Systems of Governance – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za now-now, a pan African gazette - in print quarterly and online Tue, 31 Aug 2021 09:01:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/cropped-CHIMURENGA-LOGO-32x32.jpg Systems of Governance – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za 32 32 IMAGI-NATION NWAR (APRIL 2021) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/imagi-nation-nwar-april-2021/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/imagi-nation-nwar-april-2021/#respond Mon, 14 Jun 2021 12:24:26 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=inprint_posts&p=17867 Genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

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imagi-nation nwar – genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

de-composed, an-arranged and re-produced by Chimurenga

feat. Mongo Beti & Odile Biyidi’s Peuples Noirs, Peuples Africains; Elsie Haas, Julius-Amédée Laou; Cheikh Anta Diop; FEANF; GONG; Gérard Lockel; Glissant’s IME; Suzanne Roussi; Paul Niger; Andrée Blouin; Maryse Condé; Guinea’s Cultural Revolution; Awa Thiam; Francoise Ega; Yambo Ouologuem; Groupe du 6 Novembre; ACTAF & Revolution Afrique; Med Hondo; Sidney Sokhona; Nicolas Silatsa; Somankidi Coura; Edja Kungali; Sarah Maldoror; Sony Labou Tansi; Madeleine Beauséjour; and many, many more…

New writing by: Michaela Danjé; Hemley Boum; Olivier Marboeuf; Marie-Héléna Laumuno; Amzat Boukari-Yabara; Amandine Nana with Julius-Amédée Laou; Sarah Fila-Bakabadio; Pierre Crépon; DY Ngoy; Dénètem Touam Bona; Christelle Oyiri; Native Maqari; Seumboy Vrainom with Malcom Ferdinand; the “undercommons” collective translation workshop coordinated by Rosanna Puyol (Brook).

French/English/Kreyol


To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop,or get copies from your nearest dealer.

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Chimurenganyana: Becoming Kwame Ture by Amandla Thomas-Johnson (Oct 2020) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-becoming-kwame-ture-by-amandla-thomas-johnson-oct-2020/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-becoming-kwame-ture-by-amandla-thomas-johnson-oct-2020/#respond Wed, 21 Oct 2020 10:33:31 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=17623 Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) was viewed by many during the civil rights […]

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Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) was viewed by many during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s as the dashing and eloquent heir to Malcolm X. His call for Black Power and his fiery speeches led to his ascension as the foremost symbol of black militancy. But the threat posed to white America by the triumvirate of Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X would be suppressed as the decade declined to a close. Indeed, X and King would meet death at the escort of gunmen, in ‘65 and ‘68, respectively, and in ‘69, Carmichael would board a plane bound for Guinea, never to return on a permanent basis.

But Kwame Ture lived on for another 30 years and he was as politically active as he had been in the ‘60s. At the time of his death, Ture had become perhaps the foremost Pan-Africanist of his day. He co-founded (with Kwame Nkrumah) and led the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, arguably the most significant Pan-African political party in its heyday, and he established himself as the leading black advocate for Palestinian rights. Why do we know so little about the last 30 years of his life?

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FESTAC 77 BOOK (Oct 2019) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/festac77/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/festac77/#respond Tue, 01 Oct 2019 11:40:01 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=13686 Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled in Lagos for FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. With a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, FESTAC ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of a half-century of transatlantic and pan-Africanist cultural-political gatherings.

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Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled in Lagos for FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. With a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, FESTAC ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of a half-century of transatlantic and pan-Africanist cultural-political gatherings.

As told by Chimurenga, this is the first publication to address the planetary scale of FESTAC alongside the personal and artistic encounters it made possible. Featuring extensive unseen photographic and archival materials, interviews and new commissions, the book relays the stories, words and works of the festival’s extraordinary cast of characters.

With: Wole Soyinka, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ahmed Sékou Touré, Archie Shepp, Miriam Makeba, Allioune Diop, Jeff Donaldson, Louis Farrakhan, Stevie Wonder, Abdias do Nascimento, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Mario de Andrade, Ted Joans, Nadi Qamar,Carlos Moore, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Johnny Dyani, Werewere Liking, Marilyn Nance, Barkley Hendricks, Mildred Thompson, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Jayne Cortez, Atukwei OkaiJonas Gwangwa, Theo Vincent, Lindsay Barrett, Gilberto de la Nuez, Sun Ra and many others.

And featuring new writing from: Akin Adesokan, Moses Serubiri, Harmony Holiday, Semeneh Ayalew, Hassan Musa, Emmanuel Iduma, Michael McMillan, Dominique Malaquais and Cedric Vincent, Molefe Pheto, Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Hermano Penna, Alice Aterianus.
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Published by Chimurenga and Afterall Books, in association with Asia Art Archive, the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College and RAW Material Company, 2019.


The FESTAC 77 publication is available for purchase through our online shop.

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Survivor’s Guide to Smelling Naais https://chimurengachronic.co.za/8111-2/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/8111-2/#respond Wed, 05 Apr 2017 03:01:24 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8111 In the pre-Apocalypse, Zayaan Khan nurses the Apartheid hangover that carved up […]

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In the pre-Apocalypse, Zayaan Khan nurses the Apartheid hangover that carved up sensibilities, lives deep in the crevice of being and after more than 20 years still sticks to the roof of the mouth. To empty out the bitter taste, she sucks on fennel flowers and takes her sweetness where she can get it – walking in the fallow land of District Six and sharing odes to the plucking and sucking that a good harvest delivers.


Introduction to the Apocalypse Pantry

The apocalypse has already happened or, in Public Enemy’s words, “Armageddon been in effect.” So how do we get a “late pass” that allows us to continue in the aftermath of colonial and capitalist catastrophe? In the Apocalypse Pantry it starts with food – as a basic of survival but also a source of pleasure, a site of knowledge and a communal conduit around which we regularly gather.

Founded by Zayaan Khan and Heather Thompson, two Cape Town-based activists set on reclaiming the kitchen as a space of liberation, Apocalypse Pantry recognises that food (in)security is an invention of capitalism, as is hunger; that vulnerability is the default, and so support must be primary. It offers community and self-sustenance as solutions.

“The number of people growing their own food is on par with those remitting food or depending on aid; for every 50-60 persons accessing their food through a supermarket or a restaurant there are two growing their own,” the two women explain. “It has become a global condition in developed areas that healthy food remains a privilege of the wealthy when in fact, we believe, healthy food should be the most cost-effective of all.”

Heather and Zayaan maintain that food sovereignty – not just eating, but eating well – can be improved by reconnecting to the source of the food – the land, the sea, and the farmers and fishers that cultivate and collect our food – and by drawing on time-honoured food preservation and nutrient optimisation techniques to make healthy ferments, broths or preserves, thereby creating one’s own pantry system.

This requires learning and experimenting. The Pantry is thus also a laboratory – a site of corporeal research, experiment and revelation that takes seriously growing, preparing, and consuming food as knowing activities. It’s a space occupied by envelopes of rare seedlings, charcoal rubbings of tree barks, hand drawn maps of the Cape Peninsula, vats and vials of oils and salts in a thousand shades of white, large jars layered with indigenous foods in different stages of ferment. Everything tastes. Everything smells. Here, hands, muscles, tongues, noses, eyes, fingers, and stomachs are combined sites where knowledge resides. It celebrates the pleasure of food, while recognising the political implications of taste, with its connected cultures, politics, imaginaries and identities.

In the Pantry food is also always magic – not simply the material resources for human survival, but a means of regeneration through engaged interaction between the physical and imaginative worlds. There’s an alchemy involved in its kinetic, improvisational experiments that draw on a spiritual tincture of historic, cultural and scientific knowledge.

The Apocalypse Pantry’s website and blog (http://www.theapocalypsepantry.com) is the space they use to perpetuate their survival knowledge. At once a research tool and an archive, it takes the form of notes and photographs from fieldtrips, recipes, “inspiration seed bombs,” videos, and podcasts that provide thought windows on how to survive in the current apocalypse. – Stacy Hardy


So many of our families were forced out of District 6, Cape Town. My family too (they lived on Dover, on the corner). With this forced move came a cultural shift – no longer were doors always open for unexpected guests: not a plate of food for hungry souls nor a couch to rest on for weary travellers. Gates remained locked and neighbours gradually became more distant. Every time I walk over the fallow land of District Six, I imagine the hundreds of little feet kicking up dust, the neighbours, the friends, all the loves and all the calls to prayers that echoed through the streets.

The Apocalypse came through the foot of this mountain and in its place sprouted hundreds of fennel. The sweet one, not the bulbous one. Where you might see weeds, I see sweets, wild and dripping. And while I’m harvesting and licking my fingers, I’m doing soft calculations of how much this costs me in the slave house of capitalism: two hours’ intensive harvesting of pollen (in glaring sun and even sometimes South Easter tempest) gets me an amount that makes it very expensive to sell. And who would buy it at such a price? My pantry is invaluable, the collections of flowers, resins, salts, woods, minerals, herbs, insects – how could you charge for such things? Money makes no sense here.

This thing of owning land – with all the roots in the ground, every stone and every hole – is this where all the trouble started? When the continent was divided by the colonisers? And we are still here, with the majority of the people landless and the forced removals continuing. Land occupation is something that stems out of survival and a need to sustain livelihood. It is as if the Apocalypse came when the colonisers hit, then had a biggerlypse in Apartheid, and now all the residual shrapnel lingers in the land and people.

In the aftermath – surrounded by growing yellow sweets and memories, in the quiet and heavy heat, the heady fragrance of hot grass and hot fennel – there’s no way to change this devastation, only to continue to pluck and suck, licking sticky beads of pollen sacs that cling to me.

Nature/Natural

When I think about Victoria Walk Park (also known as Victoria Park), I think about open space. Woodstock homes tend to be dark, mostly semi-detached, not too much open space.  

I’m here to look at this space through the lens of: how natural is our nature? I always consider the eucalypti, how economically viable they are while also being so detrimental to our water table and allelopathic to other plant species competing to live where they live. I stop at the red flowering gum, so stunted where it stands, but pushing out flowers. They’re at my height (and not the normal grand diplodocus size), so I notice them for the first time. They are exquisite in colour and in their formation, as if they landed here from space. Yet, they are obscene, a luminous coral red gaping sex, enticing pollinators and radiating lust. These alien plants settled and assimilated in Woodstock, Cape Town.

Part of me feels guilty for using the term alien. Who am I to judge the rights of life and species; whose fault is it that they are here? Global trade routes? They are up high on the local chain of commodity: paper (toilet paper), pulp, wood, honey, essential oil, real stuff.

Yesterday as I left home to run my dog at Victoria Park, I could smell chicken being cooked in someone’s kitchen, a smell I know so well, roasting gharam masala wafting round the park. Smell is one of those senses that have evaded the greatest of scientists and designers; smell-o-vision has a long way to go to be captured technologically. The story of food as nature is an obvious yet convoluted one. The chicken most likely came from a factory and not a farm. How much nature is in that food? Still, the aroma is enough to catapult me back in time, putting me in the kitchen with my mother, us talking about our day or maybe about the food we will eat in an hour.

Survivor’s Guide To Smelling Naai’s

Flowers. Flowers all over the lands. Different species of these reproductive organs, standing erect or hanging soft and low. So many colours, textures, tastes, smells, shapes, feels. Where fields lay fallow and within the stillness of our arid spaces, hundreds of thousands of daisies pop up as if a sex meteor has hit. It’s incredible that these are evolutionary adaptations, but mostly that they’ve evolved so particularly for insects (sometimes rodents or birds or even the wind) to get busy in them. It’s been this way for millions of years. Such ancient sexy times.

It’s season for Rosa and Jasmine. These flowers are friends, they can smell each other’s heaviness on a good berg wind day. Their scents are heavy, heady, full, sweet like the first kiss of a marshmallow. They make you wish you were an insect so you could have this rose as your bed, undressing under the soft rose sheets. Or slipping down the tube of the jasmine, sucking the nectar at the tip, can you imagine? Sex on sex.

I used to grow poppy plants from seed. The most minuscule seed would blossom into the most perfect cups, dark purple, lilac, white, sometimes shades between. Often this would coincide with chafer beetle recreational procreation. It looked fun from where I stood, the beetles abuzz with love, dusted up as they rolled amongst the opiates.

When you come into an abundance of these insect sex beds, collect what you can and prepare them for transformation soon after. If you’re serious and intend to alchemise them, then dawn is the best time – before the sun gets the best of them. Apocalypse perfume is not so hard to come by in the Cape, but this is the smell of love. They work even better stored on your skin – a perfume bag, if you will, nestled beneath your bra, just like Marjane’s grandmother in Persepolis, the heat of your body puffing Turkish delight clouds. Or wear them under your scarf, your hair will smell defuknlightful.

Place them in a low dish or basket so air doesn’t stagnate around them. Do this somewhere where you spend most of your time, so your vibes are delighted. In the Apocalypse, you’re going to have time to collect flowers, so it’s good practice to carry smells with you. We all have to deal with stinky stuff from time to time – the apocalypse is no different. Nostrils are a great place to store petals, just don’t sniff them into your nasal canal because that would be most uncomfortable.

These flowers could go into tinctures, bakes, an enfleurage, macerations, waters and a bajillion other things. The moments of living with them are fleeting, but their seasons are abundant so your time together will linger.

Smokablez

Oh sweet tobacco, how you have become an evil in this contemporary world of consumption. Nicotiana tabacum, like many other sacred plants, quickly became bastardised through commercialisation via colonial mercenaries (the earliest multi-national corporations). Tobacco is now grown all over the world and cigarettes are sold in every nation.

Tobacco evolved in the Americas and its use is an integral part of indigenous cultures. The smoke is used as a mode of communication, in prayer, for protection, cleansing, and healing. The plant was (and still is) used as incense, bunched up and burned, and smoked also, though not to be deeply inhaled. Nicotine is a very poisonous substance, it can and will kill you as well as many other smaller creatures. You need to treat it with respect.

Now take all of that knowledge that has been garnered over centuries, strip it down completely, and, in fact, negate it all by growing the plant as a cash crop for the masses. Grow it with chemical input, process it with chemical input, package it with chemical input, light it up and suck on it. Crying shame. Never mind the marketing. Now cigarettes are all about Pall Mall, Dunhill and Peter Stuyvesant (a Dutch coloniser celebrated on cigarette packs around the world).

Yet, smoking is a cultural practice all around the world. It has come out of every culture, whether recreationally or medicinally. That means there are many other smokable plants all over the globe too, right? Down here we’ve heard about smoking kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) and wilde dagga (Leonotis leonurus), but what else? We began looking at plants, not only in terms of medicines or foods or cosmetics, but also in terms of smoke and created blends that became plant world answers to our bodies’ call, subject to change and future curiosities.

The Bug Bang Theory

I am fascinated by insects. They have become metaphors for survival and intrigue. They are enigmatic, surreptitious, ubiquitous, eternal and adaptable.

The first time I intentionally ate an insect was with Justin, a fynbos farmer, outside his home in Hopefield, north of Cape Town. A hot summer, dry and dusty, heat packing. Typical West Coast. The termites, in a deep hustle, orderly, in tune, in time, almost institutionalised.

I remember a moment when I was eight years old and my baby sister was deep in thought, lying down with baby fat fingers learning to grasp. She plucked at ants and put them in her mouth. How entranced she was (the inherent knowledge this new person had) to see these tiny insects and to instinctively put them in her mouth. It took a moment to shake out of it. When she was picked up, her face brushed of grass and the insects, her new brain must have computed this as a food truth, ants must not be for eating. I know better now, of course – it’s taken a few years to unlearn and relearn food truth. The true meaning of edible.

I’d given a talk about indigenous food revival, where a new friend had heard me sing the song of insects as edible. He connected me to confection demiurge, Heather. Heather needed insects to enrobe in chocolate and play with flavours – like bacon on waffles, so crickets and chocolate. The crickets were blanched in boiling water before being roasted for 20 minutes. They were spiced and enrobed in dark chocolate, sprinkled with smoked salt and paprika, chilli or rose or cinnamon, and some set in chocolate bars. It was especially auspicious because these were the last nine crickets and two grasshoppers left of the season’s hunt.

Enrobed, chocolate works with everything. Like when the Mad Hatter started eating his plate.

Upon the Mantle of Mycelium

To be self-aware is to gain awareness of everything outside of yourself. Of course, this is the complete antithesis of what we have come to know about self-awareness. This thinking builds upon the thought that we cannot grasp our ego within the vacuum of our single existence. Nothing, not even the intricacies and extremities of space, is separate to anything else.

Perpetuating this understanding of self-awareness – that says that it is the “capacity for introspection and the ability to recognise oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals” – is incorrect for me. It’s inside out. I am self-aware because I am aware of the other, I know myself because of how I exist, have always existed, will always exist, within the other.

Opening up your every sense to what it takes to survive, you begin to see the value in every bacterium, every virus, every plant, every insect, and every life.  Every life (and non-living life: water/virus/mineral) is valuable in a way capitalism cannot quantify. We begin to see or uncover uses for the smallest and simplest natural things. In the pre-apocalypse, we have the years of scientific (and non-scientific) uncoverings to map out why things work the way they do, sometimes to uncover new exploratory routes to newer innovations, or find the answers to the greatest questions the universe continues to entice us with.

Mycelium was there before us all, a bajillion years ago. When you pick up a mushroom, when you eat it, you never think of how fucking old that DNA is. The way mycelium and insects live in community, even having little fungi pouches, is the sweetest of life’s loves. Fungi are e v e r y w h e r e.

Mycelium is the vegetative part of the fungus, the strands of growth that reproduce asexually (in the same way that strawberry plants, potatoes or bananas reproduce asexually). These strands find their way through rock, through the earth, through decaying matter and into any suitable substrate.

The sex bits of the fungi, the mushrooms, are the parts we eat for food and medicine, the parts we notice in the state of awareness when we forage, hunt or gather.

إِنَّاللهِوَإِنَّـاإِلَيْهِرَاجِعونَ (I Am God, And To Him We Shall Return)

Death is the mystery in which I hold the most faith. Living in an Apocalypse is the acceptance of my own demise, to think about the end of me. My end. I have seen a lot of death since I was very young and not everyone has that experience, I have come to learn. This doesn’t normalise death, but makes it more acceptable. Death becomes a peace. It humbles you right down, debilitates you, crushes you and breaks you. To deal with grief, the trauma of death, you have to let it flow out of you, even if it takes years. You go through all of it, an unbearable burden of mourning, and mostly come out of it OK, open to more of life and grateful to be among the living.

I was so madly in love this one time that my spirit was weaving poetry for the most wonderful person. He filled my home and my mother’s home with flowers, , spilling out into the streets. The fragrance and life from all of the vases made us all heady. Hearts in our eyes. I started collecting all the pollens in their different shades from all the lilies, stockpiling dyes for the future Pantry, yellows and burnt oranges and rich reds. I saved all the petals and made potpourri, like my grandmother used to do. I added to it every time something magical happened, like Kholofelo and Farhan’s wedding: the eucalyptus hangings were invigorating, some were burnt and the rest went into the Pot of Love Pourri. 

So in love were we two that we wanted to do it forever and we almost did except that our love made us too hungry and we started eating ourselves. It was fine that it didn’t work out, it was our decision and it was better to be friends who can love instead. A few weeks later my grandmother passed away, the love of our lives, the Rose, our Matriarch, most beloved Mamma. Death had finally arrived for her, she welcomed it and we knew it would happen. There was absolutely no space to feel anything else but the full gravity of her passing, the agony of being without her. I could not mourn the love who filled my home with flowers, I had absolutely no capacity and of course he could not compete or grieve with me.  

The days before her final passing, I came to recognise the face of death. I’d seen it before and understood at that moment the truth was absolute, she was already within death’s loving embrace. It is certain that death was a gradual process.

I knew exactly the moment my grandmother passed away. I was not with her, but in meditation I felt her last breath come from me and my eyes shot open. I needed a moment to be in myself before I got back to her and my family. To fall apart, even just for a bit, before having to stand up again and do the necessary duties to prepare for the burial the next day.

We were privileged to prepare her body, to wash her with all the women in our family, altogether. We dried her and shrouded her, her kaffang (shroud, from Malay “kafan”) so much bigger than she. Roses and camphor with her in her linen sheets. There were so many flowers that I kept them and dried them with the camphor. Of course I had to, I couldn’t throw them away or compost them. Camphor has a very specific smell if the first time you smell it is when you kiss the forehead of the deceased as a child. A smell of death for me. I had that smell in my room for months as I would toss the flowers. They had eventually withered, dried and died and they were beautiful, even more beautiful. I had so much of it, huge piles, but I could not throw it away. I poured vinegar over some of it, preparing a potential of uses from cleaners to conditioner. Preparing a new life to the things that had died. Refreshing and restarting.

Grief is not something that goes away or heals entirely, it stays with you forever, as long as you live, and as Mamma said: “Death often comes to show, we love more deeply than we know.”  When death happens, our depth and capacity to love is expanded beyond our knowledge and experience. Imagine how much space that creates for those of us in life. The ultimate potentiality of Love Matter.

As for the broken heart, to give him the respect he held in my heart I decided to remember only the good and only the magic, the sanctity and not the struggles. Keep it as a memory, something that happened to us in our pasts and dilute the sense of time. It’s about survival, this life.   


This piece features in the Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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WHO KILLED KABILA II (APRIL 2019) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/who-killed-kabila-ii/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/who-killed-kabila-ii/#respond Mon, 14 Jun 2021 12:46:49 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=inprint_posts&p=17869 So, who killed Kabila? The new issue of the Chronic presents this query as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination by writers from the Congo and other countries involved in the conflict.

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On January 16, 2001, in the middle of the day, shots are heard in the Palais de Marbre,the residence of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The road bordering the presidential residence, usually closed from 6pm by a simple guarded barrier is blocked by tanks.

At the Ngaliema hospital in Kinshasa, a helicopter lands and a body wrapped in a bloody sheet is off loaded. Non-essential medical personnel and patients are evacuated and the hospital clinic is surrounded by elite troops. No one enters or leaves. RFI (Radio France Internationale) reports on a serious incident at the presidential palace in Kinshasa.

Rumor, the main source of information in the Congolese capital, is set in motion…  

18 years after the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, rumours still proliferate. Suspects include: the Rwandan government; the French; Lebanese diamond dealers; the CIA; Robert Mugabe; Angolan security forces; the apartheid-era Defence Force; political rivals and rebel groups; Kabila’s own kadogos (child soldiers); family members and even musicians.

The geopolitics of those implicated tells its own story; the event came in the middle of the so-called African World War, a conflict that involved multiple regional players, including, most prominently, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

So, who killed Kabila? The new issue of the Chronic presents this query as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination by writers from the Congo and other countries involved in the conflict.

The issue is the result of a three-year research project that included a 5-day intervention and installation at La Colonie (Paris), from December 13 – 17, 2017, which featured a live radio station and a research library, a conceptual inventory of the archive of this murder – all documented in a research catalogue.


As this research revealed, who killed Kabila is no mystery. It is not A or B or C. But rather A and B and C. All options are both true and necessary – it’s the coming together of all these individuals, groups and circumstances, on one day, within the proliferating course of the history, that does it.

Telling this story then, isn’t merely a matter of presenting multiple perspectives but rather of finding a medium able to capture the radical singularity of the event in its totality, including each singular, sometimes fantastical, historical fact, rumour or suspicion. We’ve heard plenty about the danger of the single story – in this issue we explore its power. We take inspiration from the Congolese musical imagination, its capacity for innovation and its potential to allow us to think “with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh.”

However, this editorial project doesn’t merely put music in context, it proposes music as the context, the paradigm for the writing. The single story we write borrows from the sebene – the upbeat, mostly instrumental part of Congolese rumba famously established by Franco (Luambo Makiadi), which consists in the lead guitarist playing short looping phrases with variations, supported or guided by the shouts of the atalaku (animateur) and driving, snare-based drumming.

Similarly, to follow Ousmane Sembene’s method of using multi-location and polyphony as decolonial narrative tools, we invited writers from the countries directly involved and implicated in the events surrounding Kabila’s death (DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and a de-territorialised entity called AFDL) to write one story: the assassination of Kabila.

Working fluidly between fact and fiction, and featuring multiple forms of writing, the contributors – Yvonne Owuor, Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, Parselelo Kantai, Jihan El-Tahri, Daniel K. Kalinaki,  Kivu Ruhorahoza, Percy Zvomuya and Sinzo Aanza – use the event-scene of the shooting is their starting point tocollectively tell the single story with its multiplication of plots and subplots that challenge history as a linear march, and tell not the sum but the derangement of its parts.

The issue thus performs an imaginative remapping that better accounts for the complex spatial, temporal, political, economic and cultural relations at play, as well the internal and external actors, organized into networks and nuclei – not only human actors but objects; music; images; texts, ghosts etc – and how these actors come together in time, space, relationships.

This edition of the Chimurenga Chronic is conceived as a sebene of the Congolese rumba – enjoy the dance!


To purchase in print head to our online shop, or get copies from your nearest dealer.

The post WHO KILLED KABILA II (APRIL 2019) first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.

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The Agronomist https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-agronomist/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-agronomist/#respond Mon, 05 Aug 2019 04:17:41 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8265 Stacy Hardy follows the path of JJ Machobane, the social visionary, writer and agronomist from Lesotho, who challenged orthodox colonial thinking about land and land use.

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Stacy Hardy follows the path of JJ Machobane, the social visionary, writer and agronomist from Lesotho, who challenged orthodox colonial thinking about land and land use.  

“An employed man is like a well-fed and chained up dog.” This brief sentence, emblazoned on the back cover of Drive out Hunger, a slim monograph on Lesotho writer and agronomist JJ Machobane, delivers a mindblast against prevailing discourses. At a time when employment is everyone’s top priority – featuring equally in the political manifestos of the right and the left, as on agendas of NGOs and government agencies – Machobane’s thinking re-opens an important path towards liberation.

A farmer, novelist, social visionary, and self-taught scientist, his was a liberation not based in violent revolution but instead born of the everyday, and deeply rooted in land, in the geography of the earth, the body, the soul. His weapons were seed, earth, bone, river, spirit. And his legacy is still visible in the soil and in the mountains of rural Lesotho.

Raised as a cowherd in colonial Lesotho in the 1920s, Machobane was broadly part of a revolution in Africa that began in the 1950s and 1960s and sought to wrestle the land across the continent back from colonialism to place agriculture in the hands of the people. It was a movement led by artists, intellectuals and revolutionary agronomists such as Amílcar Cabral in Bissau, who shared a deep belief in the possibility of radical social change. The challenge for them was to confront colonialism, with its particular forms of oppression, enslavement and violence, including violence done to communities and to the land. Machobane’s work was distinctive in that it did not develop out of a political agenda, but sought a new space, out of which self-autonomy and dignity might be asserted as prime human realities, a space which might give birth to a different type of society.

Like many of his generation, Machobane was educated by the church but his real teacher remained the land. While still at school he wrote his first book – the first of many – an original Sesotho orthography based on his own experience of language. “It came about like this. One day I was just walking along and I saw the letters of the language in front of me, as if in a mist,” narrates Machobane. “And with each letter there came a sound. I suddenly saw that language was made of sounds. I went and sat down under a rock, I could hear the cattle and the horses. And I thought, sitting there, that there is a language for every creature which lives on the earth, a language for every person who lives on the earth.”

This mystical, musical quality permeates Drive out Hunger. Framed as a biography by publisher Jacana, it is really an edited oral autobiography, with co-author Robert Berold transcribing Machobane’s life story as he narrates it. Filled with anecdotes, self-taught knowledge, traditional Sesotho wisdom, and written in compelling everyday rhythms, spattered with epic and lyric tones, it is poetic and funny, yes, but also thoughtful, deeply politically engaged, and generous. Like a fierce and unrelenting force of nature, Machobane sees the world from another angle, he pays attention to its injustices, its peculiar beauties and simple pleasure, and he wakes us up.

Published in 2003, the book was born out of a commission by an NGO to document the life and work of a little-known agronomist, whose agricultural methods had revolutionised small-scale rural farming in Lesotho. At the time of the commission, Berold, himself a poet and rural activist, had already edited The People’s Workbook, a DIY manual for living sustainably in rural apartheid South Africa. Published in 1981, it was written in plain English and beautifully illustrated by, amongst others, artist Percy Sedumedi, whose drawings and diagrams’ penwork (d’jy ken!) brings to life its encyclopaedic scope – from breeding geese, making hand pumps, and organising seed-buying groups, to making a will, dealing with police, and starting a library.

Informed by this experience in collective bookmaking, Berold travelled to Lesotho armed with agricultural pamphlets and historic information on Machobane supplied to him by the NGO. He quickly discarded these after he sat down to interview Machobane. Struck by his intimate and searching voice, and natural storytelling ability and extraordinary life, Berold reframed the work as a memory project. “I wanted it to be his voice,” explains Berold in an interview. “All those words are his just about. I edited and crafted it to capture his rhythms – you know, the voice and the way it’s shaped. I wanted the book to sing.”

And sing it does. Framed in brief chapters, whose compelling titles tell their own story, (“The Urge To Kill”, “My Reward Was To See Them Eat”, “Clash With the Church”, “The Machobane Mass Agricultural College”, “Clash With Government”, “Harassment And Hiding”, “The Return Of Machobane”), the book follows Machobane as he moves from the hills of rural Lesotho, learning from his elders, to forging friendships in Catholic boarding school, through his intellectual and political coming-of-age as he experiences colonial oppression.

The pivotal point in the story is when Machobane finds himself slowly starving during his school years. Refusing to ask for his food from his colonial church masters, he suffers to the point of near collapse. Finally, driven by unbearable hunger, he begins to steal food from the church’s herd of pigs. This experience makes him realise that even if he frees his mind, until a man is able to feed himself he will remain slave to the colonial system.

“This incident taught me that there is no way I could defeat hunger. I cried and am still crying even today to think that I have been eating with pigs. You know, if anybody feeds you and she is female and you are male, you will end up marrying her. I began to feel that if I were to spend more time being fed by the pigs I would find myself married to a pig. Even today… If I am eating and I see someone hungry, I want to pull the food out of my mouth and give it to them.”

Through his personal experience of hunger, he came to an almost bodily understanding that the violent process of colonialism was one of extraction and exploitation, a process that promotes a master-slave paradigm and condemns the majority of people to a form of depraved existence. Driven by this lived knowledge, he refused a scholarship to study at what was then the University College of Fort Hare and returned home. “I’m burning the bridge to the devil,” he claimed.

Berold elaborates: “He decided, I’m going to find a way in which I’m going to stop hunger because it’s this that turns us into slaves dependent on our masters, it’s this that decimates communities, causing families to break up because people have to go to the mines etcetera… I’m going to find a way that works for everybody, even an old woman who is widowed, or even somebody who’s crippled. Everyone should be able to grow their own food. We’ve got to find a way to do it.”

For 13 years, Machobane researched and experimented, drawing on the traditional knowledge of the elders in the surrounding villages, trusting the messages that came to him in dreams and visions, listening closely to the language of nature, and combining it with trial and error, a process of uncovering and discovering. What he achieved was not a new form of farming, or a combination of disciplines, but something beyond all of that, and maybe, far less recognisable, a system that is process-guided, site-specific, culturally-based, spiritually rich, scientifically rigorous, intellectually provocative, and accessible to all. It was an organic system that combined intercropping, ways of companioning planting, ways of using natural compost and very little water, trench gardening, looking at the conditions of the soil, measuring conditions of the water, working in harmony with nature and innovative tradition. “It took him a long time and he worked on his own. And then eventually he said, ‘okay, I’ve done it, I’ve got it. I’ve worked it out. Next step: I’ve got to teach this.’”

And he did. Instead of waiting for a government grant or NGO support, he set about building. Working with a group of young people, he founded what eventually became the Machobane Mass Agricultural College. His system soon caught the eye of international NGOs who hoped to convert Machobane to their development philosophy.

“In 1959 I was awarded a grant by the Ford Foundation to travel overseas. They took me to see agricultural systems in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland and Egypt. I could see that these countries had big crops and rich farmers, but all were following the same road of chemical fertilisers and tractors and contour banks. I had already experimented… So I knew these methods did not work. I told them that if you take humankind in 100 years to come, you are destroying the land for people of the future. Even though you have a good crop now, your production has no future. When I had been to all these countries they also suggested that I go to Japan but I said I was tired, I’d seen enough.”

So Machobane returned home, but not before meeting with both the Pope and the World Council of Churches to complain about how religious infighting between different Christian churches was dividing his people.

It wasn’t long before he fell out with first the colonial government and then the newly elected independent government of Lesotho. Berold recalls:

“He told the colonial governor, ‘none of your agricultural extension departments work. I mean, it’s all crap. It doesn’t work. You’re trying to use chemicals, tractors – bullshit! We can’t do that here. We can’t afford it. This is not for us. Plus it’s all artificial and doesn’t nourish the soil. I want to see a system that works and I’ve worked it out. Here it is. I want to show you…’ Basically he said people must do their own thing and that was a threat to the system. Then they started farming potatoes and produced this huge potato crop, huge, huge! There were so many potatoes that the whole of Lesotho couldn’t absorb them – they had to be exported to South Africa. By then, as you know, Lesotho had a fascist government. And the fascist government was suspicious of Machobane. They were scared of the following he had attracted. People were eating, potatoes filled tables and bellies. The system was working. Eventually they closed him down. They basically stopped him operating. He had to go and teach people at night how to garden. He had to go underground more or less. They were killing people. It was fascism.”

Machobane finally came out of hiding in the early 1990s, at the invitation of an independent-minded upstart group of young lecturers and students at the Lesotho Agricultural College, who were researching his life and methods. His system was finally incorporated into the syllabus and remains in use today. While Machobane never lost his optimism or his vision of a liberated people, he was deeply critical of the new generation. “People today have the culture of slaves, they want to live and work under a master. They are looking for jobs. Who is going to employ them? Why don’t they create jobs for themselves?”

Until his death in 2007 at the age of 94, Machobane remained a cultivator of the earth with no true land to call his own – and continued to teach and learn, investigating the changing conditions of land, exploring the relationship between soil and society, myth and history, and offering a vision of culture and knowledge that was at once individual and communal, local and archetypal.

As Berold explains:

“In my mind there are three pillars to the Machobane system: whatever your piece of land is, you must make it productive; the second pillar is JJ Machobane’s motto: ‘First develop man and man will develop the land.’ This is the attitude, desire and confidence to achieve a good life for oneself against all odds. And this is possible if the skills and knowledge have been learned.”

The third pillar is solidarity with fellow farmers and the social responsibility each farmer shows towards those still needing external assistance. This responsibility flows directly from the hymn used to start all proceedings and demonstrations of the Machobane system:

Ha ke le tjee, ke le mobe,
Ke le ea khesehang,
Na haría baetsalibe
Na ke bonoe joang?
Jo! ke mohlolo-hlolo
Ha ke ratoa le ‘na
Ka rato le lekalo…

Concludes Berold: “Start at any corner of the pyramid, travel clockwise or anti-clockwise – the aim is to reach the top that reflects maturity; where all three are one. For me this is really the future of this great knowledge system.”


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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The Chronic: Who Killed Kabila II https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chronic-who-killed-kabila-now-out/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chronic-who-killed-kabila-now-out/#respond Mon, 01 Apr 2019 08:07:33 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=12556 On January 16, 2001, in the middle of the day, shots are heard in the Palais de Marbre,the residence of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The road bordering the presidential residence, usually closed from 6pm by a simple guarded barrier is blocked by tanks. 

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On January 16, 2001, in the middle of the day, shots are heard in the Palais de Marbre,the residence of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The road bordering the presidential residence, usually closed from 6pm by a simple guarded barrier is blocked by tanks.

At the Ngaliema hospital in Kinshasa, a helicopter lands and a body wrapped in a bloody sheet is off loaded. Non-essential medical personnel and patients are evacuated and the hospital clinic is surrounded by elite troops. No one enters or leaves. RFI (Radio France Internationale) reports on a serious incident at the presidential palace in Kinshasa.

Rumor, the main source of information in the Congolese capital, is set in motion…  

18 years after the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, rumours still proliferate. Suspects include: the Rwandan government; the French; Lebanese diamond dealers; the CIA; Robert Mugabe; Angolan security forces; the apartheid-era Defence Force; political rivals and rebel groups; Kabila’s own kadogos (child soldiers); family members and even musicians.

The geopolitics of those implicated tells its own story; the event came in the middle of the so-called African World War, a conflict that involved multiple regional players, including, most prominently, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

So, who killed Kabila? The new issue of the Chronic presents this query as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination by writers from the Congo and other countries involved in the conflict.

The issue is the result of a three-year research project that included a 5-day intervention and installation at La Colonie (Paris), from December 13 – 17, 2017, which featured a live radio station and a research library, a conceptual inventory of the archive of this murder – all documented in a research catalogue.

As this research revealed, who killed Kabila is no mystery. It is not A or B or C. But rather A and B and C. All options are both true and necessary – it’s the coming together of all these individuals, groups and circumstances, on one day, within the proliferating course of the history, that does it.

Telling this story then, isn’t merely a matter of presenting multiple perspectives but rather of finding a medium able to capture the radical singularity of the event in its totality, including each singular, sometimes fantastical, historical fact, rumour or suspicion. We’ve heard plenty about the danger of the single story – in this issue we explore its power. We take inspiration from the Congolese musical imagination, its capacity for innovation and its potential to allow us to think “with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh.”

However, this editorial project doesn’t merely put music in context, it proposes music as the context, the paradigm for the writing. The single story we write borrows from the sebene – the upbeat, mostly instrumental part of Congolese rumba famously established by Franco (Luambo Makiadi), which consists in the lead guitarist playing short looping phrases with variations, supported or guided by the shouts of the atalaku (animateur) and driving, snare-based drumming.


The Invention of Africa by Franco & T.P.OK Jazz – Ntone Edjabe on the Pan African Space Station.



“Franco, c’est l’inventeur du sebene. Parce que… et à coté il y avait Nico Kasanda, le docteur Nico, qui lui avait plus de technique de guitare mais qui jouait très mélodique, et Luambo c’était le mec qui est vraiment le mec du quartier avec sa connaissance intuitive de la guitare il a inventé cet manière de faire des sorte de boucle rythmique. Sa manière de jouer c’est un boucle rythmique. Le même phrase rythmique qui revient tout le temps. Et c’est ça le sebene congolais. Et jusqu’à aujourd’hui nous fonctionnons par sebene. Même moi même.“


Interview on France Inter : « Le labo de Ray Lema du 16 mars 2014 »

Ray Lema shares more stories and sounds from his life in music with Bintou Simporé onboard the Pan African Space Station.
Recorded for PASS in Paris at the Fondation Cartier exhibition Beauté Congo – 1926-2015 – Congo Kitoko. For more visit http://panafricanspacestation.org.za

Similarly, to follow Ousmane Sembene’s method of using multi-location and polyphony as decolonial narrative tools, we invited writers from the countries directly involved and implicated in the events surrounding Kabila’s death (DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and a de-territorialised entity called AFDL) to write one story: the assassination of Kabila.

Working fluidly between fact and fiction, and featuring multiple forms of writing, the contributors – Yvonne Owuor, Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, Parselelo Kantai, Jihan El-Tahri, Daniel K. Kalinaki,  Kivu Ruhorahoza, Percy Zvomuya and Sinzo Aanza – use the event-scene of the shooting is their starting point to collectively tell the single story with its multiplication of plots and subplots that challenge history as a linear march, and tell not the sum but the derangement of its parts.

The issue thus performs an imaginative remapping that better accounts for the complex spatial, temporal, political, economic and cultural relations at play, as well the internal and external actors, organized into networks and nuclei – not only human actors but objects; music; images; texts, ghosts etc – and how these actors come together in time, space, relationships.

This edition of the Chimurenga Chronic is conceived as a sebene of the Congolese rumba – enjoy the dance!

The Chronic is a quarterly pan African gazette, published by Chimurenga.

This edition is part of a larger research project of the Chimurenga Library. It is produced with support from Heinrich Boll Foundation (Cape Town), and in collaboration with La Colonie (Paris), Cosmopolis Bienial/ Centre Pompidou (Paris), Marabouparken Konsthall (Stockholm) and Kalmar Konstmuseum.

For more information or to order your print or digital copy visit www.chimurengachronic.co.za and/or contact Chimurenga on +27(0)21 4224168 or info@chimurenga.co.za.

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WHO WILL SAVE THE SAVIOURS? https://chimurengachronic.co.za/who-will-save-the-saviours/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/who-will-save-the-saviours/#respond Wed, 11 Aug 2021 11:23:33 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18147 A close gaze at the collective apathy that killed Dr. Sebi

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In the annals of challenges to orthodox medical consumerism belongs the science and practice of one Alfredo Bowman – aka Dr Sebi – a Honduran of humble origins, scant formal education and voracious curiosity. A sailor by trade, Bowman learned the functioning of ship drainage and applied the same principles in pursuit of optimum health of the human body, particularly the black body. His African bio-mineral treatment, founded on the science of intracellular cleansing and electric revitalisation using natural vegetation, was used to treat celebrities from Michael Jackson to Lisa Left Eye Lopez, applied to the taboos of AIDS treatment in South Africa, and pitted against the hyper-consumption of laboratorised, genetically manipulated Western pharmaceuticals that Sebi claimed were to blame for chemical imbalances at the root of disease. His life and work were the subject of debate, derision, legal action and infighting. His death was ignoble. Harmony Holiday takes a close look at the collective apathy that killed Dr Sebi.


In the iconic photograph of black men in suits on a dingy balcony, pointing toward the empty sky above Martin Luther King’s bloody, bulleted body, there’s an eerie sense of choreography and the seed of accusation looms over every phrase in the scene. It would not be until about forty years later, King long dead, his mother also murdered by gunshot while playing organ in church, that one of those sudden dancers from the photograph would slip at a live press conference and admit his role as an accomplice: “[W]hen I moved out of the way that day so they could get a clear shot”. He was speaking of the scene on that Memphis motel balcony that endless April day, gloating how well he had danced it. He was proud. He had never been complimented on his ability to be an unsuspected enemy of the King of Love. The confession slipped out, like OJ’s hands wished to have slipped out of those gloves, and just landed right in that disaster happy press conference light.

But it was too late for true retribution, too dispersed, the delayed gasp too shallow. And who’s to say the calculated grooming of a martyr doesn’t begin with the will of the martyr himself. King’s family went back to trial in 1993, was placated with a verdict substantiating their claim that the US government, in cahoots with the Memphis Police Department, colluded to have our King of Love murdered. The family was awarded $100 in damages.

Everybody wanna be a nigga, but nobody wanna be a nigga
The antiseptic folklore will tell us that MLK’s autopsy revealed the heart of an old, ailing man. A sick man. A man heartbroken by the obstacles on the road to healing the sickly-pretending-to-be-robust nation into which he was born. When shot, he was having a cigarette on the way to a feast, elated about the soul food he would enjoy after a heavy day and his heaviest, most anchoring speech. King had been trapped in a cycle of monasticism and temptation, stuck wearing three-piece suits and shiny church shoes, looking respectable, staying black while craving a backlash of wilderness. Can a corroding heart keep the pace of a redemptive soul? Can we repair the socio-economic condition of black people without first healing the black body, returning it to its optimal function, and letting go of the habits that soothe us into the wrong kind of citizenship? At what expense do we struggle for integration? What if the grandest irony is that the very contrived value of equality that we faintly believe will rescue us from being black, when achieved or even pursued, proves far more dangerous and dishonest than segregation. Do you really dream of milk and honey?

Tradition is not what we think it is
The legacy of black diasporic culture in the West is haunted by the tradition of our most sublime and messianic men dying, or being murdered the way King was, before they reach the age of 40. It’s as if these deaths are a rite of passage. Subconsciously, we are made to know that any black leader or cultural hero in the West who makes it past 40, does so at the expense of his spirit, is rendered useless to the revolution, has skipped his turn and will slip into wilful spiritual atrophy for the remainder of his days, afraid to suffer, afraid to bleed, and full of excuses for his complacency or just more and more trapped in the rotting fat of American bureaucracy. There are a few vivid public exceptions I can think of: James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Miles Davis, and Alfredo Bowman, aka Dr Sebi. These men lived relatively long lives and never became total mules to their comfort. These men are the redeemers of a long list of fallen, including everyone from Martin Luther King to Tupac to Malcolm to Trayvon Martin to Sam Cooke to J Dilla to DJ Rashaad. They give survival real meaning beyond the mundane symbolism of proving that black men can live like white men, which is actually to prove that we can reject ourselves and effectively numb our deeper yearnings in the service of fitting it to a system that destroys us.

But even these redeemers tend to die like their martyred cousins. Even after biding their time, they pass on suffering, working tirelessly to their very last days, unappreciated and with fewer and fewer loyals around to check on them. Many of them broke, broken, suddenly gone. And once they’re gone we often revise the reach of their accomplishments before the work can speak for itself, nervous at what a closer look at the end of the life of a delayed blackman martyr might reveal about the clear and present danger we all face when awake enough to be our truest selves.

Here we take a close enduring look at the life and death of the most recently fallen, Dr Sebi, born Alfredo Bowman, raised in Honduras, appropriated by the US, and who died this past August while in police custody, allegedly having been placed in jail for carrying US$37,000 in cash. He died just days before he would have been exonerated on the public record and released back to his famed Osha Village, a Honduras-based healing centre where he had cured everything from AIDS to sickle cell disease (SCD), where he had mastered healing the human body through the lens of the black genome and melanated peoples, using food, sunlight, water, air, and herbs.

In the last circulating photograph of Dr Sebi, he’s sitting, back against the wall, on the floor outside an airport in Honduras, his gangly, kingly legs huddled at his chest, his knees nudged into arrows, his arms wrapped around his shins and his forehead resting on his knees. He appears anguished and utterly abandoned. There are no men in suits pointing. This is not the sabotage plot of grandiose cogs of empire, but the quiet hunt for any black man who stands in the way of Big Pharma, anyone who’s hip to the fact that if you wake up the body on a molecular level, the systems controlling the mind and soul of black men and women in the West will be decimated, the collective frequency will shift and there will be no more telling us how to live and what to live for. We will want to live again, for our spirits, with a sense of purpose that transcends that cotton and flax currency we chase all our lives. Dr Sebi was taken from this slump at the airport to a local jail, charged with money laundering and held until proven innocent. And he was proven innocent, all charges dropped, but he didn’t live to witness it.

We’re told Sebi succumbed to pneumonia while in jail. We’re told betrayal and loyalty are equally impossible and we were left to resolve the riddle at that impasse. Some of us watched and learned how not to take ourselves or our healers too seriously when we realised Sebi smoked weed every day, a steady rapture to bend the monastic metronome. We know that at the same time he imbibed only herbs, juice and water, like a bona fide nigga jesus, consumed his herbs and sea moss daily, and when he ate, stuck to a strict list of non-hybrid, starch-free foods. He talked a lot of the “mucus membrane”, how it had been compromised by modern patterns of consumption. He candidly admitted that he had been schizophrenic, obese, diabetic and impotent, and was cured by a Mexican herbalist also named Alfredo, Alfredo Cortez. Sebi was so moved by his regained health at the time, so roused by the simplicity of real healing and cellular regeneration, that he left his work as a merchant seaman to become a healer. He wanted to heal the black race worldwide. To wake and repair the DNA, the genome, and with that literally rewrite our history, restore the matriarchy, grant us our happiest and most eternal feminine ending. So a man who had no formal education and was raised on joy and nature in a humble village in Honduras set out to study herbs and water and soil and anatomy, to self-educate his way into natural genius and redemption.

A man who loved jazz, loved his mother, and loved his sin sincerely, set out to purify the black spirit, to rescue it from the vestiges of slavery. Because more than anything, Dr Sebi loved black people. The sad volta is that even if you heal yourself to a large extent, surpass yourself even, when you love sick people, a group obliviously living out a blood-addicted necrotic culture and vibrant in spite of, not because of, what its members consume on a regular basis, part of you loves what they’re sick from. The healer – one who deliberately sets out to fix the perceived flaws in our way of life from the bottom up – is deeply lonely and vulnerable to an addiction to black culture, to belonging, to the bastard rhetoric of liberation that associates it with mastering, rather than quitting, the West.

When Dr Sebi formally became a healer, he relied on the dualistic zeitgeist he carried as a city dwelling former villager. He went into cities such as Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. He left a sublime refuge in St Croix to tackle the crack cocaine epidemic in Harlem. He catered his teachings to the people suffering there. He also hobnobbed with black celebrities; was taken to court for practicing medicine without a licence – there, he claimed that he had reversed what is called AIDS in 77 patients. This was in 1989. He survived. With this and other victories, Sebi developed a following, wives, groupies, hopelessly ailing entertainers knocking on his door in minor disguises looking to be saved, a diverse posse who viewed his teachings as the secular gospel, the mercy they had been waiting for. Although it was rooted in the intention of healing, the more healing he did, the more Sebi was forced into becoming a brand, a commodity, another of the West’s fetishised rebels. Dr Sebi’s attempt to save his people from within the social and economic structures that strangle them was his ultimate shipwreck. This seemingly harmless nuance of integration, where we gain visibility for our most authentic truths and systems by subjecting them to the rubric of their predators, is almost more dangerous than the full cries for utopian unity we saw at the height of the civil rights movement. Dr Sebi’s consciousness was in effect split between hermetic shaman and saviour complex and these two distant states of being united by a fundamental charisma cannot be safely reconciled. Los Angeles/ Hollywood and a tropical village in Honduras cannot be reconciled. Love and money cannot be reconciled. One has to make a choice about which laws he will live under and force his environment to conform. Ambivalence when you know the truth can kill you faster than any fully formed lie.

***

In his own gorgeous and frankly informative improvised speeches, Sebi would hint that he needed healing too, that he was stressed out too, that we all were. He mentions this while bursting with energy and information at 82 years old, with two children under three he’s busy raising, and his healing centre in Honduras thriving, along with his shop in Los Angeles. He’s wearing a three-piece suit because he’s in the US. In Honduras, he wears linen and no shoes. He’s using the iron slang of urban Americans, calls himself a nigga, falls to his knees to demonstrate what sea moss does for his bone density. There’s a faint hint of heartbreak in his eyes when he admits he thought he was going to heal all of his people and realised few cared and fewer could translate that care into action. But Sebi’s overall spirit, the cheerful despair spiralling out of him, was be as children.

He spoke with the frankness of a child and called out what he saw so openly that honesty could have been mistaken for bitterness, though it was actually just him being a conduit, a consummate griot. Sebi knew, like King knew, the generosity and soul loneliness that had forced him to try and hip people to his simple secret would be his undoing. He warned himself, he knew the heroic impulse is as suicidal as it is life-giving, and he risked it because love and danger become one in the West, inevitably.

As with Sandra Bland, so too with Dr Sebi: we do not know, can’t get straight answers, and we may never know on paper what really occurred in those cells. We can speculate and cross reference and accuse and insinuate our way into private verdicts, and we will, forever. One of the questions leading the private inquisition being: who let them stay behind bars for so long for such petty offenses? In Sebi’s case, why was his jailing silenced, where were his allies, where were his enemies, what were they feeding him in there, what was he given? Where is the autopsy? How sudden the shift from vibrant man with a bright swinging light in his eyes to prisoner suffocating in his own skin. We know that environmental activist Bertha Caceras was gunned down in the night in her own home in Honduras and wonder if a government capable of arranging that might also arrange to off a herbalist, whose techniques could single-handedly send all the assumptions of allopathic medicine into pandemonium and disrepair. Or could grief and exhaustion and all the acid trapped in his lungs from smoking weed so often have invaded Dr Sebi’s will while he sat in the jail awaiting trial? Could he have just allowed ambivalence to yield to distant certainty?
In either scenario, Dr Sebi is a martyr and, like MLK, asserted his fallibility and manhood almost aggressively, as both a cry for help and an announcement that no matter what about society and the black experience they had set out to fix, fixing themselves completely would have been a threat to the survival of their reckless need to try to heal the world of its sacred affiliations. They needed a taste of the poison they set out to destroy; they needed to understand the difference between morals and brainwashing. They needed their problems, their flaws, their pain and their distractions from the pain of so much seeing and so little being seen and heeded. They needed to be betrayed to be fully seen in a way.

What’s different, what should alarm us into some sense of urgent torch handling, is that in a time when we are supposed to be liberated from Jim Crow fanaticism, Dr Sebi died virtually unknown and unnamed. There was a brief and muffled uproar before it felt like he had never even existed: no major obituary, no autopsy or open investigation into his final days. It’s possible that Big Pharma colluded to have this man who set out to really heal the whole of the diaspora, killed in his tracks, right when he was about to open free healing centres on a mass scale, and that no one even flinched, no one mentioned it in the mainstream news, the ads for fried chicken and antidepressants kept running, the shop in LA got almost famous, raided by guards, kept running. The centre in Honduras kept running. The healers who learned from Sebi began advertising their products more, but with fewer and fewer nods to his. His sons and daughters argued publicly over who owned what, who was a fraud, who a chosen heir. Men half Sebi’s age and stuck in the matrix started editing his teachings with minor but arrogant caveats. A circus of imposters now stands in the place of this monolithic figure who managed to unite the thinking on the black genome for a while by simplifying its tenets. And very few are the wiser.

Dr. Sebi went from vibrant living legend to distant myth in a matter of weeks, and no one is outraged. We’ve made no demands on the state or ourselves, we have no manifestos, no threats of mobilising the forces he put in place for good. And what’s most disconcerting is that we still don’t see the uselessness of social, economic, and cultural freedom when our cultural habits demand oppression, and wilful illness. Freedom to kill ourselves is what Sebi died trying to save us from. Will we at last wake up to the importance of how we treat our bodies every day, or did he die in vain? Without repairing our DNA, the epigenetics embeds repression in the genome so that we keep recreating it in new ways like the creative geniuses we are. Without getting our feet in the earth, bodies in the sun, the herbs in our bloodstream, the dead animals out, without making serious changes to the way we treat our bodies, to the very way we think about success on a material level, no amount of social change will add up to anything. We’ll keep inventing new ways to oppress ourselves the more resources we access. New resources are new ways to die in the current paradigm. We’ll keep stuffing starch up a turkey’s ass while a saviour passes away on a cold jail floor and wonder why we feel like smuggling screams into our laughter.

I give you your problem back
Maybe, like MLK, like Sebi himself, there’s a part of us that doesn’t want to be healed, that believes that being saved has something to do with keeping one foot in the slave quarters while the other gallops adjacent to the wheel. I believe that every saviour of their stature is both suicidal and deathless, but they do not go softly into the broken night of empire. Reparations begin in the body. Sebi was the realest and repairingest black saviour alive. His ambivalence is what made it thus, because it aches to transcend yourself alone. Back through the septic waters of empire, he marched home.

The day after his so-called death was reported, mainstream news outlets also reported that AIDS had been cured. There’s a patent on every virus, every disease, every mythic lethal invention, and there’s an equally valued contrived cure and it could cost you your life to question this. Not every rebel is a saviour, but every saviour knows the wages of showing us which way is up.


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Who Killed Kabila I https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chimurenga-library-who-killed-kabila-catalogue-now-available/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chimurenga-library-who-killed-kabila-catalogue-now-available/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 08:12:16 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=12558 The Chimurenga Library is a research platform that seeks to re-imagine the library as a laboratory for extended curiosity, new adventures, critical thinking, daydreaming, socio-political involvement, partying and random perusal.

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From December 13 – 17, 2017, Chimurenga installed a library of books, films, and visual material mapping extensive research that ask “Who Killed Kabila“, as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination. This book catalogues all the research material produced and collected for this installation.

The equation is simple: the length of a Congolese president’s reign is proportional to his/her willingness to honour the principle that the resources of the Congo belong to others. Mzee Kabila failed.

Who killed Kabila is no mystery either. It is not A or B or C. But rather A and B and C. All options are both true and necessary – it’s the coming together of all these individuals, groups and circumstances, on one day, within the proliferating course of the history, that does it.

So telling this story isn’t merely be a matter of presenting multiple perspectives but rather of finding a medium able to capture the radical singularity of the event in its totality, including each singular, sometimes fantastical, historical fact, rumour or suspicion.

We’ve heard plenty about the danger of the single story – we want to explore its power. We take inspiration from the Congolese musical imagination, its capacity for innovation and its potential to allow us to think “with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh” (Mbembe).


The catalogue is now available for sale in the Chimurenga shop.

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A Brief History of Fufu Pounding https://chimurengachronic.co.za/a-brief-history-of-fufu-pounding/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/a-brief-history-of-fufu-pounding/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 11:51:33 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8852 The preparation of fufu is a far from the drudgery and waste of time bemoaned by the World Bank.

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By Moses März

In July 2016, the Kumasi Polytechnic presented the K-POLY FUFU MAMA, the latest machine promising to ease the labour-heavy preparation of Ghana’s national dish. The selected audience of fufu pounders, connoisseurs and chop bar owners present at the launch covered by TV3 is shown as enthusiastic recipients of this Ghanaian technological breakthrough. The inventors of the machine rehearse the ever-same argument: K-Poly is more hygienic, less burdensome, less noisy and more nature-friendly than the traditional pounding with mortar and pestle. And even more importantly: with K-Poly, fufu is ready in less than five minutes.

However convincing this might sound, chances are that, like its many predecessors promoted since 1975 – the Hobart mixer, the Kenwood mixer, and hammer mills – K-Poly Fufu Mama will not enter Ghanaian households at all. Prices such as US$225 for a comparable yam pounding machine can only be part of the explanation. The sophisticated palates of many fufu eaters insist that one can taste the difference. The sound of two metals rubbing against each other can never match the rhythm of topam-topam or the soft fu-fu, fu-fu sound the air makes when it escapes from the mash in the final stages of pounding. As a result, what is not prepared with mortar and pestle cannot be fufu, and the use of machines is nothing but laziness.

As long as the culinary standard remains this high, there will be competition for the machine. And Ghanaians will keep pounding, with hardening of palms, sweat dripping into the mash and all – the same way as “from time immemorial”, in the words of the Daily Graphic article announcing the new machine.

Without even going as far as the preparation of the soup that comes with it, the creation of a perfectly smooth fufu ball can take anything from the main hours of the afternoon to a couple of days, or, if fermented cassava is being used, a week. At the very least, it involves two people, the pounder standing upright, and the moderator, flipping and turning the mash of plantain, yam or cassava in the mortar in the brief moments after the pestle is lifted and before it is dropped again. In the process, all remaining lumps are meticulously taken out by hand until the ball is so soft that it can be swallowed without chewing.

Fufu is not reserved for special occasions. Before the recent rise in the price of cassava, it could be bought for GH₵1.00 at chop bars in Kumasi, an affordable price for those without the manpower to do their own pounding. More importantly, fufu is not food, it is a culinary choice. It is a passion, both in the intense excitement leading up to the meal, as well as in the enduring and suffering having gone into its preparation. It is a dish standing for the nation’s place in the world.

But maintaining such a high level of culinary sophistication on a national scale comes at a price. If it is not backed by the right kind of imperial machinery it will almost certainly earn you one of the lower ranks on the world’s GDP table. On a geopolitical scale, the World Bank is a powerful ally of those who invent pounding machines. A 2006 World Bank report, Gender, Time Use and Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, found out that “time poverty” needs to be understood as a new dimension of poverty on the continent, meaning that reproductive/ unproductive/ unpaid/ care/ domestic labour takes up too much time. What they call a culturally determined “household time overhead” is the total of things that need to be done around the house. And in their view it is configured in particularly unproductive ways in Africa. Seen from New York, what is worse is that this type of work is also unevenly distributed among men and women. Their numbers show that African women work 30 per cent more than men – and that is even though most of their activities are not even reflected in the data, because women tend to not consider what they do as “work”. In conclusion: “labour-saving domestic technology relating to food processing is likely to have a greater immediate impact in raising the productivity and reducing the time burdens of many women.”

As Yemisi Aribisala points out elsewhere in this edition, Nigerian women in fact use the labour-intensive work in the kitchen to showcase their strength over men, and they have been doing this very successfully: “Over 70 percent of our immunity to disease is sitting inside our guts at the mercy of the food we eat. SHE has license to spit in his meals or lace them with arsenic. She has him, innards and all.” Against the “gender equalising army orders” calling for the inclusion of women into the capitalist work force, she warns that the kitchen is “being falsely implicated in the diminishment of a woman’s power. This much-needed, loved and utilised room is now outrageously persona non grata.”

Accordingly, for Aribisala the preparation of fufu is a far from the drudgery and waste of time bemoaned by the World Bank. She writes:

“The mortar is the vagina, the pestle the penis… but the pounding of yam into a supple mound is at the woman’s pleasure. She decides pace, force, beginning, end, heat, coolness, yes or no. Being in that room where fires are lit is an apparel of power worn by a woman that money cannot pay for. The room yields its secrets to its owner and not to the paid drudge.”

In “The Truth about Fufu”, published in Kalahari Review, Kofi Akpabli also makes use of the sex analogy to explain why fufu is life for many enthusiasts: “When all is done, the pestle is no longer needed until the next session. Meanwhile, the end product lies in the bosom of the mortar just like a new baby issues from the woman’s womb.”

The time poverty strategy is not the first time the World Bank has intervened in the division of labour in African families to save women from using their time in unproductive ways, that is, in ways that do not necessarily produce products to be sold on the market. Three decades ago, when it identified that too much money was being invested into the African state – the national “household time overhead” – the World Bank put a lot of money into attracting women to work on the plantations for the cash crops economy.

According to Silvia Federici in A Feminist Critique of Marx, the refusal to being recruited to work on the plantation, once again, and the defence of subsistence-oriented agriculture by African women, was in turn identified by the World Bank as the main factor in the crisis of its agricultural development projects. A flood of academic papers on “women’s contribution to development” ensued, turning first into NGO-sponsored “income generating projects” and then into “microcredit lending schemes” – all aiming at integrating women into the system of paid labour.

In this light, fufu pounding is a political tool of resistance against a long tradition of Western philosophising about “taste”, stretching from Plato to Hegel to Hannah Arendt. Marked by a profound disregard for the actual taste of the tongue, it locates taste among the lower regions on the hierarchy of the senses and in opposition to the rational character of genuine, cultured, aesthetic experiences. The view that food is fuel derives from this tradition, and it is a prerequisite for how willingly industrial nations have given into the promise of fast food being just that, fast.

In his writings on labour in Capital, Marx never recognised reproductive work – such as cooking or childcare – as work per se, and instead associated it with the world of nature and instinct, like “a spider weaving a web or a bee building a honeycomb”. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith claimed that not the goodwill of the butcher or the baker provides our daily supper, but the self-interest of all economic agents involved in the process of food production. It should be mentioned that he was still living with his mother at the time. In Arendt’s influential conceptual trinity of labour, work and action, homo laborans works like a machine to meet the basic needs of life, remaining a slave and leaving the freedom to act with others and to affect change as an exclusive privilege of homo politicus. Be it the belief in the economic man or the political man, liberals, Marxists and capitalists all agree that technology will eventually pave the way to a better life, will liberate first men, and then women too, from the “burden of chores” like cooking towards more meaningful work.

Little do they know of the Ghanaian kitchen as a place where communities are created, knowledge transmitted and, perhaps most importantly, where those homines politicus who appear to make all the decisions are subordinates to the absolute power of the one who does the cooking.

According to Kofi Akpabli’s account, fufu pounding underwent several technical innovations over time. The spread of chop bars has, for example, given rise to the specialised profession of “fufu macho-men” operating with giant pestles and mortars. If the pounding is not done by a pounder and a moderator in the classic fashion also known as “Fufu-One-on-One”, it can also be done by a single person who possesses the outstanding psychomotor abilities and the mental balance to do the pounding by herself. This technique is also known as “Automated Fufu Machine”. The so-called “Pestles of Mass Destruction” technique requires a massive mortar and can involve about six people. No moderation is needed in this case.

In the latest survey on work and leisure in the high-income countries forming part of the Organisation of Economic Corporation and Development (OECD), time spent cooking or preparing food is so insignificant that it does not even feature in the statistics. People in Germany, for example, work for an average of 1,478 hours a year and have 7,282 hours of leisure, of which sleep makes up the biggest chunk, with an average of 8 hours and 22 minutes a day. Ninety-seven minutes per day are dedicated to eating.

If this “work-life-balance” is to be maintained, a diet made up of sugar cereals for breakfast, bread, spaghetti and frozen pizza makes sense. It can all be arranged in five to ten minutes. That is if one does not have the money to afford food that is prepared by someone else who does the hard work of operating a restaurant or take-out place.

Apart from the compromised quality of the food, the health hazards posed by sugar, fats, excessive wheat consumption and preservatives have all been linked to diseases ranking from schizophrenia to cancer, autism and ADHD. As a result, “bio” and organic supermarket chains are on the rise in urban centres of the West, selling rye and spelt (instead of wheat), and gluten-free, dairy-free and preservative-free products at premium prices.

As John McMurty wrote in The Cancer State of Capitalism, there is something to be learned from feminist economists working from the vantage point of the “unwaged force of women who are not yet disconnected from the life economy by their work. They serve life not commodity production. They are the hidden underpinning of the world economy and the wage equivalent of their life-serving work is estimated at $16 trillion.”

Women have for some time seen through the false promises of capitalist or Marxist progress. Despite washing machines and dish washers, mixers, blenders and microwaves, nappies still need to be changed, rooms need to be cleaned, the young, weak and old ones need to be taken care of – that is if one does not opt for the robot-option as currently being explored in Japan’s “carebot project”.

Even taken on its own terms, the technological liberation thesis does not hold. The divide between paid and unpaid work, between a mother and a chef, is still very much in existence and jobs are still unevenly distributed and remunerated by a patriarchal system. With every new invention, it also becomes clearer that the technologisation of reproductive work has not eliminated its exploitative elements. Just as we know by now that no time is saved by machines, it remains doubtable whether there has been an actual speeding up of the cooking process in the West. Has it perhaps rather been outsourced from the kitchen to the factory, where the work is still being done in the hidden areas of fully industrialised societies?

The first pasta machines date back to the early 17th century. In the mid-19th century, commercially produced pasta was widely available throughout Italy. Meanwhile, the cultivation of wheat, spanning a period of 10,000 years, undertook a drastic change in the last 50 years. To enhance its resilience on the world market, its genetic make-up has been changed so dramatically that the metabolism of human beings – still much the same as 2,5 million years ago – cannot keep up with the genetically engineered grain.

Moreover, the fermentation process of bread dough that has been part of baking bread for millennia, taking place the night before the baking and reducing the amount of protein to make the bread more easily digestible and tastier, has been cut short since the age of industrialisation. More large-scale bakers, pasta and pizza producers are now using ready-made mixtures and frozen dough, and leading to a sharp decline in taste and a rise in intolerances. It is perhaps needless to add that the pressures placed on the yam or cassava root to change its genetic make-up in order to conform with the norms of the world trade system were not nearly as devastating.

And yet, even in societies that depend almost entirely on the consumption of quick and convenient wheat products, a poetics (in the original sense of “making”) of buttering bread, of fixing a tomato pasta sauce, of cutting up the vegetables of a salad, or decorating the base of a frozen pizza, serves as a reminder that the creative and the productive can never be completely divorced from the process of cooking.

Among the alternative economic models on a global scale – beyond social security and basic income grant schemes that operate on the basis of the same capitalist system – some economists have recently started to advocate for the introduction of a new distribution system based on the actual energy that goes into the production of a product. Only then, they argue, could the myth be dispelled that money is an adequate representation of human energy. Their basic unit of value would be the calorie. Finally, then, a system would be in place that values work according to its difficulty, its hardnesss, its social usefulness, the time or energy invested into a product.

Among the only downsides of such an approach would be that fufu in its current form would probably become unaffordable.


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Chimurenganyana: Rumblin’ by Dominique Malaquais (June 2012) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-rumbling-by-dominique-malaquais-june-2012/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-rumbling-by-dominique-malaquais-june-2012/#respond Wed, 30 May 2012 15:16:30 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=15316 A text and image reflection on the “Rumble in the Jungle”, the […]

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A text and image reflection on the “Rumble in the Jungle”, the Muhammad Ali / George Foreman boxing match held in Kinshasa in 1974. Norman Mailer started The Fight, Dominique Malaquais punched back. Artwork by Kakudji.

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XXYX Africa https://chimurengachronic.co.za/xxyx-africa/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/xxyx-africa/#respond Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:51:14 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=3980 LGBT Africa held two truths: you fuck, you die.

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by Nick Mwaluko

African Sexualities: A Reader Sylvia Tamale (Ed.) Pambazuka Press, 2011 Queer Africa : New and Collected Stories Karen Martin, Makhosazana Xaba (Eds) MaThoko’s Books, 2013 Queer African Reader Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas (Eds) Pambazuka Press, 2013
African Sexualities: A Reader
Sylvia Tamale (Ed.)
Pambazuka Press, 2011
Queer Africa : New and Collected Stories
Karen Martin, Makhosazana Xaba (Eds)
MaThoko’s Books, 2013
Queer African Reader
Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas (Eds)
Pambazuka Press, 2013

On the subject of voicing that inner scream that is your song…

LGBT Africa held two truths: you fuck, you die. Both truths were intimately interwoven, like tapestry spun by a wild heart against an overreaching national government bracketed from the world, answerable solely to itself and wielding unmolested corrupted powers. If you were caught, the government had every right to have you killed – shot dead on the spot – or tortured. If you were lucky, you fucked like you might die – with intensity, not wasting that urge to connect with someone of the same sex who shared your wish to be alive, truly alive, because what proved to be deadly was living a lie every day.

Third World fucking was hardcore sex zero nonsense: we sucked, swallowed, dicked, gulped, licked, fingered, penetrated, moaned, groaned, grunted, squirted, sprinkled, dribbled, bent down, bent over, spread wide, even wider, head-downass-up, swallow-every-drop-nonstop whenever and wherever nobody was watching, and if they did chance a glimpse, we fucked even harder, not wasting a drop of love or life or sex seized in zero time with a loaded gun at your skull. Healing powers were summoned to quiet that extra-crispy brand of brutality reserved especially for queer Africans.

We licked the death-wish within the body’s hidden caverns, our skilled African tongues glossing over bruises from beatings – pipes, stones, Daddy’s belt while your mother watched in silence.

We never saw ourselves on TV; never heard our stories on radio; never held parades to celebrate hard-won struggles; had no materials, no paraphernalia, no lube, no tube; no twelve-inch, uncut, jet-black dildo with glow-in-the-dark sprinkles to decorate your cock; no flag, no label, no symbol, no language, no code, no metaphor, no song; no shops, no clubs, no bars; and no celebrated space to pour our souls into alternative realities. No church or sacred community prayed over us or blessed gay people because they said we have no souls. We were invisible, that unreality within reality, a truth so true that when we first appeared they said we were a lie.

The ones who couldn’t take it anymore, the ones who refused to stay silent or hide, the few brave ones who stood up to declare themselves openly gay and proud Africans became un-African instantly: abandoned by family, disowned by lovers, denied by community, spat on by the ancestors, they went from office workers with (decent) salaries to bums fishing garbage from dumpsters, roaming the streets as sex workers prostituting among tourists to get by hand-to-mouth – if lucky.

These were our very first foot soldiers, heroes and sheroes and trannyoes, who sang their noble song, risking life’s preciousness to voice a more precious truth; LGBT Africans armed with beautiful queernesses prepared to die for an ideal, unprepared to force-fuck heterosexuals in exile, stunned when treated like strangers at home in their own motherland. They did not die from HIV/Aids, NO!NO!NO!, they died from loneliness, acute isolation sapped their strength. In the end, they never knew their worth to their own community; but we know it and we will sing it forever, proclaiming eternity as we reach for infinity where queer Africa lives forever, amen.

For us few watchful survivors on the sidelines, the village sent a clear message: “Fight back, you will fall. Fall, nobody will catch you. Die, no ancestor will receive your rotten, gay body in the hereafter where judgement is even worse.” We looked in the mirror, measured our stubborn pride and saw death. It’s that look you get when you don’t stand in your own truth, when you spin lies to fuel dreams that account for your emotional isolation. We were safer and yet hypocrites; in other words, we were not ourselves.

“Better safe,” we thought, so we played at being “normal”, “ordinary”, “average”, “nice”; we made ourselves “predictable”, “routine”, “stale”, “flat”, modelled our behaviour after “good citizens” who worship the grave.

We fabricated shallow but necessary lies, swallowed spoonfuls of homophobia to stay safe inside the cosy closet. We looked at each other sideways, if at all. “Wide-eyed blind” is what I call it: when you look not to see someone but to make sure they stay invisible. Easy enough: how do you identify when your process involves erasing “self”? We betrayed each other, hurt each other, cursed and destroyed each other. And we drank – too, too much – liquor plus laughter a bubbling tonic during troubled times.

Suddenly, one bright morning, everything broke: the sun rose high to cast penetrating light on our lies, but they had gone, disappeared. The false, artificial ring in our voice sounded true, even authentic; plastic gestures that made us normal became natural; we were masters of the world and its shallow, stupid standards. So we were comfortable, yes, finally safe. Next day, we were still safe and just as plastic. Following day, still fake, still safe. Next day, more fake, more nice, more polite, more shallow, more insincere, more accommodating, more agreeable, more accepted, more lies, more safe, less alive.

When we were too fake we were too safe because we were dead.

There is a war between my legs. It keeps me pure. To reach out, to touch someone who touches me back fuels the frenzy feeding my lust. Love defeats death, my soul defeats my mind, scars speak, pain shared, our chaos is made gorgeous. When partnered it means someone is out there, another African just as starved for life and love. Maybe, just maybe a tribe is in my future if I survive this moment. If I claim the body that holds the story to voice my song, if I taste the death-wish during illegal fucking, if I re-imagine the world behind my eyelids, recreating reality to make it mine. Is this why some of us refuse to hide? When I live in integrity, don’t I like myself more? Aren’t I more alive?

Two centuries later. Post-apocalyptic queer Africa. The ground is simmering. Government executions number in the millions. Repeated blows to the skull with a hammer; failed escape attempts; jumping out of three-storey buildings only to fall smack dead; raped; shot on the spot. Queer blood seeps to the earth’s core, still not ripe for revolution, though the seeds are there. On a stand sit three excellent works: Queer African Reader, African Sexualities: A Reader and Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction. Written for, by and about queer Africa, a refugee calls them bibles, why? They tell the story in our bodies that voices our song, the first lyrical line is this:

“Our future is now.”


This review appears in the December 2013 edition of Chronic Books, the review supplement to the Chronic. Available in print or as a PDF at our online store.

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THIRD TRANSITION https://chimurengachronic.co.za/third-transition/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/third-transition/#respond Tue, 27 Jul 2021 11:38:48 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18049 Shoks Mzolo and Bongani Kona trace the path of South Africa’s transformation from a criminal apartheid state to a criminal neoliberal state

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Shoks Mzolo and Bongani Kona trace the path of South Africa’s transformation from a criminal apartheid state to a criminal neoliberal state, where a handful of old-monied white capitalists still turn the screws and call the shots, while a newly monied black bourgeoisie stands to attention. The authors examine the knowns and unknowns of the ongoing struggle for economic freedom.

Late in June 2003, Joseph P. Overton, a senior vice-president at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a US think-tank based in Michigan, died when the ultralight plane he was flying crashed near an airport in Caro, Michigan. He was 43 years old. His principal research was concerned with the convergence of politics, media and democracy, and how right-wing think-tanks could influence public policy.

His pioneering insight – devised in the mid-1990s and known in the field of political science as the “Overton Window” – was in establishing that political ideas have their time. At any historical moment, depending on the cultural and economic processes unfolding, Overton intuited, there exists a range of political ideas in the public sphere that are deemed to be acceptable, acceptability being defined as the range of political propositions public office holders can support without risking re-election – the threshold, in other words, determined by the prevailing social orthodoxies.

But the window of acceptability can be moved, Overton established, to encompass radical ideas which lie outside the prevailing mainstream – from “free, quality, decolonial education” to “Brexit”, for instance. Crucial to this observation, however, is that politicians are seldom responsible for moving the window: “Politicians typically don’t determine what is politically acceptable; more often than not they react to it and validate it. Generally speaking, policy change follows political change, which itself follows social change.”

Listening to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma talk about the urgent need for radical economic transformation during the tumultuous 2017 State of the Nation Address (SONA) is to have to understand that a deeper historical process is presently unfolding. Hardly three years have passed since the president used the very same occasion to declare to members of parliament, and live television viewers, that the African National Congress (ANC), the governing party since 1994, had a “good story to tell” about the first 20 years of democracy it has presided over.

Now, however, the president – and by extension, the ANC – have been coerced into doing something they are unaccustomed to: speaking in the present tense – a shift in tone exemplified by the president speaking in parliament, a fortnight or so after SONA, about the possibility of re-drafting the constitution to allow for land restitution without compensation. Such a proposition would have been unthinkable to past presidents of the ANC post-1994 despite it being one of the stated ideals of the anti-apartheid struggle. “Radical economic transformation” and its bête noire, “white monopoly capital”, have moved from the periphery to the centre – from being discredited in the mainstream press as the tin-foil-hat brainstormings of a trade union and communist party left wishing to turn the clock back to Petersburg, 1917.

In the mid-1980s – a time when just over 80 per cent of the shares on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) were in the hands of four large, white-owned conglomerates – the phrase “white monopoly capital” clung to the lips of every trade union leader and reverberated across the country. Like countless of our teenaged contemporaries, we sat up under the cover of night, listening to Radio Freedom, dissecting the term and its wider import in our umrabulo or informal political education sessions. We lapped up banned books, anything from the Communist Manifesto, Chocolates for my Wife, to I Write What I Like. We understood then that we were fighting a political system as much as an economic one. In the words of Ebrahim Harvey, “The white racist Nationalist Party was our political enemy but white capital – which stood behind them – was always our class enemy.”

Indeed, then, as it is now, the two were inextricably linked. Politics is economics. In order to thrive, white monopoly capital, which controlled all the major spheres of the economy, relied on apartheid’s “racial subsidies”, to quote Achille Mbembe, “in the form of low skills levels, inadequate nutrition, poor health, bad housing, [and] social instability”. The ties between capital and an increasingly authoritarian state were obvious, even to a teenager with a rudimentary understanding of the Communist Manifesto. The shared goal was to limit all black people (including those of Asian descent) from any meaningful economic participation, while ensuring a steady supply of cheap black labour.

Yet the term – together with the ANC’s more radical economic propositions enshrined in the Freedom Charter – all but vanished from the vocabulary of mainstream political debates during the first 15 years of South Africa’s nascent democracy. Its return to the centre is due to a confluence of factors – both historical and contemporary, some global and others local – which have led to the questioning of the legitimacy of the 1994 national consensus.

The so-called “pact with the devil”, as Ronnie Kasrils calls it, was agreed upon in the early 1990s, a time of global realignment. The most significant of these shifts was the collapse of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – the ANC’s once powerful ally – together with the preeminent rise, in the 1970s and 1980s, of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in the new global economy. These developments forced the ANC to re-think its radical economic agenda.

The collapse of the old communist regimes meant that in actuality there was no alternative economic discourse to that of the free market. Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s longest-serving finance minister, said as much in an interview in 1995: “[T]he collapse of the Soviet Union, the destruction of the Berlin Wall broke the… revolutionary romantic illusions of many. That very stark collapse shifted the debate very significantly.”  Nelson Mandela himself, once a vocal proponent of nationalisation, had by 1991 – a year after his release from his Victor Verster Prison – tempered his tune to reflect the changing balance of economic power.

The ANC was itself fractured along ideological lines. In the introduction to his brilliant autobiography, Armed and Dangerous, Ronnie Kasrils writes that from “1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC’s soul got underway and was eventually lost to corporate power: we were entrapped by the neoliberal economy – or, as some today cry out, we ‘sold our people down the river.’” In place then of a radical economic agenda, the ANC signed a bargain, which, according to the current deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, entailed “a political and class compromise which (1) safe-guarded the interests of the existing (white) economic elite, (2) created a new black elite primarily through state employment and rents” and which created the largest welfare state on the continent. (At last count, 17 million South Africans are dependent on direct income transfers from the state – in the form of social grants – for their upkeep).

The legitimacy of the 1994 national consensus, yielding as it did to corporate power, has been in question from the very start, exemplified by the ubiquitous service delivery protests and the emergence of small-scale civil society organisations such as Abahlali baseMjondolo (a shackdwellers’ organisation) agitating through a variety of means for better state housing. But the objections, on the whole, were not as vociferous as they are now.

The 2008 financial crisis and the attendant decline in economic growth shored up popular discontent with capitalism. But in South Africa, the Wall Street crash was parlayed into a greater dissatisfaction with the technocratic ruling elite responsible for having set the country on a neoliberal economic path via the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy in 1996. Dissatisfaction made itself heard in the broad coalition of voices (marginalised trade union and South African Communist Party leaders in the main) that helped Jacob Zuma ascend to the presidency of the ANC and, consequently, of the republic. Then, of course, came the removal of Thabo Mbeki, a University of Sussex-trained economist, from office.

But it was not until 2012 that ground firmly shifted against the 1994 national consensus. That year, 34 striking mine workers died in a storm of bullets after clashing with police in Marikana, near a platinum mine 100km northwest of Johannesburg – a seminal event, which more than any other in South Africa’s brief post-apartheid history, underlines the obscenity of the status quo. The deaths, which resulted in President Zuma’s sanctioning a week of official mourning with flags flying at half mast, occurred when 3,000 miners – rock-drill operators, all black – decided to stage a strike demanding an increase to their monthly wage from R4,000 to R12,000. Ian Farmer, the white CEO of the company in question, Lonmin, a London-based entity, earned upwards of US$2 million at the time.

The Marikana massacre remains the only historical event the ANC is incapable of speaking about. The South African government has yet to sanction the building of an official memorial to commemorate the deaths and this reluctance to do so should tell us something. To commemorate the event would require an historical explanation, a reading of the massacre which places it in the larger national narrative about where the country has been and where it is going.

In a very real sense then, the emergence hardly a year later of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a strident, youthful opposition party with a name that perfectly articulates its political raison d’etre, could not have been better timed. Dressed always in red overalls, a symbolic gesture of allegiance that ties the party to South Africa’s underclass – domestic workers, gardeners, the large swathes of the unemployed – has been instrumental in giving vocabulary to what most of us have already intuited: that the economy is controlled by white hands. The EFF has warned its growing electorate: “Sure, you may be allowed to vote every so often, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that real power is vested in the ballot box.”

That South Africa’s main opposition party (numerically speaking), the Democratic Alliance (DA) – whose key decision-makers are mainly white and pleasantly salaried (the billionaire Natie Kirsch, who makes a living building apartheid walls in Israel, is one of their biggest donors) – has not been able to profit meaningfully from these seeds of discontent is a story worth telling – one that reveals the limits of English in South Africa.

In the classic opening of Charles Dickens’s novel, Hard Times, Mr. Gradgrind intones: “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.” The DA, faithfully abiding by this instruction, speaks factually about economics (low-growth, GDP, fiscal discipline, Gini coefficient, etc.) and it can only do so in English. But economics here, like anywhere else in the world, is not only about facts. It’s also about narration – how the interpretation of those facts may be formed into story.

The story the EFF tells about capital in South Africa, in the vernacular (even if it’s spoken in English), draws from a reservoir of shared experience. Anyone who has ever walked in the cool of an air-conditioned office, or sat in a sidewalk café in the city centre, doesn’t need to be told that, in 2017 in South Africa, “the wealthiest 10% of the population [overwhelmingly white] own more than 90% of all wealth and more than 55% of income”; or that “the poorest 50% [overwhelmingly black] of the population, who earn about 10% of all income, own little to no measurable wealth”. Politics is economics and vice versa. Thus, when the EFF speaks about white monopoly capital, it is not simply talking about the facts, but evoking a larger set of historical betrayals and grievances.

Consider this: Johann Rupert, chairman of the Swiss-based luxury-goods company Richemont, as well as of the South African-based company Remgro, and son of Anton Rupert (Hendrik Verwoerd’s comrade-in-arms in the 1960s), is the country’s third richest person. Ahead of him: Nicky Oppenheimer, whose grandfather founded the mining empire, Anglo American, and Shoprite founder, Christo Wiese. Between them, the Oppenheimer and Rupert families control R180 billion, the equivalent of what 26 million South Africans in the bottom half own, according to Even It Up, a 2014 Oxfam study. Wiese, the country’s wealthiest citizen, is worth R80 billion. How else do you tell such a story without mentioning the need for reparations?

“White monopoly capital refers to unjust ownership, facilitated and enabled by apartheid laws,” says Zanele Lwana of the Black First Land First (BLF) movement, founded in 2015 by Andile Mngxitama following his expulsion from the EFF. We met on a cloudless summer day in Johannesburg. Looming large from where we sat, and darkening the skyline, were the Absa Towers – the headquarters of the bank that has generated so much ill-feeling since a Mail & Guardian exposé about an apartheid-era bailout said to have unlawfully given the bank access to an estimated R2.5 billion of taxpayer funds.

We met that morning to talk about the surreal turn of events in December 2015, when the head of the country’s finance ministry changed three times in the space of a week – events which led to Blank First Land First (BLF) lodging a criminal case with the High Court and a complaint with the Office of the Public Protector to investigate “white corruption including white state capture”. The respondents in both matters are nine high-ranking white executives who between them control billions of dollars:

1. Businessman and Chairman of Swiss luxury group Richemont, Johann Rupert [that name again];

2. Barclays Africa Group CEO, Maria Ramos;

3. Goldman Sachs South Africa head, Colin Coleman;

4. Investec Bank global CEO, Stephen Koseff;

5. Imperial Holdings CEO, Mark Lamberti;

6. Sanlam CEO, Ian Kirk;

7. Business Leadership South Africa chairperson, Bobby Godsell;

8. Toyota Europe CEO, Johan van Zyl; and

9. FirstRand CEO, Johan Burger.

The events of that December, precipitated by President Zuma’s surprise sacking of then minister of finance, Nhlanhla Nene, demonstrate how white monopoly capital is still running the show, Lwana said. She continued:

“Johann Rupert flew from London to summon ANC seniors to have Des van Rooyen pushed out. He said there would be an economic meltdown unless (Van Rooyen) was gone. Why do you think the Rand fell [to below R15 to the US dollar]? Because of Des van Rooyen? It’s not as if he was the first ‘unknown’ [civil servant to occupy such a crucial office].”

Nelson Mandela, she added, had never occupied public office until he became the country’s first legitimate leader, yet there was nothing on the scale of the outcry that followed Van Rooyen’s appointment.

It’s not coincidental that the phrases “white corruption” and “white state capture” appear in BLF’s complaint to the Office of the Public Protector and in the criminal case lodged with the High Court. Following the sacking of Nene, the president was accused of acting in concert with the Gupta brothers – an Indian business family who migrated to South Africa in 1993 and who have assets and investments totalling billions in rand – to capture the state treasury. Mcebisi Jonas, then deputy to Nhlanhla Nene, would later say he had been offered R600 million by the Gupta brothers if he consented to being appointed as the new minister of finance. The resulting uproar, which led to calls for President Zuma to resign and for the Gupta family to be deported, BLF said, seemed to miss the point entirely. The state has long been captured by white monopoly capital. Hence they are able to push for Pravin Gordhan, a stooge, BLF say, to be appointed as the minister of finance.

But just what transpired – who said what to whom – to have Van Rooyen’s appointment rescinded after he had spent only four days in office, remains in dispute, in keeping with Donald Rumsfeld’s shadowy territory of known knowns – things we know that we know – and known unknowns – things we know we don’t know. We know, for instance, that a high-powered delegation of senior ANC leaders (Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize, among others) and influential players in the business sector (Maria Ramos and Johann Rupert) met with President Zuma to discuss the matter. A matter, it must be said, the latter seemed unwilling to discuss in any great detail from the onset. The initial press release, sent out to announce the news, was less than 100 words.

Then of course, there are the things that we know we don’t know. We don’t know what was said in that meeting, but the weight of what was said was enough to strong-arm the president into reversing his decision and re-appointing Pravin Gordhan to his old post. “For President Zuma to be forced to change ministers makes it clear who is calling the shots in our country. White monopoly capital has long captured the state and we’ve taken the matter the Public Protector, but nothing has happened since,” Lwana said.

To say nothing has happened may be an understatement. Shortly after the re-instatement of Pravin Gordhan, ABSA closed all accounts linked to the Gupta family, citing “reputational risk” and “suspicious transactions”.  Then, in April 2016, within five days of each other, three other banks – First National Bank, Standard Bank and Nedbank – followed suit. The Gupta family are contesting the decision in court, in a matter that also involves the finance ministry, and there’s no telling how all of this will end.

In the meantime, calls for radical economic transformation and for the dissolution of white monopoly capital have only intensified, emerging from a diverse coalition of voices, from the EFF to disaffected university students agitating for free tertiary education to trade union leaders.

Late last December, President Zuma – back to his combative self after having survived calls for resignation from his own party, or a regime change agenda driven by white monopoly capital, depending on who you believe – gave the keynote address at the ANC Youth League Economic Freedom Lecture at the Olive Convention Centre in Durban. “They called it the ‘Nene disaster’. But is the nation really aware of what is happening?” he said, his eyes darting across the packed auditorium. “The monopoly capital and their stooges attacked me.”

The crowd rose to their feet and cheered.


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Between the Lines of an Unpatriotic Presidential Pre-Recorded Address https://chimurengachronic.co.za/between-the-lines-of-an-unpatriotic-presidential-pre-recorded-address/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/between-the-lines-of-an-unpatriotic-presidential-pre-recorded-address/#respond Wed, 23 Jun 2021 11:36:03 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17883 FOURTH REPUBLIC 19 conducts a post-mortem on not-so-presidential minutes in recorded Nigerian history.

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In the days following the #EndSARS massacre in Lagos, President Muhammadu Buhari stepped up to the mic to assuage, scold and threaten those who flooded the streets in cities and towns across Nigeria and the diaspora in protest. FOURTH REPUBLIC 19 conducts a post-mortem on not-so-presidential minutes in recorded Nigerian history.

“Fellow Nigerians, it has become necessary for me to address you having heard from many concerned Nigerians and having concluded a meeting with all the Security Chiefs…”

Thus began a hollow, dispassionate, 12-minute speech by Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria, on 22 October 2020—48 hours after the “alleged” state-sanctioned murders of #EndSARS protestors at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. Whilst Buhari’s opening sentence may suggest that his uncouth delay was a result of a rendezvous with “many concerned Nigerians” and “Security Chiefs,” it may also be as a result of time wasted filming and editing the pre-recorded address

In any case, to those responsible for this ear and eye-sore, please indulge these suggestions for your future “Wale Adenuga productions.” Firstly, avoid the constant zooming in and zooming out. The unprovoked jolts remind us that we are indeed victims of the fiasco that is this presidency. May I also suggest that you incorporate more personality next time. Consider, for instance, an address from his bedroom, looking comfortable rather than constipated in his overpriced pyjamas. Better still an address from his luxurious toilet while he sits, emptying his bowel. This might enable the 0% of patriotic Nigerians yet to lose faith in this government’s competence to stay awake. Although, Buhari’s reaction to being told that a trust fund is to be set up for victims of the brutality and corruption of the state’s most reviled police unit (Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a.k.a SARS)—his sinister “tee-hee-hee”—most likely ensured that. 

We all recognised that laughter. It reminded some of us of our parents—when they delay imposing physical abuse, and threaten us instead with their words and menacing body language. Throughout the #EndSARS protests, our leaders (despite our continuous counsel that they are employees) have continued to appeal to us by claiming parentage. Therefore, it is not farfetched to suggest that in humouring violence, our unpatriotic president, the ‘father’ of our great nation Nigeria was threatening his children with an iron fist. As the iron fist of government continues “patting our backs”, we the people have come together to take stock of its blatant disregard for human life.

Following the state-wide curfews in certain parts of the country, some of us have been homebound, scrolling through eternal feeds of bad news and alerts of “FAKE NEWS” that the Nigerian police unfailingly send us. We have all happened on the tweets of President Buhari, the current representative of the powers-that-be, the puppet controlled by fairly skilled ventriloquists—the rotating cast of pigs led by a single boar, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. They have come together, again, to address the newest threat to their domination: those patriotic Nigerians, who, having grown tired of parricide and starvation, are organising to make the pigsty dysfunctional for further gluttony.

“…I must warn those who have hijacked and misdirected the initial, genuine and well-intended protest of some of our youths in parts of the country, against the excesses of some members of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)…”

The use of state-sponsored mafias during protests and public revolt is not unique. In many parts of the world—almost exclusively controlled or influenced by non-democratic authorities—these instruments of the government are used to carry out illegal actions in their favour. They instil fear in the public through violence and control the narrative by hijacking movements all while allowing the government plausible deniability

In the case of the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria, mafia groups have been paid or promised as little as N500 to ambush peaceful protesters. These attacks have resulted in many deaths. The fatal stabbing in Abuja of Anthony Onome is a case in point. Armed with machetes and metal poles, these groups have been caught on video escaping in state-owned vehicles. However, they have been conveniently labelled by government as “protesters” to justify the use of deadly force by police on peaceful demonstrators.

Recruitment to these mafia groups is guaranteed in a country with a young, disenchanted population, where more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, and where miseducation, lack of employment and lack of trust in the government and justice system are the order of the day. N50,000 is all it takes to buy the loyalty and absolute obedience of 100 men.

“…On Monday 12th October, I acknowledged the genuine concerns and agitations of members of the public regarding the excessive use of force of some members of SARS…”

Shortly before the Nigerian President’s state of the nation address, the BBC released a short clip of an interview with Rotimi Amaechi, the Federal Minister for Transportation about the nationwide #EndSARS protests. During this interview, Amaechi suggested that Nigerians had exaggerated their experiences with SARS officials. At that moment, I became overcome by anger and pain. I think I must have sent out a tweet about publicly flogging Amaechi if we ever crossed paths. 

Although his interview gave a fair glimpse into the federal government’s stance on the #EndSARS protests, I was still eager for the President’s address. I hoped he would acknowledge the shooting and killing of protesters at the Lekki Tollgate by the military and apologise for it. I hoped he would apologise for ghosting the country for what was and still is a defining moment in our history. I wanted the President to be an honest human being, to empathize with the frustrations of the average Nigerian about the current state of the country, to be as broken as we are, if not for the gruesome stories of police brutality, at least for the violence of the military on 20 October. You can imagine the shock as Buhari addressed Nigerians across the world describing the maiming, raping, robbing and killing of his citizens so nonchalantly, seemingly deaf to their obvious plight. Clearly, e get coconut head, e no dey hear word.

“…The choice to demonstrate peacefully is a fundamental right of citizens as enshrined in Section 40 of our Constitution and other enactments; but this right to protest also imposes on the demonstrators the responsibility to respect the rights of other citizens, and the necessity to operate within the law…”

It is already outrageous that Buhari claims his government has any respect for the Nigerian constitution. When talking about respecting “the rights of other citizens and the necessity to operate within the law” during mass protests, there is no fine line between protecting the right to political dissent and retaining state control. No state has perfectly mastered this yet.  However, the Nigerian law on the freedom of expression (including the right to protest) and its caveats are ambiguous to start with. This ambiguity gives the government the power to repress dissent. Indeed, this is not the first time peaceful protesters have been murdered. And until now, many of these killings were overlooked and underreported.

Agreed, the caveat for the right to protest is necessary. However, the ability to balance the harms and benefits of dissenting speech rests on Nigerian courts being independent and empowered to interpret the constitution. Buhari’s sudden reliance on the constitution is an insult to our collective intelligence. Where is the independent judiciary? Where is the separate executive or legislative branch? Where is our free press? Does the rule of law even exist? The President appears to revive a constitution for the purpose of justifying state-sanctioned murder. Enlisting the army to shoot at peaceful protesters is nowhere near proportional, or necessary, especially when you consider that this same President is rehabilitating former Boko Haram terrorists. 

Whether Buhari knows it or not, Nigeria is a member state of the UN and according to our constitution we have the right to protest—in theory, on paper, under international law. Yet, this is not so in practice and has not been so since Nigeria’s origin. Thus, Buhari’s reference to the constitution is only fanning the flames of our fury.

“…As a democratic government, we listened to, and carefully evaluated the five-point demands of the protesters. And, having accepted them, we immediately scrapped SARS, and put measures in place to address the other demands of our youth. On approving the termination of SARS, I already made it clear that it was in line with our commitment to the implementation of extensive police reforms.

The lies embedded here cannot go unchallenged. We asked that “SARS” be disbanded, and government interpreted that as “replaced”. It proceeded to give the same group of people, with the same powers and the same sinister reputation, a new and even more sinister name: Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (a.k.a SWAT). Then, it doubled down on the silencing of victims, naming them enemies of the state, carrying out attacks on their homes and communities. It attacked people armed with nothing but hope. It spat on these so-called accepted demands, and played the fool, as our noisy cries fell on deaf ears.

These lies are especially infuriating as they try to airbrush the well-documented crimes against Nigerians as fabrications of undemocratic citizens. The government’s blatant disregard for proposed actions that deter the repetition of such events adds insult to injury. The most disgraceful of these lies being the renaming of SARS to SWAT. That was the first jab at our collective intelligence; the clown’s first joke, soon to be followed by an even more cruel one that signalled our fate at the hands of these puppeteers, these moneyed men who have Nigeria in a chokehold and will bend it to their will. These jokes do not make themselves. They are well thought out plans to make this country uninhabitable for most of us and enable the puppeteers’ ambitions to live large. These are the writers of our destiny and as long as they have the power to pull their strings and shift this county in whatever direction benefits their pockets, the jokes will not stop being told. Yet, no one is laughing. 

“… the promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests. The result of this is clear to all observers: human lives have been lost; acts of sexual violence have been reported; two major correctional facilities were attacked and convicts freed; public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalised; the sanctity of the Palace of a peace-maker, the Oba of Lagos has been violated. So-called protesters have invaded an International Airport, and in the process disrupted the travel plans of fellow Nigerians and our visitors. All these executed in the name of the ENDSARS protests. I am indeed deeply pained that innocent lives have been lost. These tragedies are uncalled for and unnecessary.

If Nigerian politicians were doctors, they would kill you at your first appointment with a misdiagnosis. Thus, it is unsurprising that the President cannot see vandalism and the destruction of properties as symptoms of the virus he hosts and spreads. When citizens are neglected by corrupt, brutal and inept leaders, they are unlikely to see them as legitimate sources of authority and will express their frustrations. Nigeria has failed its citizens. It kills us and does not let us be grieved. And God forbid the dead are poor. In Nigeria, they were never living. If certain bodies do not count as living beings, they are readily disposable; negligently left to die with no recourse or justice.

Buhari and the character Claudius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet have a lot in common. The most striking similarity is their use of language to produce and enforce a dystopian reality. In real time, we witnessed how history was reframed, twisted and reversed. To think that millions of Nigerians across 36 states flooded the streets in protest for two weeks just for the SARS unit to be scrapped is to be intellectually dishonest. The #EndSARS movement goes beyond SARS, or police brutality at large. It is a direct response to decades of bad governance and dysfunction. Yet, in his address, President Buhari chose his language carefully to invoke a wilful ignorance of the plight of the people he swore an oath to. But we, the children of Aba women, Egba market women, Ogoni 9 and Nana Asma’u know that we can bend language. Language is our protest, the lashing tongue of our resistance and our vision for liberation for all people. This language exposes the selfish patriots of Aso rock, the Senate and House of Assembly. They are patriots to the money in the country, not the people of the country. But we matter. Our dreams, bodies and futures are not disposable. We are worthy of protection and do not deserve to suffer.  

Buhari says “acts of sexual violence have been reported”. What does this really mean when the status quo provides inadequate support for victims of sexual violence, but furniture allowances for senators?  If you are a woman, if you are queer, if you are poor, your body is constructed as deserving of violence. These bodies recognise that there is medicine in the streets, at toll gates, shops and palliatives storage sites. They will look for their medicine. They will be called criminals, hoodlums, thugs, noisemakers and disruptors. Media publications that reveal the doctor’s misdiagnosis will be sanctioned. The hosts of the virus will amplify a social media bill that the people do not accept. This time the people will use their language, for they are alive to see their truth and have an archive that never sleeps.

Audre Lorde said, “your silence will not protect you”, and this is true for us. Although we have not always been silent, but silenced, we have a greater sense that not speaking up will cost us more. We exist in corridors of precarity already and as the oppressive political elite walk past us, we look them right in the eyes. We can see all the lies now and we question their authority. We question the audacity of Aso Rock, the Senate and House of Representatives to disrespect our wishes. You serve our country. Suffering and bad governance must die by fire, by force.

“…Certainly, there is no way whatsoever to connect these bad acts to legitimate expression of grievance of the youth of our country…”

We are all familiar with the common refrain: “don’t not let the violence distract from the point of the protest”. It is all too common in the incredibly volatile recent political landscape we find ourselves in. The contradictions wrought on our societies by decades of capitalism have become too unjust to ignore. As tensions boil over, people are filling the streets. These people, motivated by the need to voice their frustration and anger with the incompetence of their government and its failure to deliver on the basic promise of its function, lash out on property. The authorities (and their reactionary supporters), in turn, equate the damage of this property to the magnitude of violence by the state on its people. And they point to its existence as a distraction from the actual protest. A way to derail the conversation. But there is no such derailment going on. 

One of the principal conceits of capitalism is the equivocation of human life and private property. It manifests in laws, jurisdiction and executive action. But it is a delusion: inanimate objects cannot feel pain or suffer harm. Not the same way a person who is without a home or without a job can feel pain or harm. It is ludicrous to suggest that damage to a streetlight or store window exists on the same level of moral bankruptcy as the intentional denial by the state of food, water, safety and housing to its population. This only exists to focus the narrative on the method of protest, and not the matter of the protest itself. 

As long as unjust socioeconomic conditions are maintained by the capitalist status quo, the world we live in will remain violent. Any conversation about violent protests that does not reckon with the violent nature of life under capitalism is reactionary. It is only interested in preserving the status quo with controlled opposition. Those in power do not want to have a real conversation about the grievances of the people. They want them to stay quiet, and out of sight. They want a monopoly on violence, and we cannot allow them to have it. 

Months of diplomacy and advocacy saw little to no results, but two days of direct action yielded national coverage and a (muted, but still significant) response from the government. Buhari and his cohort have lost control of the narrative and try as they may, they cannot recover it.

“…The spreading of deliberate falsehood and misinformation through the social media in particular, that this government is oblivious to the pains and plight of its citizens, is a ploy to mislead the unwary within and outside Nigeria into unfair judgement and disruptive behaviour…”

Social media is one of the most powerful tools for demanding a better reality, so we see this statement exactly for what it is. By calling attention to social media as a harm and danger, this administration is calling for our disarmament in a modern-day struggle for change. As a generation of global citizens, we know the severity of this remark and stand against it. Despite our lacklustre education system, we know our universal rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and our rights to receive and impart information through media. 

We call out the paternalism inherent in this statement. It suggests that Nigerians have no agency and can be carried away by any wind that blows. This points to the larger issue of infantilization by our political leaders that we constantly resist. As the youth of Nigeria, we know who we are and what we are capable of; we are voters as well as active participants in our democracy. Those in government positions are there to serve, not to patronise. We know what we deserve as hard-working citizens of a country where we are forced to do for ourselves what our leaders have been elected to do.

What kind of democratic process is being upheld when leaders are trying to pass a social media bill that gags citizens and encroaches on their freedom of speech? A bill that proposes allowing law enforcement to shut down the internet. Isn’t that behaviour demonstrated in the most authoritarian countries? The bill does not meet international human rights standards of free speech and it suggests a three-year jail sentence for making statements that “diminish public confidence”. This is tyrant speech for “no form of criticism is acceptable”. Error 404– democratic process not found.

…On the contrary, both our deeds and words have shown how committed this administration has been to the well-being and welfare of citizens, even with the steadily dwindling revenues, and the added responsibilities and restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Nigerian leaders are like parents who steal food from their children and serve it to themselves on a silver platter. Buhari’s administration has failed to provide even the barest of minimums that Nigerians need to survive; an administration that boldly claims to help us even “with the steadily dwindling revenues”—revenues that we contribute to with our labour. In his speech the President laments the added responsibilities and restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given his track record as an absentee leader, the closed borders of western countries certainly caused a great inconvenience for him. After all, how can he govern Nigerians from the comfort of its unofficial capital, London?

Nigeria has not always been a country that suffocates its citizens. There must have been a time after independence where there was an atmosphere of promise and a sense of pride in the future. Now that future is dead and its corpse has been abused, stolen and hidden in the dark. 

“…Government has put in place measures and initiatives principally targeted at youths, women and the most vulnerable groups in our society. These included our broad plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years;  the creation of N75 billion National Youth Investment Fund (NYIF) to provide opportunities for the youths, and the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Survival Fund, through which government is: paying 3-months salaries of the staff of 100,000 micro, small- and medium- enterprises b. paying for the registration of 250,000 businesses at the Corporate Affairs Commission c. giving a grant of N30,000 to 100,000 artisans d. guaranteeing market for the products of traders.…These are in addition to many other initiatives such as: a. Farmermoni, b. Tradermoni, c. Marketmoni, d. N-Power, e. N-Tech and f. N-Agro…”

This laundry list might have carried some weight if the administration, or even President Buhari himself, had an undisputable track record of actions proving this concern. Instead, any Nigerian could argue the opposite because the government has failed to fulfil even its basic obligations. Regardless, Buhari went on to boldly declare that no other government has taken a “methodological and serious approach to poverty alleviation”, when neither his international efforts (commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, for example) or domestic efforts have yielded substantial results. To demonstrate this, we need only point to the fact that Nigeria is home to the largest number of people worldwide living in abject poverty—a title taken from India, a country with a population more than six times Nigeria’s, in 2018, during Buhari’s first tenure. The President cited a N75 billion NYIF, MSME Survival Fund and a list of other initiatives (Farmermoni, Tradermoni, N-Power etc.), all that have raised more concerns than answers.   

First, who are the beneficiaries of these initiatives? Even after researching the schemes and finding a not-so-catchy Tradermoni jingle and images of smiling traders wearing shirts stating “tradermoni beneficiary”, I remain unconvinced about their effectiveness in truly lifting people out of poverty. They are simply providing a temporary boost to keep business going—in keeping with government’s approach to addressing long-term problems with short-term fixes.

Second, if youth empowerment is truly President Buhari’s concern, then he should make a commitment to enhance facilities that not only “N-power”, but also equip and develop youth potential through improving the education system, the skilling of teachers, and developing libraries, online resources and curriculum. Along with Tradermoni and Marketmoni, why not include other initiatives with longer lasting implications: free-educationmoni, free-healthcaremoni, electricitymoni, goodroadmoni.

So respectfully Mr. President, you have got it wrong. Nigerians are not implying that this government is oblivious to the pain and plight of its citizens. They are saying expressly that it is aware of them, yet its deeds and words have been insufficient in easing and ultimately eradicating them. To you and aspiring Nigerian politicians, the time of doing the bare minimum and expecting Nigerians to be grateful is coming to an end. Nigerians will no longer praise a frog for squatting; and the now awokencoconut head generation will not stop asking for more. Do better. Thanks, Management.

“…No Nigerian government in the past has methodically and seriously approached poverty-alleviation like we have done…”

For a speech directed at millions of heartbroken and traumatised Nigerians, some of whom watched first-hand their peers and loved ones killed by military forces during a peaceful protest at Lekki Toll Gate, this is quite frankly a slap in the face. It makes an absolute mockery of the practice of democracy. A government that cares more about its image than the substance it provides to its citizenry is like a nurse trying to cover up a deep and infected wound with a band aid. The infection will spread in no time and it will eventually bleed to the surface. The protests and outcries of the exhausted and frustrated Nigerians represent the blood that has come to the surface of this band aid of pretence. 

“…With regard to the welfare of police personnel, the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission has been directed to expedite action on the finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria Police Force [NPF]. The emoluments of other paramilitary services are also being reviewed upwards.  In order to underscore the importance of education in preparing youths for the future, this administration has come up with a new salary structure and other incentives for our teachers…”

The tactic of using police welfare as a means of blunting the revolutionary demands of an oppressed people is much used by governments. It implies that it is because of the inadequate welfare and low salaries that police in Nigeria commit acts of murderous violence. We only need to look to other countries, such as the United States, where police officers are well paid and police violence is endemic, to see through this erroneous suggestion. 

We must never forget that the excessive militarization of Nigeria goes hand-in-hand with the government’s economic violence and flagrant banditry. If Buhari is truly committed to “lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty”, why does he continue to spend a large portion of the country’s budget on debt servicing, shifting the tax burden onto poor and working-class Nigerians, while failing to adequately finance or support education, housing or healthcare. We cannot hope to defeat this crisis without a thorough understanding of the inequalities that propel it. For police violence to be rendered non-existent, we need to radically transform our world and build a just and equitable society, not spend $6 billion a year on the police and military. 

Let me at this point reaffirm the Federal Government’s commitment to preserving the unity of this country

When Buhari said this, what he really meant was… 

The unity of Nigeria is more important than all its citizens. In fact, it does not matter if most Nigerians die or are suffering as long as we preserve the precious unity. Do you not remember that Nigeria was handed over to us by a British Colonial Administration concerned with little else than how much wealth and resources they could extract for the British Empire? Do you not remember that I personally fought a war to secure this unity? This unity must be protected at all costs.

To be clear, Nigeria’s unity was not threatened during the Fulani herdsmen killings that ravaged North Central Nigeria a few years ago. Our unity was not threatened when the Central Bank confirmed that my disastrous economic policies rendered Nigeria the ‘poverty capital of the world’. Our unity was not in danger when it became clear that the nation was in crisis because so called law enforcement officers could pillage, rob, rape, maim and kill innocent citizens with impunity. But peaceful protesters making their voices heard through constitutionally legitimate means? They clearly want to take over the government and break up Nigeria. Their calls for greater accountability are nothing but a smokescreen to conceal their true and nefarious agenda. I even heard one of them call me A BAD BOY! What nonsense!

So in the interest of our precious national unity, I will summon my powers as an ex-military general (since the present democratic constitution has not accorded me these powers) and summarily prohibit these protests. Long live this dysfunctional and toxic Nigeria. To hell with accountability. 

Àṣẹ

“…We will continue to improve good governance and our democratic process, including through sustained engagement…”

Good governance? What good governance does he speak of? The governance that fleeces Nigeria of its wealth? Where members of the senate earn over N7 million for furniture allowance and over N1 million for newspaper and hardship allowance (just in case you overlooked their “suffering”). The second noble virtue our dear President is so bold to claim is a democratic process. It is always refreshing to hear that from a former dictator. Moreover, who has he been engaging with to support this democratic process? He is a President who for two days was silent after his people were massacred live on Instagram; a president infamous for never being in the country.

“…We shall continue to ensure that liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens, are protected…”

A laughable suggestion and a hollow promise, befitting a hollow government that seeks to exploit its people and satiate its greed by plundering the resources of the country. Nigeria is known for the constant abuse of its citizens, through acts that have continuously been perpetuated by the greed of its leaders. From the severe embezzlement of public funds that could have housed, clothed or fed the poor, to the shooting of peaceful protesters. Our leaders know that if they give in to our demands for the ending of SARS and police reform, they will be forced to answer many allegations of corruption and abuse of power. They are afraid of losing their power and they are willing to do anything to keep it. They are determined to manipulate history in their favour. We are a country in which the majority of citizens provide their own electricity and their own sources of water; a country where the starving masses are forgotten by the federal government only to be remembered when elections draw near.      

“…But remember that government also has the obligation to protect lives and properties, as well as the right of citizens to go about their daily businesses freely and protected from acts of violence.”

It is not just insulting but also dangerous to imply that protesters are committing acts of violence against citizens “going about their daily businesses.” The #EndSARS movement was created not just to highlight a wicked and corrupt police unit, but also to expose and lament the many injustices Nigerians face every day. What is violent about peaceful protest? The true violence comes from hoarding COVID-19 palliatives intended for citizens and leaving them to expire in warehouses. It comes from a system created to support the rich and corrupt and spit in the faces of the people it fails every day. Buhari knows nothing about protecting citizen’s rights. This is the same man who disparaged his wife at an international conference by saying she was only good for domestic work and sex. We would be remiss to have high expectations for such a character.

In the circumstances, I would like to appeal to protesters to note and take advantage of the various well-thought-out initiatives of this administration designed to make their lives better and more meaningful…”

I assume Buhari is addressing the youth here, as they form the majority of the protesters. The building blocks for youth empowerment are a solid education and decent standard of living, neither of which are accessible to the average Nigerian. How can you confidently speak about “well-thought-out initiatives” for youth empowerment when a bag of rice costs more than the minimum monthly wage. What are the people eating?

A government official boasted on Twitter about an initiative meant to give monthly pay-outs of a few thousand naira to young entrepreneurs. A recipient of the grant quoted the tweet and mentioned that it had been almost a year since he and many others received a payment. Other initiatives appear to have no clear strategy or execution plan. The status quo is a budget in the billions, followed by the announcement of the opening of an application process, and finally a photoshoot with government officials, “recipients” resplendent with goodie bags. The story ends there. Effectively investing in the youth and doing so in good faith appears too much to ask of our government officials. 

“…and resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy…”

This feels like a scene from a Nollywood movie where a child is being beaten by their guardian but said guardian exclaims that the child is trying to kill them because they raise their hands to block the punches. This is Nigeria: we are expected to take the punches, and when we try to defend ourselves, we are said to be out for revenge. The government wants Nigerian democracy to remain “nascent”, to be forever an accident-prone, overgrown baby that cannot wipe its own ass. Agbaya!

“…For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and the law-and-order situation. Under no circumstances will this be tolerated. I therefore call on our youths to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage government in finding solutions. Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding…”

What offends Buhari the most is the unity and organization of many young Nigerians. This was already evident in the 1980s when he seized power through a violent coup d’état. His “war on ill-discipline” was brutal. Unlike most populists of the day who tend to over-promise and under-perform, Buhari is no liar when it comes to the threats he makes. From the onset, his divisive and ethno-religious threats have been actualized all over the country, executed by poor, uneducated masses exploited by their ethnic/religious ties to him. 

Buhari will not tolerate the “disrespect” and dissent rising in the hearts and minds of Nigerians today. Like many men in the military, he seeks to rule by fear, brutality and violence. He has shown his hand, and again citizens of this great country are left to do the difficult work without the help of their leaders.

“…And I call on all Nigerians to go about their normal businesses and enjoin security agencies to protect lives and properties of all law-abiding citizens without doing harm to those they are meant to protect. Let me pay tribute to officers of the Nigeria Police Force who have tragically lost their lives in the line of duty…”

How do we “go about our normal businesses” when simply expressing our desire to live and thrive is considered a crime by the state? By not acknowledging the lives lost at the Lekki Tollgate but paying tribute to members of the NPF and instructing “security agencies to protect lives and properties of law-abiding citizens”, Buhari made it clear that he was in concert with the massacre of 20 October. Essentially, the lives of protesters who raised the Nigerian flag and sang the national anthem in true patriotic form were not protected by security agencies because they were disobeying not the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but Buhari’s law—founded on the abuse of fundamental human rights.

Nowhere in the world is it in the line of duty for officers to fire live ammunition at civilians. Despite the multiple videos and live streams documenting this tragedy, the Nigerian government and army initially denied the Lekki Massacre occurred and  went as far as stating the army was never present at the scene. Several videos and eyewitness accounts confirm that members of the military and police were indeed complicit—removing bodies of their victims, murdered in cold blood, off the streets. Further, there have been reports and videos of extrajudicial killings and home invasions by armed forces in places such as Oyigbo, in Rivers State, as a result of the protests and its aftermath.

“…I also thank youth leaders who have restrained their followers from taking the law into their hands…”

The President should be embarrassed. Young people and youth leaders who took to the streets or social media around the country and internationally are not requesting gratitude for their patriotism and leadership in this painful time. We are seeking action and direction, a timely and sustainable response to our demands. We see past this pseudoapology and notice that the President is making it clear that he is excluding certain youth leaders who are critical of him and his politics.

We witnessed the government’s selective endorsement of certain methods of expressing anger and the blatant disregard of others. Recently, the Lagos State House of Assembly Speaker directed the house to observe a moment of silence for “patriotic Nigerians who lost their lives and not for miscreants killed by the police.” The way representatives stood up and observed this moment of silence was equal parts jarring and predictable. We have seen and heard every possible iteration of injustice and disregard for human life in this country. We are done asking nicely and we will now be taking the rights that are due to us as humans and as Nigerian citizens. We are claiming our freedom by any means necessary.

Let us now unpack what exactly “the law” is, and why the citizens of Nigeria have to very often “take it into our hands.” It is under the operation of this “law” that SARS has been empowered to molest, abuse and detain innocent Nigerian youth for years. It is under the confines of this “law” that this very same SARS has been disbanded several times with no noticeable change in the incessant killings and police brutality in the country. It is under this “law” that Nigerians live in fear of their lives. It is under the watch of this “law” that fire was opened on innocent protesters. Taking the law into our hands is not a first response to a slight misdemeanour from a few bad apples in government. It is a last resort.

The hands of the masses have been forced by the power plays and incompetence of overpaid politicians, who have had their own hands on our necks for decades. We will no longer be party to the cult of personality that surrounds disgraceful, sweet-mouthed government officials who lie to and steal from us. We will no longer be apathetic in the face of such an unstable, aggravating political structure. We hold ourselves and the leaders we choose to a far higher standard of morality, empathy, tact and service. The veil has been lifted and we are watching you, Mr President (and co.). You answer to us. We do not answer to you.

“…I would like to thank those Governors, traditional and religious leaders who have appealed for calm and restraint. Thank you all… This Government respects and will continue to respect all democratic rights and civil liberties of the people, but it will not allow anybody or groups to disrupt the peace of our nation. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

To close his 12-minute monologue, Buhari called on God to bless the Republic because God is an indispensable citizen, a poisonous panacea for the various existential problems of living in Nigeria. Here, religion is politicized, and politics is religionised. Entwined with indigenous culture, religion has penetrated deeply into national policies and religious leaders are often complicit and malleable in the arms of politics. Thus, we must demand a Nigeria that is good without God. This is one of the propelling forces of #EndSars. The impulse to automatically adopt an ardent belief in and constant appeals for God’s judgment and vengeance is understandable but harmful. It belies the prevalent state of impunity. This may shock some of you, but Amadioha will not strike President Buhari’s children as punishment for his wilful incompetence, neither will thunder. Hoping that God showers plagues on your state governor for stealing COVID-19 palliatives cannot be the restorative justice plan for Nigeria. As Nigerian citizens, we must accept that no faith will save us. And no Devil is responsible for Nigeria’s social ills.

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The Enemy in Her Imagination: A Fable https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-enemy-in-her-imagination-a-fable/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-enemy-in-her-imagination-a-fable/#respond Wed, 09 Jun 2021 14:37:12 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17839 Rahel first met the young, 11-year old boy, on December 21, 2006. That was the day after the war in Somalia was declared.

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Elleni Centime Zeleke

Rahel first met the young, 11-year old boy, on December 21, 2006. That was the day after the war in Somalia was declared. It was a beautiful day in the mountains, the rainy season was complete, yellow flowers still dotted the sides of valleys. You could feel all of human history in the thin air.

That evening a development worker who was driving his pick-up truck on the road between Adigrat and Mekelle, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, killed an animal that was part of a herd of draughting cattle. The cattle were being watched over by the 11-year boy who was also herding the other animals of his village. The men of the village had gathered by the side of the road where the cattle had been run over. Rahel could see in their faces that in an instant the accumulated wealth of multiple generations of farmers had been lost. The blood of cattle coursed along the roadside but the driver of the pick-up truck was unconcerned. He had left some money for the kid and moved on. He believed that the inputs of a generation of ancestors could be exchanged for a commodity to be bought on the market: a motor might be substituted for an animal. But that’s not how things worked on a plot of land 2500 metres above sea level in Tigray. How could the boy return home? What shame would he face? What role could the young boy play in the community now that he had failed at the task assigned to him?

***

The occupation of Somalia lasted for three years or was it ten? Maybe the occupation is ongoing? Rahel is unsure. In 2006, Rahel was told that the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia invited the Ethiopian troops, that the fight was against the Islamic court system then being set up in Somalia. Rahel was meant to understand that the court system was operated by terrorists, that the war was not against the people of Somalia, that there was an imminent threat of Somalia being used as a proxy for larger regional conflicts, evil forces had to be vanquished.

What Rahel does know is that until the Ethiopian government waged war against the residents of Tigray in November of 2020, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu was historically staffed by Ethiopian troops. They say peace is an extension of the way life is organized during war or is it the other way around? Is war an extension of the way life has already been organized for peace?

When did war begin for the residents of Mogadishu? When will war end for the residents of Tigray?

***

Rahel had come to Mekelle in December 2006 to see another boy, a much older one, called Ezana, who had recently relocated from Addis Ababa to work for the French NGO, Doctors Without Borders. Ezana’s work had something to do with HIV education and outreach. During Rahel’s stay in Mekelle, Ezana would take her to meetings. One memorable gathering was at the conference hall of the Sharia Council of Tigray. She recalls the meeting because the discussion was dominated by a woman with a cross tattooed on her forehead. Throughout the Horn of Africa, women and men would historically adopt different religious affiliations according to the vagaries of war, famine and fate. What was not possible was to be without affiliation. Communities knew how to assimilate difference; individuals would know how to survive changing circumstances.

***

Ezana had grown up in Addis Ababa where he had attended the Black Lion High School. The school was so named after the patriotic rebel group that fought the Italian colonial army in the 1930s. Was this what tied Ezana to Addis? The Ethiopian wars against the Italians were primarily fought in Tigray. Eventually, the generals in those wars, who came from all over the Horn of Africa, would turn Addis Ababa from a sparsely settled area into a military encampment and then into a capital city. Was it the movement of these people that allowed Ezana to make a claim on Addis Ababa?

In 2006, these were not questions Rahel knew how to ask.

Rahel had grown up in the Kazanchis neighbourhood of Addis Ababa, well known for its bars with concrete floors covered in fresh cut grass and some version of electro-funk on the stereo. Back then, what tied Ezana and Rahel together was that they had a mutual childhood friend who used to take them drinking in the taverns of Addis Ababa. During the Christmas season of 2006 Rahel wanted to find out if the laughter she had shared with Ezana over spirits amounted to a bond stronger than alcohol. This is why Rahel followed Ezana from Addis Ababa to Mekelle. She wanted to know what other affiliations they might share.

***

Before setting out for her trip to Tigray, Rahel’s mother called to express disappointment in her daughter. To visit Tigray was to visit the enemy. Rahel’s mother described the ways the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (which was part of the ruling coalition then in power in Ethiopia) had dismantled buildings and resources and taken them from Addis to Mekelle. When Rahel arrived in Mekelle she expected to see roads paved with the gold that had been stolen from Addis Ababa. What she saw instead was just another dusty town that looked exactly like Addis Ababa once did before investors tried to reconstruct that city into a poor imitation of Dubai.

In Mekelle, animals and humans still mixed freely. It was possible to sit on a stoop, eat ful, drink tea, and watch the morning light curve the day. 

Watching the day, Rahel did wonder why the ful was so good. Fava beans are not indigenous to the Tigray region and ful is a dish one might associate with lower Egypt rather than the rooftop of the Nile river. But when you are a displaced person in Tigray you might also follow the Tekeze river across the border into Sudan and then the Nile into Egypt. The Tekeze river is a major tributary of the Nile river. During the cold war, there was also a civil war between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the central government in Ethiopia. That war lasted 17 years. The Nile river flows south to north but in return recipes for ful have flowed north to south as the refugees returned home from Sudan.

The light in Mekelle also reminded Rahel of other migrant destinations in the Horn of Africa; for example, Sana’a in Yemen. These are urban settlements built into the side of mountain escarpments. Cities in the sky. Travellers in these cities have heart attacks from the thin air and the limited oxygen supply. When a person is addressed, he or she is meant to demonstrate reticence in their expression and feeling. This is how Rahel spent her days with Ezana.

After laughter was finished sunlight filtered through the space that remained. When the friends parted ways lattice like patterns remained on the ground.

***

Independent farmers are notoriously difficult to corral into a national economy. Mekelle like Sana’a and Addis Ababa is surrounded by smallholder agriculture. The farmers in Sana’a all grow qat, a mild narcotic, for local and market consumption. But in Tigray and in the regions surrounding Addis Ababa the land is used to cultivate grains and pulses that are consumed by those growing the food. Farmers will also sometimes grow cash crops like qat or coffee alongside food items meant for immediate consumption.

Smallholder farmers feed the city when they eke out a surplus beyond feeding their families.

***

Rahel’s mother was filled with a false sense of what the world had taken from her. The fact is hardly anyone is rich in the Horn of Africa. The commodities that circulate through markets and middle men hardly ever generate the kinds of profits that could be stolen or hoarded for the benefit of one group. Where there is money to be made it is in collecting rents from NGO’s and other commercial and non-commercial development agencies. Nonetheless, the city does exert coercive pressures on the farmer. The city sells the farmer fertilizer and coordinates the price for coffee and qat, sesame and grains. The farmer accrues a debt during the growing season but when the harvest season arrives, he sells his surplus produce as fast as possible in order to pay off his obligations to a middle man. Does the farmer know the best time to sell his grain? Who profits when the farmer sells his produce too cheaply just so he can return home before the sun sets on the other side of the mountain ridge?

When Rahel returned to Addis Ababa, she wanted to ask her mother these questions. She wanted to tell her mother that the ful in Mekelle was delicious. It was an experience worth savouring. She didn’t say these things to her. She wasn’t allowed to.

***

The day after the war in Somalia was announced in December 2006, Ezana took Rahel to Adigrat, which is a town close to the border with Eritrea. Rahel and Ezana stood on a mountain cliff in Adigrat while he showed her the edge of another country. Rahel once had distant relatives in that other country. They have forgotten each other. Rahel wanted to go to Adigrat to remember those affiliations too. When she stood on the mountain cliff, she felt like things could be different; that one day she might meet those lost relatives and they would embrace.

Nurrudin Farah has said that what is at war in the Horn of Africa are “the generic and the specific as concepts”. Ethiopia is a generic term for a wide variety of different people, it’s an expansive term, inclusive, while Somali is specific. You are either Somali or you are not. Later, Farah also writes that “wars are rivers that burn.” Once war resumed between the TPLF and the central government in 2020 it was hard to know who counted as an Ethiopian or an Eritrean or even a Somali, what was generic and what was specific to a place? The capaciousness of ethnic and national categories shrinks and expands at the convenience of power. As shifts are made bodies pay the price. In 2020 the women of Adigrat paid the price when they were taken from their homes and brutally raped. The troops who committed these acts were part of the coalition of forces put together by the central government in Ethiopia. These included Eritrean troops who crossed the same border Rahel wistfully leaned into in 2006.

***

Rahel doesn’t know what the 2020-21 war is meant to achieve. Someone told her that Ethiopian unity was under threat, but was that a generic Ethiopia or a specific Ethiopia? Rahel was told that the TPLF needed to be disbanded because it acted as an intransigent force, creating a lawless federal system. Is federalism a generic or specific concept?

Between 1991 and 2019 the TPLF ruled Ethiopia with a coalition of partners through an organization called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Many of the same people who worked inside of that government and who once spoke on behalf of the EPRDF now speak against the EPRDF regime as if they were not a part of it. Brother has turned against brother, and women are paying the price.

***

When Rahel and Ezana left Adrigrat on the evening of December 21, 2006, they went to a waterfall where the local kids were bathing in fresh water. Later, as the sun set and they drove towards Mekelle they saw even more young boys herding animals in the valley below the highway. The highway from Adigrat to Mekelle was smooth and new. It has made travel between scattered urban centres more accessible; it has connected farmers to markets, it has allowed farmers to better coordinate information and fetch better prices. The highway was part of the infrastructure projects EPRDF was well known for. The highway also makes speeding in a mechanized vehicle easy and desirable. Was this also part of the war between the generic and the specific in the Horn of Africa?

The way that Rahel tells the story, a few years after the accident, shame drove the young boy to journey along the Tekeze river, towards the Mediterranean or the Red Sea. She does not know if the boy survived the crossing. But if he did, she wonders how many languages he now speaks and what he thinks about when he hears about the war against his sisters in Adigrat.

Who then is the enemy in her mother’s imagination?


Elleni Centime Zeleke is Assistant Professor of African Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. Thanks to Arash Davari, Ulele Burnham, and Emily Raboteau for reading the many incarnations of this story and for providing editorial guidance along the way.

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The Chronic (August 2013) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/the-chronic-august-2013/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/the-chronic-august-2013/#respond Tue, 06 Aug 2013 09:46:04 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=inprint_posts&p=12055 Writers in the broadsheet include Jon Soske, Paula Akugizibwe, Yves Mintoogue, Adewale Maja-Pearce, Parsalelo Kantai, Fred Moten & Stefano Harney, Cedric Vincent, Deji Toye, Derin Ajao, Tony Mochama, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah,Agri Ismaïl, Lindokuhle Nkosi, Bongani Kona, Stacy Hardy, Emmanuel Induma, Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, Lolade Ayewudi, Simon Kuper and many others.

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This print edition is a 48-page broadsheet, packaged together with the 72-page Chronic Books supplement.

Writers in the broadsheet include Jon SoskePaula AkugizibweYves MintoogueAdewale Maja-PearceParsalelo KantaiFred Moten & Stefano HarneyCedric VincentDeji ToyeDerin AjaoTony MochamaNana Darkoa Sekyiamah,Agri IsmaïlLindokuhle NkosiBongani Kona,  Stacy Hardy, Emmanuel Induma, Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, Lolade AyewudiSimon Kuper and many others.

The  Chronic Books supplement is a self help guide on reading and writing, with contributions by Dave MckenzieAkin AdekosanFiston Nasser Mwanza, Yemisi OgbeVivek NyaranganPeter EnahoroTolu OgunlesiElnathan John,Rustum KozainOlufemi TerryAryan KaganofRustum KozainHarmony HolidaySean O’TooleGwen Ansell,Binyavanga Wainaina and more.

To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop,or get copies from your nearest dealer.

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Remember Glissant https://chimurengachronic.co.za/remember-glissant/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/remember-glissant/#respond Mon, 12 Apr 2021 10:04:09 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17749 Moses März writes of Édouard Glissant, Martinican, poet and compatriot of the more celebrated Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon

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Moses März writes of Édouard Glissant, Martinican, poet and compatriot of the more celebrated Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, who devoted his life to the decolonial project, to studying the French Caribbean predicament, and to shattering the glass globe of the “exotique” that kept his birthplace perpetually confined and in servitude to a very French construct.   

A massive glass globe has been placed over the island. Planes can enter through a window that is opened and closed at fixed intervals. The air is conditioned to prevent harmful microbes from entering. When visitors arrive, they find themselves in a tropical paradise. They are greeted by a reassuring announcement: “You have nothing to fear, there is no danger here, you can experiment and try out new things, provoke the natives to see how they react, everything is under control. We proudly present to you a colony in its original state, the way it existed since the times of the plantations. Nothing has changed, everything is completely authentic. We wish you a pleasant stay. For any further information during your stay our sociologists and psychiatrists are at your disposal.” The tourist-investigators roam about the island, questionnaires in hand, asking the inhabitants: “Do you by any chance know the names of some of the neighbouring islands?” “In which year did you decide to be recolonised?”

This nightmare, a parable told by Mycéa in the novel Mahagony, is the horror scenario against which Édouard Glissant fought. He was born on Martinique—an island in the Caribbean and a French Overseas Department—in 1928 and he died in Paris in 2011. Since the official end of slavery in 1848 and the collapse of the sugar plantation industry, any attempts to foster national autonomy have been systematically undermined in Martinique. The economic power remains in the hands of a tiny elite of white béké. Its privileged access to the Elysée Palace dates to Napoleon’s wife Josephine, the daughter of a béké family, who reinstalled slavery after its abolition during the French Revolution. As official French citizens, Martinicans receive social grants geared to absorb chronic levels of discontent and unemployment. They allow Martinicans to afford the baguettes and croissants arriving ready-made from France in the form of green-grey frozen dough—ready to be reheated in the microwave. In tourist brochures, Fort-de-France, the island’s main town, is advertised as the Paris of the Antilles. The view from the neighbouring islands confirms Martinique’s exceptional status in the Caribbean. As Derek Walcott from neighbouring island Saint Lucia wrote in his short story Café Martinique: “Across the blue channel from our island, we sometimes saw the haze that was Martinique. Civilization, French wines. Sidewalk cafés for disenchanted love. I went there briefly and saw what I had imagined.”

When Glissant began Le discours antillais, his main study of the French Caribbean predicament, with the statement that “Martinique is not a Polynesian island,” this was not only meant to assert the importance of the islands of the so-called Lesser Antilles that General de Gaulle once dismissed as “dust specks on the sea”. It was to tear down the glass globe that confined the island to an exotic tourist destination and cut it off from the surrounding world. From its neighbouring islands, with whom it shares the legacies of slavery and marronage, and the creole cultures emerging from them. From the African ancestry of most of its inhabitants, a history that was systematically erased by a colonial education system. From of the natural rhythms of single season in which everything grows, and in which the practice of importing fresh produce from more than 6,000km across the Atlantic Ocean is absurd. From the idea that there is only one civilisation, one history and one language. When Glissant wrote that “It is the poet’s task to create rhizomes between his place and the world’s totality, to diffuse the totality in his particular place”, this was not a retreat into a poetic universalism, but Glissant’s formulation of a decolonial project.

Where to begin with this work? Glissant began by inventing his own langage to describe the landscape of his island, by dreaming up the conflicts and social entanglements between maroons who fled into the hills and slaves who stayed on the plantation, and by singing the song of creolisation, not a happy intercultural mixture, but “the unstoppable conjunction despite misery, oppression and lynching, the conjunction that opens up torrents of unpredictable results.”

In contrast to his Martinican compatriots Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, the political legacy of Glissant’s life and writing is vague at best, even to those familiar with his work. In postcolonial studies his name adds an exotic flavour, a French touch. In militant circles, few have heard of him and even fewer would consider him to have carried on the tradition of Martinican decolonial thought traced by his predecessors.

A walk through Fort-de-France suggests that this might have to do as much with Glissant’s reluctance to write in prose—his exercised “right to opacity” (“As for my identity, I’ll take care of that myself”)—as with the position Césaire occupied in Martinique and la Francophonie. The portraits of a smiling bespectacled Césaire are omnipresent on the island. The airport carries his name, a massive banner of Césaire in conversation with Georges Pompidou (“The men of good will cast a new light on the world”) covers five floors of the town hall’s main administrative building, and his former office has been turned into a museum that also houses the Aimé Césaire theatre. The Librairie Alexandre, in the town’s main shopping street, Rue de la Republique, where, according to legend, André Bréton once spotted the Tropiques journal edited by Aimé and his wife Suzanne Césaire, is permanently closed. A note with a small blue arrow on its green wooden door indicates that there is a bookstore in the shopping mall 200 metres further down. Next to the collected works of Césaire and the younger generation of creolité writers, such as Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant, books by Fanon or Glissant are missing.

After co-signing the laws that turned the former French colony into a French department, Césaire remained the mayor and deputy of the French National Assembly for more than 50 years. Although he eventually admitted that he was mistaken in seeing departmentalisation as a way to bring about equality between French citizens and the inhabitants a small island off the coast of Latin America in the spirit of the US civil rights movement, the decisive turn away from the Caribbean archipelago and towards the colonial centre had been made. The experience of Haiti, of freedom in poverty in the world’s first black republic, haunted Césaire and the majority of Martinicans with him. Repeatedly most of the island’s population voted against independence. Servitude in tranquillity over independence with danger. The arithmetic worked. While the most abject material issues were quickly addressed, the problems of identity and culture, of what Glissant called désiquilibre mental, and what Fanon diagnosed as the black-skins-white maskssyndrome, would not go away as easily. The rhythm of downtown Fort-de-France is dictated by cruise ships discharging hundreds of tourists into its shopping streets. Yellow, blue and red arrows lead the way: SHOPPING, INTERNET, BEACH.

After supporting Césaire’s election campaign as a 16-year-old and chanting his poems in front of the mansions of the béké with his friends of the activist group Franc Jeu, Glissant turned against Césaire’s politics after his move to Paris in 1946. Together with writer Paul Niger and lawyer Marcel Manville, he co-founded the Front Antillo Guyanais pour l’autonomie (FAGA) in 1961, following large scale protests across the island sparked by racist police violence in December 1959. At the time Glissant had already received the Renaudot Prize for his first novel, La Lézarde, in 1958. He also had represented Martinique at two conferences of black writers and artists in Paris and Rome organised by Présence Africaine in 1956 and 1959.

The FAGA was immediately banned by the French government and Glissant was confined to mainland France for four years. Paul Niger, the movement’s political leader, died in a plane crash in 1962 that bears the marks of the French states’ secret military wing, the Organisation Armée Secrète. With the official route towards decolonisation in the French Antillean effectively blocked, Glissant channelled his political project through the cultural realm. Upon his return to Martinique, he founded the Institut martiniquais d’études (IME) in 1967 as a space for critical social, historical and cultural studies by Caribbeans about the Caribbean. Former students such as Juliette Éloi-Blézès remember the place as an actualised heterotopia.

Together with family members and friends from neighbouring islands and Latin America, Glissant tried to launch a small cultural revolution with the IME, breaking with the authoritarian French pedagogical model and fostering a Pan-Caribbean consciousness through a collective research project resulting in the ACOMA journal, and a street theatre group that performed regularly at the regional cultural festival, Carifesta. Art works by friends Victor Anicet and Roberto Matta also turned the IME into an experimental art gallery. Glissant worked as director for the IME for more than 14 years, but felt his work increasingly undermined by Césaire’s bureaucracy. In the early 1980s he returned to France where he took up a job as editor-in-chief of the Unesco Courier.

Glissant’s relationship with Fanon, three years his senior at the Lycée Schoelcher, was less complicated than the one with Césaire, who initially worked as teacher in the school. In 1961 Glissant met Fanon for the last time in Rome where Fanon was on a stopover to meet Jean-Paul Sartre before flying to the US for treatment, and into the hands of the CIA. Fanon had also been in the room with Paul Niger when Glissant told Césaire of their plans to launch the FAGA in Rome 1959. Fanon sent a letter of support at the founding conference of the FAGA. Glissant had supported the Algerian struggle by signing the Manifeste 121, and intercepting Martinican conscripts into the French army, providing them with false papers and channelling them across the border between Morocco and Algeria to fight for the National Liberation Front (FLN). Glissant then travelled to Cuba where he received instructions about applying the Cuban revolutionary model to Martinique. If Fanon had lived a longer life, Glissant speculated, he would have returned to confront the Martinican colonial problem with the same ferocity.

Fanon died in 1961. Glissant’s conversation with his “brother, friend, or quite simply the associate or fellow countryman” continued. Traces of it can be found in the interactions between Mathieu and Thaël, two of Glissant’s fictional protagonists. In La Lézarde. Thaël is tasked with the assassination of a colonial agent whose house blocks the source of the island’s main river. Descending from a family of maroons, Thaël is a homme d’action, whose vocation to act on his ideas eventually lead him to fight in Indochina and Algeria. Mathieu wants to be a poet and keeps having to defend his chosen vocation to Thaël. In Tout-Monde, a debate between them takes places on a train between Le Havre and Paris.

“So you think poetry will saves us? What does that mean for you?” asks Thaël.

“First of all it won’t save us, that’s not it’s role”, responds the poet.

“And what is it’s role?”

“It is to reveal what cannot be seen, to foresee that which most people do not look for, to search the landscape, to bring together rhythms that remain unknown, like the voice’s measured tempo and the drum’s disorderly excess.”

Thaël disappears in Algeria and Mathieu lives on.

Glissant lived for another 50 years after Fanon’s death. As with the short-lived FAGA, it would be tempting to tell the story of Glissant’s subsequent political projects as a series of failures. The alternative educational approach endorsed by the IME could not be maintained for long. The ACOMA journal, named after the tallest tree of the island that is now extinct only lasted from 1971 to 1973. Thirty years later, after a detour via the US-academy, Jacques Chirac assigned Glissant with the task of setting up a national centre for the memorialisation of the slave trade in 2005. The plans Glissant drew up were rejected by the government of Nicolas Sarkozy. Instead, the so-called Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration was inaugurated in 2014, tellingly housed in the old Musée des Colonies.

A similar fate befell Glissant’s project of a Musée martiniquais des Arts des Amériques, M2A2, whose exhibition space—a vacant factory—was destroyed shortly before its first installation. Proposed in a series of newspaper articles and television appearances, another of Glissant’s projects was to transform Martinique into a pays biologique du mondeanother failure. The Institut du Tout-Monde, which Glissant set up in Paris in 2006, was initially envisioned as a grand house of creole cultures in central Paris. After Ségolène Royale lost to Nicolas Sarkozy in May 2007 the institution was relegated from the Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Overseas France. Instead of taking over a building in downtown Paris, the Institut hosts its events at the Maison de l’Amerique latine, with a reach that remains limited to a small group of Glissant’s disciples.

Glissant’s blocked institutional projects stand in contrast to his popularity in literary, academic and artistic circles. With the translations of Le discours antillais and Poétique de la Relation into English in the early 1990s his work became quickly incorporated into the postcolonial canon, as the French pendant to Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic and Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s The Repeating Islands. The citeability of his key mantras (“The world creolises itself “, “I can change in exchange with the other without losing or denaturing myself”, “Think globally, act locally”), the compatibility of his concepts with mainstream postmodern theories, and his self-stylisation as the prophet of creolisation, turned Glissant into an easy hero of liberal cosmopolitanism.

In the heated social atmosphere of the early 2000s, when the Indigènes de la République unsettled the French political establishment with their attack on structural anti-black discrimination in France, Glissant’s moderate and reconciliatory voice met the needs of mainstream French media for a Mandela figure. The Institut du Tout-Monde’s former director,Francois Noudelmann, writes disconcertingly about this stage of his career, “An unconditional sympathy greets him in the seminar rooms and auditoriums, a respect mixed with tenderness towards this old man, coming from another century from a far-away land, delivering a message of love, even if he does not use the term, insisting on the beauty of relation and on the benefits of the encounters of differences”.

Remembering Glissant 10 years after his passing means to counter this Mandelaisation and the sense of singularity Glissant created around himself. It also means to see where the 60-year-old meets the 30-year-old Glissant and tried to carry on the decolonial struggle in a different mode. It also involves mapping Glissant in relation to other radical Caribbean intellectuals, instead of going on about his friendship with the French postmodernists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Towards the end of his life Glissant spoke about how he perceived himself to continue the tradition set out by Césaire and Fanon. Building on the work of conscientisation pursued by Négritude, and the radical break from France towards violent resistance by Fanon, Glissant was convinced that a third step would consist of exploring what he called another imaginary of the world, where big ideologies had to make way for the respect of small differences. In a 2009 documentary, which director Manthia Diawara made to make his philosophy more widely accessible, Glissant insisted that “It is the alliance of differences that creates the fabric of the living and the canvas of cultures”.

It is easy to dismiss the utopian side of Glissant’s theory of creolisation as esoteric culture talk that leaves colonial structures of power untroubled. It is also easy to get turned off by his description of the Tout-Monde as a “non-totalitarian totality”, or the definition of relation as “an awareness of all the differences of the world, without excluding a single one”. What academics who are in the business of “understanding Glissant” tend to forget is that, despite the Latin roots of the word relation, Glissant’s philosophy draws on ancient relational world views from both sides of the Atlantic that in essence oppose the Western paradigm of “I think therefore I am” with “I know as I relate” and “I am because I relate”. Glissant spoke about the shift from singularity to multiplicity as Africa’s legacy to the world: “Africa’s vocations to be a kind of foundational Unity which develops and transforms itself into a Diversity”. Despite all the unpredictable changes and transformations, the breaking of boundaries and binary oppositions, Glissant’s politics relied on a fundamental division between those who are for or against multiplicity as the forces and enemies of the living. The engraving “nothing is true, everything is alive” on his tombstone expresses this simple truth.

This is also why some of the best writing on Glissant have not been produced by academics, but by the late Jazz musician Jacques Coursil, who knew that any attempt to write about and not with Glissant is bound to fail. In his essays and talks Coursil freely improvised using some of Glissant’s favourite mantras as themes. This kind of literature must be read déyé do pawol, beyond the words, as the poet Monchoachi said. Glissant’s contribution to the struggle can then less be found in his theorisations of creolisation or relation but in his practice, his vocation to do something else and to create new kinds of communities along the way: relation-nations and federations, small communities that meet in the institutions he created, and more elusive world-communities of readers and writers that share an imagination of the world’s radical diversity. It is in affirming that the same creativity it takes to break through the boundaries of literary genres must be applied to the political realm. The same energy it takes to intuitively imagine the interactions between slaves and maroons centuries ago must be invested to dream up utopian alternatives to the living arrangements we find ourselves in.

As a footnote in Le discours antillais reminds us, the “The West is not a place but a project”. Its glass globe is big enough for all of us.


Read more on Glissant in Chimurenga Chronic: The Corpse Exhibition and Other Graphic Stories, as well as Chimurenga Chronic: Imagi-nation Nwar. Both are available at our online store.

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Chimurenganyana: When You Kill Us, We Rule! by Keziah Jones (June 2009) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-when-you-kill-us-we-rule-by-keziah-jones-june-2012/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/chimurenganyana-when-you-kill-us-we-rule-by-keziah-jones-june-2012/#respond Wed, 27 May 2009 09:53:38 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=16972 Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Last Interview by Keziah Jones was first published in […]

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Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Last Interview by Keziah Jones was first published in Chimurenga 8: We’re all Nigerian! (2005)

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MOLOTOV COCKTAIL https://chimurengachronic.co.za/periodicals_posts/molotov-cocktail/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/periodicals_posts/molotov-cocktail/#respond Mon, 08 Jul 2019 14:31:16 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=periodicals_posts&p=11965 First published in 2007 Molotov Cocktail initially appeared to be a contradictory […]

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First published in 2007 Molotov Cocktail initially appeared to be a contradictory mix, on one side there was its incendiary title, cover art of a hand poised to throw a lit petrol bomb, and the provocative subtitle , Dismantling the Master’s House Brick by Brick. Then this in the first editorial: “Molotov Cocktai broadly backs the principles and policies of the African National Congress. We believe that discussing the ANC with insight and generosity will be more interesting and productive than condemning the party out of ignorance.” A revolutionary magazine aimed at defending “the powers that be” with word bombs?

Partially, yes. Edited by James Sanders (initially with the help of Ronald Suresh Roberts and later alone) Molotov Cocktail captures the ambiguities of contemporary post apartheid South Africa, where despite the change of political power the majority of the media is still owned by a small white minority. As the editorial in the second issue explains, “In South Africa, many newspapers and magazines adopt a pose of neutrality that is essentially oppositional. Some of this derives from the ‘anti-apartheid’ history of the mining press but it is really a cover for a political agenda that attempts to impose an illiberal narrative onto news and politics. The print media has not transformed quickly enough and we hope to speed it along.”

With that in mind Molotov Cocktail took a deliberately intellectual approach, defining itself as, “a platform where South African intellectuals will debate issues and engage in serious discussions about the direction that our country should take.” It has featured everything from archival documents including long-lost SACP biographies and back issues of the SADF’s Paratus, to new writing on cultural schizophrenia, oil, opposition, Zimbabwe, ‘apartheid’ in Israel, meeting a Nazi in SA, polo in Plett, Post-Polokwane: the new ANC, banking, crime and succession.

It also includes news, controversial profiles, satire, political gossip, book and film reviews, detailed media analysis and some literary critique. Graphics often take the form of illustrations, posters, political cartoons, power organograms and “how to” guides, including of course, “How to make a Molotov Cocktail“.

Significantly, the magazine silenced critics who saw it as Pro-Mbeki mouthpiece by maintaining its editorial stance despite Mbeki’s electoral defeat at the ANC conference in 2007.

To date the magazine has brought out 5 issues and established itself as a one of the few independent print voices, offering alternative news, views, critique and satire that challenge the mainstream media.


PEOPLE

James Sanders, Ronald Suresh Roberts, Adam Rumball, Zanele Mashinini, Yasmin Sooka, Sindiso Mnisi, Izzy Grove, Eeben Barlow, Lancelot du Preez, Richard Gott, Peter Hallward, Piers Pigou, Eusebius McKaiser, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, Lester Sands, Adam Rumball, Nicholas Tee, Dan Mare, Jonathan Bloche, Phillip Dexter and Thato Mofokeng.


FAMILY TREE

  • Nose Week 1993
  • The Media magazine

RE/SOURCES

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RADIO MAC ON PASS – 14-21 June https://chimurengachronic.co.za/radio-mac-on-pass-14-21-june/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/radio-mac-on-pass-14-21-june/#respond Fri, 11 Jun 2021 08:32:28 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17844 Chimurenga and Hangar (Lisbon) present Radio MAC live on PASS 14-21 June 2021, 6pm.

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Chimurenga and Hangar (Lisbon) present Radio MAC, a program curated by Sonia Vaz Borges and Monica de Miranda – live on PASS 14-21 June 2021, 6pm.

Radio MAC is a reimagining of the radio organ of the Anti Colonialist Movement (MAC) founded by students and revolutionaries such as Marcelino dos Santos, Mario de Andrade and Aquino de Braganca in 1957 in Paris, in collaboration with Neto, Cabral and other nationalists in Lisbon.

Programming consists of eight episodes on the role of radio and more broadly, sound, in the African liberation struggle against Portuguese colonialism, along with stories of migration. The constructed dialogues include music, speech, poetry, and performance.

Participants include: Raquel Lima, Telma Tvon, Carla Fernandes, Marinho Pina, Chalo Correia, Galissa, DJ Lucky, and Victor Gama – see daily program updates and detailed bios at panafricanspacestation.org.za.

Radio MAC is part of Chimurenga’s ongoing research on radio in Africa’s liberation struggles.

[Photograph: Mário Soares Foundation / DAC – Amílcar Cabral Documents]

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Sónia Vaz Borges is an interdisciplinary militant historian and social-political organizer. She is currently a researcher at Humboldt University Berlin in the History of Education Department and is working on the project “Education for all” with a special focus on Mozambique and the FRELIMO liberation movement, and the Sandinistas revolution in Nicaragua.

Mónica de Miranda is a Portuguese artist of Angolan origin who lives and works between Lisbon and Luanda. Artist and researcher, her work is based on themes of urban archaeology and personal geography. She works in an interdisciplinary way with drawing, installation, photography, film, video and sound, in its expanded forms and within the boundaries between fiction and documentary. She co-founded the Hangar project (Artist Residency Centre, Lisbon, 2014).


Chimurenga e Hangar apresentam a Rádio MAC, com curadoria de Sónia Vaz Borges e Mónica de Miranda – a Rádio MAC é inspirada no Movimento Anti-Colonialista (MAC) fundado por estudantes e revolucionários, como Marcelino dos Santos, Mário de Andrade e Aquino de Bragança, em Paris, no ano de 1957, com colaboração de Neto, Cabral e outros nacionalistas em Lisboa.

A Rádio MAC é um projeto especulativo que repensa o papel da rádio neste movimento. A programação consiste em 8 episódios que discutem o papel da rádio, e de uma forma mais ampla, do som, na luta africana pela libertação do colonialismo português, em paralelo com histórias de migração.

Procura construir uma consciência das lutas do passado e do presente e redefinir a luta de libertação para um lugar e tempo atual, através do processo de memória, resistência e utopia. Na Rádio MAC, os diálogos desenvolvidos incluem música, discurso, poesia e performance.

Os participantes incluem: Raquel Lima, Telma Tvon, Carla Fernandes, Marinho Pina, Chalo Correia, Galissa, DJ Lucky e Victor Gama – veja as atualizações diárias do programa e as biografias detalhadas em panafricanspacestation.org.za

A Rádio MAC é parte da pesquisa em andamento de Chimurenga sobre a estética e a política da rádio nas lutas de libertação em África.

[Foto: Fundação Mário Soares / DAC – Documentos Amílcar Cabral]

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Sónia Vaz Borges é uma historiadora interdisciplinar militante e organizadora sócio-política. Actualmente é investigadora na Universidade Humboldt de Berlim no Departamento de História da Educação no projecto “Educação para Todos” onde particularmente em Moçambique e o movimento de libertação FRELIMO, e a revolução sandinista na Nicarágua.

Mónica de Miranda é uma artista portuguesa de origem angolana que vive e trabalha entre Lisboa e Luanda. Artista e investigadora, o seu trabalho é baseado em temas de arqueologia urbana e geografias pessoais. Trabalha de forma interdisciplinar com desenho, instalação, fotografia, filme, vídeo e som, nas suas formas expandidas e nas fronteiras entre a ficção e o documentário. É uma das fundadoras do projeto Hangar (Centro de residências artísticas, Lisboa, 2014).

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