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Sensible advice regardless of whether you are a writer, musician, entrepreneur, a business, etc. Follow the advice of this wise sage, Jo Robinson, if you are going to make the most of social media to advertise, market or sell your products. Read the article to gain a better insight on how to improve your social media campaigns and get the best out of your return on investment a.k.a. ROI.

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Friendly Follows


thegatvolblogger:

Sensible advice regardless of whether you are a writer, musician, entrepreneur, a business, etc. Follow the advice of this wise sage, Jo Robinson, if you are going to make the most of social media to advertise, market or sell your products. Read the article to gain a better insight on how to improve your social media campaigns and get the best out of your return on investment a.k.a. ROI.

Originally posted on Lit World Interviews:

Unless you’re writing purely for yourself, your aim is to sell your work to readers. Selling is a word that often has Indie authors running for the hills. It shouldn’t though. If you want people to read your books, you’re going to have to have them buy them to begin with. There’s nothing torrid about selling your books. Nothing to be ashamed of. So do it. Sell that stuff. But sell it politely. One of the most powerful tools for Indie authors to find readers is Twitter. Unfortunately some of the really hardcore OY BUY MY BOOK brigade have muddied the waters there a little, with their ad nauseam spamming of their books without ever posting anything else. That doesn’t mean that Twitter won’t help you sell books anymore though. You just have to be patient, post interesting content other than only your own, and behave socially.

I often come…

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America wins legal battle but loses moral war: #Blacklivesmatter


Michael-Brown graffiti

Days before Michael Brown was executed without due process by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, he would never have guessed the significance his face and name would assume posthumously.

He didn’t know his name would be chanted all over the world. He didn’t know that he was going to become the symbol that would inspire many young men and women to stand up and protest worldwide for justice.

His untimely demise at the hands of a trigger happy cop faced by the bogeyman of white society has reinforced the injustice of the American injustice system. The decision by a predominantly white jury not to indict Darren Wilson simply repeated an established recurring pattern in American society.

That singular decision has polarised a nation. That singular decision led to wide spread riots and protests across America. That singular decision sent out a message to the world: there is no justice for the Black man or woman in America.

Police brutality

All across the world from Australia to Zimbabwe, many people have stood in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson and all across America. They are reiterating the same message – #Blacklivesmatter.

iamge of Protesters surround Charring Cross police station in London

Protesters supporting Michael Brown and the Ferguson protesters surround Charring Cross police station in London.

#Blacklivesmatter has become as popular or even more popular than popular brands such as Apple. It is trending on social media. It is one of the most popular campaigns ever and Michael Brown has become its face. He has become the symbol of a new social movement resisting the violent excesses of an unjust system.

#Blacklivesmatter was formed in 2012 after the summary execution of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman without due process. The movement’s activities to raise awareness about the silent genocide of Black people were rejuvenated by the death of Michael Brown and and helped #Blacklivesmatter win the heart and minds of the world.

Ironically, Brown has gained social and political capital that he never had while he was still alive. Thanks to the various social movements and dissident intellectuals raising awareness and exposing the rotten elements in the American injustice system.

His untimely demise spurred on other social movements such as #ShutItDown to block major highways and intersections; #BlackoutBlackFriday to boycott Black Friday; #HandsUpWalkOut a call for students across campuses across America to walk out to demonstrate the decision not to indict Wilson.

ADDITION Raiders Rams Football

Before the shooting, he was just another black teenager doing normal things teenagers his age do. Today, he has achieved posthumous fame as the face that exposed the hypocrisy and injustice of the American injustice system.

This is not to say that he started it all. He didn’t. The signs were there for a long time. The sparks were evident when Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman. The flames were there when Oscar Grant was shot down and cut down in the prime of his life.

However, this goes further back. We have to look at the brutal murder of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers. It was there at the assassination of Fred Hampton and goes back to the Ku Klux Klan lynchings famously documented by James Baldwin in the short story Going to Meet the Man published in a collection of short stories in the same name.

Michael Brown and Medgar Evers’ stories share similar parallels.

Evers was an African American civil rights activist. He was involved in efforts to overturn the segregation at the University of Mississippi.

However, he was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith who was a member of the White Citizens’ Council. His murder and the resulting trials sparked civil rights protests, including numerous works of art, film and music.

Meme of Medgar Evers

Evers was shot in his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers on the morning of 12th June 1963. This was just hours after President John F. Kennedy made a speech on national television supporting civil rights.

Evers emerged from his car carrying a stack of T-shirts written “Jim Crow Must Go”. He was shot in the back with a bullet from an Enfield 1917 rifle. The bullet ripped through his heart. He staggered for nine meters before he fell.

His murderer was prosecuted but juries mainly composed of white men reached a deadlock twice that year and Beckwith walked free for thirty years. He was finally convicted of murder three decades later on the 5th of February 1994 after new evidence was presented at a new trial.

For decades, there has been a systematic and systemic campaign to shoot Black people and the perpetrators walk without justice for the victims. America has a  history of white men  summarily executing black men and women with impunity, not even children have being immune, and walking free knowing the system grants them immunity from prosecution.

These decisions serve as a reminder that America was built on laws created for the dehumanisation, destruction and distress of black people and other minorities.

This injustice is reflected in the infamous decision rendered by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (1777 – 1864). He declared blacks were “regarded  as beings of an inferior order” with “no rights which the White Man was bound to respect”.

It is worth remembering then that many states in the country accepted free blacks as taxpayers and citizens at the time when the Constitution was adopted.

However, by the reasoning of Taney, no white man was bound to respect their rights because they were “unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the White Man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit”.

It seems little has changed since that decision in America besides the highly convoluted words in the Declaration of Independence which hardly recognized the freedom of Black people in the spirit of the law though it boldly announced:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It appears that even today White men still have no need to respect Black people’s human rights to life and protection of the law.

However, it seems that these young Black men and women executed without due process have been denied their basic human rights as set out under Article 1 – 8 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What is happening on the streets of America to Black people is repeated on others abroad as illustrated in a essay by Noam Chomsky entitled The Ideology of the Polyarchy. In it he refers to the adoption of the “docrine of resort to force at will”.

In it, Chomsky noted the shift to the use of force [military might at will] to “eliminate any preceived challenge to US hegemony”, i.e. white supremacy. This threat could be local or foreign based. The only threat to US hegemony is the “other”. That means non white.

The Black man and woman constitute the “other” in America that can successfully challenge “US hegemony” on home turf if they were able to unite and use their group numbers to change local or foreign policy. They have the economic might to force the corporations that form the polyarchy to pay attention and come to the negotiating table.

This is why any groups that talk about Black Power are treated like terrorist organisations. However, it is absurd. The term Black Power means the evry same thing as two words the British are fond and proud of using. That is – SELF DETERMINATION.

When the British seek to decide their own destiny it is seen as a virtue and there is no problem with it. It is admired and seen as an enduring quality of the British character. In contrast, Black people seeking SELF DETERMINATION are seen as a potential threat and ungrateful bastards. They are demonised by the politicians and the media and ostracised from society.

However, Black People seeking SELF DETERMINATION are a formidable challenge to the “US HEGEMONY” quoted below.

Therefore, the only way to keep them in check is by reminding them who is in power through random acts of violence and surveillence through covert programs like COINTELPRO to disrupt and destroy Black political organisations.

If you will bear with me while I take the liberty to impose this long quote on you from that essay by Noam Chomsky.

In September 2002 the Bush administration announced its National Security Strategy, which declared the right to resort to force to eliminate any perceived challenge to US global hegemony, which is to be permanent. The new grand strategy aroused deep concern worldwide, even within the foreign policy elite at home. Also in September, a propaganda campaign was launched to depict Saddam Hussein as an imminent threat to the United States and to insinuate that he was responsible for the 9-11 atrocities and was planning others. The campaign, timed to the onset of the midterm congressional elections, was highly successful in shifting attitudes. It soon drove American public opinion off the global spectrum and helped the administration achieve electoral aims and establish Iraq as a proper test case for the newly announced doctrine of resort to force at will. [http://www.chomsky.info/books/survival01.htm]

It demonstrates the hypocrisy of America. It preaches about democracy and human rights to other nations. It invades weaker nations it accuses of not respecting the human rights of their own citizens and it removes the leaders of these countries through violent means and replaces them with ones, puppets, who are sympathetic to the American cause.

America lectures to other nations it perceives as underdeveloped and oppressive and undemocratic. It lectures to them about human rights and threatens to deliver democracy through the barrel of a gun if they don’t change. The greatest irony is that America is not even a democracy but a polyarchy: i.e. power is held by a few people who control the wealth in society.

Alternatively, America uses aid or sanctions as a means to force other nations to “respect” the human rights of their citizens. However, it has a history of supporting dictators and totalitarian regimes in Egypt, South Africa, Iraq, Iran, South America, Nicaragua, etc.

America doesn’t practice what it preaches. One is tempted to remind it to remove the splinter of wood in its own eye before it attempts to remove the log out of the eyes of other nations.

America is in no position to lecture anyone on the question of human rights when it violates the human rights of millions of its Black citizens. America has no moral high ground or divine right to play the defender of human rights when it has been at the forefront of setting up leaders like Patrice Lumumba to be murdered and replaced by dictators like Mobutu Sese Soko.

America’s moral capital is in  decline. Unfortunately, it cannot print more notes as tit did with the U.S. dollar during the recession to shore up the depreciating value of their moral capital.

America’s injustice system has constantly and repeatedly shown that it is biased against Black people. However, the death of Michael Brown has magnified the flaws within the system and broadcast to the world what it means to be Black in America.

The roll call of Black men, children or women shot down or killed by white policemen without due process is growing longer by the day. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Yvette Johnson, Renisha McBride are other names on that list denied justice.

It seems like everyday there is an outcry of another black person executed without due process. Take the case of a black man recently shot down while taking dinner back to his family at home. It creates the perception that there is a nationwide epidemic of police brutality.

No Black person in America can safely say that they feel safe in the face of the people who have a duty to protect and serve them.

The  Michael Brown story echoes the death of Steve Biko at the hands of the Apartheid police. The government didn’t give a damn what happened to him. He wasn’t the only one to die in such circumstances but he became a lasting symbol of the horrors of apartheid and white brutality.

The Most Powerful Weapon

Likewise, Michael Brown has become an enduring symbol of white police brutality. We will never know what kind of potential Brown had. We will never know if he would have more impact dead or alive.

But dead or alive, there is no doubt that he is at the center of an awakening, sparking riots and protests across America that are reminiscent of the Civil Rights era.

His death is hotter than the sparks that flamed the Watts Riots and the Los Angeles Riots in 1965. Brown’s death was obviously not in vain. It is the inciting incident that brought racial tensions to the fore.

It is the inciting incident that ripped the blackface of Obama off the body politic of white oppression.

Forget all the fancy rhetoric of change promised by Obama. This is the real America. Nothing has changed. Not even Obama is immune from racism. Racism is still alive and thriving in America in the 21st century.

It still feels like America is still stuck in the 1960s or even further back before the Declaration of Independence.

It seems the ku klax klan has simply removed their white sheets and donned uniforms of police brutality to continue their campaign of publicly lynching Black people in public. They replaced the cross with the badge and continued with their business of lynching Black people to remind them of their station in society.

After all the intellectuals have said their sound bytes on TV using black on black crime as mitigating circumstances for Brown’s death, or demonised him as a criminal who deserved to be shot; the truth is that the method of Brown’s death is a politicising factor.

He is playing a pivotal role in exposing the nasty face of America. He may never have dreamed about how his life would come to symbolise something greater than himself.

He may never have dreamed that he would one day become a global icon of justice inspiring a social movement of the 21st century kind accompanied with billboards, songs, T-shirts, protest banners and news headlines – all emblazoned with the words #BlackLivesMatter.

He may never have dreamed that his face would one day become a politicising symbol.

Many people didn’t see the recent events happening but those who were paying attention would have seen this coming because Black lives matter. Black bodies are political. Black people are not going to remain silent forever while they keep killing our brothers and sisters everywhere.

The time will come and it is coming when we shall say no – it is enough! Then we shall say give me liberty or give me death.

Images of Penn State students staging a die-in

Penn State students protest the Ferguson decision in the HUB-Robeson Center by participating in a “die-in – in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Brown’s death reminds me of the prophetic words of Steve Biko shortly before his death at the hands of white policemen in Apartheid South Africa. He wrote in an essay in his collection of articles, I Write What I Like:

“You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and your method of death can itself be a politicising thing. So if you can overcome the fear of death, which is irrational, you’re on your way.”

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and others, too numerous to mention, are on their way. Their stories remind us of the malignant fictions created by the state to maintain the status quo in their attempt to blame the victims for their deaths.

The late Nigerian writer and social activist Chinua Achebe reminded us of the dangers of these malignant fictions. He published A Man of the People in 1966.  The novel ends with a coup in the fictional country Achebe based his story.

Coincidentally, the novel was published two days after Nigeria’s first military coup. A theory then developed during the civil war, Biafran War, that Achebe was one of the planners of the military coup.

In fact, the military regime of Nigeria bombed his home and attempted to kill him on numerous occasions because they believed he was one of the plotters of the coup.

I take the liberty to impose on you a lengthy quote from his work entitled The Truth of Fiction in which he addresses these malignant fictions.

“I have direct experience of how easy it is for us to short-circuit the power of our imagination by our own act of will. For when a desperate man wishes to believe something however bizarre or stupid nobody can stop him. He will discover in his imagination a willing and enthusiastic accomplice. Together they will weave the necessary fiction which will then bind him securely to his cherished intention.”

It is these malignant fictions that the protesters in the front-lines have refused to suspend their beliefs to entertain. They have showed their humane side. They are not indifferent to suffering.

Imaginative identification is the opposite of indifference; it is human connectedness at its most intimate. It is one step closer to the golden adage “Do unto others…”

The late Hannah Arendt showed this incredible perception when she entitled her study of the psychology of totalitarianism The Banality of Evil. I guess that sums up this article.

In conclusion, it appears that America won the legal battle but lost the moral war. Legality doesn’t confer morality. They are different entities. The Holocaust was legal but it was inhuman and immoral. Slavery was legal but it was inhuman and immoral.

The same can be said about Apartheid. Legal or state institutions are inhuman by nature. They have no heart. Therefore, they have no sense of morality. The true moral agents are the people, especially the oppressed. America is suffering from an acute illness known as anomie.

In the words of Noam Chomsky, “States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions”. Therefore, it is the people who have the ability to restore morality into the American injustice system.

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December 1, 2014 · 11:34 pm

Women and Flowers


Picture of a pink flower

A flower and a woman

Have loads in common.

Both beautiful in summer

At their aura’s full power.



Pluck them too soon

And they wilt before autumn.

But if you really appreciate their beauty,

Let them blossom.



Cherish their memory

Because like unrequited love,

It is a love that never dies.

It lives on eternally

In the memories’ eyes.

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Victory for The Upright Men: Triumph of the people’s will over a tyrant


Burkina Faso

Over the past few weeks I have observed keenly the events unfolding in Burkina Faso. I have written a number of articles documenting what has been taking place.

As I am writing now, there is a meeting in progress, which started at 18:00pm, where the leading men and women in Burkina Faso are in the process of picking a civilian leader.

Maybe before I publish this article, the new civilian leader in charge of leading the country through a transition period for a year will have been announced.

By then, this article will be old news but still good news. Maybe I might have to edit it and update it. Whatever the case is, the facts remain unchanged.

After Lt Col Issac Zida stepped down, the path to a new era was laid. He did the honourable thing and handed over power gracefully. He became an intergral link to history when he signed the transition charter. He duly got a standing ovation for playing his part in the smooth transition of power.

Image of Lt Col Zida

Lt Col Zida handing over the transition charter paving the way for civilian rule.

It could have been a bloody conflict which would leave behind residues of hate and plant seeds for sectarian violence as we have witnessed recent events in Syria, Iraq, Libya, etc. where these nations have descended into anarchy and wave after wave of sectarian violence.

Thanks to the African Union for remaining on top of the situation. It is a good sign to see Africans resolving African issues in peace without the need for external intervention which mainly believes that total destruction is the only solution.

Therefore, it is no longer a question of if a civilian leader will be handed power but more a question of who and when.

The latter question is hanging in the balance for a few hours but the more pertinent question most of us want to know is who will have the honour of making history.

Whoever is chosen will be sworn in on Friday. The transitional president will choose a prime minister who will appoint a 25 member government. They will not be allowed to participate at the elections. The first government sitting will be on Saturday.

A committee of 23 compromising members of the army, religious and traditional groups, political opposition and civil society have the difficult task to select the chosen one. They have four to five candidates to choose from. These range from a priest, two journalists, a socioligist and a retired diplomat.

image

However, it appears that the church may have retracted the priests nomination citing that political power and priesthood were incompatible.

Therefore, you are witnessing history in the making. It may not be as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the moment Nelson Mandela walked out of prison with Winnie Madikizela Mandela on his arm, waving to people who came to witness the end of an era and beginning of another.

However, it is still a historic moment, especially, for the Burkinabe who made this moment possible. In the words of the late Thomas Sankara, they dared to invent the future. This is the future they have invented.

For the Burkinabe, it will be the first time in 31 years that they will have a civilian leader. For many young people under the age of 28, it will be the first time they will have seen a new leader apart from Blaise Compaore who ruled for 27 years after he overthrew the late Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara in a military coup on the 15th of October 1987.

Thomas Sankara

The fall of the strong man might herald a new era for Africa. I have to resist the temptation of waxing lyrical and romanticise the situation. Change is stubborn. Change is difficult. It is resisted by many for various reasons even if it is in their best interests.

Simply changing from what people know or are comfortable with may be be too much for some people because it forces them to change too. Sometimes it’s the fear of the unknown that forces people to hold onto situations that are not conducive for their personal, political and social growth and development.

Change is not apocalyptic. It is a protracted process over time. It requires compromise. It calls for political maturity and interested parties to work together for the common good of the people and the country.

There will be conflict in bringing change to the country because different parties or factions will have different ideologies or methodologies that they believe work best.

The greatest challenge to change is having people who have the political will and honesty to implement the policy and ideas they propose. However, I believe that Burkina Faso has taken a mature step towards building a future compatible with their aspirations and will.

The events of the 31st October took many by surprise. Few foresaw how a sitting president of a stable country in Africa could be unseated by a popular uprising. It is rare. There are few precedents.

Lassina Sawadogo face to face with two soldiers

However, a number of presidents in Africa who have been in power for decades will have observed what happened in Burkina Faso and they will know it can happen to them too.

Anytime they see or hear of a protest, the events of the 31st of October 2014 will be at the back of their minds. It remains to be seen whether the cries of the Burkinabe youth “Enough is enough” will find resonance elsewhere on the continent.

Burkinabe protesters

People power: Burkinabe protesters gather in Ougadougou to protest against Blaise Compoare attempts to extend his rotten shelf life.

Gone are the days when the national media could censor events happening across the continent or all over the world. The advent of social media and various smart phone apps where ideas and knowledge can be shared without state censorship has weakened those who would want to keep ideas of uprisings at bay.

This continual flow of subversive ideas through technology, enlightenment through formal or informal education is a cause for major headaches for tyrants and rogues who keeping clinging to power amid the clamouring calls for change by the youth.

Those who refuse to respect the will of the people may regret their decisions when their empires come crumbling down and masonry and steel structures from the castles they build in the sky rain on their heads.

For a long time, Blaise Compoare like many African leaders, presided over a democracy in name only but not in substance or practise. He did so many things to transform his image to appear like a moderate leader and a respected consummate statesman who had his fingers on the pulse of what was happening in Africa.

He was a strong ally of the western powers in their fight against Muslim militants in the region but not even his powerful connections could save him when the time came.

However, the company he kept revealed more about his nefarious activities and his Jekyll and Hyde character. You can polish a turd and spray perfume on it but you can’t hide the stink. The Burkinabe smelt the shit and when it’s stench became unbearable duly flushed it down the toilet and consigned it the political sewer where it belongs.

The final act by Lt Col Zida to sign the transition charter to pave way for a civilian leader to head the government for a year marks a triumph of the people’s will over tyranny.

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November 16, 2014 · 9:41 pm

Confronting Cultural Imperialism in Human Rights Discourse


thegatvolblogger:

An extremely well articulated article addressing the pitfalls of a lack of cultural sensitivity and awareness when tackling “human rights” issues from cultures alien to us. It calls into question the methodology of activists and abolitionists who through their cultural illiteracy may do more harm than good and end up alienating the people they hope to “save”. Brace yourself for an engaging and compelling piece.

Originally posted on colouredraysofgrey:

Written by Doreen Gaura for Africa on the Blog

Photograph taken by Beenish Ahmed for The Atlantic

Photograph taken by Beenish Ahmed for The Atlantic

A few days ago, a good friend of mine brought to my attention The Atlantic’s article Confronting a Sexual Rite of Passage in Malawi penned by Beenish Ahmed and the subsequent response to it by Kim Yi Dionne published on Africa is a Country and she asked for my thoughts; particularly with regards to Dionne’s response. In short, I am inclined to agree wholly with Dionne’s position but I’d like to take it further and extend this discussion to include the human rights sector and not just limit it to international media and it’s reporting on Afrika and the cultural practices therein.

I work in the human rights sector and actively work on children’s rights so it goes without saying that I appreciate what The Atlantic was attempting to achieve with this piece…

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Publishing Opportunity


I have been sitting on this opportunity for a while. It popped into my inbox and got buried under an avalanche of emails. I made a mental note to give you the heads up about this writing competition but it slipped my mind.

There are still about three to four days to submit to Masons Road. The deadline is the 15th of November 2014.

Masons Road are an online literary journal. They are open to submissions in a number of genres. These are:

  • Poetry
  • Fiction
  • Creative Nonfiction
  • Craft Essay

The theme for issue #10 is memory and they are looking for creative takes on it.

There are two ways of submitting work. If like me, you don’t like paying for submissions, then, you can submit for free during their submissions period and they will consider your work for publication.

If you just want to test the waters and see how your work is received, you have nothing to lose. Go for it. It’s a different outlet. The worst thing they can say is no.

Rejection is nothing new to writers. It happens to the best. If it happened to JK Rowling, then anything is possible. But look how she ended up. All those agents and publishers who rejected her regret passing over that cash cow.

Alternatively, you can submit your work with a $10.00 fee. Your submission will be considered for the Masons Road Literary Prize. This includes publication and a $500.00 prize for the best entry.

You can visit their website here http://www.masonsroad.com to find out more about them and check out their submission guidelines. You can also read the last winner’s work, Formication – Patricia Canright Smith, and see if this is the journal for you. Previous issues of the online journal are available to get a feel of it.

If you have a piece that is gathering dust in some drawer somewhere or virtual cobwebs in your hard drive, dust it off and submit it. Any opportunity to build a publishing credit is good for your writer’s CV and your repertoire.

Good luck. My apologies in advance for the late heads up.

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Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba, A Revolutionary Musician


Picture of Miriam Makeba

She was affectionately known as Mama Africa: her real name was Miriam Makeba. She was a South African musician. She was a revolutionary. And with music as her weapon of choice, she bravely fought against Apartheid, bringing the plight of millions of black South Africans to the collective consciousness of the world.

This poignant quote of hers encapsulates Miriam Makeba:

I look at an ant and I see myself: a native South African, endowed by nature with a strength much greater than my size so I might cope with the weight of a racism that crushes my spirit.

The picture she painted comparing herself to an ant is very apt. She was a young, charismatic, vivacious and beautiful black woman who appeared  fragile, but beneath her vulnerable exterior, she was extremely resilient.

She had to be to bear the burden of white racism and apartheid that from her birth, had done everything to reduce her to a non-being. This formed her anti-racism attitude. It made her aware of white injustice from an early age.

Miriam Makeba meme image

Makeba came from humble roots. She was born on the fourth of March 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (a traditional African healer).

I remember her saying in one of her interviews that she inherited her ability to heal with music from her mother who healed with herbs.

Her father was a Xhosa; he died when she was six years old. Eighteen days after her birth, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African traditional beer brewed using cornmeal and malt. It was illegal to brew and sell this homemade beer.

Her mother spent six months in prison together with Miriam Makeba. The experience left an indelible mark on her. The music she would make decades later would be grounded in the life and struggle of her people.

In a nutshell, it was social commentary capturing the many facets of life for Africans living in the townships of Apartheid South Africa.

Music was part and parcel of her formative years. She sang in the choir of Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria. It was a primary school she attended for eight years.

Makeba had her only child at the age of eighteen in 1950. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time. Her first husband, James Kubay, left her then.

Pic of Miriam Makeba

Her singing skills were honed in the 1950s when she was a part of the Manhattan Brothers, they sang African jazz. However, the union didn’t last.

She left soon after to sing with her all-woman group, The Skylarks. Their music was a concoction of Jazz and traditional South African melodies.

Pata Pata which she released in 1956 catapulted her to the top. It was written by a fellow Southern African musician and friend of hers: Dorothy Masuka came from Zimbabwe, then known as Southern Rhodesia. The song was played on all radio stations and made Makeba into a household name.

A few years later, she appeared on an anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa, produced and directed by American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. The viewers response was awesome and Rogosin secured her a visa to attend the twenty-fourth Venice Film Festival in Italy.

It won the Critics Award. It opened up new vistas for her. She suddenly found herself in the lead female role in King Kong, the Broadway-inspired South African musical.

She later met the charismatic musician and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte on her travels in London. He was instrumental in helping her secure entry to the United States. He was equally instrumental in helping her rise to fame in the US.

Picture of Harry Belafonte with Miriam Makeba

Harry Belafonte was instrumental in paving Miriam Makeba’s rise to fame and entry in the US.

However, disaster struck. Her mother passed away. On her attempts to return, she discovered her South African passport had been cancelled. The injustice radicalised her; it strengthened her resolve to fight apartheid.

She buried herself into her music and signed with RCA Victor. She released her first U.S. studio album. She named it Miriam Makeba. About two years later, she sang with Belafonte at John F. Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden.

However, she didn’t attend the after party because she was not feeling well. Kennedy insisted on meeting her so Belafonte arranged a car to pick her up.

Three years after her first studio album, she released the second, The World of Miriam Makeba.

It peaked at number eight-six on the Billboard 200. However, her fight with Apartheid regime was raging in the background. Months later, she appeared at the United Nations to testify against apartheid.

The Apartheid regime retaliated: they revoked her citizenship and right to return to her motherland. She was left country-less. However, good fortune followed in her footsteps. There were no shortages of countries willing to serve Mama Africa.

Ghana, Guinea and Belgium stepped up and offered her international passports putting Apartheid South Africa to shame. From that point, she became a citizen of the world. The world was dying to own this African songbird.

She held nine passports in her lifetime and was granted honorary citizenship in ten countries. That was ironic for a person rejected by her country because she dared to speak against the Apartheid regime’s inhumane treatment of her people.

Her life was one of lifetime struggle.

She married another musician, Hugh Masekela, in 1964. They first met on the set of King Kong where Masekela was a member of the cast. However, it was short lived. They divorced two years later.

That same year in 1966, Miriam Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording for her collaboration with Harry Belafonte for An Evening with Belafonte/ Makeba.

Cover of An Evening With Belafonte/ Makeba

The album that netted Makeba’s Grammy for Best Folk Music Award with Harry Belafonte.

The album focussed on the plight of black South Africans under Apartheid. It set new ground blending Zulu, Sotho and Swahili songs in an authentic setting. Her fame was growing.

She went on to release some of her most memorable and popular songs in the US such as Malaika and the Click Song [Qongqothwane in Xhosa].

One often overlooked aspect of Miriam Makeba is her rebellious spirit. She had an iron will. She was unconventional.

At a time when many artists and women were embracing huge wigs and white standards of beauty, Makeba embraced her African roots.

She was a bonafide star but she shunned makeup. She refused to curl her hair for shows. She was a forerunner of what many would term the “Afro look”. It is such an absurd misnomer. She was simply being herself and looking the way God created her, black and beautiful.

Her stance confounded critics. The media didn’t know how to pigeonhole her. Trouble and controversy surrounded her because of her maverick ways. But her star quality was undeniable.

She released Pata Pata in the US in 1967 and it became an instant hit sending her reputation even higher.

However, the following year she married a young radical who was a member of the Black Panther Party, and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee leader.

Picture of Miriam Makeba and Stokely Carmichael

Miriam Makeba’s marriage to Trinidad born Stokeley Carmichael caused a lot of controversy. It was the beginning of a huge fallout with power brokers in the musical industry.

His name was Stokeley Carmichael. He would later change his name to Kwame Ture. His name was an amalgamation of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure‘s name and surname.

The marriage caused huge controversy in the United States because Carmichael was a civil rights activist and considered too much of a radical because of his advocacy for self defence against state brutality in the US.

The power brokers and gatekeepers of the music industry reacted by cancelling her record deals and tours. It cost her a fortune. But she remained steadfast and refused to have the music industry define who she could love. She stood by her man and her decision.

Picture of Miriam a Makeba with Stokeley Carmichael

Consequently, the couple bid farewell to America and relocated to Guinea where President Ahmed Sekou Toure welcomed them with open arms. Guinea was home to Makeba for fifteen years. It became her home away from home.

The couple were close to the president and his wife Andree. Stokeley worked closely with the president while Makeba was appointed Guinea’s official to the United Nations. This was a public relations coup for Toure.

Miriam Makeba was rewarded with the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986 for her new role. Her marriage to Carmichael lasted until 1973. The toll had taken its effect on the couple.

Picture of Miriam Makeba with Stokeley Carmichael

She continued to perform in Africa, Europe and Asia and stayed clear of America which had rejected her because of her love for Stokeley Carmichael. She found herself at one of the most historic events to be held in Africa.

She was one of the entertainers at the Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.

The following year she addressed the United Nations again. Makeba used her profile to raise awareness of the plight of her people and pushing for freedom snd equal rights.

She didn’t think twice about using her star quality and charm to put the cause of freedom above her own career. Black liberation was her motivation.

Tragedy struck again. Her daughter Bongi passed away. She was more than just her daughter. She was her friend, confidant, collaborator and song writer on unconventional projects such as the Tribute to Malcolm X.

As usual her mettle and never say die attitude got her through the difficulties.

She met Paul Simon through her ex Hugh Masekela. He introduced the pair and months later they were on the road of the historic Graceland Tour. It took her mind off the death of her daughter.

Two concerts were held in Harare, Zimbabwe. I remember watching them on TV. The shows were billed as Graceland: The African Concert. It was an exquisite show. I was mesmerised watching Paul Simon performing with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

However, Miriam Makeba stole the show and my heart though she was much too old for me. Nevertheless, I had a crush for this woman whose aura radiated way beyond the TV screen. I can understand why Carmichael and Masekela and others fell for her.

Makeba was a strong woman. She was outspoken. She was a revolutionary. She was an artist and unconventional. She attracted men with similar strengths to hers. It is possible that this is why their unions were short lived.

She had a thing for strong black men who were about black liberation and Black Power. If she was not with them physically, she was with them mentally and spiritually.

They were the subjects of her music. They were her muses. There was a two way exchange of energy fuelling the fight for liberation. Her projects on Malcolm X. and Samora Machel illustrate her awareness of the icons of the Black liberation struggle.

The tour worked its magic and brought record executives back to their senses. Warner Bros signed her up and she released Sangoma [Healer], in honour of her mother who was a sangoma. It was her way of paying tribute to her and dealing with that tragedy that seemed to dog her.

The album consisted of accappella healing chants. Her autobiography Makeba: My story followed shortly after. It was published and translated into numerous European languages.

She soon returned to what she did equally well – getting under the skin of the Apartheid Regime. She performed at Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute held at Wembley Stadium in London on the 11th of June 1988.

It was broadcast to 67 countries and garnered an audience of about 600 million. The purpose of this event was to call for the release of the struggle icon Nelson Mandela.

It didn’t do her any favours with the Apartheid regime which was nearing its doomed shelf life and squirming under the glare of the world. The pressure was too much and the cracks began to appear.

Two years later, President Frederik de Klerk unbanned the ANC [African National Congress] and other banned organisations. His announcement that Mandela was to be released sent shockwaves across the world.

Mandela was finally released on 11 February 1990. I remember the moment he was released, walking hand in hand with Winnie Mandela and waving to an ocean of supporters.

Mandela never forgot the efforts of Makeba. He persuaded her to return. She promptly returned at his invitation and reassurances for her safety. Three decades after she left, she was finally back home to reap the rewards of her sweat and tears.

She marked her return with another album, Eyes on Tomorrow. It was a collaborative effort with Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and her ex and lifetime collaborator – Hugh Masekela.

Her return home was magical. She made an enchanting appearance in an episode of The Cosby Show. Now, she could have some fun. A role in Sarafina followed the same year. It was a role befitting her role in the struggle.

She played Angelina, the mother of Sarafina. The film follows the footsteps of students involved in the 1976’s  Soweto youth uprising. She returned to the studio and released, Sing Me A Song.

Good fortune continued to follow her and her life of struggle seemed to be behind her. Miriam Makeba was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in October 1999.

The following year she was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album category for her album Homeland. Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn for the New York City based record label Putumayo World Music produced it.

However, Mama Africa was touched by the suffering she saw in Africa. Away from the glare of the limelight, she rolled up her sleeves and worked with Graça Machel-Mandela; she was the South African first lady. They worked with children suffering from HIV/AIDS, child soldiers, and the physically handicapped.

Awards and accolades followed soon after. Makeba received the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin. It was awarded for outstanding services to peace and international understanding in 2001.

Many others followed. She was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. She embarked on a farewell tour in 2005, performing concerts in all the countries she visited during her years in exile or working life.

Tribute shows were done in her memory at the Barbican in London and the Festival d’Ile de France. The latter was hosted by another prominent musician and activist Angelique Kidjo from Benin and a Grammy Award winner.

A documentary, Mama Africa, about her life also followed providing insight into her long and colourful career and personal life. It cemented her legacy as a musician and a revolutionary.

Miriam Makeba dedicated her life to fight injustice and wherever she found it she fought it. So it is no coincidence that on the 9th of November 2008, she was performing at a concert organised to support Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camora.

The Camora is a mafia like organisation found in the Region of Campania.

Mama Africa suffered a heart attack after performing the hit, Pata Pata, that brought her to the world’s attention. The doctors at the Pinetta Grande clinic were unable to revive her.

She passed away doing the two things she loved doing – music and fighting for freedom. It was typical of Miriam Makeba to sacrifice her life to causes she believed in even if it cost her comfort or her life. She always put others before herself which is the opposite of what most musicians do today.

It is not only her music that made her such a loved person. It was her humanitarian and civil rights activism that garnered the respect of the world. Unlike most musicians today, she was outspoken and refused to be silenced by the corporations or those in the corridors of power. She spoke truth to power.

That was a remarkable feat for a young black girl who spent her first months in prison, then grew up in the dusty townships of South Africa. Throughout her life, she embodied the African’s resiliant spirit to overcome adversity against all odds.

For Makeba, the people, Africa came first. She was never ashamed of her culture. She was proud of it and made African culture cool. She didn’t have to chant the slogan Black is Beautiful. She personified it. She wore it like a royal cloak with subliminal splendour and grace. She said it loudly and silently but without uttering a word.

She paved the road for the current crop of African musicians who are enjoying international fame today.

She was a phenomenal African woman who embraced her Africaness with pride and the dignity of royalty. She serenaded the world with her music and documented the life’s of Africans in the townships of South Africa.

She brought their plight to the world. She was the most vociferous and visible anti-apartheid campaigner for over three decades. She was a civil rights activist and stood for freedom, equal rights and justice all over the world.

She said it best herself when she said, My life, my career, every song I sing and every appearance I make, are bound up with the plight of my people.

She was and will always be a revolutionary musician. It is not enough to love her music. Her legacy should remind us and inspire us to do more to be better people and make the world a better place.

There are those who claim struggle credentials to monopolise power and accumulate wealth in society and conveniently omit the contributions of people like Miriam Makeba who gave of themselves selflessly without care for reward or financial compensation.

These are the true heroes and heroines who we must continue to write about and tell their stories to prevent the collective memory from forgetting. I salute this phenomenal revolutionary musician. May the Makeba spirit live through every one of us through the act of remembering her and impersonating her selfless sacrifice for freedom and justice.

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November 10, 2014 · 4:25 pm

Poets and War


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12 Lessons From the 31st October Burkinabe Revolution


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