“Knowledge Makes A Man Unfit To Be A Slave.” – Frederick Douglass
The following was written as a presentation at the Mazisi Kunene Colloquium that was recently held at the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Centre for Indigenous Knowledge Systems on the 4th and 5th of December.
I publish the draft here, the complete article will appear in a publication that features the presentations from the other illustrious delegates:
Radical Spiritual Transformations:
Harvesting the Super-abundance in Mazisi Kunene’s Works for Transforming Our Society
The following poem from Mazisi Kunene is titled Imbewu kaMakhasana, it is quoted from his book INDIDA Yamancasakazi ( The riddle of the young maidens ), published in 1995 by Reach Out Publishers. The Poet speaks about sowing a seed on a pathway between two houses, the leaves and fruits from the tree will nourish forthcoming generations until future generations sing its praises. It is a proverbial description of the work of a conscientious and purposeful cultural worker, someone who knows that our work is not only for present generations, but is merely a seed for the spiritual and cultural sustenance of future generations. It is also obvious that as a metaphysical and Thongocentric ( One Inspired by Ancestral Urging ), Kunene also means much more in the poem.
“71. Imbewu kaMakhasana
Phakathi kwemizi emibili
Mina mina ngitshala imbewu kaMakhasana
Ngiyibekela labo abahamba ngendlela
Ngithi wukuba bathilambile impela baphile
Badle kuzo izife ezikhulayo
Yiyo lena imizi iyakuzihlakula
ithi uma isilele ubuthongo bobusika
izifudumeze kanjalo emaziko omhlaba
kube yilo iculo lomphefumulo eseliyakuduma.”
I often wonder if modern historians, sociologists and anthropologists, black, white or other scholars have ever read the works of Cheikh Anta Diop, Van Sertima or Toni Morrison. I wonder if they have ever heard of Ayi Kweyi Armah, Magema Fuze, B. Kojo Laing, Walter Rodney or Noni Jabavu or even Carl Jung or Levi Strauss, not to mention Molefi Asante and the myriad Afrika-centred scholars.
I ask this because many contemporary intellectuals appear to suffer from an acute form of historical amnesia. It is either that or they are under the spell of neo-colonialism, whose liberal tendencies appear to mask a deep seated attitude of afro-pessimism. This is the logical manifestation of imbibng too much Western philosophy and being mired in the epistemological straight-jackets of colonial racism.
I recently read an article written by a white American history professor, Mary Lefkowitz, from a journal called The History Place: Points of View. The article entitled: Not Out of Africa, subtitled; Was Greek Culture Stolen from Africa? Modern Myth vs. Ancient History – aimed to debunk the myths peddled by Afrocentric scholars and reputable Black Power activists, that seek to elevate Afrikan knowledge above that of Europeans. The article itself is extracted from her book which is provocatively titled: Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History.
I begin with this reflection because after reading the article, I was troubled by the fact that much of what the white professor said was actually true. As a student of uSolwazi Mazisi Kunene, Cheick Anta Diop, Ayi Kwei Armah, Magema Fuze, Mfuniselwa Bhengu,Toni Morrison, Marcus Garvey, Francis Creswell, Octavia E. Butler, Frantz Fanon,Walter Rodney and Steve Bantubonke Biko and many other Afrika centred writers and activists, I am very intolerant of lies disguised as truth, especially when it comes to matters regarding my people, the Black people of the world.
The point I seek to emphasize is that in a similar way that uMkhulu uMazisi Kunene had done, many scholars of history and writers of the ancient into the future, are very interested in protecting their own people, their own cultural and intellectual heritage. Some even go to the extent of basing their whole work on demystifying or exploding the myths, while others even create their own myths in the process. In answering her own question, “Did ancient Greek religion and culture derive from Egypt” professor Lefkowitz states:
“Apparently Greek writers, despite their great admiration for Egypt, looked at Egyptian civilization through cultural blinkers that kept them from understanding any practices or customs that were significantly different from their own. The result was a portrait of Egypt that was both astigmatic and deeply Hellenized. Greek writers operated under other handicaps as well. They did not have access to records; there was no defined system of chronology. They could not read Egyptian inscriptions or question a variety of witnesses because they did not know the language. Hence they were compelled to exaggerate the importance of such resemblances as they could see or find.”
In other words, although she raises many important questions about the claims of Afrocentric writers such as Martin Bernal, Ben Jochannan and others, she also contradicts herself and ends up strengthening the argument of Afrocentric scholars whose sole aim is to raise Afrikan history and Intellectual life to reputable and redemptive levels.
When I first met Baba Kunene in the early 2000’s at SABC studios, at a Creative Writers workshop co-organised with Ukhozi FM, I was intimidated by his regal age, his fiery white hair and his reputation as a no-nonsense intellectual. I had been writing short-stories and only in English, I had also recently read his Emperor Shaka Zulu The Great, Amalokotho KaNomkhubulwane and his books of poetic proverbs, Impepho as well as Igudu LikaSomcabeko.
After the intense workshop, which became really his unique way of asking us armature writers to Become Truly Who We Are, To Redefine The Essence of Storytelling and To Embrace The Wealth Embedded in Our Mother-tongues, I met him when most of the learners were gone. One on one, he became more serious. He read my one page story quietly and frowned and said: “Such a great imagination, but why do you insult your Mother and your ancestors by writing in English?”
He paused and continued, “You are living in the age of freedom and information but you insist on enriching the culture of Abantu abangena’Buntu.” He then through the page on my face and said, “Hamba uyozifuna, uzibuze ukuthi ungumbhali noma ungumlingisi”
Translation: “Go and find yourself, ask yourself if you are a writer or an actor or imitator.”
I thought I should share these two, apparently unrelated episodes; it is my way of reaching back and reaching in. Baba Kunene’s work and life asked us to not only reach back but like Biko, or jazz multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku, he forced us to Look Within, mainly because that is where our treasured lie buried, ready to be discovered by us and the world. The world is waiting to Afrika to reveal her wonders. Those wonders are locked in our own stories, both realistic and fantastic.
Lastly, Kunene’s work is revolutionary, and calls for a Radical Spiritual Transformation. They are a cultural reservoir from which we and our children can find sustenance. In the words of Maulana Ron Karenga, another pragmatic Afrocentric worker: The seven criteria for culture are these:
- Social Organisation
- Political Organisation
- Economic Organisation
- Creative Motif
- As well as Ethos.
We do not have time to get deep into all of these right now, suffice to say Baba Kunene’s work remains one of the most dexterous and purposeful attempts by an Afrikan Intellectual and Sanusi, Inyanga Yamagama, to overthrow a system that is built on eliminating us. His poems and proverbs are Revolutionary magical invocations or charms, written for a generation that would, should and will use them wisely to Create The Afrika We Want.
Kunene also reminds us that a love for Afrika, an appreciation of ones own peoples contributions to civilization does not have to be parochial, we do not have to be dogmatic and blind to other influences; the poem says that we should be able to love ourselves while being able to glean wisdom from everywhere else. He writes ;
“72. Ezinkambeni zolwazi lwezizwe
Ongathi lungathi luphela lolu suku
Ngibe sengiphuzile ezinkambeni ezininginingi
NezaseChayina nezase-Arabia nezaseMaija
NezaseNdiya nezaMongoliya nezaseMelika
NezaseYurophu nezaseRashiya nezaseMaori
Nazo zonke zemihlaba ngemihlaba ehlakaniphileyo
Kepha ekugcineni ngibuyele kwezakithi
Ngibuyele kuzo zaseMbokodweni ezimnandiyo
Ezimithombokazi ibomvu ngokuvuthwa ndulweni
Yizo zona zingamafa afihlelwe thina
Sesiyakuwuphinda size sifike ekugcineni.”
Menzi Maseko ©
The Institute of Afrikology