Who go now know

Mother writes Yvonne Vera’s biography

petal thoughts yvonne vera2.jpg

Petal Thoughts: Yvonne Vera
by Ericah Gwetai
Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe: 2008
ISBN: 978-0-86922-823-4

Reviewed by Memory Chirere

Imagine your mother writing your biography! What would she say or leave out and why?

The late write Yvonne Vera’s mother, Ericah Gwetai nee Mugadzaweta has written a biography on Yvonne Vera. It is called ‘Petal thoughts: Yvonne Vera: A Biography.’ More than anything, this amazing book shows that there are highly biographical elements in most of Yvonne Vera’s literature.

Did you know that ‘Yvonne was a result of an unwanted pregnancy’? Ericah Mugadzaweta, a Luveve girl, discovered by accident that she was two months pregnant when she felt dizzy and passed out at Lobengula Street bus terminus. Ericah was seventeen and the man responsible was one Jerry Vera who worked as a waiter at the Happy Valley Hotel in Nguboyenja township of Bulawayo.

Ericah eloped to Jerry and they even tried unsuccessfully to terminate the pregnancy because Ericah wanted desperately to go for a nurse training course. Readers of Yvonne’s Butterfly Burning will remember that there is such an anguished woman in the novel.

The girl, Yvonne moved constantly with her mother to various teaching posts in Bulawayo, Harare and Tsholotsho.

Yvonne’s parents parted ways in December 1970 after a huge quarrel when Jerry lost his job. Jerry found it hard to find another job and ‘he became aggressive’. Ericah and Yvonne eventually left for Tsholotsho where Ericah met and fell in love with one Lambert Gwetai. Yvonne fell in love with butterflies out there in the countryside.

In 1984, during her teaching practice (from Hillside Teachers’ College) at Njube High School, Yvonne met a Canadian Maths teacher, John Jose and they fell in love. They were married in 1987 in Canada. They remained married until Yvonne’s death in April 2005 although they sometimes lived in separate locations because of Yvonne’s insistence that she kept in touch with her Zimbabwean writing base.

This biography shows that Yvonne’s life and writing culture were dramatic. For instance during one of her visits to Zimbabwe from Canada in 1994, Yvonne read a story from The Chronicle about a woman who had strangled her baby with a necktie. Yvonne immediately disappeared from home. Her people reported her missing with the police. She returned home six days later with a manuscript that was to become ‘Without A Name’.

There are indications in this biography that Yvonne was headstrong and had a temper too. When she left for Canada in 1987 to marry John she just left without saying goodbye to her mother.

And more interesting Yvonne’s mother writes: “In 1996 Yvonne was going to interview some female artists who did woodcarving. It was in the evening and I told her that it was not safe for women to travel alone… We argued about that. She bolted out of the house and stood in the middle of Matopos Road. She wanted to commit suicide by being run over by a car… but when cars screeched and swerved to avoid her, I realized that she was determined to do it…”

This book will surely open windows into Vera literature. It also contains testimonies by scores of people close to Vera like her best and long time friend, Kupukile Mlambo (to whom Vera’s first full novel, Nehanda is dedicated), her editor and publisher, Irene Staunton, friends: Flora Wild, Terence Ranger, Virginia Phiri and others.

The late Yvonne Vera is probably the most successful woman writer in Zimbabwean to this day in terms of output and intense experimentation with prose.

She specialised on abominations, those subjects that harm the woman’s body and mind like rape and abortion. These are subjects that Zimbabwean novels rarely spend their maximum length on. Her women come out of it hugely scathed and with a statement that woman’s meaningful space is very difficult to find in this world.

Vera’s prose texts are a collection of short stories called Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals(1992) and her novels; Nehanda(1993), Without A Name(1994), Under the Tongue(1996), Butterfly Burning(2000), and The Stone Virgins(2002). Yvonne Vera won the 1997 Common Wealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best Book) for Under the Tongue. In 2004 she won the PEN Tucholsky Prize for a corpus of work dealing with taboo subjects.

Why Don’t You Carve other Animals is a collection with stories that portray women in various circumstances that ask them to step out of their ordinary roles as mothers and wives. In the background is the war of liberation of the 1970’s.

Nehanda, Vera’s initiation into hypnotic prose poetry writing is based on the Zimbabwean legendary liberation fighter from the 1890’s into the Chimurenga of the 1970’s. This novel is centred on fictionalising some central aspects of this world-renowned heroine. This novel was short listed for the Commonwealth Prize of 1994.

Without A Name is arguably the most talked about of all Vera literature. Like Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Vera’s story is about a woman who travels across society, from one lover to another, in search of love, freedom and fulfillment. Her innocence is shattered much early in life when she is raped by a man in uniform. The touching moment in the text is when she kills her newly born baby and straps the corpse on her back and boards a bus back to her rural home.

Under The Tongue probably marks the maturation of Vera’s style and maybe that is why it is considered as her most ‘difficult’ novel. It is generally the story of a child who has been raped by her father and who, as a result, loses her mother. There are suggestions that the mother kills the husband on discovering his crime and due to death or imprisonment, leaves the child Zhizha with her grandparents. This is a novel with a very haunting quality to it.

Butterfly Burning is about a girl, Phephelapi who meets an older man, Fumbatha in Bulawayo during the 1940’s. Their relationship offers the girl a certain measure of comfort but her pregnancy shatters her desire to become a nurse. A resultant abortion ruins her relationship with her man. After her second pregnancy she kills herself by dousing herself with paraffin and setting herself alight because again the pregnancy is connected with her failure to join nursing. This excruciating novel highlights the plight of ambitious women in a colonial set up.

The Stone Virgins won Vera the Macmillan prize for Africa in 2002. In 2006 it won the Aidoo/Snyder Prize, two years after its publication. Set in the outskirts of Bulawayo, this novel explores the trials and tribulations of very close sisters, Thenjiwe and Nonceba during and just after the war of liberation. It opens up the effects of the counter warfare between government forces and dissidents on the lives of ordinary people.

Posted by kwachirere at memorychirere.blogspot.com

Thanks to Memory Chirere for the permission to use this book review.

About the Blogger Kwachirere:
Memory Chirere is a Zimbabwean writer. He enjoys reading and writing short stories and some of his are published in Nomore Plastic Balls (1999), A Roof to Repair (2000), Writing Still (2003) and Creatures Graet and Small(2005). He has published short story books; Somewhere in This Country (2006), Tudikidiki (2007)and Toriro and His Goats (2010).Together with Prof Maurice Vambe, he compiled and edited (so far the only full volume critical text on Mungoshi called): Charles Mungoshi: A Critical Reader (2006) He is with the University of Zimbabwe (in Harare) where he lectures in literature. Email: memorychirere@yahoo.com

History in epic proportions


epic: long poem narrating the adventures or deeds of one or more heroic or legendary figures.

Thami Mnyele at JAG, 12 December 2007 – 31 March 2008

Upon being asked to write a review about the Thami Mnyele and Medu Art Ensemble Retrospective currently running at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, we agreed it would be a good opportunity to explore our writing skills in the art world. The show opened on a grand scale. This very spectacle confirmed the ‘epic- ness’ of the show.

As it turned out, we did not know who Thami Mnyele was, and to this we admit unashamedly, but we couldn’t stop the feeling of ignorance which swept in. We did the research....a few minutes of googling sufficed. The art ensemble minimised our somewhat large gap of lack of knowledge. We learned that another freedom fighter existed, that he was prolific, talented in the field of graphic arts and highly influential in the struggling history of South Africa.

We realised that we should have at least come across the name during our tertiary studies. High school Art History classes had also been guilty of neglect. And no, neither of us went to those education deprived institutions. If people were making such a fuss over this prolific man how did they manage to exclude his work from the Art History curriculum? That question alone brings into light how history has been appropriated and controlled. The change in governance in South Africa had finally allowed those unacknowledged contributors of South Africa to be recognized and appreciated for their efforts of change.

We are not wrong in saying that often, we as the youth are overwhelmed by the heavy history of South Africa: the struggle, the violence; the avalanche of freedom fighters. After sometime these legendary stories become redundant. It was refreshing to be immersed in the presence of such profound, unconventional, and extremely talented artists. Mnyele’s involvement in the arts was not limited to the visual. He was part of theatre before his move to the visual arts. He co-founded the Medu Art centre and was extremely active in the mobilisation of art as a communicative element in society. This had begun with graphic art which took the form of silkscreen prints.

This tribute to both Mnyele and The Medu Ensemble had indeed manifested itself as an ensemble. You could not refer to the ‘Art Ensemble Retrospective’ as an exhibition. An exhibition requires curatorship. Clearly an ensemble does not. It brings to mind the title of a Radiohead track off Amnesiac, “Packed like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box”. The works were shown in what some might euphemistically refer to as an intimate display.

Please note that in no way does the reference to ‘crushed tin box’ have anything to do with The Johannesburg Art Gallery.

It was quite exhausting to get wade through all the literary, musical and visual stimuli. This kind of epic ensemble definitely required someone with a phenomenal attention span and stamina so that he or she could fully appreciate it in its entirety. The section known as the Reading Room had infiltrated its way throughout the museum. It would actually be wrong to use the word ‘entirely’- after all there were a few visuals to stimulate the audience; silkscreen prints neatly tucked away in the corner.

The politics which fed the need for these posters and prints became the primary focus of these works, and as a result the aesthetic aspects of the works were overlooked. These were functional works after all. They were made with the intention to mobilise and educate. It is interesting to note that the silkscreen prints, much like the entire ensemble seem to share a similar function: to educate. It was all too easy to fall in the trap of discussing the politics of the exhibition and not discuss the visual aspects of Mnyele and Medu’s work. One of the reasons for this could mainly be due to our own laziness to engage with the work. It seems that this lack of engagement with the actual work is common amongst us art writers.

So on the third visit we made a concerted effort to actually ‘look’ at what was displayed. Medu was made up of six units; graphic art, film, music, publications and research, photographic, and theatre. The show was divided accordingly. Mnyele had been a very involved man, being a member of Mihloti, The Black Consciousness Society, Mdali, The Rorkes Drift, and the ANC. The room allocated to the work of Mnyele boasted drawings from 1971 to 1984. Mnyele draws not only his circumstance, but also that of the people around him. You can see the influences of Dumile Feni in the work Come to my home and join us on our journey (1973). Similar to that of Feni, Mnyele’s figures seems inhuman. Their distorted bodies bear the mark of poverty and struggle; their eyes gouging, crying and burdened. In Brotherhood on Ninth Avenue (1974) Mnyele uses a similar process to the surrealists Dali and Ernst. If you do not immediately make this connection, you will once you read the information panel. If you take a closer look you will see quotes from W.B Yeats and Pablo Neruda on a few of his works, confirming the fact that black people do in fact read.

The show may be seen as an important attempt at creating a space whereby the public have access to those histories and stories that were conveniently never mentioned before. The space is interactive, allowing the viewer to look, listen as well as read. Many might think that what happened in 1985 stays in 1985, however, the consequences of these struggles are evidently still relevant. The poster ‘Apartheid Kills- Fight Resettlement’ (1982) by the Medu Art Ensemble is a collage of newspaper headlines with the title of the work printed in bold red. One headline sticks out…cholera kills six. Could it be any more relevant?

Bhavisha Panchia and Portia Malatjie

Andile Mngxitama on Thami Mnyele and MEDU Arts Ensemble Retrospective at Johannesburg Art Gallery

Thami Mnyele the artist was killed long before the 1985 apartheid raid exterminated him and eleven others in Botswana, Gaborone. The sense of compromising one’s art for the sake of urgent demands of the revolution are palpable in the transition between Mnyele’s earlier works to his later art as a revolutionary in exile. Perhaps this artistic transition speaks more of the impact of the ideological straight-jackets of the liberation movement he joined in exile than on the artist.

Mnyele’s work is currently part of the ‘Thami Mnyele and MEDU Arts Ensemble’, a retrospective exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The exhibition is constituted by a multiplicity of media, including documentary film recording interviews with surviving fellow artists and family members. However, the focus of the exhibition is Mnyele’s different works, there is also a section focusing on the works of Medu. The ensemble was started around 1979 by Dr Wally Serote amongst others. MEDU was based in Botswana and had explicitly fashioned itself as the cultural wing of the ANC.

A drum article dated April 1973 profiling the Mdali. Mdali being the acronym for Music Drama Art and Literature. Mdali festivals were held in various venues around Johannesburg. Archive of Molefe Pheto.

The write up on MEDU gives scant regard to the obvious tensions created by the partisan decision of exclusively serving the ANC in exile right on the back of the cultural and political domination of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) back home. Most of those who were associated with MEDU were active members of BCM inspired cultural groups such Milhloti and Mdali which performed at the rallies and meetings of Steve Biko’s South African Students Organisation (SASO) amongst others. But also undertook cultural work amongst the oppressed to raise consciousness.

It’s interesting that whilst the curators downplay Mnyele’s BC influences they couldn’t hide the fact that actually he was brought to art by a beautiful chance encounter with Bokwe Mafuna one of Biko’s closest friends and a stalwart of BC. We are told whilst Mnyele was held in a trance by the wailing horn of John Coltrane in second Avenue in Alexandra, Mafuna noticed him and asked him to climb back from his high cloud and then asked him the existential question, what would you like to do? Mnyele responded ‘I want to draw’, that is how the fire was lit.

Mnyele’s artistic development as a juxtaposition of his earlier work against his later work opens up a possibility of dialogue about the questions of what does it mean to be free. Furthermore, his works presents possibilities to dialogue about the implications and limitations of the charterist movement’s conceptions of freedom and practice of power as evidenced by the 15 years of democracy under its guide. We must also ask in this connection, what was lost with the demise of BCM as a cultural, political and philosophical movement which had unparalleled influence in the development of art in the 1970s?

Athi Mongezeleli Joja, the young artist and art history student from Stellenbosch and a member of Gugulective, recently spoke to his counterparts of Blackwash in Joburg on the work of Mnyele. He made the poignant point that the celebration of Mnyele’s later works which are explicitly realistic and simplistic in representing resistance to apartheid, is actually a function of the incapacity of the white liberals and white consumers of art to access black authentic artistic forms as represented by Mnyele’s earlier works which are more metaphysical and contemplative in essence. This black representation defies the exotica and therefore becomes difficult to enjoy even for voyeuristic reasons.

This celebration of Mnyele’s transition from the ‘magical’ to the more ‘didactic and militant’, betrays a serious error or confirms a prejudice in understanding the indivisibility of consciousness and liberation. This error enacts the western thoughts process which proceeds on the basis of separation. This confirms Joja's claims that this articulation of Mnyele’s work is a function of white thought’s castrating desire where black magic is concerned.

Steve Biko makes the best case against the Manichean juxtapositioning when he says one can’t be consciousness and remain in bondage. Mnyele’s earlier work, which is seen as less militant and less revolutionary was in fact inspired and organised by a black conscious ethic and energy, and it oozes infinite capacities and invitations for thoroughgoing revolutionary experience. But as Frank Wilderson so forcefully shows, mirroring the concerns of Joja, black suffering to make itself understood by white beings has to ‘structurally adjust itself’, in other words it has to speak the language of whiteness. In a sense a dialogue between black and white in an anti black world can only proceed on the basis of an asymmetry of power practice - the vanquished black on the one hand and the triumphant white on the other. To insist on equality of the exchange is to call for the end of dialogue and a subversion of the tranquil non-racial existence patched together by a pack lies.

Installation views of the exhibition with Thami Mnyele's work from the 70's.

It can be said that because Mnyele’s magical surrealistic almost dream-like earlier works are underplayed precisely because they plumb the depths of consciousness to confront and project black suffering in its own language and terms. But this is a language of another form of existence, which is absence in the dominant articulations of being which informs the liberal political concerns as in the ANC political lexicon. So Mnyele like so many other young people who left the country in the aftermath of the 1976 uprising shouting ‘black power!’ find himself turned into a ‘militant’ through his art being structurally adjusted. But then the artist was killed and we see the birth of a mere pamphleteer.

The story of how the BCM inspired young militants who left the country to join the armed struggle were cajoled, bamboozled and threatened to structurally alter their political and philosophical believes in the cold unknown worlds of exile remain to be told. I’m making no claims about the specific case of Mnyele, I’m simply raising a general concern.

We need to emphasize that the transition from doing conceptual art to the realistic art form says something about the demands of being black and conscious. Mnyele’s earlier works confront one’s senses of perception in a deeply disturbing way. They invite deep self-reflection; you just cannot unsee them once you stand in front of these pieces, you can’t run away, you can’t look away you must deal with them. Its almost traumatic in its demands, this art form. This confrontation of one at the base of one’s individual core is key to self realisation and coming to consciousness to enact a revolution which thinks and is centred on a higher conception of existence, a promise so much pregnant in Biko’s articulations.

That Mnyele was killed in an apartheid raid is testimony to his love for freedom, however, art critics and lay art consumers alike would do well to re-look at Mnyele’s work through the prism of the promise of liberation and the experience of post 1994. What is clear is that the exigencies of the political struggle, which are not rooted in the conception of just how deep we must go to built an enduring experience of liberation leads to what Fanon called ‘tragic mishaps’ of the post colony. Maybe it’s time to return rebellion back to consciousness and art to articulating the black condition so that we may be makers of another historic moment. There is much to be learned from the great works of Thami Mnyele.

A diplay of publications featuring Thami Mnyele's artwork (left) and an installation view of the room where Medu posters are exhibited (right).

These challenges of producing ‘socially functional’ art, as Dr Leroke shows in the case of Dumile Feni, are not new. The dangers of narrowing art to functionality have usually a diminishing impact on an art form. This is different from saying art must serve only its own ends, that it shouldn’t be concerned with the human condition. The point being made here is that in serving through unnerving art helps us to see better and dream clearer. Two pieces of Feni which sort of testify to the deadening impact of narrow politics or structural adjustment are his ‘Soweto’ and ‘Free Mandela’, for a moment we see the great Feni falling flat, his pencil’s sharp point breaks and we cant help imagining him groping for the rubber, for the fist time the great master wished for the comfort of an erasure. His functional images simply stop to dance and shout, we fail to feel the raw energy of an artist so greatly gifted. Political sloganeering is no great bedfellow of art, but art can ignite revolutionary imaginations and bring down tyrannies.

It would serve posterity a lot to check out Mnyele’s work, but more importantly to use it as a canvass upon which new conversations and artistic volcanoes can emerge unencumbered by narrow or adjusted political projects. These are old questions, which demands new urgency as our new nation falters from one blunder to the next and the artist has gone silent.

Andile Mngxitama

"Arte inVisible" at ARCO, Madrid 11 – 16 February 2009

Installation views Arte inVisible
arcoexhibit1 When I arrived in Madrid I had no idea that I was to be part of something historic in the context of the ARCO Art Fair. To declare that something is historic could be too grand a claim. Moreover to claim that a small event such as Arte inVisible, had special significance in an obscenely enormous art fair such as ARCO is even bolder. Apparently the event that was curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose, Gabi Ngcobo and Bassam el Baroni was a radical departure from the pseudo-ethnographic exhibitions that used to be staged under the title Arte inVisible in previous editions of the Fair.

arcoexhibit0 The exhibition was accompanied by a beautiful and handy little catalogue with texts by Gabi Ngcobo and Elvira Dyangani Ose. Gabi’s text focuses on recent collectives on the African continent and while it is relevant it does gloss over how messy collectives can be. Elvira’s text uses Kobena Mercer’s text Cosmopolitan Identities as a point of departure to talk about the invisibility of African artists in Europe. I am not so sure I agree entirely with her emphasis on visibility. Of course there is still a problem of visibility has not left us but what is often disconcerting is that where such visibility is afforded African participants it is often a ghetto of some sort. That the panel on Indian art bearing the title (watch out here comes a mouthful) Production of Discourse and Construction of Modernity in India: Exercise in the Analysis of Contemporary Art Practices constisted of Indian artists, critics, curators to the exclusion of African panellists, as was the case with the exclusion of Indian panelists in ours, seemed like a missed opportunity for dialogue across the Indian ocean.

The exhibition which was the greater part of Arte inVisible was an interesting departure from the raw commercialism of the other spaces although I felt it needed more space. Naturally some of the work was stronger than other work. The drawings by Kemang, our fellow Dead Revolutionary, were amongst the stronger works (and I’m really not just saying that because he is our friend). I was also impressed by Nástio Mosquito’s work especially his manifesto (which is why we have included it in this edition). He also did a performance based on the manifesto which I missed.

uYa kae?, (2009) a drawing by Kemang Wa Lehulere
uYakae1 Also impressive was a work by Cláudia Cristóvão, Fata Morgana, which I had seen in Dakar where it won a prize in 2006. The work takes the form of interviews with both Black and White subjects who were either born in Angola and moved to Europe at an early age or children or Angolan parents. What emerges is an incisive portrayal of distorted histories, longing, exoticism, nostalgia, disjointed memories and a patchwork of unresolved identities. It does take some patience though. I have never been a fan of video work that takes its time to get to the point but this one yield more readings with each viewing, so it's worth it.

Chika Okeke-Agulu and Basam el Baroni
foro1 The other part of Arte inVisible was a discussion that was themed (hold on it’s another mouthful) Custom Markets/Custiom Alternatives: Perspectives on Contemporary Practice in Africa. The discussion was divided into three sections: a presentation by Chika Okeke-Agulu in conversation with Basam el Baroni, a presentation by Senam Okudzeto in conversation with Gabi Ngcobo and a roundtable discussion with Raimi Gbadamosi, Cláudia Cristóvão, Miriam Douala Bell and Khwezi Gule. The discussion though very interesting very quickly slipped into that morass I like to call: What is Wrong with Africa.

The Fair itself was themed: India with an impressive array of galleries from the Indian sub-continent. And although I could not say that I was highly impressed by much of the art that I saw as in the rest of the fair there were some superb works of art. The one thing you learn from visiting one of the most highly regarded art fairs is that Euroean artists produce more crappy art than anywhere in the world. However the fact that India, possibly one of the poorer countries in the world, has a booming art market, not from institutional buyers but from private collectors, is an impressive achievement. I guess that’s the power of having one billion people. This was itself something historic.

It is often useful however to pause when one encounters something that presents itself as historic and evaluate in what ways it is a departure from business as usual and in what way does it reproduce the same old structures and prejudices.

Also worth mentioning was an impressive array of magazine and book stands. sadly the majority of these publications were in Spanish and cost way too much for those of us whose currency is not the Euro.

Reporting from the frontlines of the art market this is Simba Sambo, Madrid, Spain.

Battle of Gugulethu Vol. 2

BattlegugulethuThere is something to be said about language. And even though one might speak of the Spaza movement as one that still smells of breast milk, it has fast grown and gained a lot of street credibility. Well of course it depends which streets we are talking about?

In recent years, the Cape Town Hip Hop underground scene has seen a growth of the Spaza movement. I first came across this popular genre in 2003, when nomadic park-jams were the order of the day, like chicken on Sundays. For those unfamiliar with Spaza, it is a genre developed in Cape Town through Hip Hop culture. A genre, that feeds of the historical vocalism and reactionary enunciation, of taking ownership and responsibility of native tongue language at the height of Western hegemonial culture in South Africa.

Battle of Gugulethu Vol. 2 is a ‘fresh’ second independent release by Digging Deep Productions. More inclusive then the previous, the 2nd album includes a larger variety of MC’s in Cape Towns underground including Archetypes, Bhubezi, Illeterate skills, Jaysphlewid, Rattex and Vikinduku. A large number of the album is in isiXhosa with the exception of a few songs in English and one in isiZulu by Vikinduku, Poetry.

DAT’s, Mayife Lenja’s punchy and unpretentious lyrics are sure to attract even those who are not in tune with the underground and Driemanskap’s Intwenje: “baZalwa Manje bafa Namhlanje, Intwani intwenje?” besides the pessimistic take on HIV is a stronger comeback of their socially conscious lyrics since Itsho Into.

Battle of Gugulethu Vol. 2 sadly flaunts the flaws of egotism, masculine projection and a shift from activism towards consumerist commercialism.

However, with all its flaws this is still one of the ‘dopest’ underground compilations in the Cape Town in a long time and it surely holds significance as a genre that promotes native tongue language. This is surely evidence enough that the Spaza genre is fast growing, strong and is here to stay like Driemanskap says it: S'fikile qha!. Artists of note (look out for) are DAT, Vikinduku and Dla aka The Last Born.

Dla who became a member of Driemanskap when Ridonndo was sentenced to prison (who has been recently released). Dla with his lyrical poetry and sophisticated and exceptional use of isiXhosa has confidently distressed the Spaza scene. I don't know whether it's the fact that he is The Last Born but he most def is the future of Spaza. And like DAT says, “Noba awuyi ntsanywa iHop Hop asoze ungaxozeki…!” both by Dla The Last Born and by this compilation. Ubontsi!!

For more details contact Driemanskap at: driemanskap@gmail.com
or Planet Earth at: earthbeatsmusic@gmail.com

By Ubontsi from the streets of Gugs.

YELLOWMAN, Market Theatre 14 January – 1 March 2009

 yellowman Watching the play Yellowman at the Market Theatre earlier this year, I was reminded of Njabulo Ndebele's novella Fools (1983). As I sat totally absorbed by the beautiful, painful, sad yet familiar story of blackness unfolding on stage, I kept remembering a scene in Ndebele’s novella, when the character Zani, tells teacher Zamani “The sound of victims laughing at victims. Feeding on their victimness until it becomes an obscene virtue. … And when victims spit upon victims, should they not be called fools?”

Like Fools, Yellowman explores certain core truths about the historical experience of blackness, as indelibly scarred by the dark stains of various structures of white supremacist bigotry - slavery, colonialism, apartheid - all of which were anchored on the skin-thin lie of the inferiority of the darker races. And while these systems of racial oppression may be formally over (as we are urged, begged, cajoled and reprimanded to embrace an attractive collective amnesia coated with such deliciously pleasant concepts as ‘multi-culturalism’, ‘non-racialism’, ‘cosmopolitanism’ and many more), I am always amazed at the naivety and duplicity behind this call to mass amnesia: Naivety because it expects to sweep away centuries of institutionalized violation with a mere flick of new flags and duplicity because it turns a blind eye to the continued privileging of certain cultural, symbolic, epistemological and economic practices that remain normative, despite the enthusiastic promotion of ‘multi’s’ and ‘non’s’. But I digress.

One cliché truism which surely bears repeating is the fact that the worst damage of all forms of black subjugation was not so much the economic, material and physical abuse and exploitation that they involved, but the irreparable damage they did to the black psyche. Indeed, the evil genius of these systems of black oppression lay in the way they planted an ever-morphing seed of self-doubt and self-hate in the psyche of an entire people. It is in this sense that Yellowman and Fools would seem to be in conversation with each other, despite the widely different contextual landscapes. For, in both texts, we witness what happens when the rage, humiliation and brutalization brims over, and ricochets into a pathological projectile, aimed at fellow victims.

Yellowman explores love, class tensions, and the structural violence of poverty, as a powerful vicious cycle. But at the core of the play is the an exploration of black self-hatred, and the internalization of racism, which results in mutual denigration amongst black people; and a certain prizing of whiteness, as black people desperately grope for an unattainable affirmation founded on proximity to whiteness, in the broadest sense of the term.

It is in this sense that the play, though set in the American South, has a powerful relevance not just for South Africans, but for black people all over the world. For, in its exploration of internalized self-hatred, and the various forms of violence that ensue from a toxic blend of generations of racism, poverty, broken black masculinities, anxieties about upward mobility, and the ensuing disintegration on the family institution; the play strikes a note that resonates with many black people's lives, and their everyday struggles for dignity and acceptance – both self-acceptance and social recognition. And while the play may be set in a space remote to many, both physically and temporally, it is also the case that most of us do not have to dig too deep into the mists of our past generations to recognize ourselves, our struggles, our pains or the struggles and pains of people we know, in the experiences of ‘Gene and Alma and their families.

In many ways, though, the play not only warns against the dangers of internalized self-hatred, but it also celebrates the possibilities of love and a sense of community as sites of healing for historically wounded blackness. Yet - and this is where the play's politics become dangerously fatalistic – after tantalizing its audiences with the possibility of a life-affirming love enabling ‘Gene and Alma to transcend the toxic culture of denigration and victims turning against victims, the narrative destroys this possibility in the end, by allowing Gene to succumb to his father's projected self-hatred. Worse still, in a worrying ironic twist, ‘Gene succumbs out of his love for Alma, which his father, by touching his wife inappropriately, not only mocks his love, but also his masculinity. Most importantly, ‘Gene's fall from wisdom is midwifed by Wise, a childhood friend whose simplistic racial politics ‘Gene had hitherto managed to transcend. So, what is the play really suggesting, especially, when ‘Gene's violent attack on his father is linked to an evocation of the childhood incident of Wise 'putting the nigger punk in his place by killing his black puppy?'. There seems to be a dangerous allusion to a return of the repressed, an insurmountable black self-hatred that remains inscribed in the black unconscious, and which returns, with predictably destructive result, even in the best of us. This cyclic cross-generational family memory of violence, self-destruction and mutual denigration, that lies at the core of the play, and which casts a dangerous shadow over an otherwise superb play.

Yet, despite this fatalistic vision, Yellowman remains a powerful celebration of love, life and daring to rise, even when all forces seem bent on keeping us on our knees, broken and useless. It to this defiant affirmation of life and hope unforgettably brought to life on stage by the two actors, that Yellowman pays tribute.

Grace Musila

Mandla Langa: The Lost Colours of the Chameleon (Picador 2008)

chameleon When I attended the reading of The Lost Colours of the Chameleon by Mandla Langa at Xarra Books in November last year the author read from a passage where two of the protagonists in the novel get into a fist fight.

I would have liked to ask why he chose that particular passage but I have a natural aversion to asking questions at events such as book readings. People tend to ask the most inane questions or worse, try to show how smart they are. In any case, when I read the book I could guess why he chose the passage.

The fight involves two high school boys: Abioseh Gondo whose father, known as the Colonel, is the ruler of the island nation of Bangula and his opponent is Baluba Jambo.

In many ways the fight sets the scene for events that unfold later in the narrative. Abioseh, who later becomes the ruler of Bangula at his mother’s instigation, shows a complete inability to take responsibility for events in his life. He is pressured into the fight by his friends Hieronymus Jerome and David Kone. He is neither particularly good nor particularly bad at anything. This basic flaw becomes a defining feature of his rule in Bangula, deferring all decision-making to his mother, to his ministers and relies on second-hand information of advisors.

On the other hand Baluba Jambo the son of an undertaker is strident and confident. It is he who draws first blood in the fight with Abioseh confident in his swift victory. That the fight ends in a stalemate is a result not so much of Abioseh’s fighting prowess but of Baluba’s own over-inflated sense of confidence.

The school ground fight also sets the tone for the contest of power on a national scale when as adults Abioseh is the ruler and Baluba the financier of a rebel movement intent on overthrowing Abioseh.

Abioseh’s rule of Bangula is brutal even though he himself is a benign personality. His childhood friend Hiero also the head of security deals with opposition ruthlessly and shield Abioseh from the full knowledge of what is going on in the country. And even though the people of Bangula are dying by the thousands due to an incurable blood disease Abioseh is oblivious to their plight. Sound familiar? And that’s not where the similarities with the South African situation end.

Bangula from the outside looks the picture of prosperity while internally there is widespread poverty and growing public dissatisfaction with Abioseh’s rule as well as an internal power struggle within the ruling elite. There are simmering racial tensions between the dark-skinned natives and the light-skinned creoles who are more privileged and former collaborators with the slave owners.

The novel is richly layered. Mandla Langa is able to sustain several narratives at the same time. He interweaves the lives of various characters and how their lives have impact on the politics of Bangula. It is a brilliant analysis of the inherent dangers of power.

I would guess Mandla Langa has intimate knowledge of the ANC having served in the organisation in various positions. One cannot help but wonder in what way the present struggles within the ANC have influenced this novel. Whatever the case, the novel is a compelling piece of writing. It should be required reading for all politicians on the African continent.

Simba Sambo

And the award goes to...Miss Kwa Kwa

After months of listening to my friend go on about Stephen Simm's Miss Kwa Kwa, I finally read it. And boy oh boy, was it a read! It begins with a typical slowness that marks books of this kind, books designed to make you crack a rib in laughter. The creation of the character of Miss Kwa Kwa begins innocently: Black girl in search of opportunity, even at the expense of destroying one man's life, the King of Kwa Kwa, Pieter Depeenar.


It is a book with many faces, humor, mistaken identities, and stereotypical representations. Through laughter, we are forced to engage with serious racial and class issues in today's south africa. For instance, because she is black, the first mistake that anyone who meets her makes is that she is stupid.

This more so in Kwa Kwa, where racial prejudices are still very deeply embedded, where blacks are only seen as farm hands and domestic workers; where white farmers' wives play bridge, and where white people still command the unquestioned respect from black subjects.

In other words, a small town.

Stephen Simm: Miss Kwa Kwa (Jacana, 2006)

A town that Miss Kwa Kwa finds too small for her. Miss Kwa Kwa is the ambitious alter-ego of Palesa Moshesh, a quiet but brilliant girl whose ambitions know no bounds. She wills her personality to be absorbed by her other side, Miss Kwa Kwa, ambitious airhead, beautiful, and as daft as a blonde doll.

I mean, how else would one explain her answer to the question, "In a country characterized by such racial and cultural diversity, what culinary delight do you most enjoy?" to which she replies innocently " I'd like to take this opportunity to enrich my vocabulary and ask you what does that mean?" anyway, the perplexed interviewer explains, "what's your favourite dish" to which, unfazed, Miss Kwa Kwa replies, "Oh I see, I see! My favourite dish is ... Tupperware."

Did I introduce you? Meet Miss Kwa Kwa.

Behind the facade of stupidity, she is as sharp as a razor. She makes her way to Jozi, convinces a TV station to hire her as a television presenter, where she gets fired of course, before engaging in a series of exciting adventures, including bulling a possible mugger and taking his gun away... you have got to admire her. And I think the best part of all, is that she really believes in what she is doing.

Like when, after losing her TV job, she, wearing her Tiara, stands by the robot with those begger signs reading, "TEN YEARS OF DEMOCRACY: Asking a rand per year".
Trust me, I laughed my way through the pages, hardly putting it down. I can't wait to read Miss Kwa Kwa 2. It should offer me even more laughter, which I have been needing more of lately.