the air.
On day two, the state executed an internet blackout, an attempt it said to disrupt organisers of the protests. The military deployment continued and, across urban areas, opposition activists and others were being beaten and rounded up. By the end of the week, around twelve deaths had been recorded (including the stoning of a policeman), 70 odd…
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The beautifully well endowed country of Zimbabwe is undergoing serious challenges. To name them one by one would take up too much space, but the general challenges have to do with the political-economy of the Southern Afrikan country.
Zimbabwe’s political leaders have been waxing rhetorical about fiscal discipline and the unsupported claim that the volatile country is open for business. The authors of the country’s constitution have made specific provisions for how such discipline can be observed. They involve the active engagement of citizens with their government or civil servants, but the levels of distrust and the toxicity created by high levels of corruption have strained that constitutionally enshrined relationship. Government may call for dialogue but without trust and some visible transformation on the State’s part, such dialogue is another waste of time while the ship continues to sink. By these assertions we do not mean to be pessimistic, it is just that many know exactly how to get the country on the progressive path, it is just unfortunate that the System does not allow real change makers to make their contributions effectively. Somehow we all have to look to the constitution ( as violated as it is), for answers. The bulk of the Zimbabwean challenges can be attributed to a failure or inability to implement policies and allow businesses and other key institutions to be supported to operate in an enabling environment.
Some of the provisions on conflicts of interests are also included in the Public Finance Management Act and the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act, yet these provisions are violated by the very people in power.
Public finances in Zimbabwe are still being mismanaged and misused despite the new governments promises and bold pronouncements. There is a popular saying that, ‘the people deserve the kind of leaders they get’, if this has any shred of truth in it, perhaps it is high time to investigate the virtues and vices of democracy and how it is practiced in Afrika, especially in countries where former liberation movements hold power by any means. On top of the challenges that Zimbabwe faces, is the heavy debt the country carries. Standing at about US$17 billion, the country is unable to access loans and to attract investors and new businesses.
The economic meltdown also has various interconnected sources, high among which is a a serious leadership deficit. As I have stated in one of my posts before, Afrika as a continent is not deprived of great minds, highly educated and experienced individuals who form part of various ‘classes’, from government to corporate,entrepreneurial fields as well as in the cultural economic spheres are there. We can all agree that one of the major setbacks for developing Afrika’s potential is corruption and the current states of education systems inherited from a bygone era. We shall expand on this in part 2.
Let us focus for a bit on governance. While it is difficult to ascertain whether Zimbabwe forms a significant part of the what are known as developmental states, whether it is a capitalist economy or a socialist one, or even whether its state of debilitation approaches neither of the above, we have to ask basic questions regarding the role of government in the affairs of the ordinary citizen. We already know that the so called “Free Market”, has its vices and virtues. Many social activists would argue that there are no virtues at all, but is another subject. The point we are making is regarding the levels of governments intervention in the economic sphere. What is the collective impact of the decisions made by businesses in their buying and selling decisions and how do governments help to protect the population from profiteers. In Zimbabwe there is large scale political intervention in industrial affairs.
While ordinary buyers and sellers appear to require governments to ensure that the benefits of the Market are equitably shared,there is also the sentiment that governments should not interfere too much. Governments speak so much of creating opportunities for employment, yet we all know that in most developing economies it is not the State that employs most people, industries and corporations that are mostly privately owned.
The people want the benefits of the Market but look to government to minimize the dreadful side effects that come with it. Ironically or even historically, one persons side effects are another persons sweet accumulation of capital.
In Zimbabwe,or at least in Harare, one can clearly see the glaring disparities in unequal wealth accumulation. Many people view government as the chief enabler or perpetrator of this prejudicial gross inequality. There are those who keep appealing to the conscience of the political leadership while others have become bitter and cynical. The cynicism is understandable when one takes into consideration the state of the countries economy. Many remedial actions have been taken and various socio-political avenues have been undertaken but what remains is the old order of Big Men politics, where the citizens voices are ignored and the States propaganda machinery keeps on selling pipe-dreams and insults to the masses. Can Afrikan governments benefit from allowing the Free Market to operate? Can industrialisation via the latest Chinese models save Afrikan countries from acute underdevelopment? Can the citizens of economically and bureaucratically strained countries such as Zimbabwe emerge with new forms of socio-economic leadership, complete with innovative and inclusive ideological frameworks?
We as Green Ankh Works,believe that people power can prevail over the power of greed. The people in question simply need to be guided. We shall discuss proper guidance in part 2.