The Upright Man: Captain Thomas Sankara


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Twenty-seven years ago, on October 15, during a staff meeting, a rogue military gang, either led or ordered by Blaise CompaoréThomas Sankara‘s close friend, ally and trusted comrade, assassinated the young Pan Africansist icon and anti-imperialism revolutionary, Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara.

He was was only 37 years old. His untimely murder marked the death of one of Africa’s last anti-imperialist revolutionaries.

His body was chopped, cut up and dismembered in macabre circumstances. He was buried unceremoniously and his ideas, memory and name erased from the public view. However, it remained in the personal memory of Africans worldwide. And this is why I choose to remember this icon to prevent us from forgetting, and keeping Thomas Sankara‘s ideas alive.

Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara is remembered fondly as the hope of Africa. Some compare his charm and political trajectory and the tragedy that robbed Africa of an inspirational leader to Che Guevera.

That does a disservice to him. He was unique. He was the spokesman of the poorest of the poor in Africa and an advocate of women worldwide. There are those who have a less romantic and idealistic perception of him: they depict him as an autocrat who came to power through a coup. They are entitled to their opinions.

Sankara was ahead of his time. It’s a cliché but it’s also a fact. It is undeniable.

However, one thing is unquestionable: his legacy to African political thought and inspirational leadership are unparalleled especially in the present. His popularity, then and now, remains as strong as ever. Once he came to power, he undertook the most ambitious and radical programme for socioeconomic change ever attempted on the African continent, then and now.

image He is remembered for the value he placed on discipline, plus his integrity and selflessness. He implemented radical reforms when he came to power. His ministers drove small cars and travelled economy class. Sankara, himself, rode a bicycle. Chauffeur driven Mercedes Benz and 1st class airline tickets were banned.

He reduced his own salary and that of his own government ministers and public servants. He left nothing in the way of the immediate and radical transformation of society which is a move that upset his opponents and the western powers.

They (France and her allies) feared his ideology of an independent Africa which was not dependent on the West for its survival. It threatened its hegemonic control over Burkina Faso and other west African colonies.

He was an advocate for good governance, sustainability and transparency.

He understood why women are so critical to Africa’s transformation and he implemented bodies and policies that addressed women’s rights long before it was popular.

Decades before Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was calling on African men to be feminists, he had already declared, “We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph.” Thomas Sankara viewed the struggle of Burkina Faso’s women as “part of the worldwide struggle of all women”.

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Sankara was a preeminent thinker. He was the first African leader to recruit women into the military and appoint them to major cabinet positions. He was a doer not just a talker.

He was not afraid of challenging culture and tradition. He risked the ire of Burkinabè men by banning forced marriages and encouraging women to work outside the home, plus implementing policies to retain girls at school when they fell pregnant.

He put an end on the pressure on women to marry.  He viewed the emancipation of women as central to dismantling the stranglehold of the feudal system on Burkina Faso.

He set a world record, launching a nationwide public health campaign vaccinating 2 1/2 million people in a week. He was an avid environmentalist planting over 10 million trees to arrest the desertification of the Sahel.

To promote local production, Thomas Sankara actively encouraged cotton production and made a decree for public servants to wear a traditional tunic sewn by Burkinabè tailors and woven using local cotton. Western style suits were discouraged. Sankara himself also wore clothes made by local tailors, when he was not in military fatigues, and advertised them at continental and international conferences.

He angered the feudal landlords by taking land from them and redistributing it directly to the peasants. Consequently, wheat production rose in just three years from 1700kg per hectare to 3800, making Burkina Faso self reliant, a feat nations like Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa and other African nations with rich repositories of precious minerals and fossil fuels have failed miserably.

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Thomas Sankara shunned foreign aid and famously called for aid that helped the aided to become self reliant. He began a rail and road building programme to link up the country’s infrastructure and improve market accessibility.

Instead of foreign aid, he relied on (national building exercises) the commitment and energy of the Burkinabè to lift Burkina Faso out of the economic doldrums.

His political education was simple: “Let us consume only what we ourselves control!” Be self sufficient. Be honest. Live simply. But above all, it was his main goal that resonated beyond Burkina Faso and the African continent: Sankara wanted a fairer, proud, independent Africa that was equipped to tackle its challenges and that is what ultimately cost him his life.

He famously said, “Where is imperialism?” Look at your plates when you eat. These imported grains of rice, corn, and millet – that is imperialism.”

His solution was self reliance through growing what they could consume.

Thomas Sankara was a political statesmen and a political thinker who merged theory with practise in the manner of great philosopher-Kings throughout human history. His dual approach places him in the exalted company of a few. image

What probably sets Sankara aside is his application of Marxist-Lenist ideology to drive structural change in an unequal society characterised by poverty and oppression by a tiny political minority.

His appeal to the majority of modern Africans, unlike the current crop of African leaders, is his undisguised dedication to the welfare and well being of his country and country-people.

Few African leaders today can match his extraordinary zeal to uplift Africa and its citizens. Today’s breed of African leaders come to power and do little or nothing to change the miserable conditions the masses find themselves in.

After independence, the people are left asking: what did we fight for. The only change in the post-independent state is the colour of the oppressor by a tiny wealthy minority.

There are no sweeping policy, structural or socioeconomic changes. There are a few aesthetic changes but the colonial structure and apparatus remain virtually intact and are used to maintain the status quo after independence.

Imperialism and neocolonialism emerge as the true winners and economic apartheid continues unchecked.

There is no need to emphasise that Thomas Sankara was a committed African nationalist. African nationalism is a broad based and flexible mode of thought which encompasses African Marxism, African populism and African socialism.

In addition, African nationalism isn’t a uniform ideology but it takes various forms. Some African nationalists embraced modernisation, capitalism and westernisation.

Then there were the early theorists like Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sékou Touré and others who advocated for a unique blend of African socialism mixed with traditional African values and traditions together with elements of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Captain Thomas Sankara in Harare flanked by the first prime minister of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and Zimbabwe's first president Canaan Sodindo Banana.

Captain Thomas Sankara in Harare flanked by the first prime minister of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and Zimbabwe’s first president Canaan Sodindo Banana.

However, Thomas Sankara was a class apart from the types described above. He was an African populist like Steve Bantu Biko. They both embraced the tenets of African socialism but their emphasis was on structural change such as the transformation of their countries’ economies, policies and their societies for the benefit of their people.

Apart from their youth and charm, Biko and Sankara were doers, active participants in social transformation, contrary to the older brand of African socialists and nationalists who were theorists and merely played lip service to their political rhetoric.

They both came up with genuine and practical liberation ideologies.

Biko and Sankara, like Amilcar Cabral, believed in the intelligentsia committing class suicide to help uplift the masses because they believed that the gap between the black intelligentsia and the masses was a deterrent to development.

Two of Africa's finest sons and popular leaders: Captain Thomas Sankara and Samoa Machel (president of Mozambique)

Two of Africa’s finest sons and popular leaders: Captain Thomas Sankara and Samora Machel (president of Mozambique)

Thomas Sankara like Biko, Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba are African martyrs. They share a common thread that runs through their tragic narratives: they were murdered by agents of the Western powers.

Sankara’s murder eerily echoes that of Lumumba.

Sankara’s untimely death robbed both the Burkinabè and Africa of a young charismatic leader who was chartering a new course. However, he left behind a template of what an African leader can, could, must and should be.

Captain Thomas Sankara with Colonel Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi

Today, there are many committed Sankarists across the African continent, extending, into the Diaspora reinforcing Sankara’s thoughts: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas“.

The appeal of Sankara’s ideas is even stronger today because of the growing divide betweens the haves and have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressed, the western puppets and masses.

Thomas Sankara‘s radical four year rule in the early 1980s transforming Upper Volta, which he renamed Burkina Faso (the land of upright men), into a self reliant nation fired the imagination of Africans and Pan Africanists. His ideas not only found currency with the Burkinabè but they resonated elsewhere in Africa and the Diaspora.

Sankara’s ideology of African economic independence, self reliance, freedom from serfdom and slavery, education, literacy, women’s equality, addressing deforestation and wiping out corruption are ideas that are still poignant in the struggle for African liberation and the realisation of the envisioned self.

This is why Thomas Sankara is still as popular and relevant as ever. His ideology, memories and popularity have a longevity which continues to haunt those responsible for his murder. They assassinated him but they didn’t kill his ideas.

Sankara’s Revolution sent seismic shocks throughout the continent threatening the status quo of France’s unchallenged dominance of its ex-colonies in West Africa and the corrupt regimes (neocolonial elite or puppets) acting as gatekeepers of these neocolonialist states.

Thomas Sankara spoke in layman’ terms publicly and at forums such as the OAU (Organisation of African Unity), articulately diagnosing the raping and pillaging of Africa by the neocolonialist powers using proxy wars, Western finance and trade. He pinpointed the pitfalls of aid saying it simply and clearly, “he who feeds you, controls you”.

He also provided the remedy to his diagnosis.

He called for the formation of the Club of Addis Ababa to collectively confront the catastrophes and issues debt was causing in Africa. He reiterated the benefits of a united front of African nations to refuse to pay debt for many reasons such as if Africa paid, it would face a crisis.

He said, “It is our duty to create an Addis Adeba’s unified front against debt. That is the only way to assert that refusing to repay is not an aggressive move on our part, but a fraternal move to speak the truth.”

Best friends, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings (Ghana) and Captain Thomas Sankara

Best friends, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings (Ghana) and Captain Thomas Sankara

In addition, he argued that the current governments were not the ones who had run up the debts. It was their (neocolonialist powers) cousins. Therefore, it was not Africans’ responsibility to repay that debt.

Below is an excerpt of his speech against debt at the OAU in Addis Ababa in 1987:

“We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before. They are those who used to manage our states and economies. Colonizers are those who indebted Africa through their brothers and cousins who were the lenders. We had no connections with this debt. Therefore we cannot pay for it. Debt is neo-colonialism, in which colonizers transformed themselves into “technical assistants”.We should better say “technical assassins”.

They present us with financing, with financial backers. As if someone’s back could create development. We have been advised to go to these lenders. We have been proposed with nice financial set-ups. We have been indebted for fifty, sixty years and even more. That means we have been led to compromise our people for fifty years and more.

Under its current form, that is imperialism controlled, debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave, of those who had been treacherous enough to put money in our countries with obligations for us to repay. We are told to repay, but it is not a moral issue. It is not about this so-called honour of repaying or not.”

You can read more at the following link: Thomas Sankara’s  Speech Against Foreign Aid at the OAU.

He was aware about the role of Western aid and equally clear on the role of debt in controlling Africa as he stated: “The root of the disease was political. The treatment could only be political. Of course, we encourage aid that aids us in doing away with aid. But in general, welfare and aid policies have only ended up disorganizing us, subjugating us, and robbing us of a sense of responsibility for our own economic, political, and cultural affairs. We chose to risk new paths to achieve greater well-being.”

Three months after this famous speech at the OAU, the angel of death closed in on Thomas Sankara because of his outspoken and uncompromising stance against neocolonialism and white supremacy.

He had prophesied at the OAU summit that, “If Burkina Faso alone were to refuse to pay the debt, I wouldn’t be at the next conference.”

Unfortunately, he was correct.

He was warned to take action but he refused because he chose to remain true to the ideals and spirit of the revolution.

Consequently, the dogs of imperialism in the Burkinabè leadership and another French puppet, Côte d’Ivoire president Félix Houphoet-Boigny, did the bidding of their masters and Africa’s brightest star was murdered.

image Thomas Sankara‘s  narrative has all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy. It has betrayal, intrigue, friendship, loyalty, a hero, a villain; he is overthrown and murdered at the request of his best friend, ally and trusted comrade.

Most important of all, his case study is a must for those who preach about Black Consciousness and unity. It illustrates the selfless approach and self discipline required to practise what you preach especially if you are dedicated to African advancement and development.

If you want to find a solution to the problems afflicting Africa, Thomas Sankara‘s narrative provides the perfect case study. He is the antithesis to the current crop of neocolonialist puppets.

Africa’s leaders and political parties should borrow several pages out of his book, if not the whole book.

Thomas Sankara‘s character and ideology doesn’t fit in with the dominant narrative propagated in the west for decades. It is impossible to find a less corrupt, selfless or self-serving leader than Thomas Sankara. It is even more impossible to find a leader today with more integrity than Sankara.

He was a man among great men. This is why he is referred to as The Upright Man.

To understand why, watch the documentary about The Upright Man by following the highlighted link or copy and paste the following URL http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=J5USbA701SI#.

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October 16, 2014 · 2:36 am

Nocturnal Wanderings


Victorian Houses

I am a flâneur

Strolling through the narrow arteries of the great city

Under the watchful gaze of the pregnant moon

I cross deserted squares

And follow rows of terraced Victorian houses

On both sides of the narrow streets

Where once upon a time carts and coaches ran

Behind great horses with shining manes

The entangled labyrinthe of the city

Shines like a cluster of diamonds

Bathed in waves of phosphorescence

Thames at Night

I stand by the bank of the Thames

Gazing at the sparkling stars

And city lights flashing in her waters

Here Marlowe once remarked in the Heart of Darkness

It was once a very dark place

London At Night

The sleeping city roars like a raging river

Outside my bedroom window

I curl up like a seed in a pod in my bed

And I rise and fall rise and fall

Like a tiny shell riding the waves of that great river

London From Balcony 2

I traverse all over the city

Without setting a foot outside

While others dream with their eye curtains shut

I dream with my eyes wide open

Seeing the city in my inner eye

Drawing from my memories of

Sights I captured on my walks

As a flâneur traversing

London streets’ at nightfall

Now I project this lucid picture

Upon the closed curtains of my eyes

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Knot I Have Become


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The crescent moon creeps through the window

As the night stumbles through the light starved rooms

Its cloak reeks of deep sleep

And I listen to its nocturnal wanderings

While I toss and turn in bed

Blindly fumbling under the covers

To extricate myself from the intricate

Knot I have become

And free myself

To reach my full potential

An unrestrained spirit

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My Canvas


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The world is my canvas

Words the broad brushstrokes

I use to paint 🎨

The perfect picture 📷

And the the universe

The celestial gallery

I exhibit my creations.

© M’sama 2014

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Are You At Risk of Glaucoma Induced Blindness?



Main pic glaucoma

What would you do if you woke up one day and you couldn’t see? How would you cope with the little things you do and take for granted every day?

Both questions sound very hypothetical and they probably sound like they could never happen, at least to you. Well, you are wrong. It can happen to anyone. It can happen to someone who is very close to you. It can happen without warning.

I have recently been working with not for profit organisations that specialise in visual impairment and blindness. Working with them has made me aware of various things that we all take for granted.

We never consider how accessibility affects people who can’t read standard print or the internet. We never consider how lack of accessible material affects children who can’t see from birth or from an early age and how it affects their literacy. When adults lose their eyesight and can’t read, their diction begins to deteriorate. These are small things that never cross our mind because we take our sight for granted.

The flip side is that anyone can lose their eyesight at any point in their life. Glaucoma is one such cause of blindness and it can cause vision loss without warning. How do you know if you are at risk of glaucoma? Are you at risk?

Answer these five questions:

1] Are you of African, African Caribbean or African American origin?

2] Are you short sighted?

3] Are you aged 35 – 40?

4] Do you have diabetes?

5] Do you have a family history of glaucoma?

If your answer is yes to at least one of the questions above, then, you are at risk. You should be tested, ideally, once every two years. For some unknown reason, African Americans, African Caribbean’s or people of African origin are five to six times more likely to contract glaucoma.

Is that bad news? Hear this: it occurs earlier in people like us. Blindness from glaucoma is six times more common. This is not a conspiracy theory. It is real. Maybe the disease is racist. I am joking. But for some reason, it seems to target us and progresses rapidly once we contract it.

Congenital glaucoma

There are various types of glaucoma. It hasn’t got a uniform definition which makes it difficult to realise. However, there are three main types. These are [i] congenital/ hereditary glaucoma, [ii] primary open-angle glaucoma and [iii] primary angle-closure glaucoma. Overall, it affects about 5.2 million people which accounts for about 15% of blind people worldwide.

Unlike other conditions, there are no symptoms initially. This makes it difficult to recognise. However, painlessly and slowly it attacks your sight. Off centre vision is the first to go while central vision remains. The affected eye might have blank patches of vision but you won’t notice it because the other eye completes the picture. You won’t have any problems focussing because of the other eye compensating for gradual loss. You probably won’t even feel the need for glasses and that is the danger with glaucoma.

Old Man

If undetected and untreated, you will eventually lose your sight. Once vision loss starts, it can’t be reversed. However, the sooner it is detected; the treatment will be more successful. It is possible that your eyesight might seem excellent; however, that assumption is misleading because you could lose considerable sight irreversibly before you become aware of the problem. That is why it is crucial to get tested about once every two years, especially, if you are between 35 – 40 years.

Effects of open-angle glaucoma

Your optometrist can carry out a simple test to check if you have glaucoma. That test can also reveal if you have any other underlying conditions such as auto-immune disorders, dry eye, hypertension, Macular degeneration, shingles, inflammation of the cornea, raised cholesterol, hypertension, Pituitary tumours and Thyroidtoxicosis.

Eye drops are normally used to treat glaucoma. In more serious cases, laser treatment or surgery may be recommended. The great news is that once glaucoma is detected and treated, the majority of people retain lifetime vision.

Don’t take chances; take care of your eyes. Now you know you can’t blame ignorance. Spread the word. It is World Blindness Month; do something to raise awareness or get yourself tested. Don’t rely on carrots.

You can consult Google and search more about glaucoma. Alternatively, check the link below. Let me know what you think.

http://www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/african-americans-and-glaucoma.php

 

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Exhibit B – Is This Racism Or Art?


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William Blake once wrote that, “The foundation of Empire is art and science. Remove them or degrade them and the Empire is No more. Empire follows Art and not vice versa as Englishmen suppose.”

Fast-forward to 2014 and the question of what is art and what is not art is rearing its head again. Exhibit B or The Human Zoo directed by Brett Bailey which was supposed to be on show at the Barbican is the bone of contention. It has now been cancelled due to protests.

There are two sides to every story. Firstly, there are the protestors, led by Sistar Sara Myers, a modern Queen Nzinga who opposed Exhibit B and called it RACIST. They object to the depiction of blacks in chains and various states of insubordination in human zoos as a desecration of the memory of Africans who were subjected to subhuman bondage during the African Holocaust.

In the opposing corner is the Barbican, a white South African Brett Bailey (the director), and various sections of the white community who object to the protests and claim Exhibit B is art and raises questions and issues surrounding racism. In addition, there are also black performers in the Barbicans’ camp who I will touch on therein.

I empathise with the protesters. I believe it is the moral duty of all decent and conscious human beings to protect the memory of those Africans and others who were held in subhuman bondage.

Exhibit B takes the piss and doesn’t restore these people with any dignity. Instead it treats them with contempt and continues to portray them as objects and not subjects with voices of their own. They are using their stories for profit and to satisfy their own perverted objectives. White people often brush off slavery and colonialism and tell black people to forget about it.

However, they are not so quick to brush off any profits or privileges that they accrue from the African Holocaust. As long as it benefits their ulterior objectives, it is fair game. However when it comes to reparations and land redistribution and affirmative action, they change their tune and say black people must get over it. It appears that they are prepared to claim what suits them from the colonial situation but write it off when blacks make their own claims based on that same subject.

Exhibit B continues to objectify and dehumanise Africans and serves the black community no purpose. It only reinforces negative and stereotypical representations of African people in the media and art. The history of black people is presented in white quarters as a long lamentation of repeated defeats. Nothing is said about the successful nation building attempts or their greatest achievements.

Nothing is said to relate the past to the present to demonstrate a historical evolution of the modern African. Nothing is said about their great stand in the struggle for freedom and the envisioned self. Rather, there are repeated attempts by the powers that be to project an arrested image of Africans, their culture, their progress and their subservience.

It only reinforces and continues colonial discourses. For centuries, art has been complicit in the colonial project. Edward Said in his phenomenal work, Orientalism, raised awareness about the representations of others or the Manichean opposite in Occidental literature, musical and visual arts.

Writers like Rupyard Kipling (Kim), Rider Haggard (She and King Solomon’s Mines), Conrad (Heart of Darkness) to name a few were actively involved in reinforcing stereotypes of Africans and Indians. Their literature constantly played on the racist notions of Africa or Asia arrested in time, or degenerating and inhabited by savages or the occasional noble savage.

Africa and Asia were constantly displayed as women that were to be penetrated, raped while the western metropolitan was always considered logical, civilised, ordered, etc. African writers like Chinua Achebe took on these colonial discourses and turned them on their heads exposing their racist perspective as illustrated in the pictures below.

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Extract From a newspaper I stumbled on stuck in the middle of my book, Hopes and Impediments by Chinua Achebe.

Extract From a newspaper I stumbled on stuck in the middle of my book, Hopes and Impediments by Chinua Achebe.

It is clear that art and racism have always gone hand in hand. The minstrel shows featured white actors in blackface and other grotesque representations of blacks that often masqueraded as art. Famous celebrities like Judy Garland in Babes on Broadway and Bing Crosby in Dixie were not immune in featuring in these shows in blackface yet this was considered to be art. This was as recent as the 1940s.

The point is that these gross representations of blacks were produced for the consumption of white audiences. The same applies to the human zoos. Their

Sartjie Baartman also known as the Hottentot Venus was held in a human zoo and displayed as a freak of nature and abused by white audiences.

Sartjie Baartman also known as the Hottentot Venus was held in a human zoo and displayed as a freak of nature and abused by white audiences.

patrons were white also and had no compunction about patronising shows that dehumanised other human beings. The case of Sartjie Baartmaan is a typical example.

We must take stock of the nostalgia for empire, including the anger and resentment it ignites in those who were ruled or enslaved and had their way of lives destroyed by capitalists who behaved like nothing more than criminals in Africa and the colonies.

We must analyse the culture that nurtured the rationale, sentiment and imagination of empire. We must not lose sight of the hegemony of the imperial ideology which today has almost become embedded in the affairs of cultures whose less regrettable features we still celebrate.

We value freedom of speech and we respect and defend everyone’s right to free speech but object to dehumanization and contempt of others masquerading as freedom of speech. It is ironic that the enactment of black dehumanisation is depicted as art and protests against it considered censorship.

In this debate we cannot afford to lose sight of how colonialism and slavery, both crimes against humanity, utilized the disinterested movements’ such as philanthropy, religion, science and art to achieve its goals. The process of imperialism occurred beyond the level of economic laws and political decisions through the employment of recognizable cultural representations by continuing consolidation within education, literature and the visual and musical arts.

This was the point Blake was making about, “The Foundation of Empire is Art and Science”.

What is evident is that those who have the power [social, economical or political capital] or the victors control the narrative. In this case, the Barbican was imposing  a “discussion” on its own terms without prior consultation of the people it was most likely to offend. It set the parameters of the discussion which it claims it was trying to stimulate. This reminds me of the words of Noam Chomsky:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

This is akin to kicking or whipping the black community and then informing them how they should react to the beating. It is hypocritical. It is not constructive. It is impossible to maintain a fair or rational debate with people who participate in their exclusive pool of privileges when the playing field is uneven.

There are those in the Barbican camp who have labelled the protesters as “illiberal” or “racist”. To deal with the first point. It is a waste of time trying to prove who is more liberal than who. That is the white liberals problem to assuage their guilty conscience.

There is nothing liberal about acting in complicity with your oppression, demonisation or objectification of your people simply for people to say you are a liberal or have received a liberal education so you are not like “them”. This is the classic argument of the racist, stratifying the “good” blacks from the “bad” blacks or in the words of Malcolm X – the house negro and field negro.

The liberals are simply indulging in mind games. They are claiming their monopoly on intelligence and moral judgement while treating blacks like perpetual under 16s who constantly need guidance from these liberals.

Secondly, racism is a question of power! Without the power to subjugate, one cannot be racist. This language about reverse racism is the favourite pastime of frustrated liberals who feel that their trusteeship is being rejected.

No matter what the protestors do or say, they are not going to strip the liberals of their white privilege or segregate them in white only ghettoes. Steve Biko succinctly captured the reaction of white liberals when they felt their monopoly on intelligence and moral judgement was been eroded and their guardianship rejected:

“These self appointed trustees of black interests boast of years of experience in their fight on behalf of blacks, and because of blacks. When the blacks announce that the time has come for them to do things for themselves and all by themselves all white liberals shout blue murder!”

The protestors don’t have the power to subjugate anyone, let alone whites in the UK, because they lack the institutional, political, judicial, military, and economical capital required to subjugate anyone.

The protestors are responding to a situation they find themselves in where their black skin is being used as a mark of subservience. They are merely responding to white racism. There is nothing wrong with the protestors. Racism is a white problem. Racism is a white construct. Therefore, if there is anyone with a problem, it is white society. This is not a blanket condemnation of white people. There are exceptions to the rule.

However, we are concerned with group attitudes and politics here, not the individual. The exception does not make a lie of the rule, rather, it reinforces it. The big challenge to the liberal is can he really denounce his white privilege?

The obvious response is that it is unrealistic. It might be true but it only serves to illustrate that no matter what a white person does, their white skin, their Mastercard to privilege means it is almost impossible to escape the oppressor’s camp.

Ultimately, this is why blacks speak with a greater sense of urgency than the liberals because they are tackling a situation that they can’t escape. On the other hand, if the heat becomes too much, the liberal can always take a break or walk away. Blacks don’t have that luxury. They don’t have that privilege.

The protestors rallied together because of their unifying factor – their blackness. When members of Transport for London strike, no one accuses them of separatist tendencies. The same applies to firemen, teachers, nurses, etc. They are unified by their professions or industry to fight their own battles. However, when black people stand up for their rights, the liberal establishment detects an anomaly.

Ironically, it is a counter-anomaly. The anomaly was there right from the moment the liberals were presumptuous enough to think that it was their responsibility to use their privilege to speak on behalf of or fight the battle for the blacks.

The Aftermath
In the aftermath of the cancellation, the fallout has begun. Various sections of the mainstream media have attacked the protesters. The attack on the protesters is counter productive. It is interesting to note the tactics being employed in the offensive against the protestors. The black performers are being used to lambast them and this does no one a favour. They only sound like they have been paid thirty pieces of silver to sell their souls out.

It also conjures up the words of Dr. Khalid Muhammad when he was describing the tactics of the right wing when they can’t beat a black man or woman. He said:

“When white folks can’t defeat you they’ll always find some Negro – some boot-licking, butt-licking, buck-dancing, bamboozled, half-baked, half-fried… punkified, pasteurized, homogenised nigger — that they can trot out in front of you.”

The use of black performers to attack the genuine concerns of the protestors also draws up questions about who represents the genuine aspirations, dreams and concerns of the black community. It is unrealistic that a handful of black performers can be the true representatives of the black people.

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Therefore, they are not in a position to counter the voice and concerns of 23000 black voices. They are no different from Judas Iscariot, an extension of the enemy into the black ranks. They sold their souls for thirty pieces of silver. At least Judas Iscariot had the decency to kill himself when he realised the gravity of his betrayal. The protesters are not doing what they are doing for money or fame. Their integrity or moral stance was never up for sale by the highest bidder like the performers.

It is evident the black performers would do anything for fame and fortune. In that respect, they are no different from the multitudes of black entertainers who say and do whatever their handlers tell them to do even if that includes insulting their parents, elders, fighting their siblings or generally disrespecting the black community. They are no different to the multitude of black leaders in Africa, America and the West who come to power and do little or nothing to uplift their own people.

While these performers have every right to have their own opinions and engage in any financial transaction of their choosing but they must also respect the objections of the black community’s concerns about the way they are represented, how their story is told and who tells it.

It reminds me of another of Biko’s thoughts about real black people, “Black people -real black people – are those who can manage to hold their heads high in defiance than willingly surrender their souls to the white man.”

I listened to one of the performers on the Wright Stuff. She was awarded plenty of air time to air her views without anyone representing the other camp to challenge her. The predominantly white audience lapped up her shameful performance. That alone illustrates how the story is one sided. Sara Myers was provided a few minutes via a telephone link to put in one liners but not enough time to put her views across as this black performer.

When a question was put to this black performer, how she was censored, she was unable to provide a coherent answer. It was excruciating to watch. She went on to explain her role in the exhibition. She said she was playing a black woman in South Africa with a white mother and black father. She went on to say that if she had lived in South Africa in 1994, she would have been taken from her mother and thrown in a black area.

Her account is misleading. There was nothing like that in South Africa in 1994. As the product of a mixed race union in the 60s to about early 80s when the Immorality Laws were active, she would not have been classified as BLACK. She would have been COLOURED which was a strata above black people in South Africa with privileges black people were denied.

She would live in a coloured only area with better amenities than segregated black townships. By virtue of her white blood, she would enjoy some privileges denied black people as people who provided a buffer layer between black and white.

It is ironic this actress was ignorant of the history of the role she was playing yet she had the audacity to call Sara Myers ignorant. She had no idea about the role she was playing; therefore, she was not consciously informed to speak about whether the show was racist or not let alone condemn the protesters, many of whom are more informed about the African situation first hand.

The other disturbing aspect of the fallout is the language employed by some sections of the media. The diction is extreme and used to demonise the protestors. This language is no different to language used to demean, ridicule, undermine those who oppose power but don’t have the voices to reply. This mudslinging dehumanises the people it is aimed at and justifies attacks on them.

There are those in the press who claim the protestors censored the show. The Wright Stuff was drawing comparisons drawing between Hitler and Mussolini with the protestors. This is highly emotive stuff.

One has to remember that the former were heads of state and had the state apparatus, militias and the constitution to back them plus the army to enforce their decrees. Therefore, censorship like racism is a question of power and without it, you cannot censor anyone no matter how much noise or protests you make.

Therefore, it is highly irresponsible for people to draw up such mischievous comparisons which are not compatible. It is obvious those who make such decisions understand the least about censorship and power.

Censorship is not just a question of silencing what you disagree with. Power is what makes censorship possible. It is endorsed by the system and the constitution. In the art industry, there are the guardians of the industry. They decide who is exhibited, where they are exhibited and the likes.

They have the power to veto any form of artwork that doesn’t fit in with their values or criticises their ethics or moral stance. Therefore, the protestors had nothing to do with censoring the show as some mischievous quarters would like to suggest. The Barbican pulled the plug on the show.

According to reports, 25 000 people watched the show in Europe. However, the protestors raised a petition with 23 000 signatures and surely that number of people can’t be wrong. That is only 2000 people less than the audiences that watched Exhibit B in Europe.

There are more contemporary issues which the Barbican and people like Brett Bailey skirt. They would like to concentrate on the past providing a diversion from current issues such as the question of white privilege, equal access to resources, employment, education, reparations, institutional racism, equal justice and human rights.

Today, there are millions of black men and women locked up in human zoos called the prison industrial complex and detention centres yet no one raises discussions about the overrepresentation of blacks in these human zoos.

The question of racism is relevant today and it needs to be dealt with sensitivity and tact. Society can have a reasonable debate about feminism but when racism is involved, all decorum goes flying out of the window and there are heated exchanges and insults flying from both sides of the spectrum.

No one human being is perfect. That applies to institutions too. Brett Bailey and the Barbican should not be ashamed to admit they got it wrong. It is human. They might have got previous exhibitions and shows right but it is possible they got this one wrong and they can learn a lot from their mistakes rather than blame the protestors for their own undoing. When you court controversy, you should expect the backlash. You can’t always be right and everyone else wrong.

The furore surrounding Exhibit B raised a lot of questions. Probably one of the most poignant questions that was missed is: who has the right to tell which story? This is a question that is asked repeatedly in Postcolonial and Feminism Studies.

It is very difficult to assume that the critic (especially one from a privileged background) can ever speak on behalf of anybody, because the position of the critic and their object is never securely fixed. Their superior theory and enlightened compassion are inadequate as Sekou Toure reminds us:

To take part in the African revolution, it is not enough to write a revolutionary song. You must fashion the revolution with the people. And if you fashion it with the people, the songs will come by themselves.
In order to achieve real action you must yourself be a living part of Africa and of her thought; you must be an element of that popular energy which is entirely called forth for the freeing, the progress and happiness of Africa. There is no place outside that fight for the artist or for the intellectual who is not himself concerned with, and completely at one with the people in the great battle of Africa and of suffering humanity
.

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Steve Bantu Biko – 37 Memorable Quotes


“The wealth of our country must be enjoyed by the people of the country.”

 Steve Bantu Biko

Tribute To Steve Bantu Biko

On 12 September 37 years ago, Steve Biko’s life came to a premature end. His brief but beneficial life was snuffed out as casually and callously as a person extinguishing a candle flame between their fingers.

He was a light that lit the path of the youth across Africa to help them overcome obstacles in their way. In living what he preached, he showed them what they could be, and taught them they were just as fine as they were. His message was clear: Be proud of yourself! Rely on yourself for your liberation.

He instilled them with a new confidence and they shed their sense of inferiority. He ignited a fire in the youth that continues to burn today. In his stride, he left indelible footprints, no other man has been able to fill now or follow ever since.

And it is from his thought tracks that I have extracted thirty-seven gems Steve Biko left with us. One for each year of the thirty-seven years since his premature depature.

All of the quotes below stem from the same source, i.e., his collection of writing or articles, collectively entitled I Write What I Like.

Some of the quotes are pretty familiar but some are not. However, they are all as relevant today as they were back then. They are applicable to many situations in the present, and not only in South Africa, but the rest of the African Continent and the Diaspora.

May his words continue to inspire you as they inspire us, Biko’s humble students of “Black Consciousness”.

1] “We have in us the will to live through these trying times; over the years we have attained moral superiority over the white man; we shall watch as time destroys his paper castles and know that these little pranks were but frantic efforts of frightened little people to convince each other that they can control the minds and bodies of indigenous people of Africa indefinitely.”

2] “The separation of the black intelligentsia from the rest of the black society is a disadvantage to black people as a whole.”

3] “The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face.”

4] “I think what we need in our society is the power to innovate – we have the very system from which we can expand, from which we can innovate, to say this is what we believe, accept or not accept.”

"The black man has no ill-intentions for the white man. The black man is only incensed at the white man to the extent that he wants to entrench himself in a position of power to exploit the black man." Steve Bantu Biko

“The black man has no ill-intentions for the white man. The black man is only incensed at the white man to the extent that he wants to entrench himself in a position of power to exploit the black man.”
Steve Bantu Biko

5] “Our originality and imagination have been dulled to the point where it takes a supreme effort to act logically even in order to follow one’s belief and convictions.”

6] “You are either dead or alive and when you are dead you can’t care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicizing thing.”

7] “For me as a black person it is extremely painful to see a man who could easily have been my leader being so misused by the cruel and exploitative white world.”

8] “We have felt and observed in the past the existence of a great vacuum in our literary world and newspapers. So many things are said so often to us, about us, but seldom by us. This has created a dependency mood amongst us which has given rise to the present tendency to look at ourselves in terms of how we are interpreted by the white press.”

9] “One must quickly add the moral of the story is not that we must therefore castigate white society and its newspapers. Any group of people who identity as a unit through shared interests and aspirations need to protect those interests they share. The white press is therefore regarded as doing a good service when it sensitises its own community to the “dangers” of Black Power… the real moral of the story can only be that we blacks must on our own develop those agencies that we need, and not look up to unsympathetic and often hostile quarters to offer these to us.”

10] “Blacks have had enough experiences of racism not to wish to turn the tables. While it may be relevant now to speak of black in relation to white, we must not make this our preoccupation, for it can be a negative exercise. As we proceed further towards the achievement of our goals, let us talk more about ourselves and our struggle and less about whites.”

"Organizational development among blacks has only been low because we have allowed it to be." Steve Bantu Biko

“Organizational development among blacks has only been low because we have allowed it to be.” Steve Bantu Biko

11] “Organisational development among blacks has only been low because we have allowed it to be.”

12] “The whole community development program is in fact directed also at alleviating poverty, which is a form of physical oppression, and by physical liberation we also imply liberation from those actual living conditions which are oppressive.”

13] “If people want to be our friends they must act as friends, with deeds.”

14] “The struggle concept which is struggle from liberation of yourself, from anything threatening you, is continuous throughout history. At different times it is picked by different people in different methods. Okay, but the struggle is what we attach ourselves to.”

15] “When people are starving, unemployed and exploited, food, work and social security are higher priorities for them than individual liberty.”

16] “The Russians don’t stick fast afterward. Their record in Africa is one of material aid, then disengaging or being ousted. On the other hand Western aid against colonialism has several times led to Western economic imperialism. Look, I’m not starry eyed about the Russians, and I reject their basic ideology – it’s just that their brand of intervention has been more beneficial in Africa. Of course it is to suit their own cynical ends – but it is of more practical assistance than the oratory of Andy Young. The Andy Young’s are nice guys, but their approach is doing us no damn good.”

17] “One should not waste time here dealing with manifestations of material want of the black people. A vast literature has been written on the problem. Possibly a little should be said about spiritual poverty.”

18] “No doubt, therefore, part of the approach envisaged in bringing about”Black Consciousness” has to be directed to the past, to seek to rewrite the history of the black man and to produce in it heroes who form the core of the African background.”

19] “A people without a positive history is like a vehicle without an engine. Their emotions cannot be easily controlled and channelled in a recognizable direction. They always live in the shadow of a more successful society.”

The Most Powerful Weapon

20] “To expect justice from them at any stage is to be naive.”

21] “In laying out a strategy we often have to take cognizance of the enemy’s strength and as far as I can assess all of us who want to fight within the System are completely underestimating the influence the System has on us.”

22] “One need not try to establish the truth of the claim that black people in South Africa have to struggle for survival. It presents itself in ever so many facets of our lives.  Township life alone makes it a miracle for anyone to live up to adulthood. There will be a situation of absolute want in which black will kill black to survive. This is the basis of vandalism, rape and plunder that goes on while the real sources of evil – white society – are suntanning on exclusive beaches or relaxing in their bourgeois homes.”

23] “People must not give up to the hardship of life. People must develop a hope. People must develop some form of security to be together to look at their problems, and people must, in this way build up their humanity. This is the point about Black Consciousness.”

24] “The wealth of our country must be enjoyed by the people of the country. Foreign investors come and exploit the wealth of the country with more advanced technological means than those we have in South Africa to siphon off profits which rightfully belong here, and these go to profit societies other than our own societies.”

25] “When there is violence there is messiness. Violence brings too many residues of hate in the reconstruction period. Apart from its obvious horrors, it creates too many post-revolutionary problems. If at all possible, we want the revolution to be peaceful and reconciliatory.”

26] “I think there is no running away from the fact that now in South Africa there is such an ill distribution of wealth that any form of political freedom which does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth will be meaningless.”

27] “It seems sometimes that it is a crime for non-white students to think for themselves. The idea of everything being done for the blacks is an old one and all liberals take pride in it; but once the black students want to do things for themselves suddenly they are regarded as becoming “militant”.

28] “What we want is not black visibility but real black participation.”

Biko

29] “The fact that we have differences of approach should not cloud the issue. We have a responsibilty not only to ourselves but also to the society from which we spring. No one will ever take up the challenge until we, of our own accord, accept the inevitable fact that ultimately the leadership of the non-white peoples in this country rests with us.”

30] “It was felt that a time had come when blacks had to formulate their own thinking, unpolluted by ideas emanating from a group with lots at stake in the status quo.”

31] “I am against the fact that a settler minority should impose an entire system of values on an indigenous people.”

32] “Material want is bad enough, but coupled with spiritual poverty it kills.”

33] “Ground for a revolution is always fertile in the presence of absolute destitution.”

34] “Black Consciousness” seeks to show black people the value of their own standards and outlook. It urges black people to judge themselves according to these standards and not to be fooled by white society who are white-washed themselves and made white standards the yardstick by which even black people judge each other.”

35] “Black people must recognise the various institutions of apartheid for what they are – gags intended to get black people fighting separately for certain “freedoms” and “gains” which were prescribed for them long ago. We must refuse to accept it as inevitable that the only political action the blacks may take is through these institutions.”

36] “Granted that it may be more attractive and even safer to join the system, we must still recognise that in doing so we are well on the way towards selling our souls.”

37] “Thus in its entirety the African Culture spells us out as people particularly close to nature. As Kaunda puts it, our people may be unlettered and their physical horizons may be limited yet “they inhabit a larger world than the sophisticated Westerner who has magnified his physical senses through inverted gadgets at the price all too often of cutting out the dimension of the spritiual.” This close proximity to Nature enables the emotional component  in us to be so much richer in that it makes it possible for us, without any apparent difficulty to feel for people and to easily identify with them in any emotional situation arising out of suffering.”

Feel free to share and let us remember Steve’s words in everything we do to uplift the race and persent a more human face to the world. Let us emulate him in his selfless sacrifice for freedom.

Watch for my review of Steve Biko’s collection of writings, I Write What I Like, coming soon. Pray, I do it justice. One Love.

A scholar of Black Consciousness studying Steve Bantu's philosophy.

A scholar of Black Consciousness studying Steve Bantu Biko’s philosophy.

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The Death of the Zimbabwean Media


There was once a time, not so long ago, when Zimbabwean journalists and media personalities were the pick of the crop. Who can forget the incisive analysis of journalists like Geoff Nyarota?

Who can forget the polished deliveries of the late Alison Chavundukha? Who can forget the slick presentation of Tich Mataz, Joseph Madimba, Wellington Mbofana, Noreen Welch to name a few? 

Back then, there were standards. There was quality. Media personalities set a high bar and many youngsters who followed in their footsteps used them as yardsticks to measure their progress and as relevant standards.

Back then foreign stations and media outlets used to scout for Zimbabwean media talent because we were the best. We were in demand. People looked up to us back then.

Back then, ZBC and The Herald had a stranglehold on the dissemination of news and information. They had virtually no competition. No one can dispute that their monopoly served as a useful propaganda for the ruling party.

Many argued that alternatives to their voices were a good thing. Competition would apparently raise the quality of information and diversify views something that is good for a healthy nation.

There is no argument against multiple views being good for the nation. There is no argument that a healthy nation requires competent critics. Constructive criticism can keep politicians in check and prevent them from under-performing.

Fast forward to the digital age, desk top publishing and the birth of the internet. Multiple multimedia outlets sprouted within the Zimbabwean media. Anybody who had access to technology became a media personality. The cult of celebrity was cultivated.

Many media outlets were simply propaganda outlets who were inferior clones of the ZBC and The Herald. Many were financed by liberal institutions or foreign state organs masquerading as NGOs and liberals or do gooders but they had ulterior motives. Standards were not at the forefront of their minds. Quality was compromised for agendas and vendettas.

Most if not all media outlets representing the Zimbabwean spectrum moved either to the extreme left or right of the political spectrum. The centre became taboo. They became mere echo chambers of their sponsors. They simply became reproducers of press releases sent to them by their handlers.

In form, they were no different from the embedded media found in the Occident. They asked no questions. They conducted no investigations to establish the facts and simply parroted their masters. They jumped when told to and talked when ordered.

Objectivity became extinct. Subjectivity started to trend. Facts didn’t matter. Propaganda was the currency of the day. Those who had the money to pay could afford to influence public opinion in the war to win the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans at home and abroad. Managing the perceptions of the population was the priority.

Zimbabwean journalism became a whore like the church. It spread its legs widest for the highest bidder and the most powerful and influential players in the game.

Advertisers lubricated the prostitution. They put their money where the highest traffic could be found and the best dressed whore earned its reputation. The truth, objectivity, standards, ethics, quality, etc. were collateral damage discarded like used condoms in the intellectual wilderness.

Standards dropped. The quality of multimedia productions plummeted. The avatars, grade sevens and the spin doctors moved in. Mass media dropouts hijacked the scene. Journalists who could neither construct grammatically correct sentences nor spell passed themselves off as competent professionals. Frauds and impostors hijacked the game and took over in a bloodless coup.

Wannabes and fame starving personalities moved in and kept up appearances to pretend they were somebodies when they were nobodies.

However, not all were fooled. Those in the know knew that if a journalist can’t get the basics [grammar and spelling] right, the little details correct, they won’t bother with the big things – FACTS! And the truth! It’s at moments like these that Ernst Fischer’s words ring so true:

“In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.”

Producers and directors who thought that making documentaries, inserts or films simply involved pointing a camera in the right direction and shooting took over compromising the quality of productions. We made Nollywood look like Hollywood. The technical skills that once had been the mainstay of competent professionals fell along the wayside as incompetent amateurs muscled in like superheroes flexing their financial biceps and six packs.

One thing is obvious in Zimbabwe today. We look back to the past as a time when things were really good. We are a people stuck in the past. Not only is it ironic but it is also tragic. Our best is trapped in the past instead of looking with optimism for our best in the present or future.

It is not only the standards of living that have dropped. But the rot is wide spread. It is manifest in our leadership. It is manifest in our infrastructure. It is manifest in the business sector. It is manifest in our media. Our culture and traditions are not immune to the rot eating away at our society.

We often boast about Zimbabweans being the most educated in Africa. However, what do we have to show for all our education? What good is our education if we cannot produce journalists and media personalities who can write and spell properly? Isn’t it better if we revert to using our mother tongue than resort to making fools of ourselves on the international stage?

If we are going to be media personalities or journalists, and use English as a medium of communication, then there is much more to simply “nosing” English. Using nasalised accents imitating the British or Americans is not a standard. It’s called aping. It doesn’t illustrate a grasp of what it takes to cut it as a journalist.

Understanding ethics is one. A grasp of standards is another. Critical analysis and objectivity are others. Competency and the technical know how cannot be sacrificed for the show. The latter two are qualities that have ultimately led to the demise of productive industries and companies in Zimbabwe.

However, the biggest issue that undermines Zimbabwean journalism is copy and paste reproduction. This is not even journalism. I guess we call such people or media outlets – copy cats.

It is an indictment on the intelligence of Zimbabweans when our journalists and media outlets copy and paste articles such as this one from the Daily Maverick – http://www.newzimbabwe.com/showbiz-17968-TB+Joshua+When+stupidity+rules/showbiz.aspx.

What is the point? Don’t we Zimbabweans have minds of our own to think that we have to resort to reproducing articles from other media outlets?

Is this a form of mimicry that we believe that the opinions of others are more important than the opinions of our own people? We look to the west. We look to the east. Rarely, do we look within ourselves for solutions. It seems we are in desperate need of a dose of Black Consciousness to gain the confidence and drive to do things for ourselves.

Has colonial education managed to produce the “mimic man” Macaulay wrote about in “Minute on Indian Education” in 1835:

“We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian (Zimbabwean) in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in moral, in intellect.”

There are millions of young Zimbabweans who are unemployed and looking for opportunities. Surely any one of them could have produced an equally analytical and incisive narrative as the one copied and pasted from the Daily Maverick.

I know Zimbabweans are opinionated people. And there is no shortage of critics who could have done a better job than the Daily Maverick. Let us not undermine our youth who are progressive and hungry for opportunities to shine.

imageOur media outlets must not be like the leaders of our political parties – deadwood – and unwilling to let fresh brains take over the hot seat when they are bereft of ideas and constantly looking towards others to do things they should be doing for themselves. Thinking is hard work! We haven’t acquitted ourselves well in this department despite our high literacy rates.

This lack of competency, technical skills and creativity has led to the demise of the Zimbabwean media. It surely needs more than the spiritual miracles of our Pentecostal prophets to resurrect it from the dead.

It seems we need a dose of Frantz Fanon’s prescription to rid our minds of the germs left behind by colonialism, “for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavour to create a new man”.

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Alex Haley’s Roots – An Author’s Odyssey by Adam Henig


This is the front cover to the book Alex Haley's Roots - An Author's Odyssey by Adam Henig

This is the front cover to the book Alex Haley’s Roots – An Author’s Odyssey by Adam Henig

Every once in a while you stumble on a book that challenges everything you thought you knew about someone. Alex Haley’s Roots is one such book. I admit I was more familiar with his most famous works such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots than I was with the author of these phenomenal titles.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X propelled Alex Haley into the spotlight.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X propelled Alex Haley into the spotlight.

The little I thought I knew about him was what I gleaned from the latter book and the subsequent miniseries. Adam Henig, the author, presents a succinct and orderly narrative capturing the author’s odyssey conveniently beginning at the threshold of Haley’s fame and success.

That is shortly after the publication of Roots and serialisation of the book into a miniseries. It carries us through his meteoric rise into stardom hobnobbing with his friend Warren Beatty.

Henig recounts Haley’s impressive list of accomplishments and the accolades he garnered on his journey to fame. It is littered with anecdotes and snapshots of impressive scenes Haley encountered in the public eye.

Henig breaks down the records Roots, the book and the miniseries, set and the pandemonium that followed the success of Haley’s work.

Henig states, “Four months after its debut, Roots sold more than eight hundred thousand copies, unheard of for such a short period of time.”

That is still impressive by todays standard. “Roots was a cultural (and financial) phenomenon. It was the first time that many white Americans had read a book from a black perspective.” That was not all.

“Roots most poignant contribution may have been to the study of genealogy.” Haley contributed immensely to American culture. His influence extended beyond the fields of publishing.

Roots was translated into many foreign languages and Haley flew the American flag internationally. His achievements were immense as Henig illustrated:

“Alex Haley had achieved fame and wealth. Hollywood celebrities, foreign dignitaries and the nation’s most powerful leaders lined up to meet him.” He rubbed shoulders with Queen Farah of Iran, President Carter, Marlon Brando, Liz Taylor, etc. He was the “most wanted man in the nation.”

At the peak of his fame, Haley seemed to have it all and nothing could go wrong.

But it did as Henig chronicles. It happened sensationally. Haley sued his publisher and it all went downhill from there on. A reporter for the London Sunday Times embarked on a travel assignment in the Gambia, the country where Haley’s ancestor, Kunta Kinte, was allegedly captured.

The travel assignment evolved into an exposé highlighting flaws in Haley’s research.

Henig documents in detail the subsequent lawsuits that dogged Haley for plagiarism leading to his fall from grace. He captures Haley’s eccentricities and shortfalls in his personal, public and private life. Apart from the lawsuits, Henig covers Haley’s womanising, strained relationships with his family, his extravagance with his money and all those who manipulated his generosity.

This is the kind of stuff that could well work as a screenplay of Haley’s life.

An Author’s Odyssey is like a missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle. It completes the missing pieces to Alex Haley’s autobiography, i.e., the chapters that were not covered in the main Roots book and miniseries.

Adam Henig, the author of Alex Haley's Roots - An Author's Odyssey

Adam Henig, the author of Alex Haley’s Roots – An Author’s Odyssey

Henig’s well researched and referenced narrative raises questions about the authenticity of Haley’s narrative, problems that dogged his ascension to stardom. It is also a lesson for aspiring nonfiction writers to be thorough with their research.

An Author’s Odyssey is an intriguing narrative that is too short. It could bs longer because it is so fascinating. When I first read the ebook, I had to go back and read Roots again. Ironically, Roots the miniseries and the sequel were showing at the same time and I watched them too to find out what I had missed.

I remembered why I enjoyed both the book and the miniseries the first time I ever set eyes on them. Alex Haley was a gifted storyteller. He made both the characters and story believable.

He told stories with such compassion, dignity and humanity. Everyone loves a good story and Haley told us exactly what we wanted to hear.

Watching the miniseries and reading the book again transported me back to the magic that enchanted me when I first watched Roots back in Africa as a young boy. For all his failings, Haley was a force of nature and we would all have been poorer if he had not written Roots.

Henig’s narrative acknowledges the way Roots captured the world’s imagination and Haley’s lasting legacy. It is befitting this short piece of writing fills in the blanks left out of the main narrative captured in Roots and the sequel. In a strange way, Heniq completes Haley’s narrative.

I was left with the feeling that I know Haley better than I did before I read Henig’s – An Author’s Odyssey. It is one of this rare works that surprised me and told me things I didn’t know about Alex Hailey.

Alex HaleyAlex Haley’s Roots left me with an appreciation of Haley’s ability to put a human face to one of the greatest tragedies mankind has ever experienced. Those are the rare gems Henig, consciously or unconsciously uncovers. Through his work, I rediscovered Roots.

Armed with this new knowledge, I guess my review of Roots will be quite interesting to say the least. Read Alex Haley’s Roots – An Author’s Odyssey by Adam Henig to gain a deeper understanding of the legacy of Alex Haley.

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Me Lady, Judge Thokozile Masipa, Needs Thicker Lens…


Me Lady, Judge Thokozile Masipa, Needs Thicker Lens….

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