Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

Afrophobia or xenophobia is unAfrican!


In William Shakespeare’s lyrical tale of “star-crosse’d” lovers, the legendary playwright penned four immortal lines that embody a struggle and tragedy that still plagues mankind to this day. In those lines, Juliet tells Romeo:

“What’s in a name? That

which we call a rose

By any other name would

smell as sweet.”

Her point was that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention because she was in love with the person who happened to carry the Montague name but not the  name “Montague” nor the family.

Looking at what is happening in South Africa, we can reach the same conclusion in describing the absurdity of those in power who tried to spin the xenophobia which resulted in the deaths of numerous “foreigners” by calling it by another misnomer, namely Afrophobia.

We could rewrite Shakespeare’s immortal quote, trying to make sense of this crime against humanity:

“What’s in a name? That

which we call Afrophobia

By any other name would

still be inhumane.”

The point is clear: whether or not we call the xenophobic attacks Afrophobia, the outcome is still the same. They are senseless murders.

Numerous people died. Many more were displaced. Businesses were destroyed. Properties looted. People are living in fear. People were horrified. Disgusted.

Picture of a man in a red cap and sweater arrested by the Johannesburg for allegedly being a xenophobic attacker

A man is held in Jeppestown by the police in Johannesburg for allegedly attacking foreigners in the xenophobic attacks last month and looting businesses owned by foreigners.

The nation is severely divided. Relations between nations are tense. Tempers are flaring across borders and social media. The forecast is not looking good for Africa.

From the north to the south, the east to the west, Africa is in trouble. We are in trouble. Rarely has one incident, maybe with the exception of Boko Haram, set so many people in Africa against each other, or united them to condemn such depravity.

Yet international condemnation was absent in the furore engulfing Africa at the time. The mainstream [western] media barely uttered a word for over a week or two. When it finally did, many social commentators argued it was too little too late.

They argued that if the attacks had targeted white foreigners, they would have reacted sooner condemning the attacks in the strongest terms. Maybe there is some truth to that.

If that was the case, President Jacob Zuma would have reacted swiftly and firmly to avoid a situation where NATO countries would venture to put boots on the ground to protect their citizens as what happened during the Crisis in the Congo during the reign of Patrice Lumumba, and in Egypt under the watch of Gamal Abdel Nasser at the time of the Suez Canal Crisis. No African president wants a situation like that.

Residents from Jeppestown hostels flee for cover when the police fire rubber bullets to disperse the unruly rioters who were attacking people and destroying and looting business, local and foreign owned. [Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

Residents from Jeppestown hostels flee for cover when the police fire rubber bullets to disperse the unruly rioters who were attacking people and destroying and looting business, local and foreign owned.
[Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

The mainstream media’s’ sluggish and non-committal reaction led many to question if black lives were of equal value with white lives.

Not many were convinced the white media placed equal value on black lives as it did on white lives. Their coverage of issues in Africa or their bias in their reporting of the murder of black men and women in America and many other countries has led many to question their motives.

Whether or not we call these xenophobic attacks Afrophobia, it does not mask the horror; the depravity, the inhumane, or the shocking reality of this callous snuffing out of human life.

It goes against the moral and humane tenets of what we call Ubuntu [Zulu], Hunhu [Shona], Umntu [Xhosa – South Africa], Botho in Sesotho and Setswana [Botswana], Numunhu [Shangaan], Vhuthu [Venda], Bunhu [Tsonga], Utu in Kiswahili/ Swahili [Kenya and Tanzania], Ajobi [Yoruba – Nigeria], Abantu in [Luganda] Uganda and many other names across East, West and Southern Africa.

These humane tenets of Ubuntu, Hunhu is the common thread that runs throughout all the different ethnic groups of East, West and Southern Africa.

Pictures of men from Jeppestown making threatening gestures and brandishing axes, sticks and other weapons towards foreign-owned businesses in the neighbourhood.

The men from Jeppestown hostels making gestures and brandishing various weapons to threaten foreign-owned businesses in their local neighbourhood. [Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

It’s the same common thread binding all Africans from East to  West Africa and Southern Africa as one.

It’s testimony that we, Africans, spring from the same source and we have more in common than we have in differences.

The Zulu saying, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”: a person is a person because of people encapsulates this thinking. We can break it down further into Sotho and Tsonga:

Motho ke motho ka batho (Sotho)

Munhu i munhu hi van’wana vanhu (Tsonga)

The meanings are the same as the Zulu saying above. As we can see clearly, our African worldview or philosophy holds true that we are only human because of other human beings; therefore, when we dehumanise others, we are dehumanised as a result.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu tried to explain the concept of Ubuntu. He said,

Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, “Yu unobuntu”; “Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.” Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have.

Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu

Picture of a group of Nigerian men trying to salvage a car wrecked after their vehicle repair shop was set on fire by angry mobs. The police stand guard.

A group of NIgerian men attempt to salvage a car from their vehicle repair shop which was burnt down by mobs. The entire workshop was razed and all its contents, other cars, destroyed. The police keep watch over them.
[Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

We are divine human beings but we are fighting each over borders the colonialists set up at the Berlin Conference in 1884 – 1885 when the European powers cut up our continent and divided it amongst themselves as their imperial conquests, creating these nations we inherited at independence.

All these nations such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Nigeria, etc. are white constructs.

Africa never had these artificial borders on a map until the colonialists cut up the continent to build their personal fiefdoms.

Prior to that, we, Africans could move freely within our continent in search of food, greener pastures, water, etc. without restrictions as we have today.

It was through these migrations that we intermarried, traded material goods and ideas and acquired new skills that enriched our various ethnic groups.

However, the borders we have today hinder trade within the continent. They prevent the easy exchange of ideas, cultural and economical capital and exchange of human resources.

Picture of two women and a baby flee with their few belongings  after receiving death threats by angry mobs.

A family packs their belongings and flee from Jeppestown after receiving death threats by angry mobs.
[Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

The continued division is a hindrance to the development of Africa and we are impoverished because of it.

The division perpetuates a continual state of arrested development which prevents us from realising our potential as a continent.

The Europeans are constantly calling for continental unity: they realise that a united Europe is stronger in the political, economical, military and cultural spheres.

Yet we, Africans, still refuse to see that our safety and security, progress and strength lies within our ability to unite as a continent.

It seems that the tactics of divide and rule first used by the Romans and later adapted by the Europeans are still as effective today as they were back then in breaking our forward stride.

As long as we are fighting for these small nations we inherited instead of knocking down these imperial borders, the greater vision of the United Africa Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and others called for will always remain a fleeting illusion.

Image of Bob Marley with the quote, “The truth is the truth, you know. Sometimes you have to just sacrifice. I mean, you can’t always hide, you have to talk the truth. If a guy want to come hurt you for the truth – then, I mean, at least you said the truth.”

Some Africans pride themselves about their ability to think outside the box. Ironically, this idea is a cliché, therefore, it can only produce clichéd thinking.

Furthermore, it is nothing but an illusion because those very people can’t think outside the borders set up through the colonisation of the continent, nor outside the confines of their intellectual sandboxes.

We need to stop thinking nationally but develop a continental perspective because the future for Africa lies within the confines of the motherland. No nation is an island.

Our inability to think beyond these border posts the colonialists set up for us is sheepish behaviour. It prevents us from manning up and dealing with the root causes of our poverty and oppression.

It is the reason why many other races and people treat Africans like little boys and girls who constantly need guidance because we can’t do things for ourselves and improve our lot.

Our minds have been twisted to respect flags: useless pieces of cloth coloured and designed by man but which have no value whatsoever.

We have flag flying independence but no economic independence which means the very idea of independence is an illusion.

We remain dependent on whoever is pulling the purse strings. They are the ones pulling the puppet strings of those caricatures of human brings we call African leaders.

Instead of addressing the question of economic independence, we forsake the greater humane good in deference to these useless pieces of cloths that we pledge to die for, yet we wouldn’t die in the quest for humanity, or fighting the forces that seek to keep us politically and economically subservient.

We wouldn’t die for our brothers or sisters but we would die for a useless piece of cloth. This illustrates the problems with the things that we value.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Afrophobia or xenophobia is a violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a violation of the right to life. It is a violation of the right to protection. Afrophobia or xenophobia violate almost all the rights that should be accorded to every human being.

We should never let it spread its ugly roots in our communities. It is a poison that kills and tears apart the delicate fabric of society.

Afrophobia or xenophobia is murder with an abstract name to divert attention from what is really going on in South Africa. It is murder with a different dress on.

Picture of an armed South African policemen sweeping through a warehouse in Johannesburg after the showroom was gutted by fire and all the cars destroed and left covered by dust and ash.

P An armed policemen in Johannesburg checks out the remains of a car sales shop where rows of cars lie under dust and soot after the business owned by a Nigerian was burnt down by some local South Africans during last month’s xenophobic madness.

Afrophobia or xenophobia is unAfrican

Afrophobia or xenophobia is an ugly thing: it is unAfrican. It is unAfrican for hosts to mistreat visitors.

It goes against the tenets of Ubuntu, Hunhu, Umntu, Utu, Ajobi, Vhutu, Bunhu, Abantu, etc. most of us were taught to adhere to from an early age.

We were taught to welcome and accommodate strangers. We were taught to offer food and water to visitors who visited us. Failure to observe these customs were frowned upon by our elders.

It was a sure way to earn a chastisement and it was always condemned as a sign of ill breeding as it reflected poorly on ones upbringing. It reflected poorly on ones parents or guardians if one failed to observe these customs.

A person who displayed values such as compassion, empathy, respect or morals was often described as munhu ane hunhu: a person imbued with humaneness.

Anyone who lacked these ethics or morals was seen as a person asina hunhu or haana hunhu, a person lacking humaneness. They were not ashamed of behaving badly, robbing, disrespecting elders, cheating, lying, raping, stealing, killing, etc.

Ubuntu, Hunhu, is what makes us munhu ane hunhu or vanhu vane hunhu: good humane people.

It is a shame that those in the know tried to repackage murder and crimes under a more acceptable and palatable label. That is a shame because Ubuntu condemns corruption of any kind.

They seem to have abdicated their African culture for a caricature of a hybrid culture that is undistinguishable. It seems like they lost their humaneness.

Ubuntu/ Hunhu is the core of the African conception of humanism. A person who embodies this concept of humanism is said to be a good human being who understands propriety; they are morally upright.

They’re responsible, honest, just, trustworthy, hard working, full of integrity, possess a cooperative spirit and can stand in solidarity with others.

They are hospitable and devoted to the  well-being of the family and the wider community. In a nutshell, anyone with Ubuntu/ Hunhu understands how to uphold the norms and values of the family, the community and society.

Therefore, they would never commit the horrific acts we witnessed because life in African culture is sacred.

Those who fall short are often rebuked In Shona or Ndebele [Zimbabwe] as “Hausi hunhu ihwohwo/ Ayisibobuntu lobu” (This is not humanness).

These type of people are viewed as ruffians or scoundrels because of their lack of a moral compass that shows humaneness.

In African tradition or culture, murder is not encouraged. It is a harbinger of ngozi, a curse, because it causes avenging spirits to wipe out generations and cause bad luck until the deceased is appeased.

Pre-colonisation, when a person took a person’s life, they had to atone for their transgression by compensating the family of the deceased; not only to compensate the family materially, but to appease the dead to allow them to rest in peace.

In some cases, the perpetrator or his family were ordered to hand over a member of their family, normally a young girl – a virgin, to the family of the deceased. This was accompanied by rituals that had to be performed but I won’t get into the details here. That is a topic for another day.

However, it illustrates the sanctity Africans had for the living. It was sacrilegious to take a life because the repercussions were devastating for everyone, including those who were not directly involved. Not even the unborn were immune from Ngozi when they finally came to be.

However, it is worth reiterating that Afrophobia or xenophobia are unAfrican. It is not the way of Africans who know themselves and adhere to the philosophy of Ubuntu/ Hunhu.

“Murder is murder”, a friend of mine wrote on my Facebook wall. She was correct and I concur with her.

Learning from past tragedies

Let us not forget that more than a month ago, Rwanda was commemorating 21 years of the genocide on the 7th of April 2015 and then these attacks happened weeks later.

It seems like we, Africans, have not learnt the lessons that ensued from that tragedy and we are bound to repeat the same mistakes again.

Let us not forget that while 800 000 to a million people were slaughtered, the people in power were busy dithering about what to call the genocide instead of taking action to prevent or contain it.

It seems like we are repeating those mistakes again by drawing red herrings, trying to intellectualise these crimes against humanity. Whether it is Afrophobia or xenophobia, it is an ugly thing: it is unAfrican.

While others may argue about the scale and numbers of the murders between what happened in Rwanda and in South Africa, it is irrelevant.

One life callously snuffed out is one life too many. It can be avoided and it should be avoided.

What is Afrophobia?

I must admit that I was unaware of this word until these events occurred and I heard that the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini described these attacks as Afrophobia.

Naturally, my curious nature forced me to look it up and find out what it really means. And a good starting point was Wikipedia. It describes Afrophobia as:

“hostility toward people, culture, or ideas of African derivation, particularly those of Sub-Saharan negroid origin. Unlike Anti-Semitism, Afrophobia is primarily a racial, and, to a lesser extent , cultural phenomenon, lacking a strong religious dimension.”

It goes on to state:

“A degree of Afrophobic self-loathing has on occasion extended to blacks themselves, leading many in the 19th and early 20th centuries to adopt artificially straightened, lye-conditioned coiffures in repudiation of their natural hairstyles. The term ‘Afrophobia” is sometimes used with this ironic metonymy in mind, using the fear of the Afro as a metaphor for the fear of one’s African heritage.”

Considering that the main victims of the attacks are people of African origin, it “appears” that Afrophobia is the appropriate term.

Hence the irony: the hostility is directed towards people of African derivation by people who look like them.

It appears to be a fear of self or “self-loathing”. It is a fear driven by ignorance. A fear heightened by lack of morals.

A fear elevated by a segment of society who cannot understand what brings other Africans to South Africa and what motivates them to strive against all odds and succeed in an alien territory.

It is a dangerous fear because it can and has been manipulated by politicians and media by channelling it to disastrous ends as we have witnessed in the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and many other conflicts throughout history.

It always begins with the denigration of others, demonising them and scape-goating them for the socio-economic and political ills a nation faces.

On the other hand Joseph L Celucien defines Afrophobia as “the fear and denigration of Africa, and the dissociation of things African and peoples of African ancestry”.

Both definitions imply that Afrophobia can be self inflicted or inflicted by the other, non Africans.

In this case, the attacks in South Africa are inflicted by “some” black South Africans on other, mainly, black Africans from other nations on the continent.

It is ironic that there are elements within South African society that refer to “Africa” as if it was a foreign country, and they live on a totally different continent or planet totally detached from the motherland.

It is this “dissociation” Celucien refers to as the detachment from the immediate surroundings or physical or emotional experience that makes it possible to murder one’s own in cold blood without feeling a thing.

Some of these Africans don’t act like Africans living in Africa, but Europeans living in Africa. They create a “them” and “us” mentality which is an ingredient that fuels xenophobia.

It is a shame that some of these individuals are powerful figures within the government, society and the media who should know better than to ferment hatred and division.

The Afrophobia Illusion

The operative word above was “appears”. That doesn’t mean I accept that what is happening or happened is Afrophobia. I believe it is xenophobia.

The question is when Europeans discriminate against their fellow Europeans from the continent, do they cry out Europhobia? No, they do not.

It is simply xenophobia. Therefore, it is idiotic for us Africans to claim it is Afrophobia: if the same thing happened anywhere else in the world, it would be labelled as xenophobia.

We cannot deny what happened by trying to muddy the waters, claiming that it is Afrophobia. These attacks on people of African origin from other countries in Africa is XENOPHOBIA plain and simple.

The complaint is against “foreigners”, albeit black ones; therefore, there is no way we can spin the truth unless those in the media and in power have ulterior motives.

Why are black Africans under attack by their fellow black South African kin?

There lies the absurdity of the attacks. It is an anomaly the term “foreigners” among “some” black South Africans refers to black Africans only.

Whites are viewed as expatriates, investors or tourists. They are not perceived as foreigners but people bringing in foreign currency, opportunities, jobs, cultural capital, etc.

Because they don’t share the same spaces as the majority, they are not perceived as a direct threat in the competition for scant resources.

In contrast, Black Africans often referred to locally as “makwerekwere”, a derogatory term demonising them as thieves, are perceived as people who come to South Africa to sell drugs, steal jobs and opportunities from the locals.

They are often accused of stealing women and men too absurdly as illustrated in the picture below. Who would want to steal the woman of the guy below?

A xenophobic South African in a meme claiming Africans are stealing their women.

In other cases, they are accused of stealing whole suburbs like Yeoville, Berea or Hillbrow in central Johannesburg.

Ironically, the area that foreigners, black Africans, occupy is a grain of sand in a desert when compared to the area controlled by white South Africans or white foreigners which makes this argument most absurd.

To make matters more complicated, a lot of blacks from other countries end up living in the shanty towns, townships and rural areas or farms with black South Africans.

Hence, because they share the same space, both are pitted to compete against one another for a place on the lowest rung on the South African socio-economic ladder.

Such competition opens up room for hostilities and consequently the ugly scenes we are witnessing today.

The legacy of Apartheid and colonialism subliminally brainwashed black people to respect white life because it supposedly had more value. This taboo was reinforced through subliminal brainwashing by convincing black people that they were inferior and whites superior through separate development.

It was a taboo for a black person to kill a white person then. The consequences of killing a white person were worse for killing a white person compared to killing a black person.

Even looking at a white woman could cost a black man his life or a lifetime behind bars. The old immorality laws made sure blacks always knew their place and forced them to respect white life.

It seems like the legacy of Apartheid was internalised and on a subconscious level White foreigners are less likely to be targeted as black foreigners are.

It is also ironic that a lot of Chinese and other Asian nationalities often take up jobs in South Africa or marry South African women yet they are not targeted in the same manner as other Africans from other countries.

In a way, this illustrates that issues about jobs or women are not really the underlying causes for these attacks.

What sparked these xenophobic attacks?

Politicians, the media and others have institutionalised xenophobia and have often used unsavoury terms to demonise black foreigners, blaming them for everything that is wrong in South Africa, that is when they are not blaming Rhodes or Apartheid.

The latest rounds of attacks were allegedly sparked by something the inappropriately misnamed Zulu king, Goodwill [Illwill] Zwelethini said, calling for the foreigners to pack their bags and go. He also allegedly likened them to lice and ants.

According to a speech made by Julius Malema in parliament, Zuma’s son is alleged to have added his vitriol to an already volatile situation.

However, it goes further back. There were other attacks in 2008. Prior to that there were low level attacks that date back to the mid 90’s but never gained any traction. They remained isolated incidents and under the radar.

In recent years, high level verbal attacks by powerful members in society scape-goating foreigners has increased the hatred of black foreigners. They have been blamed for crime and violence as if South Africa was not already a crime ridden country and one of the crime capitals of the world.

Foreigners are blamed for the weakening rand. They are blamed for the lack of jobs. They are blamed for poor or non existent service delivery. They are blamed for the lack of housing.

Social, economic or political ills are blamed on them. They are convenient scapegoats because they don’t have a voice. They have no means of articulating their position because of lack of organisation or a body to articulate their concerns.

The lie is repeated often enough and many people accept is as the gospel truth. However, very few people are willing to critically examine the root causes and point out that an incompetent leadership is the root cause of the social, economic and political ills South Africa is experiencing.

Very few want to admit that the growth of a tiny black elite and a lack of socio-economic and political transformation are the reasons why the poor are getting poorer and it is not the vulnerable African immigrants who are the problem.

The meteoric rise of the Economic Freedom Fighters [EFF] under Julius Malema demonstrates that there is discontent among a significant cross section with regards to the lack of political and socio-economic transformation.

It is a motivating factor in the unrest. However, to deflect from the truth, politicians create an enemy to blame for the problems poor South Africans are experiencing. The voiceless and vulnerable immigrants are made the scapegoats to shoulder this blame in a manner resembling Hitler blaming the Jews for Germany’s woes.

The reality is that whether or not the immigrants are driven out, the situation is not going to change for those competing at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

Without any meaningful transformation, the poor are going to get poorer and the rich richer. There needs to be a greater push towards changing the mindsets of certain sections of the community who remain illiterate and have no practical skills to offer in the workplace.

There needs to be more done to change the mindset of those who spend their time drinking and chasing women, parting with whatever little money they have purchasing juju to bring them luck or secure jobs; or those who believe that funding the flamboyant lifestyle of prosperity prophets will miraculously transform their lives, and they will be blessed in return with miracle money and prosperity.

Picture of illiterate and xenophobic protesters protesting in the streets that qualified medical doctors are stealing their jobs.

This cultural paradigm needs to be addressed first. However, there isn’t a Steve Bantu Biko like figure alive today who can address the question of psychological emancipation and encourage a spirit and mentality of self reliance.

More needs to be done to address the dependency syndrome that makes some believe that the government is a good parent that can cater for all of the needs of everyone. People need to do more to work on continually improving their self through their own means instead of waiting for others to do for them what they should be doing for themselves.

The question is how long are those at the bottom going to carry on walking around in their dazed stupors, refusing to see what is so obvious.

How long are they going to continue voting sentimentally for those who are going to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses?

Divide and Rule

We are all oppressed. But we are oppressed in different ways by the ruling elite. Some are oppressed by their gender. Some by race. Some ethnicity. Some class, religion, political affiliation, etc.

The motive is keep us fighting among ourselves over the crumbs and trivial matters; while we are distracted by our infighting, they are making off with the lion’s share of the economic cake.

As long as we remain fragmented and divided by ideological differences, the elite have nothing to worry about. They can get away with murder and they will use their dirty tactics and hungry youths and people to do their dirty work or fight wars dreamed up by old men.

Picture of an arrested looter claiming he was sent to loot and cause xenophobic violence.

It is no coincidence that one of the looters arrested in the pictures above and below claim they were sent to carry out xenophobic violence and loot the shops of foreigners or local businesses.

These are criminals with no compunction who have no ideological standing. They are rebels without a cause.

These are not the type of people who can or want to work when they can be rewarded through instant gratification, reaping where they did not sow.

Crazy looter 2

They blame foreigners for taking their jobs but use that as an excuse to rob hard working people. They blame foreigners taking their women to find easy pickings for their criminal activities.

They are criminals masquerading as protesters with genuine concerns. Why are they not attacking the Chinese who are doing the very same things they are complaining of?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not inciting violence against any race or nationality. My question is a rhetoric one and nothing more than that.

Consequences of Xenophobia

We all suffer, directly or indirectly, from the consequences of xenophobia. When one black person commits a transgression, the whole race is tarnished.

We don’t uplift our nation or race. Rather, we continue to reinforce the racial stereotypes that some have tried for centuries to prove true.

We have come a long way as a continent but we have a long way to go still. All the progress that we have made is wiped out by transgressions like these xenophobic attacks. It makes us look less humane. It makes us look like barbarians, people who haven’t seen the light.

Picture of people fleeing violence by xenophobic mobs

The families of the victims of the attacks have lost sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandsons, etc. They have lost breadwinners. They have lost hope.

The future is a much darker place. We cannot even begin to imagine their grief. Only someone who has lost a family member through senseless violence can appreciate it. The rest will have to imagine it.

The families of the perpetrators suffer too because of the actions of their sons. They are ashamed of the actions of their sons. They are stigmatised.

They also have their losses and share of grief to contend with, let alone the ruined futures of the young men involved in some of these gruesome attacks as illustrated by the consequences the families of the murderers of Emmanuel Sithole a.k.a. Josias suffered after he was murdered in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg, South Africa.

As I touched on above, there has been a massive fallout between South Africa, its neighbours and other countries in Africa such as Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, etc.

Nigeria recalled its high commissioner. Malawi was threatening to expel the South African Ambassador to the country.

South African workers who were based in Mozambique had to be repatriated back home because of fears that they would be attacked.

The South African Embassy in Nigeria was shut down for over a week due to protests in Nigeria.

A number of countries have repatriated their nationals back home. Over two weekends, there were protests at the South African Embassy in London.

The whole continent is destabilised because of the actions of a few. There are some who claim that there are efforts by external forces to create such a situation and exploit it. Whatever the truth is, we are responsible for our own actions and we have to accept it like men and women with minds of their own to think.

The Rand fell while these xenophobic attacks were occurring. It is not Africans who benefit from the fallout of the Rand but the major currencies and we have to pay more to make ends meet in South Africa. It is the poor who suffer when inflation rises.

Armed members of the SAPS gesture to a Nigerian man to keep his distance to prevent him from approaching a South African Man who has been arrested while in the process of looting a Nigerian owned business in Jeppestown, Johannesburg.

Armed members of the SAPS gesture to a Nigerian man to keep his distance to prevent him from approaching a South African Man who has been arrested while in the process of looting a Nigerian owned business in Jeppestown, Johannesburg. [Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]  

There are on-line petitions and campaigns to boycott South African artists, companies and products.

Some campaigners are calling for the likes of the Zulu King to be hauled before the ICC. Others are calling for South Africa to be expelled from SADC and the African Union and leave it isolated as it was during the Apartheid era.

However, the truth is that it is not going to happen. There will be some posturing by ambassadors, presidents and politicians vying for political capital to brush up their bruised egos but nothing meaningful will come out of it until the next wave of attacks when all the posturing will be repeated again like a never-ending charade.

Reviews and inquests will be conducted but it will not make a difference. It is a part of the sham that is modern politics. Afterwards, announcements will be made that they have learnt their lessons and politicians will make empty promises again.

Politicians are going to attend meetings at the AU and SADC to discuss these matters over numerous courses of meals but the discussions at the conference table will serve us no purpose.

Tackling the root causes of xenophobic violence

However, the politicians will not address or tackle the root causes. It will not happen. Tackling the root causes will mean introspection and constructive change which is not something our African politicians are used to or willing to do.

Tackling the root causes of xenophobic violence means educating the people and tackling the high level of illiteracy, ignorance, poverty.

It means delivering on election pledges, transparency and honesty from those in government. It means structural changes to the socio-economic and political order. It means getting rid of corruption and bad governance.

No leader is willing to tackle these issues head on. African leaders, as a collective, all shy away from tackling these issues because they believe that they will threaten their survival.

Keeping the people divided and fighting each other and struggling to survive means the poor don’t have the luxury to think, and develop an awareness of why they are hungry and poor.

By keeping people hungry and fighting between themselves, politicians and the elite prevent the masses from thinking critically and turning against them.

It is at times like this we miss leaders like Steve Biko and his Black Consciousness Movement and philosophy. I can imagine Biko reminding the people that:

“The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country [on the continent] of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity.”

The parenthesis above is mine. I believe Biko would find it difficult to believe that an African would be considered a foreigner on the continent of his or her birth; he would stand up and speak out against the reduction of the black man and woman’s dignity through xenophobia and the reckless utterances by those who yield power in society.

That no other leader after Biko has attempted to empower the people and decolonise their minds reinforces his idea that “the most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote,

Politicians, like ticks, thrive on the blood of a mainly ignorant population. They can piss on them and tell them it is raining; their deaf, dead, dumb and blind followers will mobilise to convince the masses that the president said it is raining and so that is that.

Forget that the piss is warm and stinks. These ignoramuses in our midst will ignore the evidence in front of their eyes and demonise whoever thinks with their own mind and rejects the lie that it is raining. Those who reject the word will be accused of being unpatriotic or sell-outs; i.e. if they are not subjected to violence to silence their protestations.

Africa is facing a crisis of leadership as I wrote before and we need new leaders to take the continent in a different direction.

Is the influx of foreigners into South Africa a unique situation?

The influx of foreigners into South Africa is in no way a unique situation. It is a universal occurrence. Even countries without economies as strong or as diversified like South Africa such as Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, etc. are taking their share of economic and political refugees displaced within Africa.

But, there are no cries of xenophobia yet they also face dire economic circumstances and the same high levels of unemployment.

Yes, there are complaints of the Chinese immigrants coming into African countries and killing industries with cheap imports or taking over whole sectors of the economy or monopolising some mining sectors.

However, we are yet to see uprisings against the Chinese from other Africans across the continent as we witnessed in South Africa.

The xenophobic attacks we witnessed are unique to South Africa. The scale and barbarity of the acts eclipses anything we have probably ever seen.

We have witnessed politicians in the west using immigration as a means of manipulating the electorate using fear tactics.

Nigel Farage’s UKIP Party manipulated immigration in the run-up to the recent UK Elections to the   extent of whipping out xenophobic fervour against immigrants, African and European.

Consequently, the Conservatives, Labour and others had to create a perception that they were tough on immigration to avoid being run over by the anti-immigrant electorate.

In this scenario, immigrants received the blame for lack of jobs, unemployment, losses to the NHS, etc.

The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of teaching, nursing and IT jobs that are lying vacant because there aren’t qualified people who can fill those jobs.

It is a sham that slogans like British Jobs for the British are created and they resonate with the populace when in reality, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs British people can’t fill because they don’t have the necessary skills.

The truth is that they are going to recruit foreigners to fill those jobs because there is no other way around it. Politicians play dangerous games by creating such scenarios when the reality is very different from the perception.

This is not to insinuate that this only happens in the UK. No way. It happens in all the major countries in the west such as the US, Canada, etc.

So as stated above, the South African situation is not unique but they have dealt with it in a manner that we have not witnessed anywhere else in the world where people are experiencing the same problems.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Whenever there is a dark period, there is also light at the end of the tunnel. Forgive me when I say South Africans as if all South Africans are the same. I have stated above that “some” sectors of society are responsible for what happened.

There are probably larger pockets of society who are totally against what happened. They did not want this to be done in their name. They do not condone xenophobic violence of Afrophobia or whatever you call it.

Picture of little children holding placards that read

Children join the protests against xenophobia. [Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

We have also heard of various movements within the ghettoes that have been stepping up to the plate, patrolling their neighbourhoods to protect foreigners and their businesses.

There are numerous initiatives started by South Africans both at home and in the Diaspora to say #NoToXenophobia.

There are a number of musicians, artists and politicians who have stood up and said No To Xenophobia.

Let us not forget all those good hearted South Africans who said enough is enough and took to the streets in protest, demanding an end to the violence and denouncing xenophobia.

Picture of protesters in their thousands take to the streets of Johannesburg, holding up placards and denouncing xenophobia.

Anti-xenophobia protesters take to the streets of Johannesburg in thousands, holding up their placards and making sure their message is heard loudly and clearly.
[Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

There is hope at the end of it. There always is. When we lose hope, we die.

I say that the demon of xenophobia/ Afrophobia must be exorcised from the hearts and minds of the black man and woman. As they say in South Africa – Simunye – We Are One!

I believe in the words of Biko and his belief that, “In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face”.

South Africa is not going to do that through xenophobia. It is going to do that by working together with her sisters and brothers in Africa and uplifting the human race.

We have a lot in common. We share a common heritage and it is our duty to uplift each other from the gutter as those who did it before us like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Kwame Nkrumah, Samora Machel and others did to see a decolonised Africa.

Picture of Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere smiling and clapping his hands. Below his picture is a text where he is denouncing tribalism.

We are not each others enemy. We want and need the same things. We want a greater slice of the economic cake that comes from the rich repositories of mineral wealth that ensues from our continent.

We want a better life for all: equal access to minerals, economical and political resources. We want an Africa free from violence, starvation and poverty.

Our greatest enemy today is corruption, ignorance and poor governance. They are doing more damage to Africa then anything else. It is the reason why our progress has been arrested. It is the reason why the socialism we fought died in the embryonic stages.

The spectre of neocolonialism and imperialism are on us: they are making off with our wealth while we are dying of thirst yet we are standing in water.

George Orwell, the famous writer, once wrote in the dystopian novel 1984 something to the effect that Africa was the continent that was passed over from one conqueror to another.

Reality is stranger than fiction; it seems like this fictitious work has some morsels of truth in it: we are becoming a continent that is fulfilling the words of Orwell as we are passed on from one hand of the conqueror to another.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must learn to love ourselves. We must love one another. Even the revolutionary is driven by enormous love.

It is important to have an enormous capacity of love to enable us to carry out the arduous and most difficult task of denouncing the cruel, and obscene assault against human beings who have the least in society when it is so much easier and comfortable to accommodate the power structure from which we can reap benefits for ourselves.

Our commitment must not yield to social injustice; we must give hope and hold firm to the conviction that an unfair and discriminatory world can be changed to be more just, less dehumanising and more humane. Change is difficult but it is not impossible. It is possible. We have numerous opportunities and possibilities to shake the structure of the world.

In the words of the great pedagogue, Paulo Freire, “I think that with a tranquil more alert and awakened consciousness, we should assume a position of indignation. I mean we should become indignant, but not at the favela dweller who kills, but indignant at the historical, political, social and economical situation that creates the possibility of me being killed by this unfortunate person”.

The root causes of the xenophobic violence doesn’t lie with the poor who have carried out that violence. On the contrary, the root causes that force migrants to flee their countries do not rest on the shoulders of the migrants.

Likewise, both are pawns in a greater struggle for power and control. It is a struggle shaped by historical, political, social and economical situations of which both are not always conscious of, or have an awareness of how they have shaped circumstances, but they view each other as enemies or competition.

Brothers and sisters, we all need the same basic things in life. All our countries are in the grip of the same forces. Therefore, we need each other to struggle against these forces that seek to use our African-ness as a mark of subservience.

Let us not be driven to desperate measures and remember that we are unofficial diplomats of Africa. As diplomats of the continent, we should work towards uplifting our motherland in all our endeavours.

Let us uplift one another from the slum and continue to strive for excellence in our chosen fields. Our focus should be on the kind of legacy that we are going to leave for our children and their descendants.

Are we going to keep up the stereotypes or are we going to break the chains? I believe we have the capacity to start a new chapter and continue where our respective revolutions left off and restore dignity and humanity to all Africans.

Oppression and poverty are dehumanising. It is our moral duty, our political duty to make Africa a less dehumanising place. Therefore, as unofficial ambassadors we must lead by example and be proud of our culture and remind the world of the beauty of our culture: that is our respect for life, private property and the likes as the picture by Steve Biko spells out below.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which states “We must reject, as we have been doing, the individualistic cold approach to life that is the cornerstone of Anglo-Boer culture. We must seek to restore to the black man the great importance we used to give to human relations, the high regard we had for people and their property, and for life in general; to reduce the triumph of technology over man and the materialistic element that is slowly creeping into society.”

We are not each other’s enemy; we should be each other’s keeper. We have nothing to lose but our colonial chains. We have a land overflowing with milk and honey, gold and diamonds, cobalt and coltan, platinum and uranium and everything that the world desires. Africans from all over unite! We have a continent to win. Aluta Continua!

It is time to pause and reflect and realise that to reach our goals we need each other. No man or nation is an island. Our generation must do to our governments what our predecessors did to the colonial regimes if they refuse to change the political and socio-economical structures of Africa. Revolution is the only solution!

I leave you with the following words by Steve Biko, “Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and our brotherhood”. Aluta Continua!

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April 18, 2015 · 12:26 am

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.

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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

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

Echoes of Thomas Sankara: The Upright Men Stand Up


Burkina Faso

Violent protests against the oppressive dictator Blaise Compaore have broken out in Burkina Faso, echoing the popular revolution that brought the revolutionary Captain Thomas Sankara to power in 1983.

31 years ago, the current Burkina Faso president, Blaise Compaore, played a crucial role in bringing Thomas Sankara to power. He was at the head of the army that overthrew the government then.

Four years later, Compaore overthrew Sankara. But 27 years since then, Sankara’s spirit is rising again to haunt the French comprador.

Compaore put an end to Sankara’s dream to end corruption, oppression and French domination.

Today, the people are standing up in the spirit of Sankara and saying enough is enough. They are tired of the corruption. They are tired of the oppression. They are tired of the domination. The spirit of 1983 is with us again!

The Burkinabe, the Upright Men, cannot be held down forever. The Burkinabe stand incorruptible. The end of an era is near.

Thomas Sankara and Blaise Compaore

The political messiah and Judas Iscariot: Captain Thomas Sankara and Blaise Compaore in happier days.

Today, Compaore finds himself on the receiving end of the wrath of the people. He finds himself with his back against the wall. He finds himself in the middle of an inferno licking the symbols of his crumbling dream.

He is like a snake that has found itself by mistake in a hut in the village compound with angry villagers trying to crush its head with rocks. If it finds a crevice to hide, the people flush it out with fire. They will not let it go so that it can return and attack their young again.

There are reports of dozens of soldiers joining the protests, echoing the role of the army in Burkina Faso that toppled the oppressive regime in Ouagadougou.

Former defence minister, Gen Kouame Lougue is said to be among the protesters. He is the man the people want to lead them to the promised land of freedom. It feels like 1983 all over again.

Protestors are demanding the general’s installation as president. He is the modern Moses leading the children of Israel from Egypt. He is the one chosen to lead them from political, socio-economical and cultural subjugation.

Parliament has allegedly been ransacked and set ablaze. It is a bold statement by the people.

Though Compaore retaliated by declaring a state of emergency, we all know that when the people have turned against you, you are like a straw man waiting to be washed away by the raging torrent of the Burkinabe river.

Burkina Faso protests

People power: protestors occupy seats in the National Assembly after ransacking it. They give new meaning to the term “Occupy” in the protest langue.

It feels like Compaore is trying to flex his muscles an intimidate the people but the end is firmly in sight. He is in trouble as the protests have been going on for the last few days and intensifying with time.

They don’t show any signs of abating even though soldiers and police are firing live rounds into the crowd to try and stem the current of Burkinabe anger.

As a Sankarist, I have watched with intense interest because we have waited for 27 years for Compaore to get his comeuppance. I have signed numerous petitions to get the widow and family of Thomas Sankara justice.

Thomas Sankara

It is the least some of us can do for Thomas Sankara who inspired us and illustrated what an African leader can, could, must and should be. A beacon for freedom and justice.

Compaore’s imposition of a state of emergency to end violent protests against his 27 year rule shows the impunity he has for the Burkinabe. He is a traitor of the genuine aspirations and dreams of the people. He killed their leader Sankara. But he didn’t kill his spirit or his ideas. Today, Sankara is with us.

Compaore has already served four terms and wants to extend his rule, extending the misery of the Burkinabe for the benefit of his neo-colonial string pullers.

Faced with a hostile population refusing to allow the government to vote and extent this comprador’s shelf life, President Blaise Compaore has been forced to dissolve government and respect the will of the Burkinabe.

Mass protests against his rule are continuing in Ouagadougou, the capital. The angry Burkinabe have burnt government buildings and set parliament alight, forcing the government to abandon the vote to provide this neo-colonialist comprador the opportunity to seek re-election in 2015.

The people occupied the seats in the National Assembly, a sign of things to come. The revolutionary Burkinabe women are in the frontline marching alongside their men fighting for freedom and justice. They embody the spirit of Sankara. It’s like he never died.

The undercurrents sweeping across the African continent may gain force and bring in untold surprises. The death of the late President Sata sparked a new era for Zambia. Currently, we are witnessing attempts in Zimbabwe to Occupy African Unity Square, in the capital Harare, a call for President Robert Mugabe to step down after 34 years in power.

Who knows what tomorrow brings.

We are watching. The world is watching. Sankara is watching.

Compaore’s days are numbered. Just a few months ago he survived an assassination attempt and I have the feeling that his days are numbered. He cannot stop an idea in the same manner he betrayed his friend and comrade and ordered his death.

Thomas Sankara and Blaise Compaore

Thomas Sankara and the man who was to betray him and kill him in a plot that echoes a Shakespearean tragedy.

October is the month Thomas Sankara was assassinated by a group of soldiers who burst into a meeting and killed him. It seems like his ghost is not asleep after all and his spirit lives on in the Burkinabe and many more.

Thomas Sankara lives on in everyone of us all who stand up for equal rights and cherish freedom. Support the cause of the Burkinabe.

It feels like 1983 again! Viva Revolution!

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NoViolet Bulawayo wins 2014 Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Legacy Award


 NoViolet Bulawayo inner magazine page

In my last post, 13 Lessons I Learned From Blogging, a few hours ago I described NoViolet Bulawayo as “one of the hottest literary talents to come out of Zimbabwe.” It might have sounded hyperbolic, but she reinforced my observations by clinching the 2014 Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Legacy Award for her awesome fictional debut, We Need New Names

She received the prestigous 2014 Hurston/ Wright Legacy Award for fiction on Friday at the Carnegie Library in Northwest Washington.

This award is a fitting reward for a young literary star on the rise. Her debut novel has taken the world by storm and caused such a sensation, I can only imagine what her future work will do.

Inner pages on an article on NoViolet Bulawayo

An article, on NoViolet Bulawayo talking about her craft, I stumbled on in the New Books magazine in my local library and I took the pictures. Little did I know I would be using them in this article.

The award is a literary prize awarded by the National Community of  Black Writers. It is the first of its kind to be awarded to black American writers. Richard Wright (Black Boy and Native Son) and Zora Neale Hurston, the awards namesakes, are two of the most influential black American authors.

I first heard of NoViolet Bulawayo when I started writing for the South African Newspaper in London.

In fact, her short story, Hitting Budapest (the first chapter), an extract from her debut, was nominated for the Caine Prize in African Writing in 2011.

My very first assignment was to interview her with regards to that nomination. We were both just beginning our respective journeys and I was humbled and inspired by her humble and focussed approach.

I have watched her rise. She is a phenomenal woman and sister. She is unpretentious. She has an aura and cool, calm collected-ness and confidence that comes with people who are blessed with talent, humility and drive.

She is not a diva. Considering her accomplishments, you could forgive her. But she has remained grounded and approachable and in touch with her humble roots which she has used as a launching pad to dizzing heights. Only she knows where she is in orbit with the Stars.

She went on to win the coveted Caine Prize in African writing that year and has soared to greater heights since then, racking up a host of nominations and awards, including the Man Booker Prize 2013 the Guardian First Book Award, the Pen Hemingway Award, LA Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award, the Etisalat Prize for Literature and ultimately the 2014 Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Legacy Award.

She has been recognised by various prestigious publications and organisations. The list is too long to mention individually.

NoViolet Bulawayo FC

NoViolet Bulawayo, one of Zimbabwe’s best intellectual exports, a rising star on the literature scene. I stumbled upon this magazine in my local library.

NoViolet Bulawayo has come a long way since I first interviewed her in 2011, reviewed her debut, wrote an essay about her for my publishing module and chatted to her numerous times. She is a true inspiration for our generation.

Over the years, I have chatted to her on a range of subjects and she is an exceptional person, very grounded, polite and giving.

During those conversations she was always encouraging and pushing me to publish my book and sharing advice. I was flattered she recognised my talent without ever getting to read my work. She is such a giving person.

I got to know her “almost” as a friend. And I am so happy for her success in the way I’d be proud of my own sister or kinswoman who had achieved some phenomenal success.

Her coup is spectacular considering the strength of the other nominees and finalists in the fiction category. Some of them are legends by right and some are accomplished writers with several novels to their names. They are:

  • Every Boy Should Have A Man by Preston L. Allen (Akashic);
  • The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson (Bloomsbury);
  • See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid (Farrar, Straus & Giroux);
  • The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Penguin);
  • The Gospel According to Cane by Courttia Newland (Akashic).

Previous winners include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Uwem Akpan, Aminatta Forna, Kwame Dawes and Junot Diaz. NoViolet Bulawayo is in distinguished literary company and all the names above put her win into context.

I can imagine women ululating and dancing within Zimbabwe and the Diaspora at the literary success of one of her most distinguished daughters of the soil. I say makorokoto, amhlope, congratulations sister. You gone and done us proud.

Front Cover of We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

The award winning debut, We Need New Names, by Zimbabwean Literary sensation NoViolet Bulawayo.

You can read, Hitting Budapest, an extract from NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel We Need New Names here. I recommend you get your copy from Amazon, the library or any of your local booksellers. It is a great read. Trust me on this one. You won’t regret it.

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Remembering Samora Moisés Machel: Death of a Revolutionary


Samora Machel and his son

On the 19th of October 1986, at twenty-one minutes past nine, 28 years ago, a Russian built Tupolev 134, flying to Maputo from a summit of African leaders in Zambia crashed into Lebombo mountains near Mbuzini in South Africa’s Transvaal province, now known as Mpumalanga, killing the first Mozambican President Samora Moisés Machel.

His plane crashed in mysterious circumstances killing President Samora Machel and thirty-three members of his FRELIMO party and the Russian crew.

Only nine of the people onboard that plane survived.

The site where the plane crashed was at the confluence of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland’s borders.

Samora Machel‘s death was felt far beyond the borders of Mozambique.

It was about a month before my tenth birthday when I saw the news. It was a horrible moment watching the mangled wreckage and hearing my sister’s cries echoing through the house.

Samora Machel

Samora Machel flanked by Sam Nujoma (President of Namibia) on his right, and President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia to his immediate left and Prime Minister Robert Gabriel Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Machel would never make it back from this ill-fated meeting alive. It was one of the last times he was seen alive in public.

I walked out onto the streets of Harare, I was in Zimbabwe at the time, to get away from the horror of it but everywhere I turned, people were weeping and lamenting and throwing themselves onto the ground as if they had lost their favourite uncle or kinsmen.

That’s how I felt about him. I had grown up seeing his huge smile lighting up our television screens. He always appeared to be overwhelmed by the love and attention lavished upon him.

He always appeared to be uncomfortable in the glare of the spotlights and television cameras. As I was walking on the streets, I knew then as as I know now that we had lost something special, like a limb lost, that you’d always feel it’s presence yet it wasn’t actually there. And it was irreplaceable.

That is Samora Machel. He was and is irreplaceable. His death robbed us of a true revolutionary and leader. A leader who led from the frontline. A leader who led by example. A leader who remained humble until the end despite his heroic deeds, revolutionary credentials and his unquestionable integrity.

Samora Machel

Samora Machel flashing his familiar smile while meeting and greeting the people.

The respect and adoration he elicited from Zimbabweans and others made you forget that he was actually the leader of another country, the first president of Mozambique, and the revolutionary leader of FRELIMO.

It was impossible to believe that the man who brandished that disarming smile was a ferocious soldier on the battlefield respected and feared by foes. And the totalitarian and illegitimate Apartheid and Rhodesian regimes.

His humility lent him the appearance of a gentle and a meek man. He had the instant likeability quality that made you warm up to him even if you had never met him personally. There was an inexplicable aura about Machel. He had that rare human trait.

That made his death that much harder to digest. It was difficult to imagine that anyone would want to kill him.

The cause of the crash still remains a mystery. Questions were raised about the involvement of the Apartheid regime because the plane crashed over South African territory.

These suspicions have never died and have only been reinforced by statements made by some members of the military though they have been strongly refuted.

Samora Machel

” Only by freeing ourselves from this will we be able to understand the world and understand colonialism. Only, only, only understanding this, are we in a position to make the revolution triumph in Mozambique. First, let‟s be proud to be Mozambicans — to be what we are. Yes or no? (Yes). There is no inferior race in the world. There is no superior race in the world. All races are equal. All peoples are equal. There is an imbalance in development that is a reality. But if that‟s how we must classify the superiority of races, then the Portuguese race is the lowest of all the peoples, because it‟s the most backward, yes or no? (Yes). Do you hear, comrades? (We hear). With this, we want to say that we don‟t want — we don‟t want — racism here in Mozambique. White racism. Black racism. We don‟t want it here in Mozambique. We want harmony between peoples. Harmony between races. Because we are all equal. Do you hear, comrades? (We hear).” Samora Machel in action exuding vigour and charisma while addressing a rally of supporters.

The Apartheid regime’s fear of Samora Machel provided a motive to kill him.

It is no secret they formed, armed, trained, financed and provided material support to RENAMO, led by Alphonso Dhlakama, a rebel group without a policy, to undermine Machel’s government.

It is no secret they were also involved in various acts of sabotage in Zimbabwe and arming dissidents there to undermine the newly formed Zimbabwe.

Their objective was to make majority African rule so unattractive it would dissuade the liberation movements fighting Apartheid and their supporters to accept white colonial rule as the best form of government.

It was a vain gesture because the writing was on the wall: South Africa was the last remaining isolated bastion of white supremacy in Africa surrounded by hostile African countries constantly snapping at its heels.

Time, history, the world and inevitability were also against them. Consequently, they were temporarily prolonging the shelf life of a doomed regime.

Fidel Castro and Samora Machel

The meeting of two great revolutionaries and anti-imperialist fighters. Fidel Castro and Samora Machel.

The question many may be asking is why Samora Machel and not Robert Mugabe.

Maybe it was fate. Machel died and Mugabe survived numerous attempts on his life.

Alternatively, there were unsubstantiated rumours, you know how stubborn these things are, real or imagined, that Samora Machel had made a pact with Josiah Magama Tongogara, another much loved and revered revolutionary who died in a car crash during the liberation war, to turn their attention to South Africa once Zimbabwe got her independence and drive the Boers back into the ocean and back where they came from.

Don’t take my word for it. The two people who can verify that story are no longer here to give their account of that particular narrative.

The only truth is that Samora Machel left us too soon. The truth is that, whether the rumours were true or false, Mozambique’s independence was not enough for him.

He couldn’t see his country having the racist and totalitarian regimes of Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa for neighbours. He helped Zimbabwe gain her independence and then continued pressing South Africa to grant independence to the indigenous peoples of the country.

Samora Machel

“SALARIES AND WAGES MUST REFLECT THE REALITY OF THE ENTERPRISE’S ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE; DEVIATIONS FROM THE PLANNED PERFORMANCE SHOULD BE REFLECTED IN PAY.” A quote by Samora Machel above in the picture holding a baby while surveying the devastation caused by RENAMO, the South African sponsored bandits.

Samora Machel dedicated his life to fighting for the independence of Africa as a whole, not only Mozambique, and he remained true to his spirit until the very end.

His leading role in the total decolonisation of the continent was seized upon by the imperialist forces who sought to stop him because he was a threat to their interests in Southern Africa.

They in turn did what they do best. They used their powerful network of news media to churn out propaganda and generate the single story demonising Samora Machel as a dangerous communist who had to be stopped.

So it is no surprise Rhodesia and South Africa and their backers (bankrollers) responded by sponsoring a civil war in Mozambique to discredit its independence.

Dr Kenneth Kaunda,  Julius Nyerere

The trinity of Zimbabwean Independence: Samora Machel on the right, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in the centre and Dr Kenneth Kaunda on the left.

Like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, who trained and supported African liberation movements, Samora Machel on seizing independence after defeating the Portuguese colonialists, he set his sights on Rhodesia to continue the struggle of decolonizing Africa and defeating the imperialist forces.

He turned his superior fighting party FRELIMO to fight the Rhodesian army. FRELIMO fought alongside ZANLA, the military wing of ZANU while ZIPRA (the military wing of ZAPU) attacked from Zambia.

This marked the turning point of the Chimurenga, opening a new chapter, the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle.

There are those today who try to underplay the role of FRELIMO in the independence of Zimbabwe in a vain attempt to upgrade their own liberation and revolutionary credentials. Their contribution is relegated to the footnotes or totally omitted.

However, those in the know, know the truth that Samora Machel was instrumental in bringing Smith’s regime of diehard racists to its knees. Mozambique and FRELIMO opened up a new chapter in the liberation struggle.

Not even the Rhodesians aerial bombing and usage of chemical weapons like napalm against unarmed refugees (women and children) and a few guerrillas (liberation fighters) at camps like Nyadzonya and Chimoio could stop the inevitable train of black anger from crushing the old jalopy of white supremacy.

Samora Machel and Dr Kenneth Kaunda

Samora Machel and Dr Kenneth Kaunda.

Unlike some revolutionaries who come to power and overstay their welcomes and lose their people’s respect, Samora Machel remains greatly loved and revered.

He joined the ranks of legends like Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Josiah Magama TongogaraHerbert Chitepo, Dr. Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa.

Despite leading Mozambique for 11 years, from 1975 to 1986, people still cry or get emotional when they recall the memory of one of Africa’s most respected and revered revolutionaries.

Samora Machel is not judged by the same standard as some leaders or revolutionaries who went on to lead or failed to lead the countries whose freedom they fought for.

Samora Machel never got to tarnish his legacy, not that I assume he would have, or revolutionary credentials. His untimely death secured his lasting and unblemished legacy. At the time of his death, it seemed he couldn’t do anything wrong.

Death made him an African martyr and guaranteed him a prominent seat at the table of rendezvous where Africa’s most revolutionary and truest sons gather at the dusk of their illustrious careers fighting the beasts of white supremacy and Devils of neocolonialism.

Samora Machel the leader of FRELIMO and first president of Mozambique

“We are here because we are the people with responsibilities. We are here because we merit the political confidence of the party. We have the task in our sectors of smashing the structures, working methods and mentality of colonial-capitalism. We have the task of building a new state apparatus that in character, content and working methods serves our interests.” Samora Machel captured during a speech in 1980. Above is an artist’s impression of the revolutionary leader of FRELIMO.

A commission consisting of representatives of Mozambique, South Africa and the Soviet Union was brought together to establish the cause of that fateful crash.

A multiplicity of reasons were put forward. Bad weather was cited. A mechanical cause was cited too. Pilot error.

The investigations failed to establish the exact nature of the crash.

Counteraccusations flew between Maputo and Pretoria for over a decade without shedding light on the exact cause of the crash. However, the residue of a conspiracy of the Apartheid regime’s involvement has never been put to rest and will probably never die.

The release of Nelson Mandela and independence of South Africa brought renewed hope to establishing the cause of the crash. However, like the Apartheid regime before it, Mandela’s government fared no better.

For a boy who came from a village in Mozambique, he travelled a long journey to become a maverick guerrilla strategist who pledged his life to defeating colonialism in Southern Africa and Africa as a whole.

His charisma, integrity and vigour transformed him into a psychologically resourceful leader who led from the frontline and never asked his followers to do what he couldn’t do himself.

Nonetheless, no one can accuse Samora Machel of being a revolutionary who can’t handle a gun or who never fought, as some other revolutionaries who claim liberation credentials are constantly accused of falsifying their liberation credentials. He was there in the battlefield.

He came, he saw and he conquered.

Machel was a leader who couldn’t be corrupted and till the end he died a man of high principles. Africa and the world lost a champion of freedom. We all lost to the detriment of the human race and world peace.

Samoral Machel

“So we must build a strong Mozambique, and prosperous. Do you hear? We must build a free society, a society of good relations amongst us all — we must create a spirit of cameraderie. Brothers aren‟t enough, no. It‟s not enough to be brothers. A spirit of cameraderie! Above all, because we have a big task, which is the task of the liberation of Mozambican women. The task of creating a new mentality among the youth, so that they can serve the whole people, so that they can serve the whole world. Do you hear, comrades? (We hear).” Samora Machel

Samora Machel’s obituaries and tributes painted a picture of a truly remarkable leader. The snapshot below illustrates this point.

Death dealers cannot kill Machel spirit. Herald [Harare] (29 October 1986).

Guardian viewpoint: a stunning loss. Guardian [New York] (29 October 1986).

Driving spirit of a nation’s struggle. New Nation [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

Enormous implications for Southern Africa: tributes pour in for Maputo leader. Citizen [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

His dream: man, a world renewed. New Nation [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

Machel: fiery and charismatic leader. Citizen [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

President Samora Machel. Times [London] (21 October 1986).

Quest for freedom was life’s goal. Herald [Harare] (21 October 1986).

Albin Krebs. Samora M. Machel, man of charisma: he held impoverished nation together by personality. New York Times [New York] (21 October 1986).

The arch-enemy of racism. Star [Johannesburg] (24 October 1986).

Iain Christie. The Machel I knew: what Frelimo’s leader taught me about racism. Weekly Mail [Johannesburg] (24 October 1986-30 October 1986). Iain Christie was the author of a biography of Machel published in both English and in Portuguese.

A great man. Sunday Mail [Harare] (26 October 1986).

Machel as South Africans saw him; Machel as the world saw him. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

People’s president. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Mono Badela. Machel the healer. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

John D’Oliveira. Africa has lost a shining son. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

People’s president. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Mono Badela. Machel the healer. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

John D’Oliveira. Africa has lost a shining son. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

Gerald L’Ange. Machel leaves painful legacy. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Davison Maruziva. Mozambican president died at crucial time. Sunday Mail [Harare] (26 October 1986). 

Percy Qoboza. The noblest of them all: Percy Qoboza pays tribute to President Samora Machel. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Messages of condolence on death of Samora Machel. Summary of World Broadcasts [London] no.FE/8400/A5 (27 October 1986), p.1-2. Messages of condolence from China, North Korea, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia.

We’ve lost the champion of freedom: Muzenda. Herald [Harare] (October 1927). 

Comment: death of a hero. Herald [Harare] (28 October 1986). 

Andrew Mutandwa. Guerilla [sic] leader who radiated dignity. Herald [Harare] 

Death dealers cannot kill Machel spirit. Herald [Harare] (29 October 1986). Report of a speech by Canaan Banana, then president of Zimbabwe.

Guardian viewpoint: a stunning loss. Guardian [New York] (29 October 1986). 

Paul Fauvet. Mozambique mourns. Guardian [New York] (29 October 1986). 

He challenged colonialists from start. Herald [Harare] (30 October 1986). 

Machel’s big role in freeing Zimbabwe. Herald [Harare] (30 October 1986). 

Andy Higginbottom. Samora Machel: son of the Mozambican revolution. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! [London] (15 November 1986), p.7. A tribute in the newspaper of the British Revolutionary Communist Group

Gerald L’Ange. Machel leaves painful legacy. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Davison Maruziva. Mozambican president died at crucial time. Sunday Mail [Harare] (26 October 1986). 

Percy Qoboza. The noblest of them all: Percy Qoboza pays tribute to President . 

Messages of condolence on death of Samora Machel. Summary of World Broadcasts [London] no.FE/8400/A5 (27 October 1986), p.1-2. Messages of condolence from China, North Korea, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia.

We’ve lost the champion of freedom: Muzenda. Herald [Harare] (October 1927). 

Comment: death of a hero. Herald [Harare] (28 October 1986). 

My tribute to a great revolutionary and remarkable man would be incomplete without the videos of Journeyman Pictures, Wellington Ziwenga, Afravision and the numerous photographers and organisations whose photos appear in this article.

Thank you for taking the time to peruse this blog and I hope you have been equally rewarded reading this article and watching the documentaries as I found compiling it.

Tell your friends and share this article and let us tell our own stories. As Chinua Achebe wrote in Things Fall Apart, “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

It is our duty to remembering these stories and our heroes so that we don’t forget where we are coming from and no one can turn back and erase our past as what happened during colonialism.

This is why I wrote this article to remember a type of time, a place and a man that might otherwise be forgotten with the passage of time.

He gave us our freedom. He sacrificed his life in the way Jesus Christ is alleged to have done. Therefore, the likes of Samora Moisés Machel live on in everyone of us through our collective remembrance of this gallant shining son of Africa.

Viva Revolution! ALUTA Continua!

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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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