Abakhanyiselwa

As a response to challenges insisted on by the harsh environment, the
brutal physical abuse by their captors and the psychological disintegration
produced by the chaos of the unfamiliar, Africans reached deep within
themselves where the roots of culture abide. This protracted struggle and
accompanying cultural resolve has allowed them to maintain the deep
structure of their cultural distinctiveness. Moreover, dynamic cultural
processes allowed enslaved Africans to establish familiar and intelligible
patterns through maintaining and preserving their identities and renewing
spiritual and ancestral forces. Many of the Africanisms were codified
in the folkways of African people, especially the expression of spirituality.
The intense need for the expression of spirituality reflected the continuity
of beliefs transported from Africa. This spiritual aspiration was encoded
in the folklore.” –
K. Zauditu Selassie

“Add appropriate Zulu proverb” – The Zulu language is something remarkably marvelous. Take the title of this essay. Abakhanyiselwa is directly translated as Those Who Have Been Enlightened or Those Upon Whom Light Has Been Revealed or Shone. The same word can also mean They Have Not Been Enlightened, or They Are Not Receiving The Light. But where is the logic in having such a paradoxical word? This phenomenon of ambiguity and of hidden meanings is not exclusive to the Bantu language family, there are various other languages that when examined carefully, carry similar linguistic paradoxes. Yet, perhaps these are not contradictions at all, but simply part of the divine or magical power of words.

The very human acts of prayer, incantation, invocation, and verbalized meditations or affirmations are part of human traditions spanning all continents and dating back millennia. The art of placing the right words, tones, and notes in exactly the right or intended places is part of the joys of being a languaged being. We also tend to gravitate or be more articulate in the languages of our origins. There is something deeply satisfying as well as positively challenging to me whenever I read the language of IsiZulu. Even though I mostly write and speak isiNgisi or the language of the colonizers of our region, I would like to even think that I dream in BaNtu languages, it is the language of my Soul …I aspire to deepen my personal aptitude towards it.

Back to the actual reason why I chose to title this article, Abakhanyiselwa. There is often a lot of ego and self-interest involved in the formulation of organizations, interest groups, societies, and even nations. It may be shared values and traditions finding expression or extension in the formulation of rules, characteristics, and systems to live by, but it may also be the sole vision of a visionary or heroic figure that captivates or motivates followers or adherents to abide. The formation of organizations is just as complex as the molding of families and keeping the legacy intact …

My Presentation At LitFest Harare

Greetings GREEN ANKH WORK readers, I have not posted in a while. Here is something I thought I should share. It’s the presentation from LitFest Harare’s Black History Symposium.

LitFest Harare: Black History Month Symposium

Event Held at AFROTOPIA, 1st Floor Construction House, Harare, March 4, 2022

Time: 09:30am to 18:15pm

My Topic/Discussion Subject: Under the Theme Afropoetiq

“How Has Literature and Art from Africa and the Diaspora Contributed In Promoting Traditional Medical Remedies”

General Notes:

Names that immediately come to mind when I think of Literature from Afrika and the Diaspora include:

Octavia E. Butler; Ben Okri; Malidoma Some, Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa, Wangari Maathai; Alice Walker; Toni Morrison; Queen Afua, Ra Un Nefer Amen, Sebau Muata Ashby …

In his book The Dialectics of Cultural Economy: Moral Economic Core, (2012), South Afrikan philosopher and Ubuntu advocate Mfuniselwa J. Bhengu offers numerous examples of how Afrikans lived in harmony with the environment, neither desiring to subdue it for private purposes or to own it for individual gain. He quotes many scholars from within and outside the Afrikan continent but he essentially attributes this attitude towards Nature to the philosophy of UBUNTU, UNHU or Ma’at.

On page 131 of this book under the title Medicines of Therapeutic Value in an African Setting he bases much of his thesis on Dr. MV Gumede’s book, ‘Traditional Healers: A Medical Doctor’s Perspective’ (1990), illustrating the significance of local traditional knowledge, what is now commonly termed Indigenous Knowledge Systems or Wisdoms. Bhengu then continues to list various medicines used for a vast number of common ailments since time immemorial and even today. He uses both local/native names as well as their scientific terms.

It is important to note that in the Zulu culture, traditional medicines are actually referred to as sentient beings or even in human forms. They are regarded as assistants or help-mates in the holistic healing process, a process that often involves talking or singing to them as they are prepared and applied.  Among the Nguni people’s we talk to the plant medicines as one would speak to and listen to a friend.

Bhengu writes: “As a result of the colonial misfortune much of what constitutes contemporary Africa both metaphysically and epistemologically is, – to a large extent a product of the European gaze.

As the gazing subject, the European enjoyed the privilege of seeing it’s ‘Other’, the African, without being seen for some time and in the process took this opportunity to define the African as its negative Other. As a result, much of what goes into defining African cosmology is what is developed from the privileged position of the outsider.” (Page 136, Bhengu)

To this I must add that many European-trained and Eurocentrically educated Afrikans still view themselves through the lens of the European or in simpler terms, we view our own lives through the White man’s opinionated eyes. With all this said, let us turn to the Poetics, Arts, and Sonics of our own Lived Experiences.

We will start with stories told through the medium called Literature. The writer/storytellers I have already mentioned are similar to Shamans, Nyanga’s, Sangomas, and other forms of Afrikan mediums. In my teenage years, I saw the likes of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and the plethora of writers in the African Writers Series as Diviners and Healers. When I read Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Healers in the late 90s I was quite sure that the Ghanaian sage was speaking to me and my experiences. Although I was not yet called to work with Traditional Healers then, the story of the young man who endures various challenges as he was being prepared to become a healer resonated with me as a Poet and Activist in my early 20s. Reading the rest of Armah’s work made it abundantly clear the medicines that the writers and artists of the past and present generation were talking about were not just the Traditional Type and that the illnesses we were experiencing were psycho-social and spiritual rather than just physical.

The natural medicines they wrote and sang about were often used as metaphors for remedies for a wide range of isms. When Thandiswa Mazwai sings “Sizilibele Ukuba Sizalwa Ngobani …” in IsiXhosa, meaning ‘We have forgotten those who gave birth to us/our forebears …” While the song speaks of political and social activists who were heroic in the fight against apartheid and colonialism, the way artists such as Thandiswa present their work is also emblematic and ritualistic. Like Blue Note recording artist Nduduzo Makhathini, as well as Mangoma and GudoGuru, the artists present themselves symbolically and actually as Healers, Mediums, and Channels for the Ancestral and Futuristic Vision of a whole or healthier society.

The Mythopoetic Historical work of Vusamazulu  Mutwa as well as Mazisi Kunene and Malidoma Some were intersectional even before the term was made popular. In Mutwa’s books, there are visual arts, metaphysical imagination, poetry, songs in addition to giving an alternative view to popular or traditional histories as well as traditional medicinal practices. South Afrikan poetry laureate Mazisi Kunene composed a lot of poetry, parables, and proverbs during his lifetime and Natural Healing featured very prominently in his work, including The Ancestors and The Sacred Mountain, Amalokotho KaNomkhubulwane ( a collection of short stories), Anthem of The Decades, Igudu LikaSomcabeko, etc

 References from Literature:

  1. Giving no outward sign, she went on tending her garden. As long as she knew where the intruder was, she had no fear of him. Perhaps he would lose his courage and go away. Meanwhile, there were weeds among her coco yams and her herbs. The herbs were not the traditional ones grown or gathered by her people. Only she grew them as medicines for healing, used them when people brought their sick to her. Often she needed no medicines, but she kept that to herself. She served her people by giving them relief from pain and sickness. Also, she enriched them by allowing them to spread word of her abilities to neighboring people. She was an oracle. A woman through whom a god spoke. Strangers paid heavily for her services. They paid her people, then they paid her. That was as it should have been. Her people could see that they benefited from her presence, and that they had reason to fear her abilities.” – Anyanwu, on page 3, Wild Seed, Octavia E. Butler
  • In his 1988 thesis on Ayi Kwei Armah’s novels, Art and the Revolutionary Content of Ayi Kwei Armah’s Novels with special reference to Two Thouysand Seasons, George Odera Outa states:

“But as is always the case with Armah, “healing” as an African practice is not just lauded because it is African: Everything earns praise or condemnation on its own merit. Thus, “quacks” who cash on peoples miseries and yearning for cure are so sarcastically condemned: …”They stuffed her stomach with scrapings from the backs of innumerable trees. They fed her scratching from snakes, rhinos, lizards, spiders, and scorpions, a most impressive array of beasts. Each doctor promised with his concoctions to give Araba Jesiwa the key that would unlock her love gift and open her to fruitful life…” – 95

This highlights the importance of self-criticism not only in the works of Armah but that of various Afrikan writers from Achebe, Lewis Nkosi, Noviolet KaBulawayo, Pettinah Gappah, and our Sisters and Brothers in the wide Diaspora – including Nnedi Okarafor, N.K. Jemisin as well as the Poets we have been blessed with – who act as oracles, warners, and seers guiding us with their wit and verbal medicines through the tedious terrain of neo-colonialism.

An Apologia For The Unforgiven: a reflection on Desmond Tutu

I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency …the other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964

I was compelled to begin this by half-jokingly asking “Wenzeni uTutu?”, using the famous refrain employed by former president Jacob G. Zuma’s supporters. I wanted to use the phrase to rhetorically question what Tutu has actually done for the Natives of this land called South Africa.

This is a serious question but even more timely since many South Africans are questioning the efficacy of the Rainbow Nation. Tutu may have blamed the African National Congress for many of the ill-fated decisions that were made since CODESA and the much-criticized TRC, but as a supposed moral figure, did he do enough to challenge the disastrous macro-economic policies of his contemporaries?

In trying to compose my thoughts around the personality, celebrated humanity, and infamy of Tutu, I cannot help but remember that in spite of him being a famous national figure in my country, I really did not know him at all until I read his books. The first one I encountered was titled No Future Without Forgiveness …, then I read his preface to Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like before I read his, God Is Not A Christian – Speaking Truth In Times Of Crisis. Perhaps the only way I can explain why I was so drawn to this man’s voice was how he truly wore his heart on his sleeve. Here was a Christian who was unafraid to point out and critique the gaping flaws in his own personality as well as the religion he professes. In short, as vehemently theologian as he was, the Arch spared no holy-cows in his own brand of Black theology. So why on earth was the former archbishop equally hated and loved so fiercely?

The recently deceased Archbishop Emeritus Despond Mpilo Tutu was more controversial in his own country than can be appreciated by anyone outside of Southern Africa. The almost equally controversial former Zimbabwean leader Robert G. Mugabe once called him “that little man“, but then again, Big Men of politics wield words like swords, bullets, and shields. The attacks that Tutu received from all parts of society certainly did not dim his effervescent personality and global shine. He certainly will be remembered more for his greater contributions in the struggle against apartheid tyranny rather than the more shadowy or controversial parts of his socio-spiritual career. Just like Dr. Martin Luther King, or even John Langalibalele Dube, these men of the cloth are immortalized by their larger-than-life personal sacrifices. Their perceived sins are no more than proverbial “signs and crosses in their way”, to quote a Rastafari Nyabinghi chant.

While it is possible that their armor as faithful Christian soldiers may have endeared them to the largely Christianised /colonized Black population, it certainly did for the White liberal establishment whose power as the thought-police cannot be under-estimated. Whether Tutu may have committed some gravely immoral acts or ommissions during and after his tenure as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is covered by either his own public tears, moralistic admonitions as well as the ‘sea of witnesses’. I am attempting to highlight the contribution of the neo-liberal propaganda machinery that has operated in Southern Africa even before the inevitable rise of the so-called Black Theology. We shall have to get back on some further analysis of that notion, suffice to say that, a lot of the foundations of our purported Black theology is largely founded on Eurocentric ideals of humanity, in spite of the many writings about Ubuntu by the likes of Tutu and other humanist philosophers. We may soon discover that many versions of ubuntu are just like many Abrahamic religions, merely a smokescreen to keep the heaving and languishing Black masses from identifying their true power and capacity to self-actualize.

King points out the shortcomings of naturalistic and humanistic explanations of human nature that leave out Christian perspectives. He rejects the all too sentimental notions about man. Even his shortcomings are explained in terms of errors or lags of nature. The belief that human progress is inevitable and that man is gradually evolving into a higher state of perfection is rejected. Freudian terms are used to explain away man’s misdeeds. All bad deeds are said to be due to phobias, inner conflicts – the conflict between the id and the superego. King sees the real conflict as between man and God, man and himself and his brother resulting from the estranged relation with God.” – Roberts, Liberation, and Reconciliation, ( excerpt from a critique of Dr. Martin Luther King in a book titled To Make The Wounded Whole, edited by Lewis V. Baldwin)

All men and women of great renown are also largely problematic. The Mandela’s, Martin Luther King’s, Gandhi’s, Haile Selassie I, Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s, Hilary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, or even Erykah Badu’s of this world carry long shadows along with their mesmerizing public personas.

This article seeks to not only investigate the legacy of one of these luminaries but also highlight briefly the dangers of unencumbered idealism and popularism, otherwise referred to as idolatry. The post-apartheid lives of the Mandela’s were bound to be tied up to the actions and inactions of other renowned South Africans. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has to be among the most famous South Africans next to Nelson and Winnie Mandela yet after the infamous Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which Tutu had called for but not obtained any apologies from any of the key figures in the apartheid state, his relationship with the Winnie Mandela soured significantly. The main bone of contention was that Tutu as the chairperson and the purported conscience of the nation, the proverbial Father of the Rainbow Nation notion had required of a Black woman what he would willing to get out of the White perpetrators of gross historical injustice.

Today as he has recently passed away, a vast array of the younger generation of South Afrikans find it hard to forgive the Elder for the perceived act of discriminating against a perceived and venerated heroine of the liberation movement. But for those who can remember, Winnie Mandela was equally vilified by many among the Black Consciousness and Pan Africanist movements, citing the very same controversial episodes that the Arch was rebuking her and asking her to apologize for. But there is much more to the story than the public spats and controversies. We shall delve into these intricate interpersonal relationships and examine just how the media and the gullible unquestioning public falls into the same traps of indecent exposure.

As I have mentioned earlier, much of our liberation struggle as well as general socialization is intimately tied to the Biblical God/s or the God of Israel. This ancient brew puts us in a peculiar position when it comes to how we perceive our leaders as well as reality in general. Those among us who have chosen to rebel against notions of paternalistic leadership as well as colonially constructed moral codes find ourselves perceived as outlaws or simply uncaring, even unforgiving. But what is there to forgive? In a land where the larger native population remains landless and economically impoverished, can we really honestly afford to celebrate perceived heroes who have not addressed the root causes of our wretched condition?

In critiquing Tutu, we must surely view him as a key member of a passing generation, while not passive, he can be viewed as one of those who fought for the assimilation of Afrikan into an ideal of a society that was already broken. Because let us face it, Eurocentric notions of faith and forgiveness without restorative justice are not what we deserve as a people. While the work to free ourselves from the burdens of whiteness is upon us, as we decolonize our minds and Afrikanise our institutions of learning and earning, our old leaders must also be brought to question, not on a witchhunt against the dead and the dying, but as a matter of principle, so that we can bequeath our children the health, wealth and Afrikan personality they deserve.

Disclaimer:

The next chapter will focus on the problem of Non-Whites* – the historical evolution of the house-negro and the pervasive ideology of messianism.

Of Triggers, Randomness and Well Laid Plans

One of the books that have played a pivotal role in my psychological development is Ghost In The Machine by Arthur Koestler. This is a prodigious writer whose name and titles I had encountered in mostly second hand bookshelfs since my younger days in Durban as well as Cape Town and Joburg.

The titles of his books always intrigued me, and I would browse and never got around to buying the books. After my father commited suicide in 1993 when I was 15 years old, I came close to purchasing the author’s autobiographies; Dialogue With Death, Scum Of The Earth and The God That Failed, they all just appeared serendipitous, but all I did was spwnd hours in the darkest corners of dusty old bookshops (when they still existed) and read until closing time. His essay’s such as Reflections On Hanging, The Lotus and The Robot, The Roots of Coincidence and Drinkers Of Infinity all drew me in as if they were echoes from my own teeming mind, they provided a kind of morbid carthasis. In retrospect, I realise now that reading helped me to not turn againsr myself and to feel pity rather than hate for humanity, they provided an elixir against despair.

Here is a quote from a chapter of THE GHOST In The Machine which is the only book I actually own by the author. I obtained this copy through “dubious” circumstances from a smitten librarian in Harare during our sojourn there.

“Triggers And Filters”:’All the time the Guard was looking at her, first through a telescope, then through a microscope, and then through an opera-glass. At last he said, ‘You’re travelling the wrong way …’

Triggers

You turn a switch or push a button on a machine, and this simple, effortless gesture releases the co-ordinated action of hundreds of wheels, pistons, levers, vacuum tubes or what have you. Such trigger mechanisms, where a relatively simple command or signal releases extremely complex, pre-set action-patterns, are a favourite devise in biological and social organisation. By this means the organism (or body social) is able to reap the full benefits of the autonomous, self-regulating character of its sub-divisions – its holons on lower levels. When the Cabinet decides to raise the Bank Rate from six per cent to seven per cent, or to send troops to a trouble-spot in the East, the decision is worded in brief, laconic terms, which merely imply, but do not specify, the intricate sequence of actions that will follow. The decision triggers various department headsand experts into activity; these will provide the first set of more specific instructions …

Like all our previous generalisations, this, too, it is meant tk apply to all types of hierarchies – including, for instance, the hierarchic sequence of embryonic development.” TBC

N E W S • F R A M E S • • • • •

About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

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