Featured – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za now-now, a pan African gazette - in print quarterly and online Tue, 01 Sep 2020 12:25:41 +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 Featured – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za 32 32 WHO KILLED KABILA: CAST OF CHARACTERS https://chimurengachronic.co.za/cast-of-characters/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/cast-of-characters/#respond Tue, 10 Sep 2019 14:01:45 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=11469 The cast list of actors and character who make an appearance in the issue includes everyone from Ché Guevara and psychiatrist, political theorist and Frantz Fanon, to Rashidi Muzele, the assassin who pulled the trigger and many more.

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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. 8 years after the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, rumours still proliferate. But who killed Kabila 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.

The cast list of actors and character who make an appearance in the issue includes everyone from Cuban revolutionary leader Ché Guevara and psychiatrist, political theorist and freedom fighter, Frantz Fanon, to Rashidi Muzele, the assassin who pulled the trigger; Leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) from 1966 to 2002, Jonas Savimbi, as well as Angolan art collector and businessman Sindika Dokolo; to Billy Rautenbach, a Zimbabwean businessman with strong ties to the ruling ZANU-PF and Larry Devlin, aCIA field officer stationed for many years in Africa; as well as Grand Maître of Congolese modern music Franco, Congolese dancer and choreographer based, Faustin Linyekula and many, many, many more.

Joseph Kabila: Son of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. He attended secondary school in Tanzania and, briefly, Makerere University in Uganda. He was part of the  ADFL, shadowing Commanding Officer James Kabarebe. Following the ADFL’s victory, and his father’s rise to the presidency, Kabila received further military training in China. Upon his return to the Congo he was one of the military leaders in charge of government troops during the time of the Second Congo War. Joseph’s first reported fall-out with his father was after the defeat at Pweto in 2000, upon which he fled to South Africa. At the time of his father’s assassination, Joseph was reported to be in Lubumbashi. Taking over the presidency from his father, Joseph Kabila was the president of the DRC from 2001 to 2018. Several theories point to Joseph Kabila as the greatest beneficiary of his father’s death. The fact that his politics were diametrically opposed to the anti-western stance of his father is referred to as further evidence.

Masyaga Matinyi: Joseph Kabila’s childhood friend and desk mate at Zanaki Secondary School in Dar es Salaam. He is currently working as editor of Mtanzania newspaper. Shortly after Joseph Kabila succeeded Laurent as president of the DRC, Matinyi published an article in Rai, a Tanzanian journal, illustrated with a photograph showing himself and Kabila as schoolmates in Dar in 1987. The article and photograph subsequently sparked a row in DRC over the origins of Joseph Kabila.

Patrick Karegeya: Former head of military intelligence of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Karegeya met Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 1995 in Dar es Salaam to recruit him as leader of the ADFL. After being handed two prison sentences in Rwanda, Karegeya went into exile in 2007. He was killed in Johannesburg on 31 December 2013.

Ché Guevara: Cuban revolutionary leader, who first met Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 1965 in Dar es Salaam to plan a Cuban intervention in the Congo as part of the global anti-imperialist struggle. The Cuban military mission in Kabila’s Fizi maquis from April to November 1965 turned out to be a failure. Ché’s impressions of his time in the Congo, as contained in his Congo Diary, have either been interpreted as proving that Kabila was inherently inept as a leader, or that he had stayed true to the radical anti-colonial struggle.

Julius Nyerere: First President of Tanzania, Nyerere granted Laurent-Désiré Kabila and his family exile in Tanzania following the failure of the Simba rebellion, of which Kabila was part and to which Tanzania provided significant military support. Nyerere and Kabila fell out after Kabila’s PRP rebel group took a group of American researchers hostage in 1975. However, in the lead-up of the ADFL campaign, Nyerere played a central role in suggesting Kabila as one of the leaders of the ADFL.

Ernest Wamba dia Wamba: Following a career as an academic and political theorist, Wamba dia Wamba, was recruited as head of the rebel RCD (Rally for Congolese Democracy) movement, which was backed by Uganda and Rwanda, and aimed at overthrowing the government of Laurent-Désiré Kabila during the Second Congo War. In the course of the conflict, the RCD split into several factions. Wamba dia Wamba was in charge of the faction known as the Movement for Liberation (RCD-ML), RCD-Kisangani, or RCD-Wamba and in opposition to the larger RCD-Goma faction. At the end of the war, Wamba dia Wamba became part of the DRC government led by Joseph Kabila.

Pierre Mulele: Leader of the Simba Rebellion of 1964, one that Laurent-Désiré Kabila also participated in. Mulele had been Minister of Education in Patrice Lumumba’s cabinet and carried on his political project after Lumumba’s assassination in 1961. Mulele controlled the Kwilu maquis for several years and achieved a mythic status due to his military skills in opposition to Mobutu. He was captured and publicly executed by the Mobutu regime in 1968.

Yoweri Museveni: President of Uganda since 1986. Museveni first met Laurent-Désiré Kabila in Tanzania, while studying political science at the University of Dar es Salaam. When Museveni stormed to power after a five-year bloody guerrilla war, the bulk of NRA (since renamed UPDF) senior army officers were Rwandans refugees, including Paul Kagame, who headed military intelligence. Both Kagame and Museveni were the founding sponsors of the Kabila-led ADFL, which toppled the Mobutu regime in 1997. And they both turned against Kabila to start the Second Congo War only a year later, which ended with the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 2001.

Frantz Fanon: Psychiatrist, political theorist and freedom fighter, Frantz Fanon joined the Algerian National Liberation Front in the decolonial war against France. Fanon met Patrice Lumumba at the First All-African People’s Conference in Accra in 1958. Following their interactions, Fanon wrote in Towards the African Revolution, “The enemies of Africa had understood. They had realized quite clearly that Lumumba was sold – sold to Africa, of course. In other words, he was no longer to be bought.” The quote “Africa is shaped like a gun and Congo is the trigger”, is attributed to Fanon.

Patrice Lumumba: Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo from June until September 1960. He was assassinated in 1961 by CIA agents working together with Belgian colonial officers and the Mobutu regime. Lumumba’s nationalist and Pan-African political vision greatly influenced Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who came of age during Lumumba’s assassination. On a symbolic level, the fact that Kabila was assassinated almost exactly 40 years after Lumumba, on January 16 2001, has been referred to as an indication that Kabila’s politics was in line with Lumumba’s legacy.

Moise Tshombe: President of the secessionist State of Katanga from 1960 to 1963 and prime minister of the Congo from 1964 to 1965. Tshombe founded the Confédération des associations tribales du Katanga (Conakat), a pro-western and regionalist political party. Failing to gain official recognition of the state of Katanga, and following the intervention of the UN in 1963, Tshombe fled to Spain. While plotting his return (with the support of South Africa and Rhodesia), Tshombe was kidnapped and taken to Algeria. He remained under house arrest near Algiers, where he died of a heart attack in 1969. The Katangese secession led by Tshombe, which was also supported by Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s father, was an important influence on Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s political career.

Godefroid Munongo: Co-founder of Conakat with Moise Tshombe, Munongo was the grandson of King Msiri, the founder of the Yeke Kingdom in eastern Katanga, who controlled the trade routes from the Atlantic coast to Lake Tanganyika in the mid-19th century. For several months in 1961, Munongo was interim president of Katanga Province. It has been claimed he was involved in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. The Katangese secession, led by Tshombe and Munongo, had a crucial influence on Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s political outlook.

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja: Professor of African Studies at the University of North Carolina and at Howard University in Washington, DC. Nzongola-Ntalaja served as a delegate to the Sovereign National Conference of Congo-Kinshasa; as Diplomatic Adviser to the Conference’s elected Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi in 1992–93; and as Deputy President of the National Electoral Commission in 1996. Having a low opinion about what he considered Kabila’s anti-democratic leadership style, he rejected Kabila’s offer to join his government in 1997. He is the author of the book The Congo From Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History, considered a canonical account of the recent Congolese history.

Dag Hammarskjöld: Former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hammarskjöld died in a plane crash on the way to ceasefire negotiations in Zambia in 1961, during the so-called Congo Crisis. Hammarskjöld insisted that Lumumba should be released from jail, but had not protested against his removal from the presidency. His death is widely linked to the “White Redoubt” project, a covert coalition between South Africa, Rhodesia and Portugal, to defend white supremacy in Southern Africa.

Kwame Nkrumah: First president of Ghana. He urged Patrice Lumumba to join the Ghana-Guinea-Mali union once he became prime minister of the Congo in June 1960. Nkrumah and Lumumba first met at the All-African People’s Conference in Accra in 1958. On a state visit to Accra, Lumumba signed a secret agreement of union with Nkrumah, but the Union never came into effect. During the Congo Crisis, Nkrumah supported Lumumba by sending 2000 Ghanaian troops to the Congo through UN channels. In order to replace Belgian personnel that had left the Congo after independence, Nkrumah also sent policemen, nurses, doctors, engineers, electricians and other artisans to Kinshasa.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: US President from 1953 to 1961. At a White House meeting in August 1960 Eisenhower told Allen Dulles, then director of the CIA, that Lumumba “should be eliminated”. Johnson, who kept the notes of their meeting, only revealed the exchange in 1975.

Marcelino dos Santos: A founding member of the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo), Dos Santos served as the party’s deputy president at the time when Ché Guevara was in Dar es Salaam to rally forces for an intervention in the Congo alongside Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s PRP. Frelimo rejected the idea, preferring instead to focus all its energies on the liberation of Mozambique.

Pablo Rivalta: Cuban Ambassador to Tanzania in 1965. Among Rivalta’s functions was the coordination of the national liberation movements in Africa. After Ché had made an agreement with Kabila that the Cubans would assist the Simba rebellion, Rivalta helped Ché Guevara and his soldiers to infiltrate the Congo from Tanzania.

Dihur Godefroid Tchamlesso: Childhood friend of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Tchamlesso was part of Kabila’s first meeting with Ché Guevara in Dar es Salaam, and translated for Ché as the Tanzanian representative of the Simba rebellion. Tchamlesso moved to Cuba, where he worked as a reporter for the Prensa Latina news agency, and Granma newspaper, the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party.

Taratibu Désiré Kabila: Father of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Taratibu worked as a post office clerk and used his contacts in the government administration to gain evolué status. He was a keen supporter of Moise Tshombe’s Conakat party and the Katanga secession, while his son Laurent was part of the Balubakat Youth, the youth wing of the Patrice Lumumba-aligned General Association of the Baluba People of Katanga. Taratibu died during an attack by the Balubakat, of whom Laurent was Deputy Commander.

Carrie J. Hunter, Barbara Smuts, Kenneth S. Smith and Emilie Bergman: Hostages of Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s PRP. In 1975 Kabila’s troops crossed Lake Tanganyika to kidnap a group of US students and a Dutch administrator from the Gombe Stream Reserve, a primate research centre. The hostages were ordered to write letters to their embassies in Tanzania and to President Julius Nyerere demanding weapons, free passage across the Lake, the release of PRP guerrillas in Tanzanian jails, and money. Neither Nyerere, nor the US or Dutch embassies gave into the PRP’s demands but the families of the hostages managed to raise the USD460,000 ransom. Kabila lost Nyerere’s support following the Gombe kidnappings. Nyerere only agreed to meet Kabila again in 1996, during the negotiations leading to the formation of the ADFL.

Idi Amin: President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. The ousting of Amin at the hands of the Tanzanian army was perhaps the first case in postcolonial Africa of foreign-led regime change in a neighbouring country. Ugandan troops had invaded Tanzanian territory and Nyerere sent 150,000 troops (including exiled groups such as Yoweri Museveni’s Fronasa) to Uganda in response, pushing Amin’s army back and capturing Kampala in 1979, forcing Amin to flee into exile.

Walter Rodney: Historian, political activist and academic from Guyana. Rodney taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania from 1966 to 1974, a time during which he published How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Rodney was influential in radical Pan-African intellectual circles during the time when Laurent-Désiré Kabila stayed in Dar es Salaam with his family. Yoweri Museveni, the current President of Uganda and one of the founding sponsors of ADFL was also one of his students. Rodney was assassinated in Guyana in 1980.

Didier Kazadi Nyembwe: Close associate of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The collaboration between Kazadi Nyembwe and Kabila dates back to Kabila’s years in Dar es Salaam. Kazadi Nyembwe was named Kabila’s special adviser on security during his presidency, before serving in the regime of Joseph Kabila. He was the head of the National Security Agency, when he was dismissed by Joseph Kabila in 2002 due to his involvement in diversion of funds to the Congolese company Hydrocarbons Cohydro, when he was the head of state enterprise. Before his presidency came to an end in 2018, Joseph Kabila ordinated Kazadi Nyembwe as the DRC’s ambassador to Angola.

Déogratias Bugera: A Congolese Tutsi, Bugera is the only survivor among the four co-founders of ADFL. As the movement’s secretary-general, Bugera was a prominent representative during the campaign through Zaire and the Kinshasa takeover. He reportedly lost most of his power during the first year of Laurent Kabila’s regime, but was eventually nominated state minister to the presidency. He escaped Kinshasa shortly after Kabila’s order that all foreign troops should leave the Congo – one aimed specifically at Rwandan troops. He joined the Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RDC), a rebel movement which fought to depose Kabila. Deogratias Bugera joined anti-Kabila rebels in 1998 and later left for South Africa, where he now lives.

Anselme Masasu Nindaga: Leader of the Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Zaire (MRLZ), one of the four major groups that joined to form the ADFL, and that brought Laurent-Désiré Kabila to power. Upon seizing Kinshasa in May 1997, Masasu was appointed Kabila’s army chief of staff. However, he was arrested in November 1997 on charges of setting up a private militia while conducting a campaign to integrate kadogos (child-soldiers) into the new Congolese army. He was replaced by the Rwandan James Kabarebe. In November 2000 Masasu was killed in Pweto, allegedly by Eddy Kapend and other members of the Katanga wing of Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime; his murder sparked a rebellion among former kadogos in the Congolese army. Laurent-Désiré Kabila was murdered less than a month later. Of the original founding quartet, only Kabila and Masasu had remained in Congo. Kisase Ngandu, the movement’s first chief of staff, was found dead shortly after the 1996 rebellion started.

Gérard Prunier: French academic and historian who specialises in the Great Lakes region. Prunier’s books on the Rwandan genocide are considered canonical in political science circles. In his book Africa’s World War, Prunier places particular emphasis on the “Kivu trail” implicating the kadogo soldiers closest to Kabila, and the “Angola trail”, as the actors most likely responsible for Kabila’s assassination.

James Kabarebe: Commanding officer of a Rwandan-led army that crossed into Zaire to defeat the ex-FAR and Interahamwe, Hutu militia groups. As chief military strategist in Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s rebel ADFL, Kabarebe helped engineer the capture of Kinshasa in 1997, and the defeat of Mobutu Sese Seko. At the end of this mission he was appointed head of the Congolese Army by Kabila. However, in July 1998, Kabila dismissed him from the post – ordering the departure of all foreign troops. Kabarebe came back a month later, this time as the head of a rebel army to topple Kabila. In October 2002, President Paul Kagame appointed James Kabarebe to the position of Chief of Defence Staff of the Rwandan Defence Forces (formerly Rwandan Patriotic Army). Since 2018 he has served as a Senior Presidential Adviser on security matters in the government of Rwanda.

Kofi Annan: Secretary-General of the United Nations at the time of the ADFL’s invasion of Zaire and Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s presidency. Following large-scale attacks on Hutu refugee camps in Zaire, Annan accused the ADFL of committing “slow-motion extermination” and “genocide by starvation”. Kabila’s government initially authorised a UN inquiry into the disappearance of refugees on Congolese territory, but then obstructed the investigations by the UN commission, leading to a fall-out between Kabila and western countries, whom Kabila accused of leading a campaign of lies against the ADFL.

Dennis B. Hankins: Political Counsellor at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa from 1996 to 1998. In the lead up to the ADFL’s military campaign, Hankins was dispatched to Goma. He allegedly accompanied the rebels into eastern Zaire, together with a CIA officer. Hankins later became chief military counsellor of the ADFL. Hankins briefed Bill Richardson, Clinton’s special Africa representative. Hankins is currently the US Ambassador in Mali.

Bob Denard: French mercenary. Denard was infamous for his work for the neocolonial Françafrique network. Mobutu contacted Denard once the ADFL’s invasion became a serious threat to his regime. Denard recruited a group of mercenaries known as Legion Blanc.The Legion Blanc never ended up fighting the ADFL because Mobutu’s regime was not able to pay Denard the requested amount.

Chris Smith: US Congressman. Smith repeatedly called for an investigation into the US role in the massacres perpetrated by Rwandan government forces on the territory of the DRC.

Faustin Linyekula: Dancer and choreographer based in Kisangani, DRC. In 1997 he co-founded the first contemporary dance company in Kenya, the Gàara company. He created Studios Kabako in Kinshasa in 2001 and has presented over fifteen works with the group, among them, more more more . . . future (2009), a rock-opera-ndombolo featuring text by Antoine Vumilia, a poet and writer who was sentenced to life imprisonment for supposed involvement in Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s assassination.

J.B. Mpiana: Rumba musician and co-founder of Wenge Musica. He performed with Wenge Musica alongside Didier Masela, Werrason, Adolphe Dominguez, Alain Makaba and Blaise Bula, until his dislocation in 1997. After that he founded Wenge BCBG, leaving Werrason, Didier Masela and Adolphe Dominguez to create Wenge Musica Maison Mere. Mpiana made his solo mark in 1997 with the album Feux de l’amour, now regarded as a flagship ndombolo title.

Bill Richardson: US ambassador to the United Nations between 1997 and 1998, Richardson, was dispatched to Zaire by then President Bill Clinton, to arrange a meeting between Mobutu and Kabila, and facilitate a handover of power. He is the author (with Kevin Bleyer) of How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories from a Master Negotiator.

General Andre Kisase Ngandu: Leader of the Conseil National de Resistance Pour la Democratie (CNRD), and member of the founding quartet of the ADFL and the movement’s first military head. Ngandu was opposed to the massacre of Hutu refugees in Congolese camps. He was killed (allegedly by Rwandan soldiers at the instigation of Kabila) shortly after the war to topple Mobutu started.

Eddy Kapend: Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s aide-de-camp. Colonel Kapend, a former Katangan Tiger and Angolan army officer, was generally seen as Angola’s man in Kabila’s inner circle. He killed Rashidi Kasereka (Muzele), the bodyguard who allegedly shot Kabila. Shortly after the shooting, he went on television to appeal for calm and announce the closing of borders. Following the assassination, he was arrested and sentenced to death. His sentence has not been executed and he remains in prison in the Congo.

Rashidi Muzele (formerly identified as Rashidi Kasereka): A lieutenant and bodyguard of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, and, allegedly, the assassin who pulled the trigger of the gun that killed him. He was initially recruited from the eastern province of North Kivu as one of Mzee’s kadogos, who supported the ADFL rebellion in 1996–1997 against Mobutu. Muzele was killed by Kabila’s aide-de-camp, Eddy Kapend, when he tried to escape.

Emile Mota: Economics advisor of Laurent-Désiré Kabila and one of the few eyewitnesses to the assassination of the president. He was also member of parliament and Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries under Joseph Kabila.

Lieutenant Jean Chiribagula: A member of Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s presidential guard, on duty at the time of the assassination.  

Lieutenant Annie Kalumbu: A young security officer in Laurent-Désiré Kabila president’s service. After the assassination, Kalumbu was amongst those jailed for allegedly plotting against the president. She was granted amnesty and left the country in 2005.

Colonel Charles Alamba: A former military prosecutor in the government of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Alamba was infamous for conducting trials during the night and executing those found guilty before dawn. A senior figure involved in the trial of those suspected of murdering the late president, Alamba kept his job under the presidency of Joseph Kabila. In 2004 he was found guilty of the murder of a government official and received the same fate as many of those he prosecuted after being sentenced to death by a military court.

Arnaud Zajtman and Marlène Rabaud: Together, Zajtman and Rabaud directed Murder in Kinshasa, an investigative documentary about the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila and Out of Hell, a portrait of Antoine Vumilia’s life in prison and then in exile, which won Al Jazeera’s Public Liberty and Human Rights Award in 2014.

Milo Rau: Swiss theatre director, journalist, essayist and lecturer. In 2007, Rau founded the theatre and film production company International Institute of Political Murder (IIPM) which he has been running ever since. His theatre and film project, The Congo Tribunal, examines the causes and backgrounds for the war now ongoing for almost 20 years in the Great Lakes region.

Dan Gertler: Israeli businessman and the founder and President of the DGI (Dan Gertler International) Group of Companies. He has diamond and copper mining interests in the DRC and has invested in iron ore, gold, cobalt, oil, agriculture, and banking. As of 2015 his fortune was estimated at $1.26 billion by Forbes. In 2000, shortly after coming to power Laurent-Désiré Kabila offered a monopoly on Congolese diamonds to Gertler’s International Diamond Industries (IDI) allegedly in exchange for Israeli military assistance to his new government. The original Gertler-Kabila deal fell through after Laurent-Désiré Kabila was assassinated, but Gertler and his associates formed DGI to advance their Congo plan. By 2002 Gertler’s company was the leading exporter of Congolese gems, controlling a diamond mining franchise worth about $US1 billion annually. In December 2017, the US Department of the Treasury specifically named Dan Gertler in the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) financial sanctions list for serious human rights abuse and corruption and blocked his US-based assets.

Jonas Savimbi: Leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) from 1966 to 2002. Savimbi first waged a guerrilla war against Portuguese colonial rule and then engaged the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) during the nearly 30-year Angolan Civil War, during which he was killed by Angolan government troops. Savimbi was allegedly involved in diamond trades with Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime. His assassination is said to be the result of a trade-off between the Angolan and the US governments, which saw the assassination of Kabila for US-interests in return for the killing of Savimbi for Angolan interests.

Bilal Héritier: Lebanese diamond dealer with close connections to the pro-Rwandan RCD rebellion and suspected to have played an important role in the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The only one of the 11 Lebanese nationals arrested who wasn’t executed, he set up a business in Kigali immediately after the assassination, and now lives the life of a millionaire in South Africa. Journalist Arnaud Zajtman claims Héritier provided logistics support for the assassination.

Georges Mirindi: Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s bodyguard and alleged co-conspirator of Rashidi Muzele in the assassination. According to the official version of the DRC government, Mirindi was waiting for Rashidi outside the presidential palace in a getaway car when the lethal shots were fired. Mirindi left without Rashidi once he realised that their plan had failed. Mirindi and Rashidi were part of a military group from Kivu that was loyal to Commander Masasu (killed by Kabila’s regime in November 2000). According to journalist Arnaud Zajtman, on the night of the assassination Mirindi is said to have fled to the house of Bilal Héritier. Mirindi and Héritier then fled to Goma, which at the time was controlled

by Rwandan forces. Mirindi currently lives in exile in Sweden.

Paul Kagame: President of Rwanda, and Rwanda’s chief military commander during the formation of the ADFL in 1996. Kagame started his career as head of military intelligence in Yoweri Museveni’s NRA. He later led the RPF rebellion that ended the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Claiming an imminent threat of a large-scale rearmament of Hutu génocidaires in Congolese refugee camps, Kagame set-up the ADFL rebellion that brought Kabila into power in 1997, with support from Uganda, Burundi and the US. Dissatisfied with Kabila’s anti-Rwandan and anti-western stance during his presidency, Kagame launched a new rebellion, the RCD, with the aim of ousting the Congolese president. Kagame is said to have provided protection to Kabila’s assassins, notably the alleged co-conspirators Georges Mirindi and Bilal Héritier.

Jihan El-Tahri: Egyptian filmmaker, writer and visual artist. El-Tahri started her career as a foreign correspondent covering Middle East politics. In 1990 she began directing and producing award- winning documentaries, including L’Afrique En Morceaux (The Tragedy of the Great Lakes), a chronicle of the birth, rise and death of the ADFL. L’Afrique En Morceaux was filmed at the height of the Second Congo War and featured key political and military players in the conflict, including Kabila, Kagame, Museveni, and Kabarebe.

Larry Devlin: CIA field officer stationed for many years in Africa. Devlin was central in the US government’s covert political program in the Congo, aimed at eliminating Patrice Lumumba and replacing him with Joseph Mobutu, who Devlin described as “the best possible solution”. Later, Devlin served as station chief in Laos, and then as chief, Africa Division. He retired from service with the CIA in 1974 and settled with his wife in the Congo and became the business agent of Maurice Tempelsman, who advised the Mobutu regime on its dealings with the De Beers diamond cartel in Kinshasa. Devlin’s book Chief of Station, Congo (2007) is his firsthand account of his experiences and observations in the Congo during the Cold War.

Pierre Victor Mpoyo: Painter, art dealer, businessman. He was minister of state for the economy, industry and foreign trade in the first Laurent-Désiré Kabila government, and then minister of state in charge of oil. After Mzee’s death he was appointed minister of state without portfolio for Joseph Kabila before distancing himself from the government. He was a friend of Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro and José Eduardo dos Santos, among other heads of state.

Nelly Twite Ngoie: Known as “Mama Nelly”, she was Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s private secretary. Following his assassination, she was one of the scores of suspects arrested. She remains in prison in the Congo, along with Nono Lutula (former special adviser), Georges Leta Mangasa (former boss of the ANR), and Eddy Kapend (former aide to the head of state).

Richard Holbrooke: American diplomat and investment banker. Holbrooke replaced Bill Richardson, the US representative to the United Nations, and was part of the UN Security Council mission visit to the DRC to save the July 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement.

Joseph Bideri: Former head of Orinfor, Office Rwandais d’Information, Rwanda’s state-owned media house, and Editor-in-Chief of The New Times Publications. Prior to his appointment as Orinfor boss in 1999, he had served as the Rwandan presidential advisor on media and public relations and as director of information in then vice president Paul Kagame’s office.

Innocent Bisangwa: Former deputy principal private secretary to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Under Museveni’s instructions, Bisangwa contacted Laurent-Désiré Kabila in Tanzania and introduced him to Kagame. He later stepped down after he was arrested in the US for involvement in illegally trying to export antitank missiles and launchers to Uganda.

Bizima Karaha: Foreign minister in Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s government. While originally Banyamulenge Tutsi, he was widely seen as Rwanda’s man in Congo rather than a spokesman for the Banyamulenge community. In 1998, after falling out with Kabila, he became the spokesman and head of security and the interior for the Rwanda-backed RDC. An influential powerbroker and businessman in Goma, and more recently South Africa, he has also served as a special envoy to the African Union.

Étienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba: Opposition leader and founder of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). While Tshisekedi served as prime minister in Mobutu Sese Seko’s regime on three brief occasions (1991, 1992–1993, and 1997), he remained an outspoken critic and he was also one of few politicians who challenged the dictator. With Tshisekedi still at the helm, the UDPS continued as an oppositional voice under Joseph Kabila. In 2006, the party, boycotted the elections on claims that they were rigged. Tshisekedi stood again in 2011 but lost to the incumbent. Tshisekedi nevertheless declared himself the elected president of Congo and was subsequently placed under house arrest. He died in 2017. His son Felix is the current president of the DRC.

Christophe Gbenye: Trade unionist, and rebel who, along with Pierre Mulele and Gaston Soumialot, led the Simba Rebellion, an anti-government insurrection during the Congo Crisis, between 1964 and 1965. From 1966 to 1971, Gbenye lived in exile in Uganda.

Jean-Raymond Boulle: Mauritian citizen living in Monaco. Founder of four publicly traded companies with deposits of nickel, cobalt, copper, zinc, titanium and diamonds. At the end of the First Congo War, as it became clear that Mobutu’s 32-year reign was ending, Boulle dropped the mining ventures he was working on with the Mobutu regime and approached the then rebel leader, Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Hiring a Turkish pilot to fly a Challenger 601R into rebel headquarters in Goma on 27 March 1997, Boulle and an associate, Joseph Martin, bought diamonds produced in ADFL-captured territory. Boulle, however, was after bigger game. He and Martin came away in April 1997 with concessions on two valuable mining properties for their flagship company, America Mineral Fields Inc. The company was subsequently included in a draft of a UN report on the illegal exploitation of resources from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Jean-Pierre Bemba: Former assistant to Mobutu Sese Seko. In 1998, Bemba began the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) with support from Yoweri Museveni. In 2003 he became vice-president to Joseph Kabila under the peace deal. In 2006 he lost the run-off election to Kabila but got most votes in western DR Congo, including Kinshasa. He fled to Belgium in 2007 after clashes in Kinshasa and was arrested and handed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2008. In 2016 he was found guilty of war crimes, but the conviction was overturned on appeal two years later. In 2018, Bemba returned to DR Congo to run for president but after he was barred by the electoral commission, he gave his support to Martin Fayulu.

Isabel dos Santos: Businesswoman and the eldest child of Angola’s former President José Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled the country from 1979 to 2017. Dos Santos is Africa’s richest woman. According to research by Forbes, her net worth is more than USD2 billion, making her Africa’s first billionaire woman. She is married to Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman.

Sindika Dokolo: Art collector and businessman, Dokolo owns one of the most important contemporary African art collections. He has also invested in various sectors, including diamonds, oil, real estate and telecommunications, in Angola, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Mozambique. In an interview with Jeune Afrique, he stated that his aim is not “to build a large integrated group”, but rather to have the opportunity to see “a Luanda-Kinshasa axis that could create a counterweight to South African supremacy.” He’s married to Isabel dos Santos.

Sylvain Bamani: Journalist. Deputy Executive Director of Congolese private television channel, Digital Congo, Bamani recently ran as a candidate in the province of Maindombe, for Joseph Kabila’s coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC).  

General Geraldo Sachipengo Nunda: Former UNITA officer who changed camps and joined the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) in 1998. He was appointed FAA Chief of Staff in 2000. Nunda was a senior FAA officer in the final combat against Jonas Savimbi, his former commander in 2002. Angola’s newly elected President João Lourenço exonerated General Nunda in April 2018, due to an alleged implication in a USD50 billion scam led by a Thai businessman.

Da Silva Sango Mena and Antonio Justino Luís: Officers of FAA and part of the Angolan presidential guard of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Sango Mena and Luís were accused of participating in Kabila’s assassination in the murder trial and sentenced to 20 years in prison. They re-joined FAA upon release in 2009.

Gaetan Kakudji: Cousin of Laurent-Désiré Kabila and his collaborator since Kabila’s time in the Fizi maquis in the 1960s. Kakudji was named minister of interior in Kabila’s regime in 1997 and became involved in mining operations in Katanga province. He was part of the “crisis committee” that met after Kabila’s death and designated Joseph as his successor. Kakudji initially aspired to become president himself, but was considered too close to Angola.

Jean-Paul Mfinda Nzolameso: Current Deputy Chief of Military Intelligence of the DRC Armed Forces.

Marien Ngouabi: President of the Republic of the Congo from 1969 to 1977. Ngouabi was assassinated on March 18, 1977.

Agostinho Neto: Co-founder of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and first President of Angola (1975–1979). Neto sought to connect the Front for Congolese National Liberation (FLNC), a rebel group from Katanga emerging in the 1970s, with Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP), due to their shared communist orientation. Neto had first met Kabila in 1974 in the course of his stay in Tanzania, where Nyerere supported Kabila and his family. The leader of the FLNC, Nathaniel Mbumba, was however unimpressed by the PRP’s offensive capacity, and refused to collaborate with Kabila.

Colette Braeckman: Belgian journalist working for the Le Soir newspaper. In her book Les Nouveaux Prédateurs, Braeckman presents the thesis of several overlapping plots to assassinate Laurent-Désiré Kabila. She puts particular emphasis on the alleged involvement of former Mobutists based in Brazzaville, who collaborated with the US government and the French secret service.

José Eduardo dos Santos: President of Angola from 1979 to 2017. After lending crucial military support to the ADFL and protecting Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime against military attack by the RCD, Dos Santos is said to have lost faith in Kabila’s ability to bring an end to the war in Congo that would be favourable to Angola. According to different versions, Dos Santos agreed to have Kabila assassinated in a deal with the US that included the killing of Jonas Savimbi, or when he found out that Kabila engaged in diamond trades with Savimbi’s UNITA.

General Fernando Garcia Miala: Having joined the government of president Dos Santos in 1979 as chief of foreign Intelligence, Miala became a leading advisor to the president. At the time of Kabila’s assassination in 2001, Garcia Miala was at the peak of his influence and running Angola’s National Security Council. He was seen by many as Dos Santos’ potential successor before he was convicted of plotting the assassination of Dos Santos in 2006. Angola’s new president, João Lourenço, controversially named General Miala the head of Secret Services in 2017.

Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Jr: Known by the nickname “Kopelipa”, Dias Jr was the Angolan head of the intelligence bureau at the presidency from 1995–2017 and minister of state from 2010–2017. Kopelipa visited Kigali to discuss Angolan participation in the creation of the ADFL and later actively supported Laurent-Désiré Kabila against the RCD rebels. He is also said to have accompanied Joseph Kabila on his first official visit to the US. He has been accused of corruption under Angola’s new government.

Yav Nawej: Commander of the Kinshasa military region when Kabila was assassinated, Nawej was known to have close ties to Angola. The day before the assassination, General Nawej ordered the disarmament of several garrisons in Kinshasa, and within hours of the assassination he ordered the execution of eleven Lebanese, including six minors, belonging to the diamond trading Héritier family. Nawej was convicted to life imprisonment as a leading conspirator of the assassination. He died in Makala prison in May 2013.

Joao Baptista Mawete: Angolan ambassador in the DRC at the time of Kabila’s assassination. Mawete is said to have introduced Eddy Kapend to Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Mawete is currently the Provincial Governor of the Cabinda enclave.

Jeannot Mwenze Kongolo: Kongolo was working as a bail-processing clerk in Philadelphia (USA) and led the All North America Conference on Zaire (Anacoza) association before joining the ADFL in 1996. He served as minister of interior and minister of justice under Laurent-Désiré Kabila. He is said to have close ties to Angola and to have been the one who suggested Joseph as successor to his father. He has since broken ties with Joseph Kabila and founded his own party, the Patriotes Kabilistes (PK).

Jean-Calvin Kondolo: A close aide of Kabila, Commandant Kondolo was given the task to contact one of Savimbi’s diamond traders in August 2000. Kondolo was charged with conspiring to overthrow President Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

Bill Clinton: The former US president is said to have approved of Kabila’s appointment as leader of the ADFL in 1997, and his removal as president of the DRC in 2001. American Mineral Fields (AMFI), a consortium based originally in Hope, Arkansas, Bill Clinton’s hometown, is a big player in exploiting Congo’s mineral wealth. In 1997, just a month before the ousting of Mobutu, it signed contracts with Laurent-Désiré Kabila and his Rwandan and Ugandan allies for almost USD1 billion investments in copper, cobalt and zinc mines and processing plants in Kolwezi and Kipushi.

Robert Mugabe: A staunch ally of both president Laurent-Désiré Kabila and his son Joseph. Served as prime minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as president from 1987 to 2017.

Emmerson ‘the crocodile’ Dambudzo Mnangagwa: Securocrat and key strategist for the Zimbabwean branch of the elite network operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ascended to the position of President following the ousting of Robert Mugabe in a coup d’état in November 2017.

General Vitalis Zvinavashe: Former commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) and Executive Chairman of COSLEG; a joint venture company formed by a Democratic Republic of Congo-based entity, Congo Comiex, and the ZDF’s company, Operation Sovereign Legitimacy (OSLEG). COSLEG was established with the sole intent of pursuing business opportunities in timber and minerals found in Congo’s Katanga Province.

Colonel Francis Zvinavashe: Brother to army head, General Vitalis Zvinavashe, and representative of OSLEG in the DRC.

Major General Charles Dauramanzi: Retired army general and one of COSLEG’s directors. Died in 2003.

Air Marshall Perence Shiri: Retired air officer now serving as Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement in President Mnangagwa’s cabinet since the November 2017 coup d’état. Shiri was heavily involved in military procurement and formed part of the inner circle of ZDF diamond traders who turned Harare into a significant illicit diamond-trading centre.

Lt. General Constantine Chiwenga: Former Army Chief who led the November 2017 coup against Robert Mugabe, now serving as Deputy President in Mnangagwa’s cabinet.

Lt. General Sibusiso Busi Moyo: Retired General Officer now serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in President Mnangagwa’s cabinet after announcing the November 2017 coup d’état on Zimbabwe’s state television. Former Director General of COSLEG and advisor of both Tremalt and Oryx Natural Resources, which represented covert Zimbabwean military financial interests in negotiations with state mining companies of the DRC.

Air Commodore Mike Tichafa Karakadzai: Former Deputy Secretary of COSLEG, responsible for directing policy and procurement. Played a key role in arranging the Tremalt cobalt and copper deal.

Sydney Sekeramayi: Member of cabinet in successive Robert Mugabe administrations from independence in 1980. Former minister of defence and former security minister. COSLEG shareholder.

Job Whabira: Former chair of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (2016–2019). Former permanent secretary in the defence ministry and a shareholder in COSLEG.

Onesimo Moyo: Chief Executive and General Manager of Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe and a shareholder in COSLEG.

Isaiah Ruzengwe: Former CEO of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and a shareholder in COSLEG.

Billy Rautenbach: Businessman with strong ties to the ruling ZANU-PF. Appointed to head Gecamines, the DRC state-owned cobalt mining company, in a deal forged at a meeting in Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s office in 1998, at which Rautenbach and Emmerson Mnangagwa were among those purported to be representing Zimbabwean interests.

John Bredenkamp: Businessman with strong ties to the ruling ZANU-PF and one of the benefactors of the generous mining concessions granted by the DRC to figures in the Zimbabwe political and business elite. Blacklisted by the US Treasury in 2008.

Colonel Lionel Dyck: A “super soldier” in the colonial Rhodesian army and in the Zimbabwe Defence Force following independence. Dyck retired from the military and founded Mine Tech, a landmine clearance company.

Moven Mahachi: Minister of defence at the time of his death in a suspicious car accident in 2001. Rumour has it Mahachi was eliminated because of his robust opposition to ZANU-PF’s looting of diamonds in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Major General Mike Nyambuya: In charge of SADC troops fighting rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but then had a falling out with Zimbabwe’s top brass for opposing the prolonged stay of the country’s troops in the DRC.

Masipula Sithole: Zimbabwean scholar, political scientist, and author. Despite being the younger brother to Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, one of the founders of ZANU-PF, Sithole was a long-time critic of the party and its leader, Robert Mugabe. He died in 2003.

Thomas ‘Mukanya’ Mapfumo: Legendary Zimbabwean musician who made no secret of his opposition to the country’s intervention in the DRC.

Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto: Respectively the Editor and chief writer of the Zimbabwean weekly, The Standard. The pair were detained and tortured by the military in 1999 after publishing of an article that reported on widespread unrest within the rank and file over the deployment of up to 14,000 troops to the DRC. Chavunduka died in 2002, at the age of 36.

Iden Wetherell: Former editor in chief of the Zimbabwe Independent; a weekly title published by the same newspaper group as The Standard.

Morgan Tsvangirai: Former Zimbabwean opposition leader who rose to prominence on the back of wide-spread unhappiness about Zimbabwe’s involvement in the DRC.

Nelson Mandela: South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and head of state. As president, he strongly opposed Robert Mugabe’s plans to intervene in the DRC.

Peter Longworth: British High Commissioner to Zimbabwe (1998–2001)

African Jazz: Congo–s first major rumba band, founded by Joseph –Le Grand Kallé–Kabasele in 1953. African Jazz are best known for the anthem of African independence, “Independence Cha Cha” (1960).  

François Luambo Luanzo Makiadi aka –Franco: Grand Maître of Congolese modern music and one of Africa’s most prolific composers and bandleaders. By 1965, with President Mobutu in power, his band TPOK Jazz was the top name in the country. Aside from music, he proved to be an adept businessman, forming an empire to control his music. He died in 1989, sparking four days of national mourning in Zaire.

Freddy Mayaula Mayoni: Best known for his composition “Cherie Bondowe”, which presented the life of a prostitute from her point of view, and which landed TPOK Jazz in trouble with the authorities.

Wendo Kolosoy, aka Papa Wendo: One of the first international stars of Congolese rumba, which swept Africa in the mid-20th century. He had his first and biggest hit in 1948 with “Marie-Louise”, the song credited with introducing the “sebene”, Congolese rumba’s instrumental bridge, which allows musicians and dancers to stretch out and improvise.

Tabu Ley Rochereau: Franco’s main rival. In the early 1960’s Rochereau broke away from African Jazz to form African Fiesta and later Orchestre Afrisa International. After Mobutu came to power, he adopted the name Tabu Ley as part of “Zairianization” but later contested Mobutu and went into exile in France. When Mobutu was deposed, Tabu Ley returned to Kinshasa and took up a position in the government of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

Papa Wemba: Zaiko Langa Langa alumni and founder of Viva la Musica in 1977. In line with Mobutu’s authenticity campaign, Wemba advocated for the use of traditional instruments in modern music. One of the sharpest dressers in Congolese music, he became one of the central figures in promoting La Sape.

Wenge Musica: the flagship group of the fifth generation of Congolese modern music that emerged in the 1990s. Unlike most well-known groups in Kinshasa, Wenge was led by a group of co-founders instead of by a single charismatic leader. However, in 1996, the singer JB Mpiana drove a decisive wedge between himself and his long-time rival and fellow band member Werrason. This led to the first of 18 dislocations – the many Wenge dislocations ran parallel to the great war in Congo. Wenge Musica maintained close ties with Mobutu’s son Kongolo (aka, “Saddam Hussein”), who was probably the most powerful figure in the music industry of the 1990s.

Koffi Olomide: Former songwriter for Papa Wemba. The Koffi Olomide formula (a combination of sentimental ballads and slickly produced high-energy dance music) raised the bar in terms of compositional quality and sound-recording technology. He remains a dominant figure in African music today.

Tshala Muana: In 1984 she recorded her first album, Kami, which popularised the mutuashi rhythm of the Luba. She was one of Mobutu’s favourite praise singers – she later sang for Laurent-Désiré Kabila and Joseph Kabila.

Werrason: One of the emblematic figures of the group Wenge Musica, the self-styled King of the Jungle is one of Kinshasa’s most dominant music figures. He recently turned to politics, vying for parliament in Kikwit in south-western DRC in the 2018 election, but failed to win the seat.

Colonal Tharcisse Renzaho: Former senior police officer in Kigali who is accused by Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) of directing the slaughter of thousands of Tutsis in 1994. Following the collapse of the interim government and the victory of the RPF, Renzaho fled to the Congo and joined Kabila’s army. He was one of the officers who led Congolese troops in Pweto. He was arrested in 2002 and turned over the ICTR on 29 September. He was sentenced to life in prison at the UN War Crimes Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania in July 2009.

Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye: Commander among the Burundi Hutu rebels, Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (FDD), long supported by Laurent-Désiré Kabila against Major Pierre Buyoya’s government in Bujumbura. Yet six days before his murder on 16 January, Kabila attended a surprise meeting in Libreville, Gabon, to discuss a Burundi ceasefire. Kabila and Buyoya met Ndayikengurukiye. Kabila said it was a success; Buyoya agreed that a ceasefire would be good. Due to a split in the FDD in 2005 Ngendakurukiye now leads KAZE-FDD is a small, predominantly ethnic Hutu political party in Burundi.

Lunda Bululu: Cabinet director and prime minister in the first transitional government under Mobutu. He later joined the opposition and became a political coordinator for Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s forces in the First Congo war. In 1998 he joined RDC-Goma faction that united to oust Kabila, alongside Ernest Wamba dia Wamba. Criticising the RCD, he was suspended in April 2000 and arrested in Goma for “subversive remarks undermining to the interests of the movement”. He later defected to Brussels but returned to the country and politics after the assassination of Kabila.

Lambert Mende Obalanga: Former Mobutist who allied with Laurent-Désiré Kabila, and later joined Joseph Kabila–s government, where he served as minister of information.  

Émile Ilunga Kalambo: A former Katangan Tiger and Laurent-Désiré Kabila ally. He went on to lead RDC-Goma, but was ousted by Wamba dia Wamba. Uganda backed dia Wamba’s leadership while Rwanda backed Kalambo.

This and other stories appears in the new issue of the Chronic, visit our store to buy your copy.


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Genres of the Human https://chimurengachronic.co.za/genres-of-the-human/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/genres-of-the-human/#comments Sun, 09 Dec 2018 18:38:32 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=11050   In his new book, The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black […]

The post Genres of the Human first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.



In his new book, The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics, Louis Chude-Sokei samples freely from history, music, literature and science, conjuring new meanings from dead texts, to build an echo chamber where the discourses of race and technology collide. At a time when automation threatens jobs and pits humans against machine and Artificial Intelligence systems manage financial markets, Chude-Sokei’s arkeological excavations reverberate through the future-present. In this conversation, he joins Kodwo Eshun and Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom on a journey into science fiction and Afrofuturism that engages the intimate relations between black peoples and technology within the wider imperial histories of industrialisation and slavery.

“What then comes up for me in this conversation about the limits of the human is what constitutes the human, right? Because whenever you ask whether or not this is human or that is human, you’re actually asking “what is the human?” in the first place. Which is a question that we still don’t really know. The same thing when we talk about artificial intelligence. What artificial intelligence has taught us is that we don’t know what intelligence is. Whenever we encounter a machine, can it think? Does it have a soul? And then the question becomes: well, what is thinking? What is a soul? Are they human? Do they merely mimic us? Will they take over from us? Will they revolt? These same exact questions that were asked about slaves during slavery. This is not an accident. Things that seem accidental are not accidental at all. It’s a shared logic around a restrictive understanding of what constitutes the human. And that’s where blacks and robots and machines really come together – not just in a clever, theoretical formulation. It’s there in history. It’s why Robert Johnson wants to have sex with his phonograph.”

Read more from an edited transcript in The Chronic: The Invention of Zimbabwe.


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The Tyelera Moment https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-tyelera-moment/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-tyelera-moment/#respond Sat, 08 Dec 2018 08:37:20 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=11011 by Thabo Jijana  On December 13, 2016, in Salem Party Club v […]

The post The Tyelera Moment first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.

by Thabo Jijana 

On December 13, 2016, in Salem Party Club v Salem Community, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in favour of 152 land claimants representing a community of amaXhosa who’d been dispossessed over a century ago by the 1820 British settlers and their descendants. While the court victory has been rightfully celebrated as a tentative triumph of South Africa’s processes of restorative justice, Thabo Jijana suggests that Salem Community v Government of the Republic of South Africa and others is also a seminal event in how it asserts the legal validity of oral history (as largely provided by the community’s witnesses) vs. documented proof (by the landowners).


To talk about death, Black rural grief … TO DEATH, putting into question colonial constructions of space, so metadiscursive whenever old memories resurface, ever drenched in exhaustion re: foiling the artifices of whiteness, the hail of not once yielding to the Lethe ruptured afresh, reflective nostalgia at high octane, the seeing of place a fundamental disruption of our ways of seeing, to expose that ideology to which much fart-puffing has been tithed, a furious binge ensuing for the untidy, esoteric spark of the anecdotal

, and that’s when I thought, in that anew-coiled moment of ah-hem, perhaps


FORGETTING IS NOT THE PROBLEM but that where white is the colour


In recognizing the maneuvers by which Black rural bantu have found fugitive means to refute the immanence of forgetting, this must be said

: we are all forced to resituate Black death within a retropresent though still largely spontaneous sphere of memoir-realizing, by which we mean what defines our kin (to each her own, idiosyncratic as to the relational dot) decides how we greet their deaths … to treat dying as not only representational of the life histories we corroborate with our body language but as archival material resistant to the forces shoving their imperialist erasure down our throats, discrediting the settler value system inherent in historicizing rural people’s borderless movements … self-dossier-ing one’s life bedevils us to hang onto the explosive psalms of our everyday, tracking the hems of our being one remembered detail at a time, a lifetime of identity-making cut down to its minutiae …

What I am attempting to convey is the simple but heavy truth



, especially in those moments when even statistics usher us, needle and thread, towards a necessary return to riddling narratives, those vain appeals that come again within your hearing and that we send away without having responded to them in their space, our space, the space that their passage describes, as if an imperious force dictated that the same figure be taken up again and again, that an endlessly new version of it be created, thus making sure, through the repetition of a model, a structure, a gesture, of the incessant reiteration of signs that trace faces and stories, A REFUGE AGAINST THE IRREVERSIBLE, better verbalized in the context of the unmitigated presence of death in rural communities such that recalling faces, names, quotables, locations, genealogies takes on a running commentary bar sustained depth

1. Rarely, as they did in my childhood, are heads of families buried in the familial yard, by the kraal these day

2. I hail from a Ciskei village of erstwhile farmworkers violently relocated from their original farmlands

3. In the fifteen years since my father died, I have visited his grave (by myself or otherwise) four times

4. 30 out of the 45 people who met their deaths in Marikana came from rural Transkei

5. Bestowed on my village recently was its right to ownership of stolen land

As in Salem Party Club and Others v Salem Community and Others (2017), in which Salem’s Black community, Tyelera, had the Constitutional Court uphold its right to ownership of land they were dispossessed of, Justice Edwin Cameron was quick to remind the 17 applicants opposed to the Tyelera community’s claim to the Salem Commonage

: Oral history is not only concerned with historical facts, but also the values and convictions of the community it recollects

7. Grace Nichols, probing

: How can I eulogize their names

What dance of mourning can I make?

8. A tangent on the grammar of this data, stretching my limits of coherence to say

: the informatics of Black death become the chains whose links often tie us into straightjacketed readings of this historiography of rural bereavement, predetermining the tone of our solidarity with unfamilial sorrow

9. In voicing the past, we look to rural rituals (and dying, as a critical life stage, comes with a plethora) as the most visible confirmation of the replicability of rural memory, if only to critique our strong tendency to rationalize dying as primarily existing beyond the phenomenal world

1o. 2:40-47 of Nomvula, the Freshlyground album where Zolani Mahola sings Yhini na bethuna usishiyil’ uSis’ Nono! Usishiyil’ uSis’ Nono!

Nomvula is not without tender moments describing the mourners’ behaviour; Zolani’s father did not weep at the burial, maybe incl. Zolani

: Zandl’ ezincinci zalahl’ uthuth’ eluthuthwini singasazi nesizathu

More a young girl’s unbelief at her loss than a rejection of the routine of mourning she is undergoing

In the way Mahola mouths her mother’s moniker, she near-plumps herself onto the words until they tumefy at the waist and an oval shape begins to form and just at the point of yielding to Ohhh finally the sentiment catches up with the curve of her lips and Nono deconstructs into No-noooo, No ohhhh

11. It is this manipulation of datum qua defying the threat of not remembering, memories piled upon memories, flashes of happiness upon blind spots and the promise sadly left unsaid, lamentations thrusting at me with their belligerent arrowheads still dripping with warm blood, which interests me

: Ukufa kudibanisa abantu

In Tyelera they took me to the old graves, some behind colonial-era buildings, others next to the R343 heading towards Kenton-on-Sea viz fleeing Makhanda, some so concealed within unpeopled forest and at such a commanding distance from where Tyelera’s present Black population resides only the lone daring hunter and village historian would remember the coordinates, wading for long stretches at a time through stubborn foliage and the tricky sideways gravel footing, my ZCC cap-wearing guide keeping his inferential talk going as he hand/foot-flicked one isiphingo branch after another ‘ntsinde shrub aside until we started running out of saliva and had to make do with our own private thoughts – Funisile Khathu took me to eMqwashini, on the Rippley Farm, belonging to a settler-descendant farmer who, Khathu knew in no uncertain terms, would grant us access on any day and so we stole through the unflinching fence as the sun on our right segued into a vadoek mud-toned … Yet again, to plus another opportunity inviting a flare up of colonial scars, Khathu pointed at gaping holes where the only explanation was that the graves were derelict, the ground long overdue in starting to cave in, and, he would add, for my benefit, even though the farmer tilled the land when he chose to uwuhloniphile lo umqwashu and the gathering of stones around it and so it was clear the farmer never went near the milkweed tree with his tractors … In another vivid moment as Khathu and I rifled through a roadside edge of the forest, small, unassuming stones suddenly appeared at our feet and my guide was quick to halt his walk and declaim

: Here, here are some of the other graves I told you about. You see

[pointing over the fence]

[me looking his way, standing to attention two footsteps away]

now this farmer won’t allow us to go through the fence but look closely, there they are

[Khathu pointing before him]

[me same posture]

you can see the arrangement of stones, of course the people who died here weren’t buried with fancy headstones so we’re not going to see that, but look

[still pointing while his face is turned to me]

[same posture me]

people are buried here

[face now turned towards the graves]

[walking ever so slowly towards where Khathu is pointing]

these stones mark their burial sites

12. I am assailed by voices ceding to informatics the task of quantifying the unquantifiable, fervid notations of all sorts of facts that torment me with their unstated realisation that the death register is already full of strangers’ names and not enough rigour will do justice to one’s grieving – to get into that subconscious region, as Marechera says, a region where a ghost has rights

13. What Lesego Rampolokeng calls graveyard upheavals of self-revelations do not come easily, what with processing death in an age of digital infinitude, our lives ever whirling in constant flux

: given our terms of reading the everyday, when we react to the moment in a clickety-clack of views, condemning the whole to a jumble sale, the Limbo of the Fathers narrowed down to one canonical gospel … Sihlala kwabafileyo only to help contextualize our foraging, writing reconstituted as a court appeal, a rural writer pleading on behalf of his own worldview

14. Syl Cheney-Coker’s impression that the graveyard also has teeth rests on an appreciation of the grave as the penultimate terrain on which Black rural lives are irrefutably manifest as dis/continuous in their fabrication, the cemetery as cardinal seat of amaXhosa cultural heritage – lineage, in this case, can be interpreted as drawing its power and validity from death, one’s clan praises as evidentiary of the villager’s embeddedness and oneness with place, neither placing on death a severe if fragile finality, thereby rendering the dead completely quiet in influencing events in the living world nor exerting undue reliance on the masquerades of memory

15. It is true that my epitaph in lieu of visits to my father’s grave owes its germination to the very thesis underpinning death in the rural imaginary: not only do we believe living continues even after death but it is in the dead that resistance to our subalternity is best crystallized

16. What Mqhayi waseNtabozuko means when he reminds us that We amaXhosa never die, for death to us is profit and gain,/ for there we get our strength,/ for there we gain our speed

17. To argue that graves, as emblematic of rural in/visibility in both Tyelera and elsewhere, authenticate the dead as crucial participants in the behavioral economies of the living is to repudiate that perception of the Mandelafrican village as nugatory, silent in matters of nation-building, counteracting the primacy of the settler’s framework of worthiness, that prevailing fantasy of an unpeopled countryside available for capture and definition, accentuating those human figures who appear to blend into the natural environment so that even when we see these villagers afforded some visibility, we don’t really see them as they are invisibilized by their surroundings,  their dispossession justified by the very location that defines their being

: a world of bizarre customs as ogling prospects, beholden to NHC protectionism if not exotification

: of Contralesa paternalism dressed as indispensable benevolence

: of broken English, a world that has to apologize for its poverty, a world that gets by thanks to the outsider’s affirmation and rescue, appealing on its knees in Sassa offices

:  of long queues outside the clinic, of bad roads, of overcrowded classrooms, of skinny goats, of barren farming fields, of absent fathers, of grandmothers left to raise their daughters’ children alone

: a world that has accepted its place in the isolation cell, ever folding its hands on laps outside the helper’s office, eagerly anticipating a bank notification

: a world that has learnt the meaning of silence, embracing its muteness with the bum jiggle and spit on its calloused palms come the MEC’s visit

: a world no one wants to belong to

: a world of shame

: a deadened world

: a world, ultimately, that is absent

18. To pay a visit to one’s family graves, then, is to summon into presence the physically absent in a way that reasserts the validity of one’s ways of knowing – what T. Spreelin Macdonald, in considering Vonani Bila’s Jeanette, My Sister (about the death of Bila’s youngest sibling, who is buried between two houses at Bila’s Shirley Village of Limpopo, her grave marked with two flat stones), calls A LABOR TO RESURRECT AND INTERACT WITH THE DEAD, thereby seeking to affirm a persisting bond between [Bila and his sister] that resists [Jeanette’s] sinking into absence

19. I quote from the City Press series Faces of Marikana, about a miner born in the village of Paballong, near Matatiele

: Thabiso may have known that he was going to die

In his modest shack in Nkaneng a few months before he was killed

, he told his wife

, Mma Kopano

, the mother of his only child

, whom he lovingly always called Dear

: Respect me when I’m dead

: Respect my grave

A pre-ending and an alternative lie, who is Joy and who is Joyce?

: The dead won’t sink

They keep returning to the surface of the dam, some as skeletons, some bodies half-decomposed, floating aimlessly or otherwise circling the dam in search of familiar faces, still in their tattered burial blankets of ox-hide; whole families dead during a famine or the last tribal war in memory – after the year’s harvest, the villagers in the dam come alive and talk with the living, asking them for updates of the year they missed out on, parents admonishing children for missing the last festival a year ago, patriarchs leaving orders for what is to be done with their livestock and land in their absence, miner-husbands conferring with housewives, great uncles answering to suitors who had come, in their absence, to ask after the hand of an orphaned granddaughter in marriage, fathers laying charges with the chief’s emissary for wives they suspect to have committed adultery without their expressed consent, fathers discussing the next suitor for their wives, matriarchs informing their sons of women they wish to be their next wives (friends’ daughters, women from other villages … domestic worker-women they consider to be lifelong younger sisters), young boys forlornly watching their former love interests carrying babies they did not father, men who died as boys waking up to confront younger brothers who now have as much hair on the sides of their faces as … fathers who “left” under mysterious circumstances and might still be suspicious of their wives’ skills in the cooking compound and finally the chief, when he elects to speak, rising from his throne to lament that the affairs of the land are going in the direction of the unknowable … a dot of wet mud is made by dipping a finger in the shallow waters and pressing it on the centre of your forehead, as sacrifice withal

In this dream, I am the only one tasked with going around the dam and striking up random conversations with those who have no relatives around or beef with anyone present

20. A version of the present free of the anxiety to belong to any absolutist trope, given an incongruous understanding of time and space as they operate within a rural setting in discoursing around the settler notion of African hegemony, as defined by not just a recreation of past models by way of manufacturing somewhat idealistic future modes of being, this onrush of tired whimsicality still caught up with the need for Western science to correspond to our rationality-defying present

, hence we look back there

really look

to finally see how, in navigating the forest of stereotypes that weigh down the rural, the absenting of our ancient ways in reading the world


, less the living eyewitness thereof

: as if the names, the gestures, the places, and the time, having bloomed separately in simple maxims, were for an instant to accept being united under a common law so that one would know finally, as in the hard light of a blunt interrogation, who made what, where, and when (Jean Frémon)

When I was finally taken by Khathu, late in that June 14, 2017 afternoon, to the home of Ntayise Dyakala, a member of the Salem Community Property Association, the body that had been fighting to reclaim 66 square kilometers of land on behalf of the Black residents of Tyelera since 1998, early supper was served with a spoonful of sepia memories of those who’d experienced firsthand the Fourth Frontier War that robbed Tyelera’s Black community of a portion of Tyelera they had occupied pre-1812 and which now belonged exclusively to settler descendants, among them the white owners of Kikuyu Lodge and the commercial farms tracing their title deeds after the wars of dispossession, those owning the forests and roadsides where much of Khathu and my decolonial flesh fictions on rural persecution occurred … the next morning, as Ntayise Dyakala and I entered his ancestral graves at the Bradfields Farm, besieged by a selfish need to construct a more concrete and less ah ngimnandi testimony verifying MY EXPERIENCES of death within a rural space, Ntayise Dyakala furnishing me with one explanation after another about these or those family graves, a gospel of plangent cracks, to witness Black anger materialize at the crunch of a footstep on gravel, polluted as we are with grief (Wopko Jensma), forever feuding against the rural’s marginalization

; to palliate the spirits of our upbringing, percolating with vehement repudiation at conventional ways of mourning, of remembering, of seeing, to have the revelation penetrate your bones, milking the marrow


I remember telling myself with a clarity borne of having seen too many burial sites and heard enough oral testimony the previous day

: Kakade there was a community of Black people living on the Salem Commonage phambi kokuba iTyalera became Salem

20. Song, here in the form of a prayer, says Marian De Saxe, of Vuyisile Mini et al approaching death as if enthusiastically, is transformed into A SHOW OF STRENGTH AND PROTEST AND HOPE, in much the same way that Nkosi Sikelel‘ iAfrika evolved from a prayer to a liberation song to an anthem … SINGING ONE‘S WAY TO THE GRAVE is also A DEFIANT ACT of altruism WAITING FOR AN AUDIENCE TO ACT, as ASSERTION OF EXISTENCE AND BEING

Among his old family graves, Ntayise Dyakala says to me

: They were all buried here before we were forced away. You see

[pointing over to the most recent grave]

[me looking his way, listening]

you can tell from that name we’re not the only ones

[the Dyakalas]

who have family buried here

I wanted to understand what this assertion of the unbreakable connection of identities between the dead and the living … not LEAVING … meant regarding how the villager processes death so far as it concerns the ways in which we collectively shape current rural identity, memory included … to commune, so to speak, with the graveyard of relationships that inform my philosophies … I have been considering the place a grave occupies in the rural worldview long enough to know that the grave has, overtime, shifted its position from the venerated to the diversionary, from when one feared pointing at the graveyard (or did so with a crooked index finger so as not to “provoke” the wrath of those “asleep” in the cemetery) to a familiarity such that communal grave-digging sessions back in my village can turn rowdy without fear of ancestral retribution ever figuring into the transgression … It is never clear, in weighing the cost of my silence on how dying remains a unifying force in rural communities, if presiding over Grave Crimes Against [my] Struggle is to set myself up on the dock, giving evidence against my other selves on the witness stand, prosecuting on behalf of my ideals: disputatious thinking, sure, offensive to the senses, but nonetheless a grave narrative of mis/counting the funerals I’ve been to and those I’ve missed and those I don’t remember attending; to get close enough to the edge of the abyss and consent to what memories, quotes, scents I carry to suggest a redefinition of the borderscape

Caught in the maze of unbearable absence (Joseph Guglielmi), in remembering those I love and am linked to by blood, talking Black rural death is a means of expression at grief’s disposal, what  Maurice Blanchot would call the gentle madness of remembering forgetfully … rural death in this case cannot be measured as pure and simple loss … it has to mean more

: Where is the least power? In speech, or in writing? When I live, or when I die? Or again, when dying doesn’t let me die?

22. The accused is not my father (Ah Chul’unyathela, Malamb’edlile!), retired as he is to his absenteeism … but a son who has seen with the eternal corner of the eye too many things I instantaneously consigned to the back of my mind, still working the treadmill towards the finitude of my understanding, taking that short walk to the grave, only a rational thought away … Only a strong feeling away … Meeting all the versions of yourself which did not come out of the womb with you … Those who wear their skeletons on the outside

23. Sithetha nge mvuma ‘kufa, nge insurrectional avowals, nge tjotjo estrongo for only uVerwoed

: Love is found even where the dead lie

24. Using death in the service of a search for empowering beliefs about the rural, rejecting the imprisoning notion of the villager as meek effigy, excavating scraps of Black rural voices babbling polyglot-al to polemical effect, taking up the associative inquiry of our grazing living

, not those voices who confront without necessarily dislodging even in praise of the threat of forgetting, aware that the infiniteness of the threat has in some way broken every limit

: The fly that has no one to advise it follows the corpse into the grave

The Tyelera moment teaches me to neither fear the final day nor wish for it – death is the temporal villager in the city, wandering in a warren of exile-forced solidarity with the world and the multitudes of identities that intersect at his heart, a raucous, if consistently improvisational, montage of maestro boasts regardless of the limits of his migrant-mobility, using an assertive language to solidify fragile networks of thought-currency, twisting lines of not forgetting into twines of punishment and that awareness


Question me on how we read the present

, suggest to me the need for a rural-bound and unabashedly intrusive manipulation of memory

, to clean up the canon of limited and limiting beliefs about the rural

, to entice redemptive reports around village living

and not this perceived neutrality that comes with merely curating the act of rural typecasting at the expense of pushing against our consignment to the bottom of the page/afterthought paragraph/back of the museum

: There can be this point, at least, to writing

, says Blanchot


Ever the trier of the Quenellian fact of constraint, the second day, leaving by way of Makhanda, on the road, early noon, Ntayise Dyakala with his son, I REMEMBER: abantu abadala bagqiba = sivile = siyavuma = UMNTWANA UDE WABA NGCONO … a raindrop of a motive sneaks up on me with the politeness of an anus pump, to retrain the bowels as I am third-worlding on the R343

: History, the stockpiling of daily events, works in the moment and the moment belongs to the present; those who mourn must learn to appreciate the dead before they can appreciate the livingwe’re not made to talk or write for eternity, but for the moment, and it’s the accumulation of moments that makes continuity: Edmond Jabès

everything has changed except the graves: Mzi Mahola

not dead but sleeping: Anna Della Subin

the dead ones who are not dead, the sleeping ones who are not sleeping: Nichols

endlessly signifying what is absent: Frémon

the point of this discussion is that she did not die: Georgia Anne Muldrow

you’re dead, Kintu rebuked … what have you come back for: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

25. The past to which we were subjected, which has not yet emerged as history for us, is, however, obsessively present (Edouard Glissant)

26. Says Mzwandile Matiwane, in To My Sisters? Once I am dead/ urinate on your hands/ and wash your faces/ and cleanse off the curse/ that has befallen the AmaNqarhwane clan

Says Mandla Ndlezi, in When It Comes? O, dig it/ like a cave/ and let me squat/ inside and wait. // Snugged in/ animal skin/ ready to/ get up and go!

27. Satisfied, I came among my guests like a man who has returned from the grave to complain about the death certificate … In Black Sunlight, Marechera

28. It is in Alfred Qabula, being of Flagstaff, rural Transkei, that we see someone wholly underplay the factsheet of his grieving, making it clear that to count the bodies of the dead has already exhausted its effectiveness, that addressing the elusive monster, mano a Cde, can be another approach in foregrounding the heart’s clangs of pain

: Death

enemy of man

Woe unto you …


29. There is no use arguing the case of our social death if to be alive means even our births are already suspect

30. On the threshold of a rejected birth

, says Jabès,

we write in the shadow of what has been written, but never read

In his dissenting judgement when the Tyelera land claim came to the Supreme Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein in February 2016 (the commercial farmers and lodge owners of Salem appealing the Land Claims Commission’s original ruling in favour of the Tyelera claim; majority judges in the SCA assenting to Tyelera’s claim), Azhar Cachalia, Judge of Appeal, weighs the evidence of two witnesses for the Tyelera community in the following manner

: In response to a further question as to how Salem got its name, he answered almost as a child telling a story wouldHis evidence was difficult to follow, perhaps due to his lack of education and literacy … the sequence of events itself is bizzare … Nondzube’s hearsay evidence was relied upon to … He is uneducated and his evidence was not easy to follow …

I quote Cachalia in one lump of mangled quotations especially to show how the infantilizing of Msele Nondzube and Cachalia’s insistent valuing of formal education in discrediting Ndoyityile Ngqiyaza’s testimony points to a larger problem in how Mandelafrican rural people suffer most rampantly under essentialised notions of identity, even to highlight the parts that verify how the methods of rural memorizing can never be authenticated in Romanesque scrolls but that which is lent and borrowed through story, gesture, personal moment, dream, ritual and myth, the past kept contemporaneous one generation after another even as memories fray

31. Says Motlalepula of Boroeng village and brother to Khanare Monesa, slain during the Marikana Massacre, Khanare’s wife already with child at the time of Khanare’s passing

: My only hope is that when his child is born, he’ll look exactly like him

: The child will be a reminder to all of us that we once had a beautiful brother who was killed



Research for this essay was supported by a grant from the Taco Kuiper Investigative Journalism Fund, run by Wits Journalism (Wits University).

All pictures feature Funisile Khathu and were taken by the writer while visiting some of the graves belonging to Tyelera’s African population.


Reading List 

Where White is the colour/Where Black is the number, Wopko Jensma, The faces of Marikana, City Press, Born in Africa but..: Women’s poetry of post-Apartheid South Africa in English, Isabelle Vogt, Nomvula, Freshlyground, Black Insider, Dambudzo Marechera, My Spirit Is Not Banned, Frances Baard as told to Barbie Schreiner, No mining in Xolobeni, demand activists, GroundUp, Collected Poems, Alfred Temba Qabula, South African History Online, These Hands, Makhosazana Xaba, Eulogy, Grace Nichols, Salem Party Club and Others v Salem Community and Others (2017, January), Salem Party Club and Others v Salem Community and Others (2017, December), Not dead but sleeping, Anna Della Subin, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, Edouard Glissant, Johann Louw paints as counter-feminist and settler fantasist of sorts, Percy Mabandu, Ah, but your land is beautiful, Zamansele Nsele, Habari Gani Africa Ranting, Lesego Rampolokeng, Steve Biko and Black Consciousness in Post-Apartheid South African Poetry, T. Spreelin Macdonald, The Graveyard Also Has Teeth: With Concerto for an Exile: Poems, Syl Cheney-Coker, Umfi uMfundisi Isaac William Wauchope, SEK Mqhayi, Sing Me a Song of History: South African Poets and Singers in Exile, Marian De Saxe, When It Comes, Mandla Ndlezi, Kintu, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, To My Sisters, Mzwandile Matiwane, Writing At Risk: Interviews Uncommon Writers, Carlos Fuentes, The Dead Protect Us!, Daily Sun, Endlessly signifying what is absent, Jean Frémon, The writing of the disaster, Maurice Blanchot, An Uneducated Discourse, Xola Stemele, The book of remembrances remains to be written, Joseph Guglielmi, Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe, Itineraries of a Hummingbird: an interview, Edmond Jabès, Everything has changed (except the graves), Mzi Mahola, A Thoughtiverse Unmarred: Prologue, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Memory of a dead memory, Edmond Jabès, Hybridity and Transformation: The Art of Lin Onus, Bill Ashcroft


The post The Tyelera Moment first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.

https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-tyelera-moment/feed/ 0
Frantz Fanon’s Uneven Ribs https://chimurengachronic.co.za/frantz-fanons-uneven-ribs/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/frantz-fanons-uneven-ribs/#respond Sat, 07 Sep 2019 21:07:21 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=11009 For me knowledge is very powerful. Any knowledge has claws and teeth. If you don't see the teeth and the claws then it is useless, then somebody has emasculated it.

The post Frantz Fanon's Uneven Ribs first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.


Taban Lo Liyong is the author of several books of poetry including Frantz Fanon’s Uneven Ribs and Another Nigger Dead. He has also published some collections of essays, the most recent being Images of Women in Folktales and Short Stories of Africa.  He spoke to Sam Raditlhalo (circa 1997, when he was still a professor of literature at the University of Venda.).

What were the first influences on your writing?

TLL: It would be difficult to say who influenced me. I’d prefer to say so and so lit the fire, gave me the courage or gave me the urge to write. What started me on writing was not other writing, it was hearing stories told by the fireside. When I went to school, in 1945, we had a period for telling folktales in the vernacular. This came every Friday. During that period each student was to tell a story, and it went in turns. There was no way you could escape it. If you had no story, you would sit down in shame in front of the students, facing them. So, I heard a lot of stories, including stories which were told so well that I envied the tellers — my fellow primary students. Sometimes I write my stories as a tribute to them because they told far better stories than I could ever tell.

Some of my teachers were writers themselves and so the mystery of the world being translated from the spoken to written had been broken a long time ago. I was taught by people who had written. I just said OK, this is the sort of thing that you do when you have the time. So when it came to my own writing, it was the coming together of all those things, plus other books that I read.

Looking back to the 60s, when you first started writing, do you feel you adequately served the needs of creative provocation on one hand, what Chris Wanjala once termed the Tabanic genre? Given the chance to do it all over again what would you do differently?

TLL: East Africa was the centre of turmoil, literary and cultural turmoil. Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, with Makerere hosting the Commonwealth Writers Conference in 1960. It was all part and parcel of that political movement. Politics went first and then cultural and literary activities followed closely behind. It was cosmopolitan. Whether you were Kenyan, Ugandan or Tanzanian, if you were in Nairobi you were accepted, if you were in Makerere you were accepted. You did not think of yourself as being a foreigner, you just participated. So we did a lot of things then which cannot be done now because of the intensification of nationalism.

You wrote a denouncement of what you termed eunuch scholars. That to me is the essence of the Tabanic genre, the dislike of writers and scholars sold into bourgeois power groups. Could you elaborate on that?

TLL: I don’t like a scholar who just reads and accepts; or merely reads to gather facts, datas. I prefer to have scholars who put themselves and their positions into their reading. In Africa, you don’t just go to a funeral to cry for the person who has just died. You go there so as to mourn your own dead. The same with reading — when you are reading Shakespeare or Ngugi or Achebe you should think about yourself, your own predicaments. When you are reading The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, you don’t laugh at it and say “this is what the Ghanians do to their people.” That thing that happened in Ghana can also happen somewhere else including South Africa.

“Search for knowledge everywhere” — that is a Muslim injunction. The question is why should anybody limit himself? If they are going to be in the English department then for goodness sake let them know everything about English, know everything: Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare. Search everywhere. It is only when we have blinkered scholars who hold that Karl Marx is only for the political economists, Darwin only for the biologists, that I quarrel. The type of scholar I prefer is the one, who after he has understood what is going on, would like to do something about it. Yes, practice must be part of it. Every reading must be in the context of the reader’s personal and communal position: as a call to a debate, an invitation to action.

In keeping with your early expectations and optimism, the piece “Student’s Lament” first published in the East Africa Journal in 1966, still stands out as a central piece, at least to my mind, of doubt about the pace of the change. 

TLL: Let me tell you how it came about. As students we used to burn up a lot of those midnight candles: study, study, study, study. Here I am trying my level best to master difficult concepts, later to go back with these things to fertilise the home. But at home people are saying, “Oh he is difficult.” But isn’t it the measure of the material that I am handling which is difficult rather than me trying to be difficult? What was I sent abroad for if I’m not supposed to master those difficult things and transmit them home? Was I supposed to concentrate on the soft, easy matters only? So I sat down to write that thing. I wrote it, wrote it, wrote it for 36 hours without sleep. After I finished it I took a big breakfast and went to the library, where I worked, to shelve books. Fifteen minutes later I was caught by the librarian, sleeping on my feet, holding the books. He took me to his office and sat me down. I said “I was working . . ..” He said, “Then you should not work here also.” And fired me. Nobody till today has ever referred to it.

How do you respond to the charge by certain critics that your poetry is more cerebral than emotive? I think of lines such as these from Another Nigger Dead: “to give up and curse God / to despair too soon / even the blind struggle to see / have courage everybody.” 

TLL: Some time ago I decided I will write essays in which I will explain things; I will write poems in which to hide things; and I will write stories just to laugh or to have fun. So in my poems I follow up some trends of thought. It is like someone making an etching, a picture, a mural picture. You don’t do it in one sweep. You do this and that and that and that. So go through the etchings and you finally will arrive at some answers. Follow the line(s) of thought and you will get its meaning, or some meaning, at any rate. “To give up and curse God” — that comes from Job. Job did not despair, so why should we be the ones to give up too soon?

Ngugi wa Thiongo decided to go local, to live traditional. Somehow or other I don’t like it very much. He is a man who should be challenging, to reach for higher ideas, higher ideals: but to curtail himself and say `I turn my back against using English’ — that is the same as despair. Maybe even Ngugi has despaired on the intellectual side of things and so he is going back to the people, his people. So this despair is there. It affects us all. Whether it is Okot p’Bitek, Ngugi, Ayi Kwei Armah. Our generation has gone through a lot and we have seen the rise of nationalism and also the failure of African national leaders. We have seen it all and hated most of it.

How do you analyse the failure of African nationalism?

TLL: There were two parties in Kenya, Kenya African National Union and Kenya African Democratic Union. The Americans and British said they, the parties, should become one party and they agreed. Then Oginga Odinga wanted to start another party, Kenya People’s Union, the Americans came and had him banned. Later on the Americans came again and said there should be multi-party politics in Kenya and Oginga Odinga should start another party. So the question becomes: if you as a nation do not keep in mind what exactly you are going to do then the nation will be pushed left and right by foreigners, especially those with money. Today they say this, tomorrow they say that, then they say another thing. So you end up losing your way.

Initially writers were needed to boost nationalism. But it seems that as soon as they weren’t promoting the parties in power, they were kicked out or persecuted.

TLL: That literary conference of 1960 was held because Makerere University literature staff, English department realised they needed to light the fire from West Africa. So they bought across from West Africa Gabriel Okara, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, John Pepper Clark and others to come to Makerere. And when they came there Ngugi gave Chinua Achebe his A River Between to read, and Achebe read it and gave him some comments about it. So the fire had been lit, passed from West Africa to East Africa.

Things were going fine — except at the political level things were not going fine. Obote wanted to eliminate the Kabaka of Buganda and other native rulers. At one time Kwame Nkrumah had eliminated the native rulers in Ghana. That is why Obote kicked out the Kabaka too, because Nkrumah had done it. When Nkrumah introduced the idea of African High Command, Julius Nyerere opposed it. Only later on to shoulder the liberation wars in Southern Africa.

In Kenya the Kikuyu, a majority tribe, were in control and the Americans and British, at that time liked it. Their logic was that a bigger tribe should be supported because it already has a lot of people who can man the state. And they never even thought that at a future time, a ruler could come up, like Arap Moi, who is not a Kikuyu. They never thought that could happen. So they gave all the help they could give to the Kikuyu and Kenyatta including the muscling of all the opposition. They said we have pinned all our hopes on Kenyatta and Kanu, and any other position is going to mess up the categories we have brought in here.

We saw this happening. Some of us tried to say something against it. But rural politics is different from any other. So I wanted to say in my writings what was hurting us. If this is how things are, what is the use of staying here? Why witness future murders? The seeds are now being sown and there is no way we can do anything about it. But a writer has to be the trumpet blower. Or the whistle blower. If there is an off-side or handball, or foul, you blow the whistle. That is what I was thinking about.

What are your views about literature in African languages?

TLL: In East Africa we do not have African languages and literature studies. In 1945, when I went to school, we were taught in the vernacular for the first three years and then after that we started learning English leading progressively to learning in English only. Only the bigger languages were taught school subjects: Luganda, Swahili, Kikuyu, perhaps. But otherwise African languages were left behind.

South Africa is a bit different, thanks, left-handedly, to apartheid. Apartheid preserved African languages and some parts of African culture. So you had and have departments of African languages and African literature in an African country. These were never seen elsewhere before. In the South African context people have been writing in the vernaculars all along. So for you to say a Zulu wants to write in Zulu is old hat. You have done it all along. But in the East African context, Ngugi’s novels will be the first major novels written in Kikuyu.

Did you know Dambudzo Marechera? His work reminds me of yours in certain ways.

TLL: Marechera was my godson intellectually and culturally. We came together for the first time in 1979 in West Berlin but by that time he had already got in touch with my writings. We studied without boundaries, delved in intellectual enquiries without limits. Ayi Kwei Armah is the third member of our trio.

He did well for his short life. He accepted the challenge of Oxford, but it blew his mind. He found himself singing alone and out of tune because there was no other African at Oxford of like mind. That is what the problem is. You get students who go to the aged and reputed universities like Oxford. In the context of their behaviour and the behaviour of the white youths in Oxford, he was just a normal student. But in the African context everyone would have said: “You are going to Oxford, that is where the English are studying. You are supposed to come back a better scholar, a better gentleman,” and so on. But when you actually go to Oxford you find out that the Oxford undergraduates are scoundrels, scandalers, fun-making aristocrats. Few go there to study hard. They play games. They socialise. They are sons and daughters of kings and lords. You meet them and find out more hollowness in their inner circles. But if one of our boys goes there and comes back and behaves in the same way, people will say what is wrong?

Isn’t it difficult for an African studying in Europe to accept that the intellectual contribution of Africa is never acknowledged? 

TLL: Terence, a dramatist, one of the humorous comic writers of Rome, was a negro. Aesop was a black fellow from Ethiopia. Plato, Pythagoras and others, the pre-Socratics, had been to Egypt before returning to Greece. Some of the ideas of the Greeks are of African origin but the Greeks never acknowledged their theft. That’s how it is. If there is something that is African in Egyptian languages, it should have its correlative in the present African languages. The French-speaking West Africans have Egyptologists: Theophilus Obenga from the Congo and Cheikh Anta Diop from Senegal. So the question is — and I am struggling with it — why shouldn’t we also learn Greek and Ancient Egyptian to learn about ourselves in ancient times?

What evidence is there that Africa had its intellectual excellence?

TLL: The library of Alexandria contained a lot of ideas, not only African ideas but also Asian and European ideas. Egypt was an intellectual centre, an intellectual thoroughfare. Plato came there after the death of Socrates and studied for ten years before going back to Greece to write and teach. Timbuctu was not a hundred percent black university. It had everybody including Asians, including Europeans. Where a place is a magnet for intellect then everybody brings their intellect there and comes and participates. We have had times when we were already interacting with the outside world. That is also why something or other in the black man in America makes him take his African past very very seriously.

Why, in your view, did Europeans divide Africa into north of the Sahara and south of the Sahara, with only the south inhabited by Africans? Hegel, for instance, in his Philosophy of History, says that Africans occupy the territory south of the Sahara, and that Egypt was Africa connected to Asia.

TLL: They went by race and by colour, in evidence of the Mediterranean littoral, around the Mediterranean sea. The African coast had been inhabited for some time by Arabs, “coloured people” in quotes, who were already a mixture of races like what you would call coloured people in the Cape — people who have black blood in them as well as foreign ingredients. So when European racists wanted to talk about Africa, they would leave out their cousins: the coloured people of Northern Africa were excluded. They said these are not the real Africans — for the real Africans go to Africa south of the Sahara. But strangely enough they got their information about the Africans from the Arab historians. People like Ibn Khaldun had done a lot of travelling in Africa.

If you are a white racist and you are faced with a human being who is black, how do you tackle him? How do you confront him intellectually? The answer is simple — find some way of categorising him. Look at the stories that were told about us, even in Shakespeare’s Othello. Othello is wooing Desdemona by talking about some people whose heads were beneath their shoulders and so on. In the white man’s mind, the black has always been a problem because the metaphysics of Europe are told in either/or, white/black. Black is the colour of darkness, the colour of the devil. In the white man’s mind there lurks a big black god or a big black devil and he doesn’t know how to come into contact with it so he fears it and therefore he has to find some ways of numbering it amongst those things which have to be destroyed. And so racism developed out of that, that which lurks at the back of your mind, which frightens you at night.

European thought and political power has dominated the world for over 500 years. How do you envisage the end of its hegemony?

TLL: European hegemony is not going to end that quickly. Until Europe becomes poor, Europe is not going to leave its own prejudices. It is only when people are poor that they begin to realise that their categories were wrong. When they realise that they have failed then they say, look, maybe the way we have been looking at the world is wrong. Maybe other people have some other valued approaches, outlooks towards life, and we might as well learn from them. This has been going on already. Europe, and its extension into America, they are becoming aware of this. Anthropologists like Margaret Mead were interested in saying, how does a child in a poor third world area survive under conditions which would have killed a white child? How do blacks, how do Bushmen, the Australian aborigines, how do they or how did they survive without the benefit of modern medicine, science and so forth. How do they survive? If poverty comes to America or Britain, will the white child be able to survive? Because they are more concerned with their survival as the white race and custodians of the values of the white world.

But it has started to change. During the Korean war all the American GIs who were arrested and detained, when they were tortured, they spoke out very, very quickly. Whereas no Korean would confess or inform. And the poor Koreans defeated the Americans, right? Then the Vietnamese defeated the French and defeated the Americans too. So it is only when things change that people start to change their attitudes. Like here, in this South African context, till this change of 1994 came, few whites had believed that there would ever come a time where the tables would change. So now white people are talking about affirmative action. And now some of the things that blacks have been doing are also being tried by the whites. Some whites are appreciating African ways, becoming humans.

The Europeans, when they came here, found us with our pants down and they defeated us. So we went to Europe or America, we went in order to study the secrets of the conqueror. Why did he come and conquer us? And if we are still activists, we should still continue studying in order to look to future confrontation with that system so that we can recover ours. And then we can build a better one, between our recovered culture and the one that the Europeans have. So we are to study the European ways in order to overcome them, in order to challenge them, in order to find out how they operate. In order to master them. And to transform them to take in African ingredients.

If you leave the world to be led by the categories of the white man, these categories always ask for confrontation: either/or, good/bad, black/white. One of these categories is going to overthrow the other, right? That’s the danger of following the white man and his either/or philosophy. What we should be doing is say, this is the African way, this is the Chinese way, this is the Indian way, and so on — non-binary opposition, but polygamous co-existence; acceptance of horizontally lined multiple choices. All these categories, all of these ways are ways of rescuing man from going headlong into oblivion. It is our task, Africans, Asians, to bring to the table of nations all the heritage that belongs to us and do it very forcefully.

And it is also up to Europeans to see where theirs have failed in order also to integrate ours within their categories. But when they are still very rich and powerful, they are not going to do that in a hurry.

You trace the modern African identity to the 13th century…

TLL: Yes, when the nations of Islam were powerful, pushing towards Africa, towards Asia, towards Europe. They crossed to Spain. They took over Spain and were only defeated in France. In Africa, we ran. We ran because we couldn’t be Muslim. Or we ran because our kings, who had total power over us, could not hold us any more. People at the peripheries could run, so they did. And continued looking for safety, taking with them whatever gods, and ideas of their gods and of their cultures as they could. And also tactics for defeating the next group. This, according to me, is the single most important cause why Africans ran, why Africans migrated southwards. Now fortunately or unfortunately it is because we ran that black Africa is not Muslim. Because those who remained in Northern Africa are mostly Muslim now. Most of Nigeria is all Muslim. Northern Nigeria, Northern Ghana, Northern this or that — Senegal is mostly Muslim.

What is Ali Mazrui’s position regarding Islam?

TLL: Mazrui was an African when he was in Makerere. When Mazrui went to America he recovered his Muslim standing since his people directly came from Oman and there was no more reason to identify fully with Kenya, Africa. His great-grandfathers had come from Oman and they used to be rulers on the East African coast. So Mazrui has recovered his standing in the Muslim world. He is their best scholar, he is their best informer on us and against us. Underline that one, against us. There is now even a Kenyan Muslim Political Party and he is a founding member of it. Last year he was in Zambia promoting the advent of a Muslim Party there. Like most Muslims, when they become older they become devout believers because they want to square matters with their maker. And he is gloating at the fact that Islam has a foothold in Africa. He used to go to Nigeria a part of the year to do research there — his scholarship gave him the chance to do that. Every quarter of the year he would come to an African country to do some studies. I mean that programme he did for the BBC “The Africans”, it glorifies Islam rather than anything else, he even runs down the traditional African culture.

How would you characterise African philosophy?

TLL: The African family system is unique. In all our traditional languages we have a word for all members of our extended family. Knowing who you are related to, therefore knowing how wide the tree is. Knowing that you are not alone, you are with others and they are also with you. When it is a funeral or marriage or so forth, the whole tree comes together. Nobody grudges the other anything. Everything is shared. The idea of sharing, and knowing that no human being is a human being by himself or herself. This is the African way which unfortunately both Christianity and Islam are wrecking. It is something which is really unique.

Then of course, there’s another one also, outlook towards life, towards fate. Rather than think foolishly, we actually are great optimists, we are very, very optimistic. And Mazrui also said somewhere that Africans are forgiving. We make sacrifices and we forgive. Why? Because we are very optimistic. We actually don’t think the darkness will last. We don’t think any darkness will last and if Mulungu is strutting like a god we sometimes laugh at him because we know he is not what he pretends to be. So we can easily forgive him because we know he is far from reality, he is putting on a show and at the end of the day the show will come to an end.

That attitude towards life has kept us going through thick and thin and since we have reached the twentieth century without crumbling there’s no way anybody is going to make us disappear any more. There are some areas where our survival tactics are better than what other people think.

You’ve said that the clues of what Africa is or will be can be deduced from what Africa was or has been. History, in its wider sense, more than any other discipline, holds the key to the self-knowledge of a people without written records. 

TLL: We should never forget about history, either of our past high performances or the history of our subjugation, of our being down- trodden. And also the history of others who were downtrodden and arose from there and climbed up. This is where the Jews are different from everybody else. They say “Don’t forget — never forget.” You can forgive but never forget, because if you forget the same thing can be repeated. The same thing that hurt you before can come back in another guise and you’ll never even notice it. If you had been burnt before you know how fire burns. So please remember that we have been burnt and we should not allow ourselves to sleep otherwise we will be burnt again.

If somebody makes you think that we are now equal whereas the naked reality is that there are differences between where we live and where others live, then you are a fool. History is something we should worry about. You should read and envy. Jealousy is destructive, but envy can make you challenge, make you accept challenges. You envy somebody his cows and sheep and say, why are they fat? why shouldn’t mine be fat? If you’re jealous you’re going to kill them. Better take up the challenge to say, I would also breed cows that are bigger and sleeker than his. That is the path of envy: accepting a challenge. Wrestling with a challenge.

What is your view on the direction of contemporary African writing, given that your generation had written so prolifically about the demise of colonialism and the future of nationalism?

TLL: I think it would be better for today’s writers to follow the fates of individuals. Not write about Africa this, Africa that. A priest, who is head of a breakaway church, what are his hang-ups? The head of the army, what are his plans? So we need to go for individual types. It is better to delve in-depth on individuals and find out what their problems really are and reveal them from within. Because otherwise it is generalisation. Otherwise it is simplification, over-simplification. Glossing over nasty facts about our people. Being protective of African characters. Partial revelations are half-lies. He or she is no writer if she lies. You have to go into depth. It would be better, really, to choose a theme and explore it in depth.

Obviously you think it’s important for writers to study…

TLL: Yes, they should know their craft. You can’t write if you don’t read. Just as you can’t be a good dancer if you don’t go to see other people dance. If you can’t sing how can you write songs? So it calls for professionalism, really. New writers should be aware of all that has been written. Even about writing. So when you are writing you should write that which is in your blood, in your backbone, in your back yard: you should already know what has been written by other South Africans.

If you can read Afrikaans, read their novels, poems, plays. And also find what they have said about you, about other characters. For somebody who knows Afrikaans, it is foolish of him to read only novels in English about the South African situation. As the Arabs would say, seek for knowledge everywhere. Don’t blinker yourself. Political prejudices should not prejudice you against using another language. Until you’ve read them how do you know what they said?

Never forget this: the story being told is one thing: the moral being displayed is another thing. A story is never a story but it also has a central idea, a central thesis. Writers also think, have ideas. And embed their ideas in their works.

Your dislike of Negritude was as fierce and as direct as Mphahlele’s and Soyinka’s, if not more. There are lines that move some of us like “strange news called negritude.” What would you make of what I perceive as essentially a return of Negritude in another guise?

TLL: Yes, Negritude cheated us. Senghor should have created Senegal as a Negritude state. Nkrumah should have created Ghana as African personality state. Then we would have seen Negritude in action, African personality in action. But they philosophised and left it at that. Since they were not only philosophers but politicians they should have put into practice what they were believing. That is what the fundamentalist Muslims do. They do not only advocate an idea but they also put it into practice. That is what the Boers here did. When they believed in apartheid they put apartheid into action. At least Nyerere with his Ujaama villages, and moving people from one place to another, tried to put into practice what he believed.

For me knowledge is very powerful. Any knowledge has claws and teeth. If you don’t see the teeth and the claws then it is useless, then somebody has emasculated it. When ideas are conceived by people in the realm of action but those people don’t put them into action, that’s where the problem is. These ideas then become dreams. To be realised by who? nobody can tell. So if we are going to have a Renaissance, well and good but let us have it fully orchestrated, fully ramified throughout all walks of life.

How would you propose we build an African literary culture? 

TLL: Please let us shy away from Africa . Africa is too big. Your area is South Africa and Southern Africa really. Leave the Eastern Africans to do their own thing, and the Central Africans, the Western Africans, the Northern Africans. It is when we want to be continental in our conception that we end up just making a dot here and a dot there and so on and call them African.

In this SADC region, you need to translate books not only into English but from one African language to another including books written in Mozambique, in Botswana, in Zambia and Zimbabwe. We need to have access to the books that have been written. It should not just be a Vendan writer or teacher recommending Vendan books: it should be someone else who is not a Vendan, who knows the relative importance of Vendan books, or Tsonga books, or Sotho books who does the identifying and recommending.

You need translation centres for translating these books. Then you also need exchange of scholars and exchange of writers so that they move around as our children, not as foreigners. You need literary and other competitions within the SADC areas, including even a version of the NOMA awards for SADC countries. Maybe it will be sponsored by Castle Beer, I don’t know. In Europe they used to have aristocratic or rich patrons. Here we need also cultural ambassadors, not the radicals who cannot wear suits but do their hair like yours. We need ambassadors who can go a De Beers board meeting and say “Ladies and Gentlemen, do support art — do support this idea, it is a good idea.” You need those. It requires a lot of doing, and a lot of planning and if you plan it the wrong way, if you do it precipitately, it can be knocked down.

Doesn’t this contradict something you said in your inaugural address here in Venda, that the problem with most African social scientists and writers is that they limit themselves to specific tribes and specific religions.

TLL: I was talking about tribalists. Because even amongst the Sothos there are Bapedi and that is not the end of it. How can anyone just specialise in the Bapedi and not know how the Bapedi are joined to middle and southern Sotho? You have to do it like the kite. The kite has two types of eyes, one for seeing the world below and another one for seeing a rat, right? You are out there and you are 50 yards up, you can’t see a rat but the kite can. Even some of the doves, they can see a small grain on the ground, they adjust their lenses. They can see panoramically and they can also zero in. So that is what I am talking about. It doesn’t matter if we have those who zero in so long as we have the people who can put things into context. The ones who are going to talk about continental Africa, they should be able to see a variety of things. That would be it.

Critics have not been very kind to you. They say that your writing echoes bourgeois or even racist criticism, propaganda. “His thoughts are permeated with Indo-Western decadence.” How have you reacted to this?

TLL: The lucky thing about it is that the only literary criticism that I’ve read about myself is this one by Christine Pagnoulle. Otherwise I have just continued doing my own thing. I have never read whatever other writers and critics have said. For one simple reason — knowing them and knowing their limitations, their intellectual limitations — I am likely to be infuriated. And then, secondly, I think I explore a wider field than most of them, not just of Africans but of other people, so I feel few of them can do me justice. So I am ready to go through life like Cassandra. Cassandra in one of the Greek myths is a prophetess, but she’s doomed not to be respected, not to be believed. When she tells the truth nobody takes action. So I’ve accepted it. It is my fate because I am still active. I mean it is easy to pontificate when somebody is dead and the work he has produced is over. But if he is still producing, whatever report you make it is an interim report. I’m not interested in reading interim reports about me because I’m also an activist in the field and in that way I rub other people up the wrong way. So if I am supposed to listen to what they say, they will tell me to go the wrong way, to go their way. So I think they better do their own thing and I do my own. Maybe by the end of this century, when I have stated most of my major theses and have had them published, will I have the luxury to sit in the gallery and follow the debates on the floor.

Sam Radithlalo lectures in the English Department at the University of Venda for Science and Technology. This interview was first printed in New Coin in 1997.

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Lindela (the winnie suite) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/lindela-the-winnie-suite/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/lindela-the-winnie-suite/#respond Fri, 07 Dec 2018 20:18:46 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=10998 an excerpt from ‘Lindela (the winnie suite)’ by Dominique Malaquais car, maps, […]

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an excerpt from ‘Lindela (the winnie suite)’ by Dominique Malaquais
car, maps, time. passports. visas. the king’s m-o-t-h-e-r-f-u-c-k-i-n-g english. we have all of it. and still we don’t find anything

for miles, not a signyou could go for hours, circling, on this brown plain. looking. looking. and see nothinglindela. rimes with mandela. in tswana. lingala. lindela? have you seen lindela? where the mozambicans are. the qat-dead eyes of a man (somali? eritrean?) trailing a finger through my hair



a man on a bicycle, boer face lined, throat cluttered, tells us the way. flegm. dust

men, women, wait. you’ve seen it before: waiting for nothing, waiting to wait. necks slack. hands/skin/guts dry. cold. no one here is from here. sudan. chad. seeking home, finding shit. children who will forget their names

i have been here a week. it doesn’t take long to hear the stories. 200 rand to get out if you’re zimbabwean. mozambique, 300. congo, cameroon: more. cost rises with distance and the thickness of vowels

a boxer i meet spends 3 weeks. 2500. 5 months’ rent. beatings. blankets, a man tells me in berea, blankets a madman would know better than use

lindela is for mandela. madikizela-mandela

the women’s league sees to this camp. and others

my friend, sweet friend, you’ll be wanting a statue of liberty: mama come, deliver me your weary, your downtrodden. i have scarves. razor wire scarves. for necks slender with the walk from there to here

mali. burkina. kin kin kin

(c) Dominique Malaquais

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Chronic Circulations Bibliography https://chimurengachronic.co.za/circulations-chronic-bibliography/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/circulations-chronic-bibliography/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 09:45:32 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=10873 The new addition of the Chronic asks: What is the African imagination […]

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The new addition of the Chronic asks: What is the African imagination of a borderless world? The African world has produced plenty of these and the ChronicOn Circulations And The African Imagination Of A Borderless World seeks to map and pay tribute to these existing works that articulates histories of circulation from an African perspective: from non-universal universalisms, to the right to opacity, refusing that which has been refused to you, and “keeping it moving” and more.

It is thus largely a bibliographic project and the maps produced for this issue are based on a growing library of books, recordings, essays and stories by countless writers, thinkers and musicians around the world.

The bibliography below represents a selection of the primary resources used to produce the maps and the issue. It is an part of an ever growing library that re-images our world beyond so-called progressive discourse on “freedom of movement” and “no borders” against the backdrop of deeply Western individualist thinking. Keep coming back for updates.





Required reading:

Le discours antillais, Édouard Glissant, 1981, Éditions du Seuil.

The idea of a borderless world: Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Achille Mbembe, 28 March 2018, Yale University, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKm6HPCSXDY.

Additional reading:

African Orature and Human Rights, Micere Mugo, 1991, Human People’s Rights Monograph Series, no. 13.

African Philosophy as Expressed in the Concepts of Hospitality and Ubuntu, Julius Gathogo, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, no. 130, pp. 39 53.

A history of the upper guinea coast 1545-1800, 1970, Walter Rodney, Monthly Review Press

Altered States, Anthony Kwame Appiah, 1991, Wilson Quarterly.

Asante in the Nineteenth Century: The Structure and Evolution of a Political Order, Ivor Wilks, 1975, Cambridge University Press

Beyond a Boundary, CLR James, Duke University Press Books; 1993.

Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness, Paul Gilroy, 1993, Harvard University Press

Charte du Manden, Wikipedia, 2018, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charte_du_Manden

Comment philosopher en islam ?, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, 2014, Philippe Rey.

Containers, Carriers, Vehicles: Three Views of Mobility from Africa, Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga et. al. 2016, Transfers vol. 8.

Decentralization and territorial politics: the dilemma of constructing and managing identities in Uganda, Morris Adam Nsamba, 2013, Critical African Studies, vol. 5, no. 1.

Decolonise: Open African Borders, Achille Mbembe 2017, Mail & Guardian.

El Despertador Mexicano, Zapatista Army of National Liberation, 1993, http://archive.oah.org/special-issues/mexico/zapmanifest.html

Éloges des frontières, Régis Debray, 2010, Gallimard.

Europe’s Other Self, Stuart Hall, 1991, Marxism Today, vol. 35, no. 8.

Frères migrants, Patrick Chamoiseau, 2017, Éditions du Seuil.

Knowledge of Africa, Knowledge by Africans: Two Perspectives on African Studies, Paulin J. Hountondji, 2009, RCCS Annual Review.

Les Migrants et nous: Comprendre Babel, Michel Agiers, 2016, CNRS Editions.

Les miroirs vagabonds ou la décolonisation des savoirs (art, littérature, philosophie), Seloua Luste Boulbina, 2018, Les presses du réel.

On the Postcolonial and the Universal ? , Souleymane Bachir Diagne, 2013, Rue Descartes, no 78.

Philosophie de la relation, Edouard Glissant, 2009, Gallimard.

Politiques de l’inimitié, Achille Mbembe, 2016, Éditions la Découverte

Quand les murs tombent, Edouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau, 2007, Galaade Éditions.

Reading Ibn Khaldun in Kampala, Mahmood Mamdani, 2017, Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 30, no. 1.

Sortir de la grande nuit, Achille Mbembe, 2010, Éditions la Découverte

Sovereignty, Territory and Authority: Boundary Maintenance in Contemporary Africa, Lee J.M. Seymour, 2013, Critical African Studies, vol. 5, no. 1.

Rending the Nomad: Film and architecture reading Fulani, Ikem Stanley Okoye, 2010, Interventions, International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, vol. 6, no. 2.

The African Frontier: The Reproduction of Traditional African Societies, edited by Igor Kopytoff, 1987, Midland Books.

The Evolution of the Administrative Boundaries of. Ashanti, 1896-1951, R. B. Bening, , 1978, Journal ofAfrican Studies, vol. 2, pp. 123- 150.

The Ink of the Scholar, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, 2017, Codesria.

The Gadzingo: Towards a Karanga Expansion Matrix in 18th- and 19th-Century Southern Zimbabwe, Gerald Chikozho Mazarire, 2013, Critical African Studies, vol. 5, no. 1.

The Odyssey of Human Rights, Ajume Wingo, 2010, Transition, No. 102, pp. 120-138

The origin of others, Toni Morrison, 2017, Harvard University Press

Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies, Stella Bolaki, Sabine Broeck, Sabine Bröck-Sallah, 2015, University of Massachusetts Press.

The World The Text and the Critic, Edward Said, 1983, Harvard University Press.

Tûba: An African Eschatology in Islam, E. Ross, 1996, PhD Thesis, University of Montréal.

Une nouvelle region du monde, Edouard Glissant, 2006, Gallimard.

What Do You Mean There Were No Tribes in Africa?: Thoughts on Boundaries: And Related Matters: In Precolonial Africa, Donald R. Wright, History in Africa, vol. 26, pp. 409-426



Required reading:

Borderland Europe – The challenge of migration, Balibar, Etienne, 2015, Open Democracy, https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/etienne-balibar/borderland-europe-and-challenge-of-migration.

Exodus, Paul Collier, 2013, Oxford University Press.

Movement and the Ordering of Freedom, Hagar Kotef, 2015, Duke University Press.

Why No Borders, B. Anderson et al, 2009, Refuge Journal, vol. 26, no. 2.

The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens, Seyla Benhabib, 2004, Cambridge University Press.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, 1948, http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

Zum ewigen Frieden, Immanuel Kant, 1795, F. Nicolovius.


Additional reading:

Atlas de migrants en Europe, Migreurop, 2017, Armand Colin.

Barbed Wire: A political history, Olivier Razac, 2003, The New Press.

Border as Method or the Multiplication of Labor, Sandro Mezzadra 2013, Duke University Press.

Borderlands, 2016, Michel Agiers, Wiley.

Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary, Ronal Rael, 2017, University of California Press.

Development Goals in an Era of Demographic Change, Worldbank, 2016, http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/31141444230135479/GMR-Over-and-Exec-Summary-English.pdf

Globalization for Development: Trade, Finance, Aid, Migration, and Policy, Ian Goldin, Kenneth A. Reinert, 2007, Worldbank.

Human Flow, Ai Weiwei, 2017, AC Films.

La forme-camp. Pour une généalogie des lieux de transit et d’internement du présent, Federico Rahola, 2007, Cultures & Conflits vol. 70, pp. 31-50.

Les refugies une bonne affaire, Nicolas Autheman, 2017, Le monde diplomatique.

Open Borders: A Utopia?, Harald Bauder, translated by Sophie Didier, spatial justice, 2013, no. 5.

Marcos Ramirez Erre: Border art ‘from this side’, Jo-Anne Berelowitz, 2006, Journal of Borderlands Studies, vol. 21, no. 2.

Migration Borders Freedom, Harald Bauder, 2017, Routledge.

Migrations sauvetage en mer et droits humains, Philippe Rekacewicz, 2009,  https://visionscarto.net/migrations-sauvetage-en-mer.

Minoritarian Democracy: The Democratic Case for No Borders, James A. Chamberlain, 2017, Constellations vol. 24, no. 2.

Passing Through: India’s Border Fence with Pakistan, Elizabeth Rush, 2012, Le monde diplomatique.

Re-Imagining the Border Border Art as a Space of Critical Imagination and Creative Resistance, Giudice and Giubilaro, 2015, Geopolitics vol. 20, no. 1.

The Age of the World’s Borders, PisseGuri82, 2018, https://moverdb.com/world-border-age/.

The Border Art Workshop, Art for Social Change Toolkit Blog, 1984, https://artforsocialchangetoolkit.wordpress.com.

Theory of the Border, Thomas Nail, 2016, Oxford University Press

The Figure of the Migrant, Thomas Nail, 2016, Standford University Press.

The Intermediary Class, Sam Allingham, 2018, The New Yorker.

The Jean Monnet Bridge, Center for Political Beauty, 2015, http://www.politicalbeauty.com/rescue.html.

The magna carta manifesto liberties and commons for all, Peter Linebaugh 2008, University of California Press.

The Mediterranean’s deadly migrant routes, BBC, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32387224.

The mobilities of ships and shipped mobilities,  Anyaa Anim-Addo, William Hasty and Kimberley Peters, 2014, Mobilities, vol. 9, no. 3.

The Reconstruction of the Free World, Ulrike Guerot and Robert Menasse, 2016, OpenDemocracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/ulrike-guerot-robert-menasse/europe-reconstruction-of-free-world

Walled States, Waning Society, Wendy Brown, 2014, MIT Press.

We Are Everywhere: The irresistible rise of global anti-capitalism, Notes from Nowhere, 2003, Verso.

We Refugees, Giogrio Agamben, 1995, Symposium vol. 49, no. 2.

Where on Earth Are You ?, Frances Stonor Saunders, 2016, London Review of Books. Vol. 38 No. 5.

Why Immigration Controls Are Not Coercive, David Miller, 2009, Political Theory vol. 38, no. 1.


Required reading:

Settler Colonialism: Then and Now, Mahmood Mamdani, 2015, Critical Inquiry vol. 41.

Racial comparisons, relational racisms: some thoughts on method, David Theo Goldberg, 2009, Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 32.

A Political Theology of Race: Articulating Racial Southafricanization, David Theo Goldberg, 2009, Cultural Studies, vol. 23, no. 4.

Additional reading:

Après le mur. Les répresentations israéliennes de la separation avec les Palestiniens, Cédric Parizot, 2009, Cultures & Conflict, pp. 53-72.

Border / Skin, Lindsay Bremner, 2005, http://www.academia.edu/6089661/Border_Skin.

Deutsche Integrationspolitik als koloniale Praxis, Kien Nghi Ha, 2009, transcript, pp. 137-150.

Enduring territoriality: South African immigration control, Darshan Vigneswaran,  2008, Forced Migration Studies Programme, University of the Witwatersrand.

In-secure identities: On the securitization of abnormality, Merav Amir and Hagar Kotef, 2018, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 236-254.

Israel Closure Policy, Amira Hass, 2002, Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 5-20.

Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood, Idith Zertal, 2010, Cambridge University Press

Mapping Europe’s War on Immigration, Philippe Rekacewicz, 2013, Le monde diplomatique, https://mondediplo.com/outsidein/mapping-europe-s-war-on-immigration.

The Architecture of Erasure, Saree Makdisi, 2010, Critical Inquiry, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 519-559.

The EU’s expulsion machine, Alain Maurice and Claire Rodier 2010, Le monde diplomatique, https://mondediplo.com/2010/06/12expulsions.

The invention of the concentration camp. Cuba. Southern Africa and the Philippines 1896-1907, Jonathan Hyslop, 2011, South African Historical Journal vol. 63, no. 2.

The refugees welcome culture, Joshua Kwesi Aikins and Daniel Bendix, 2015, Africasacountry, https://africasacountry.com/2015/11/resisting-welcome-and-welcoming-resistance.

Walking through walls, Eyal Weizman, 2006, EIPCP, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0507/weizman/en.


Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, Benedict Anderson, 1991, Verso.



Africa Unite ! Une histoire du panafricanisme, Amzat Boukari-Yabar, 2017, Éditions la Découverte.

Toward the Seventh PAC The Pan-African Congress Past, Present and Future By C.L. R. James, 1976, Ch’indaba.



Required reading:

Afro-Asian Movement: Ideology and Policy of the Third World, David Kimche, 1973, Israel Universities Press

Lotus Magazine, Nida Ghouse, 2015, Chimurenga Chronic/Muzmin.

The Pharaoh’s New Clothes, Sophia Azeb, 2015, Chimurenga Chronic/Muzmin.

Colonial Architecture or Relatable Hinterlands? Locke, Nandy, Fanon and the Bandung Spirit, Robbie Shilliam, 2015, Constellations, vol. 23, no. 3.

Additional reading:

Afro-Asian Third-Worldism into Global South: The Case of Lotus Journal, Hala Halim, 2017, Global South Studies: A Collective Publication with The Global South.

Making a World After Empire: The Bandung Movement and Its Political Afterlife, edited by Christopher Lee, 2007, Ohio University Press.

Legacies of Bandung: Decolonisation and the Politics of Culture, Dipesh Chakrabarty, 2005, Economic and Political Weekly vol. 40, no. 46, pp. 4812– 4818.

Postcolonialism: From Bandung to the Tricontinental, Robert Young, 2005, Historein no. 5, pp. 11– 21.

The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, Vijay Prashad, 2007, The New Press.

The Midnight Ride of Kwame Nkrumah and Other Fables of Bandung (Ban-Doong), Robert Vitalis, 2013, Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 261–288.



Africa Unite ! Une histoire du panafricanisme, Amzat Boukari-Yabar, 2017, Éditions la Découverte.



Freedom as Marronage, Neil Roberts, 2015, University of Chicago Press.

Africa Unite ! Une histoire du panafricanisme, Amzat Boukari-Yabar, 2017, Éditions la Découverte.

Fugitif, où cours-tu ?, Dénètem Touam Bona, 2016, PUF.

Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas, Richard Price, 1979, Johns Hopkins University Press.



Required reading:

Makeba: My Story, Miriam Makeba with James Hall, 1988, Bloomsbury.

Miriam Makeba in Guinea – Deterritorializing History through Music, Yair Hashachar, 2015, MA thesis, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Playing the Backbeat in Conakry: Miriam Makeba and the Cultural Politics of Sékou Touré’s Guinea, 1968–1986, Yair Haschachar, 2017, Social Dynamics vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 259-273.

The Miriam Makeba Story: Miriam Makeba in Conversation with Nomsa Mwamuka, Miriam Makeba and Nomsa Mwamuka, 2004, STE Publishers.

Miriam’s Place: South African jazz, conviviality and exile, Louise Bethlehem, Social Dynamics, 2017, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 243-258.

Additional reading:

Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul, 2017, Tanisha C. Ford, The University of North Carolina Press.

Miriam Makeba: Fidel Castro es una de mis estrellas, Cubaencuentro, 2005, http://arch1.cubaencuentro.com/cultura/noticias/20051006/11d15e783a3681722b1599b7ca1ada24.html.

Miriam Makeba, l’exilée qui devint Mama Africa, Natou Pedro Sakombi, 2016, Reines & Héroïnes d’Afrique blog, https://reinesheroinesdafrique.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/miriam-makeba-lexilee-qui-devint-mama-africa/.

Miriam Makeba: Mama Africa, Gamal Nkrumah, Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 2001, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/Archive/2001/558/profile.htm.

Miriam Makeba: une vie au service d’un art engagé, Michaël Mouity-Nzamba, Bulletin de l’Institut Pierre Renouvin, 2014/2, no. 40, pp. 111-125.

Nina Simone in Liberia, Katherina Grace Thomas, 2017, Guernica Magazine, https://www.guernicamag.com/nina-simone-in-liberia/.

Obituary: African Icon: Miriam, Thelma Ravell-Pinto and Rayner Ravell, 2008, Journal of the African Literature Association, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 274-281.

Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture). Stokeley Carmichael with E. M. Thelwell, 2003, Scribner.

The Cultural Revolution, Artistic Creativity, and Freedom of Expression in Guinea, Lansine Kaba, The Journal of Modern African Studies, 1976, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 201-218.

The Voice of (Which?) Africa: Miriam Makeba in America, April Sizemore-Barber, 2012, Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies vol. 13, no. 3–4, pp. 251–276.



Wherever I’ve Gone, I’ve Gone Voluntarily: Ayi Kwei Armah’s Radical Pan-African Itinerary, Jonathan B. Fenderson, 2008, The Black Scholar, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 50-60.

The Healers, Ayi Kwei Armah, 2000, Per Ankh.

Osiris Rising: A Novel of Africa Past, Present and Future, Ayi Kwei Armah, 1995, Per Ankh.

Two Thousand Seasons, Ayi Kwei Armah, 1973, Heinemann.

Why Are We So Blest?, Ayi Kwei Armah, 1972, Doubleday

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, Ayi Kwei Armah, 1968, Heinemann.

One Writer’s Education, Ayi Kwei Armah, 1985, West Africa, pp. 1752-1753.

The Eloquence of Scribes: A Memoir on the Source and Resources of African Literature, Ayi Kwei Armah, 2006, Per Ankh.

Our awakening. An Evening with Ayi Kwei Armah: Lecture at Berkeley University (transcript excerpt), 1990, Ayi Kwei Armah, http://www.africaspeaks.com/reasoning/index.php?topic=5904.0;wap2.

New Insights from Ayi Kwei Armah: Conversation with Ayi Kwei Armah and Ayesha Harruna Attah, 2016, https://www.ghanawebsolutions.com/videos.php?v=knCGdYGJWXs.

Ayi Kwei Armah Radical Iconoclast: Pitting Imaginary Worlds Against the Actual, Ode Ogede, 2000, Ohio University Press.



Required reading:

JB Mpiana, Wikipedia, 2018, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/JB_Mpiana.

Hervé Gola Bataringe alias Ferré chair de poule, Univers Rumba Congolaise blog, 2012, https://www.universrumbacongolaise.com/artistes/ferre-chair-de-poule/?cn-reloaded=1.

L’histoire de la separation de Wenge Musica BCBG 4X4, Congo Musique blog, 2010,  https://congo-musique.skyrock.com/2891184757-L-HISTOIRE-DE-LA-SEPARATION-DE-WENGE-MUSICA-BCBG-4X4.html.

Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu’s Zaire, Bob. W. White, 2008, Duke University Press.

The African Frontier: The Reproduction of Traditional African Societies, edited by Igor Kopytoff, 1987, Midland Books.

Wenge Musica, Wikipedia, 2018, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wenge_Musica.

Wenge Musica Maison Mère, Wikipedia, 2018, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wenge_Musica_Maison_Mère.

Werrason, Wikipedia, 2018, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werrason.

Additional reading:

Happy Are Those Who Sing And Dance: Mobutu, Franco, And The Struggle For Zairian Identity,Carter Grice, 2011

Made in Congo: Rumba Lingala and the Revolution in Nationhood, Jesse Samba Samuel Wheeler, 1999, University of Wisconsin—Madison.

Modernity’s Trickster: “Dipping” and “Throwing” in Congolese Popular Dance Music, Bob W. White, 1999, African Literatures vol. 30, no. 4.

Rumba on the River: A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos, Gary Stewart, 2003, Verso.

Terre de la chanson: La musique zaïroise hier et aujourd’hui, Manda Tchebwa, 1996, De Boeck Supérieur.

The Genesis of Urhan Music in Zaire, Kazadi wa Mukuna, 1992, African Music vol. 7, no. 2.

The Political Economy of Migration and Reputation in Kinshasa, Joseph Trapido, Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute, vol. 81 no. 2, 2011.

The value of Africa’s aesthetics, Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony, 2015, WITS Press.

Variations on the Beautiful in the Congolese World of Sounds, Achille Mbembe, 2009, Chimurenganyana Series 1.


Livre culte, livre maudit: Histoire du Devoir de violence de Yambo Ouologuem, Jean-Pierre Orban, 2018, Continents manuscrits.

Yambo Ouologuem: On Violence, Truth and Black History, interviewed by Linda Kuehl, 1971, ChickenBones: A Journal for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes, http://www.nathanielturner.com/yamboouologuem.htm

Yambo Ouologuem: Postcolonial Writer, Anti-Wahabist Militant, 2015, Chimurenga Chronic.

In Search of Yambo Ouologouem, Christopher Wise, 2012, Chimurenganyana Series 2.



Sartorius: Le roman des Batoutos, Édouard Glissant, 1999, Gallimard.

Ormerod, Édouard Glissant, 2003, Gallimard.

Tout-Monde, Édouard Glissant, 1993, Gallimard.

La Lézarde, Édouard Glissant, 1958, Éditions du Seuil.

Le quatrième siècle, Édouard Glissant, 1964, Éditions du Seuil.

La Case du commandeur, Édouard Glissant, 1981, Éditions du Seuil.

Mahagony, Édouard Glissant, 1987, Éditions du Seuil.


 This bibliography is for the new issue of the Chronic, On Circulations And The African Imagination Of A Borderless World, which maps the African imagination of a borderless world: non-universal universalisms, the right to opacity, refusing that which has been refused to you, and “keeping it moving”.


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



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TO REFUSE THAT WHICH HAS BEEN REFUSED TO YOU https://chimurengachronic.co.za/to-refuse-that-which-has-been-refused-to-you-2/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/to-refuse-that-which-has-been-refused-to-you-2/#respond Fri, 19 Oct 2018 17:49:53 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=10784 Fred Moten and Saidiya Hartman sit down to talk about the temporal […]

The post TO REFUSE THAT WHICH HAS BEEN REFUSED TO YOU first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.

Fred Moten and Saidiya Hartman sit down to talk about the temporal and traditional in the age of refusal – of movement, of citizenship. They offer up a different way of thinking, a pathway to another understanding of community as well as the possibility of harnessing fugitivity as a creative empowering strategy*.

Saidiya Hartman: One of the places I think about the outside is in this constitutive paradox. Frederick Douglass talks about the thought in deed or the thought in song and a philosophy of abolition that’s made inside the circle of slavery. He says, “one is only able to give an account of it from the outside.” One way of thinking about this idea is in temporal relations, which I think is wrong because then the outside comes after the inside. Rather, I think the tradition is to produce a thought of the outside while in the inside. Yes, the enclosure is brutal… but the practice is always about finding a way to produce an outside within that space. It seems to me that a history of black thought (one that’s not the thought of canonical thinkers) the thought of most folks is really devoted to this labour of trying to produce an outside, trying to create an opening, which is often only discernible belatedly and it’s discernible as it becomes marked as crime or as it’s subject to a new form of enclosure that is the response to a certain kind of making/happening. Given the kind of unceasing onslaught of militarised violence directed against a civilian population, I’ve been thinking a lot about the space of the hold and what happens there. For me, part of the paradox is that the ordinary is constituted by stuff that is so terrible and impossible to bear and yet in that context, people make things happen, they continue to act/ produce. I want to keep those two things in tension; both the terror and the opening.

Fred Moten: It reminds me of an essay by Foucault on Maurice Blanchot called The Thought of the Outside. One way to think about it is the reason why we feel it necessary to constantly, I don’t want to say go back to the hold, but the reason we feel it necessary to renew our consciousness of being in the hold, so to speak, is because maybe there’s a way in which the thought of the outside can only occur from the inside. On one hand we speak in reverence of a tradition of the thought of the outside or the tradition of those able to be in two places at one time. I always thought that was the real importance and beauty of Harriet Ann Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave, which is about constantly trying to figure out how to be in two places at the same time, under absolute duress, often in both places. But there is a sense in which the constant renewal of the terms and conditions of that inside/outside opposition becomes debilitating in many ways in and of themselves.
It reminds me, I’m from small town in Arkansas called Kingswood that only has 300 people. My aunts lived in another town that wasn’t really a town, called New Edinburg, which the people in Kingswood would call “the country”. Then there were people who lived so deep in the woods that we referred to them as “living out from” New Edinburg. So, I’ve been trying to think of living out from the outside, or out, so to speak, of that inside/outside opposition. It’s hard to not think of yourself in some kind of infinity loop or some kind of Yayoi Kusama infinity room, but when I think of the outdoors, the black outside, I think of it as this thing which is to be out from the outside. Or what are the conditions that would make such a thought possible, and also necessary, so a meta out; an ec ec; extra ecclesiastical.
The thing that was in my mind for the last few weeks before coming back here, was that when I lived here before, as a kid, I could just always hear somebody running. I just felt like being in those instances of being out in the woods. That for me is where I was closest to the runaway. So, I can’t separate the outside from this constant necessity and activity of running away, of flight. This means that the outside is always bringing those constraints with it. And it’s impossible not to think about those things now. It’s always impossible to not think about those things, but for some reason it just seems like there are more people getting shot these days. It’s not actually true, but it just feels like it is… so…

SH: One of things I thought was interesting from this “out-from”, even in this space what you’re already countering is that threat of enclosure/captivity. When you describe the “out-from”, there is a lovely book on marronage and it talks about petit marronage and marronage on the border, people who were close enough to the plantation to still be caught, who found a way to live in the trees but couldn’t leave any marks of human habitation. To me that’s a kind of an out-from. So, you escaped a certain kind of enclosure but that threat… it’s a certain dance… you’ve made this other mode of dwelling often inside the trunk of trees but you’re not in a relationship with the land via farming, the land isn’t displaying any signs of cultivation. What I wrestle with is the threat, the terror, the violence of enclosure and the vulnerability, the precarity of these makings. And we continue to make and create because that’s all we can do. There’s a kind of opening but there’s the structural container—the forces that are making living hard, impossible. And that those define so many of the circumstances in which these experiments and living unfold.

FM: Somehow, I haven’t been able to make myself clear when it comes to certain things but I feel like it’s probably not my fault. I don’t know that it’s possible to be clear when it comes to these kinds of things, but let’s say… and I get scared about saying certain kinds of stuff because I feel like sometimes it could seem really callous and I don’t mean… I don’t want to seem that way because it’s not that I don’t feel, or that I don’t care. But let’s talk about it in terms of what it means to live in a way that would not reveal, not show, no signs of human habitation. Obviously there’s a field, a space, a constraint, a container, a bounded-space because every time you were saying unbounded, I was thinking, is that right? Noam Chomsky used to make this really interesting distinction –and I don’t think I really fully understood it – between that which is bounded but infinite, and that which is unbounded but finite. So, if it’s unbounded, it’s still finite and there’s a quite specific and often quite brutal finitude that structures whatever is going on within the general; if we can speak of what it is to be within the general framework of the unbounded… there’s never… I mean, the whole point about escape is that it’s an activity. It’s not an achievement. You don’t ever get escaped. Like, “I escaped!” No! And what that means is that what you’re escaping from is always after you. It’s always on you.
What’s interesting to me – but its hard to think or talk about – is that we can recognize that absolute horror, the unspeakable incalculable terror and horror that accompanies the necessity of not leaving a trace of human inhabitation. And then there’s the whole question of, what would a life be that wasn’t interested in leaving a trace of human habitation? So fuck the human, human-inhabitation!
I think of a phrase I often use – and I always think of it in relation to Fannie Lou Hamer, because it’s just me giving a theoretical spin on a formulation she made in practice: to refuse that which has been refused to you. And that’s what I’m interested in. And that doesn’t mean that what’s at stake is some kind of blind, happy, celebratory attitude toward all the beautiful stuff that we’ve made under constraint. I love all the beautiful stuff we’ve made under constraint but I’m pretty sure I would love all the beautiful stuff we’d make out from under constraint better. But there’s no way to get to that, except through this. We can’t go around this. We gotta fight through this. But, by the same token, anybody who thinks they can come even close to understanding how terrible the terror has been without understanding how beautiful the beauty has been against the grain of that terror, is wrong. There is no calculus of the terror that can make a proper calculation without reference to that which resists it. It’s just not possible. So this is the key thing to me.

SH: I agree. When I think about these forms of living like petit marronage and how they come to an end and not even an absolute end because new practices emerge and there have always been an endless number of beautiful models of living otherwise. But that encounter: defeat and then we must reemerge again. So it’s not like you’re insufficiently accounting for the terror but I think that maybe we’re at this kind of shift. Like my own thinking right now is that we just have to be involved in that unceasing labour, producing these new experiments in living even as defeat continues to be the outcome… but we’re not stopped by that defeat. To escape isn’t finite. And I understand my “now” always in relationship to all these other “nows”. And often what has met those kind of beautiful experiments is certain forms of defeat, by the state, by the police, by reforming agents. It doesn’t mean that they kill or quash or can stop or snuff out that process but that’s also part of the field too.

FM: I remember when you and Frank B Wilderson had that interview on “The Position of the Unthought” and you were messing with Fredric Jameson. There’s a romanticism that goes with detachment around this notion of the narrative of defeat, which he thinks specifically in relation to the league of revolutionary black workers… and it’s an insufficient account, it’s problematic. Part of the problem is what if it turns out that the kinds of terror, the particular kind of history that we’re trying to work through – talking about you as historical figure and me as profoundly ahistorical figure. It’s like, it’s not even something you can really talk about within a calculus of victory and defeat.
Defeat is a word that seems applicable in many ways. And then you know there’s a whole specific black Christian discourse on victory that one wants to appeal to every once in a while… but it just might be that part of the problem is that the concepts we have been given in order to try and think and talk about this stuff we try and talk about, just don’t work. They’re inadequate, inoperative. And it might even be the case that the concept itself is an inadequate mental construct or that conceptualism itself is an inadequate intellectual disposition. It’s like we’re working on some other kind of stuff. I feel this reading your work all the time. You’re saying these things, using a given language but I know you’re talking about something else, in some other language. And so you have to work through that, it’s a difficult thing and I’m gonna just keep going. And I see black studies now as reaching a kind of crisis in a certain way; we just can’t keep going on like this. The conceptual apparatuses at our disposal are inadequate. And we’re just kind of spinning our wheels in a lot of ways, pushing up against the same hard rock so to speak. And it doesn’t mean that what’s needed is a new kind of theoretical disposition. It’s really a new set of kind of moral and ethical dispositions about how we treat one another and how we talk to one another. And it goes against the grain of any kind of a sense of somebody being able to achieve an adequate theoretical perspective on things by themselves. It’s a great relief to realise that I don’t have to do it by myself anyway. So whatever is inadequate about what I’m doing; luckily you’re doing something. It’s just not a one-person job.

SH: I agree with you, we could say that’s an inadequacy or incommensurability between an available critical vocab and that which we’re trying to describe. You might think about this with W. E. B. Du Bois and the general strike. What he’s trying to describe is so vast and this is like okay, maybe if I call it this, it can bring some stuff into the view about how this is a politics of refusal against capitalism and the conditions of work, even as it is so much more than that. So, I agree with you about that inadequacy. I feel like I’m involved in a much more humble labour. I think I’m trying to describe belatedly, the things people have fought and have done and I’m just attending to them. So it’s this labour of regard, it is tripped up or struggling with how to illuminate that and it’s not that it isn’t a resource we work with and in some way know, but it’s an intimate labour in regard to what others have done and have thought, so, I’m a describer. But Fred, I don’t know if you want to talk about the poetry, your writing practice, which is so rich and varied and multiple…

FM: I got to the point where, I mean, there’s so much overlap between the two things and I’ve never felt embarrassed about being interested in theory. I never was all that invested in being called a theoretician either. I was just somebody who was interested in theory and in that kind of general sense of people seeing, thinking about stuff and maybe certain movements of abstraction from what one sees and feels. I was always happy to be interested in doing that kind of stuff and I was also always happy to be interested in poetry and I never thought of these two things as being so utterly separate. The older I get, the more impossible it is to keep them separate but I do think, they both constitute, in the end, two different forms of description but it’s the same work.
One way to think about it is people have different approaches to things, and a lot of it is just kind of temperament. The whole time I’m thinking of that classic old time song, “Keep on the Sunny Side”. I love that song and the way I do my work is I’m always looking at the sunny side. The peculiar nature of the sunny side in regard to black social lives is that it’s dark, but I’m still looking for the sunny side. But I know there are other people who don’t need to look for the sunny side. They’re more like midnight folks or 3am folks. Like Bobby “Blue” Bland, where every blues song happens at three in the morning? My mom used to say her arthritis always hurts most at 3am. Luckily, everybody doesn’t have to do the same thing. And what sad ethical condition are we in when it seems like everybody has to do the same thing? Why, now, does everybody have to do the same thing? All this writing, the state of this or that discipline, all carry an unspoken assumption that all are doing the same thing and everybody not doing the thing that I’m saying, is wrong. No! That’s just stupid, ridiculous. So there’s a bunch of different ways, attitudes, dispositions that are necessary to try to provide something that would approach an adequate description of who, what we are and who, what we might be.

SH: I’ll say two things, and it’s a kind of a gross simplification, but in certain liberal storeographies of slavery it ends with a great legal act of emancipation. And writing scenes and writing my dissertation, one was about the non-event of emancipation because of the way in which these emergent modalities of servitude took place within a discourse of freedom, rights, liberty. I guess for me there was something more rotten at the core, which is about the imposition of a certain regime of the subject that was so fundamentally defined by property, and that being as good as it gets. So, I think it was both the impossibility of the achievement of those things that define a kind of liberal citizen subject in the West, the free being excluded from that. But then what are the kind of constituents of that subject to begin with and is that something that one wants to sign onto anyway? So many of the articulations of freedom, so much of the kind of practices of the ex-slave or the freed, articulated kind of another imagination of freedom altogether. So there’s the imposition of a certain regime of the subject and a certain conception of the domestic is crucial to the production of that subject.

FM: I feel this general sense of having come to an impasse in a certain kind of way is interesting. It depends on how you think about it. So, let’s say that within a field that is bounded on the one hand by incompatible predications of the free, and on the other hand the burdened individuation (to use Saidiya’s terms). That within this structure that is bounded so to speak by those terms, there’s only so much you can do theoretically but that doesn’t mean that you stop trying to come up with things. Because the other notion of predication that has been in the back of my mind the last couple months is this predication that Nate Mackey had as he talks about predications “rickety spin”. I guess I’ve just begun to think what one might be able to do against the grain; of an incompatibility of a set of imposed predications that is continually spinning out, in however rickety, raggedy way, an endless series of predications.
There was a certain moment in which the critique of authenticity, let’s say in black studies or whatever, became so puritanical, that any sentence of the type: “blackness is x”, was almost against the law, against the rules of the people and somebody would come get you… Touré or somebody. But, I’m interested in something like an endless proliferation of sentences of the type: blackness is x. Recognizing that those sentences might come from anywhere and might be animated by any number of possible motivations. But that necessity of predication, which could even be said to take the form of a certain kind of a meditative, worshipful kind of form, that’s important. And I think it’s one of those things in terms of describing what people have felt and what they’ve done. That’s one of the things that people have done.
By the same token, there is this other slightly parallel track to predication, which may be just naming or nominalisation of these things as kind of connected but not exactly the same thing. And these are important cultural, aesthetic and intellectual activities that are crucial to anything; like what one might call a kind of… whatever you want to call it: A resistance. Fugitivity. War. Whatever. These are important activities to be engaged in because then it gives us a chance to think and talk. It gives us a chance to be together, as we meditate with one another on these questions. Hopefully with some friends, food, wine, kids running around. This is totally important. And from my perspective, these are activities that must be done, to use the old Cornel West phrase, “outside of the normative gaze of the white man”. It’s just that at a certain point, you can’t be worried all the time about what he says or thinks. For some reason I think this is particularly difficult for academics because we are addicted to being graded and they do the grading, or let’s just say the degrading.
What I’m trying to say is that sense of… well, is this the right term? That’s a debilitating question but is this a term that we can start… that can get us talking about something? Is this a term that can help structure a certain kind of fellowship amongst us? That’s a different kind of question.

* This is the edited transcript of a conversation that took place in 2016, part of a series titled “Black Outdoors: Humanities Futures After Property and Possession”.


 This and other stories and maps are available in the new issue of the Chronic, On Circulations And The African Imagination Of A Borderless World, which maps the African imagination of a borderless world: non-universal universalisms, the right to opacity, refusing that which has been refused to you, and “keeping it moving”.


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




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They Won’t Go When I Go https://chimurengachronic.co.za/they-wont-go-when-i-go/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/they-wont-go-when-i-go/#respond Mon, 29 Jun 2020 13:41:49 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=10776 A Manifesto/ Meditation on State of Black Archives in America and throughout the Diaspora by Harmony Holiday

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A Manifesto/ Meditation on State of Black Archives in America and throughout the Diaspora by Harmony Holiday

The ashes a black mother scattered into the lap of a seemingly indifferent police chief, her daughter’s remains in ash and shackle, the ashes of her daughter who had been killed in jail either by neglect or force, whose death was falsely recorded as another suicide in the holds, those are our archives. Both the video recording that captures the black ashes scattering into a white man’s lap, and the mother’s ritual, her piercing curse-on-him glance into his smug visage as she unleashes those tiny chimes he cannot jitter or equivocate off no matter how many laws he passes to defend his sickness, or lies he inks on dead trees, or phony official records they keep to contradict true stories. We keep a record of both the ritual and its transfiguration into object or commodity or reproduction on our tongues’ slow limbo between these broken lands. We understand that we are caught between two opposing tribes formed from the ark or archive, up— one in with the energy of a spirit-driven self-perpetuating fractal, the other a rusty arrow that hopes to block out the sun and infects everything on its path, draws blood to sustain itself.

A clash of methods is festering, one wherein western sercretaryism (like syncretism but without the magic) and preemptive snitch culture (mis-telling the histories of the black, brown and innocent who have been muted by state power before the truth comes out), attempts to undermine the ancient technology of oratory, storytelling, collective memory, epigenetics, the ankh, knowing what we know. Because brown bodies must learn to care less about being right in the eyes of a penal code built on their criminalization, than about feeling right while carving out a life under this system, even if that means waging open spiritual attack on upholders of said system in their place of worship and terror, the courtroom, as that fearless mother did, we are willing to weaponize our archives and disappear them depending on what our spirits demand, what soothes our souls and that of the collective.

In this way, the throbbing void where Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studios once flourished as a haven for dub music and invention in Kingston, Jamaica, before he burned it to the ground to lift the curse of sycophants and phantoms, that void is our archives. The space he cleared and malicious intent he banished with that deliberate fire, became the improvised catalog of the music and lifestyle invented there, now a resounding radio silence. As those who saw the space as a trend, flop house, or museum-to-be, sigh in grief at its incineration, Lee Perry himself gasps at them in ritual annoyance and does his victory spin, reminding everyone that his creative energy is no one’s prop.

The Dogon Tribe in Mali, West Africa, a group of souls who descend from a distant stellar force in the universe called Sirius B, who know this to be true and can explain their origins in the cosmos with an accuracy that alarms and disarms Western Scientists because it is too advanced for the West’s neurotic linear logic, The Dogons’ lucid and unwavering knowing that blackness is a sacred technology, is our archives, the blueprint for the ark our memories of the future builds. We understand that to be ancient or from before is to be the future, and that we haven’t caught up with ourselves here, and can understand colonialism in terms of our own generosity of spirit and awareness that we carry urgent messages in our DNA and long to distribute them and help this planet remember its true role in the order and chaos of things.

In the Library of Congress, the only existing copy of the second volume of jazz bassist Charles Mingus’ autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, rests in quiet staccato with a gun-shaped space cut out of it, for this is where he hid his piece. The gun cubby and all of the missing notes tell as much of his story as an uninterrupted manuscript would. That empty space where an automatic weapon might have been is our archives, the loot on our ark that we abandon if it starts to weigh us down, because it was acting as a musical instrument anyways, improvising with the surrounding space to create an object only the black spirit can decode.

The thousands of pages of notes the FBI takes on the mundane activities of black writers and cultural workers, from describing the clothing we wear to the slightest shift of tone in our voice during public speeches or private conversations, to who we hugged hello, to who we walked inside with and closed the door until the next morning, that state surveillance is our archives, the data they try to crunch and manipulate to compensate for a magnetism native to blackness that they will never understand, and cannot conquer.

The ongoing project of piecing together my own father’s illusive history as a singer, recording artist, sharecropper, ninja, black cowboy, who was never properly taught to read or write, teaches me again and again to examine what was kept hidden or remote as meticulously as I do the obvious landmarks and trapdoors of a past. We are forced to do so much in code that sometimes that what we have left in us to perform and share openly is armor that grants us deeper access to our private selves, satiates the spectator’s curiosity, nudges the hounds off our backs. The recordings I find of my dad at home sketching ideas as he let the tape roll are often more beautiful and powerful than his fanciest studio recordings for this reason.

The ashes in the lap, the vast empty space, the pages hugging the gun, the Dogon’s unsung prophecy, the informant falling in love with the blackness he was sent to dispel, the father humming at sunrise and forgetting to ever press rewind, these are our archives, records of how we disappear to become ourselves, and emerge from that refuge with our spells intact and an understanding of how blackness in the west demands disguises and our job is to steal our masks back from their museum consciousness. But then what?

On the one hand, like animals who eat their young at the slightest scent of a human hand, we must destroy false and adulterated records of black life, must do so ruthlessly, but in the other hand, the hand they aren’t holding coercively or stuffing with bibles and Kierkegaard, we want our whole story, all of the the ugly beauty, all of the library walls, all of the anthologies and any other monolithic prestige that will get us wings in universities, textbooks that don’t lie, bulldozers to knock down those wings and rebuild them as domes or Lee Perries, memories that we can trust and transform when necessary, and selves that we recognize with or without the armor of code and performance and brand, We want to know who we are when we’re not busy outrunning the plantation guards. So we must go to work in two crucial directions.

One: we are building black archives of the unreal, which is to say, reinstating our fantasies through how we collect displaced data from the past and impose it upon the now like a threat, more of a promise, that our futures will reflect these fantasies, will be them realized, with or without us. This practice is dangerous because we end up with art objects comprised of lost histories and often sell them back to the institutions and audiences responsible for their obscurity in order to fund the work, further alienating ourselves and subjects because we haven’t yet attained the real estate, the land, on which we can play out and protect our fantasies. We outsource these archives of our unreal glory to stages because again, for us, the urgency is to create and destroy in a pattern as close to nature as possible, to feel like our natural selves again, not to adhere to procedure. And so we disappear glamorously, leaving small traces, lipstick on massah’s collar, footprints in the concrete, but ultimately these tender unrealities we offer are mangled by art consumers and no longer ours, they’re co-opted so well youtube and google are holding market research groups on the ‘black authenticity demographic,’ and we move on before the urge to riot or Do the Right Thing sets in.

Two: Where is our sh*t? All of it? Who is keeping track? How many black heroes, villains, and plain citizens, have estate sales that end in all of their information being bought by a university library never to be openly shared again. Why is there no centralized record of these sales and other sale-like transactions? Why is it easier to find records of FBI surveillance of black citizens of ‘interest’ full of snide judgement and slander, than it is to find our stories in our words backed by the evidence that is our lived experience. If we are going to play the game of trying to earn credibility and capital through the sale of our most personal and transcendental information, in hopes that maybe it will be used to defend and honor us, when instead it is often later mobilized for character assassination, if this the path we believe will lead to some moveable feast, then we should demand to know where these open secrets are being kept, because for every well-maintained archive, there is one we are forced to burn to the ground for kindling, or just plain dirt.

This is a call to all scholars, writers, musicians, citizens, with an emphasis on members of the African diaspora, to join in the building of a centralized database that will tell the story of where and when and to whom and for what expressed purpose, our stories or archives are sold. We will also hold an annual conference on archival practices within the diaspora. The central question driving this endeavor is this: does the way we treat our archives mirror how we treat ourselves, and if so, what is it telling us as a diaspora do we feel like heroes or abandoned children looking for anyone to take us in? Are we too quick to forfeit autonomy for the comfort of institutions? How would the landscape be appear if we demanded land on which to house our freedom archives, archives ranging from sheer ideas and forms of movement and speech, to papers and tapes and films, to vastness and black meditative silence? By demanding more of our archival material we are demanding better for our bodies, growing unwilling to turn them over to these same institutions exchanging our labor on their terms for our entire cultural inheritance and sometimes a living-wage that distracts us from we trade? Autonomy is built from the archive up, universities are nothing without their libraries and even this republic is built on unapologetically cataloged surveillance and graves of any and all threats to its tyranny of values. It’s possible that the first and most crucial step in wresting black bodies from the illusions of freedom that propel this system, is reclaiming our archives and building schools and think tanks and communities and alliances based on our records as we keep them. The journey will teach us how the state really feels about freedom. And maybe we’ll be granted some token surprises like peace, and space to do the work that our spirits need and no new friends in the FBI.

When photographer Carrie Mae Weems reimagined a photo of a runaway slave whose back had been whipped so brutally the scars were permanently raised-roads on his path to liberation, Harvard, alleged ‘owner’ of the original photo, threatened to sue her. In response, she dared them to, suggesting it would be a good conversation to have on the record—who owns our memories and do they use them to sell us our nightmares, renamed American dreams? Harvard’s radio silence on the matter came next, nobody wants that kind of publicity. And Ezra Pound, beloved poet and Nazi sympathizer whose estate is careful to keep the parts of his archive that divulge his views separate from to rest and so high up the ivory tower you’re lightheaded just to get there, so that scholars can’t unearth too much of his too soon and we can keep comparing him to the Blues, like thieves from ourselves, fanatics. I guess what I’m saying is maybe these institutions buy our archives and pay for our labor in order to shut us up, to pacify us and try to domesticate our histories or induce selective forgetting, to yet again gain the last word, and maybe just the thought of that as a possibility will be enough to set us looting, peacefully of course, just coming to collect and understand and announce what’s ours and find some place to keep it, like Carrie did, where everyone from Harvard to home can bear witness.

Also see The State of Black Collectivity in the Year of the Sheep – a vital and urgent message of black collectivity and a Call for an Archive of AfroSonics. 

Listen to Astro/Afrosonics Archive: Charles Mingus Jazz School: Holiday’s audio collage from her Astro/Afrosonics Archive, a collection of Jazz Poetics and audio culture. For the Pan African Space Station (PASS) she imagined a jazz school with Charles Mingus in charge.

And: Astro/Afrosonics Archive: Amiri Baraka work(s)

Both recorded at the Pan African Space Station (PASS) at Performa New York, 2015. For more visit http://panafricanspacestation.org.za

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THINGS THAT GO IN AND OUT OF THE BODY https://chimurengachronic.co.za/things-that-go-in-and-out-of-the-body/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/things-that-go-in-and-out-of-the-body/#respond Fri, 19 Oct 2018 12:40:06 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=10743 How can we think about bodies and circulation without deferring to the […]

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How can we think about bodies and circulation without deferring to the dominant binary of western discourse on the so-called “refugee crisis”, which is central to both contemporary European politics and how the early 21st century will be remembered. On one side is the openly racist discourse that underpins the border policies responsible for thousands of deaths at sea and on land within and outside Europe. On the other is the liberal discourse that premises freedom of movement and eliminating borders against the backdrop of western, individualist thinking, thereby reinforcing neoliberal market logic and the nation state. Both, as Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz argues, are two sides of the same coin.

We begin at a false point of departure when considering bodies and circulation: the deeply embedded western view of the subject as human individual, and thus, the human body (and the human as such) as an autonomous, individual organism. We consider circulation not as departing from the human body (the body that circulates), but of the human body itself, departing from circulation, aiming at re-establishing the dignity of what we call an extended body, and of human life in general. Paraphrasing Brazilian geographer and fierce globalisation critic, Milton Santos, we say the human body is in circulation, and circulation is in the human body. In other words: no circulation, no body, no life.

There are two obvious ways to relate the human body to circulation. First, there are humans, people that circulate, moving over land and sea. Second, there are things that circulate through human bodies, such as food and water, which are indispensable to human survival. Now, if we shift our focus from the individual human body to circulation as such, we can see a vast field of interconnection: circulation is the organising principle of human life—from the biological (metabolism) to the cultural (music); of all geological movement (the tide, the seasons); of the planetary and stellar movements; and last but not least, of the market. For most societies on the planet, the will of the cosmos depends on what these societies themselves can reciprocate spirituality and materially. It is fair to say that most spiritual, economic, social and biological forms of organisation seem to rely in one way or another on the principle of circulation.

There are three planes or dimensions of circulation that directly relate to human life on planet earth:

the circulation of individual organisms, such as blood circulation in humans and animals, or the biochemical circulation in plants;

the movements on the planet, such as the flow of rivers and atmospheric change, global circulation (production, distribution and consumption) of goods or people under the current capitalist order; and

a vast array of movements related to cosmic circulation, such as day and night, the measurement of time, meteorological and seasonal changes, energy and spiritual forces, divine equilibrium, societies’ cosmologies and even ideological formations.

All three dimensions of circulation are inseparable, and have infinite points of intersection, overlap or superposition. Let’s stick to the example of the individual organism: to keep the human metabolism going, the human needs food. If the human individual lives in a contemporary metropolitan city, it is likely the food travelled or was shipped from another place, another country, perhaps even another continent. A major part of the meat Europeans eat comes from Asia, for example. If we are talking vegetables or fruit, availability is likely dependent on the season. It might well be that the people employed for the harvest are seasonal migrants. Another example is the complex interaction of rain, daylight, minerals and oxygen in plants during photosynthesis. Or think of any given temporal overlap of the female menstrual cycle and the moon cycle. From the point of view of the cosmos everything is matter, energy, in relation to each other and in process of circulation. In short: none of the three planes of circulation can be separated from each other. They all are integrated, co-exist in constant interrelation, and their balance is sustained by precisely those inflection points that lead to other dimensions of circulation.




The human body is a virtually infinite multiplicity of simultaneous molecular movements, transactions and rhythmic overlap of temporalities that perpetually extend the limits of the skin. Contrary to such a notion, the central historical principle for the regulation of populations is establishing the individual human skin as a frontier. In fact, establishing the “individual” human as defined by the outline of his or her skin, can be considered one of the most effective technologies of government to organise life in the capitalist world.

Biologically, the skin is considered the largest human organ, and it serves numerous functions, many of them existential to the individual human organism. It serves to regulate temperature, to protect other organs, and is crucial for both assimilation and expulsion of organic matter. Also, the skin is one of the most vital organs of perception and communication, and as such it serves a social function.

Historically, particularly in so-called western societies, the skin gained fundamental importance in economic, juridical and political terms. It was established as a double difference: a) the frontier between the “inside” and the “outside” of the body; and b) the difference between the “self” and the “other”, including such notions as “me” and “you”, and the “I” and “we”. This double difference defines the “law of the individual” as governing principle, and the skin was culturally established as its representation par excellence (It is interesting to note that many societies lack the word or even the notion of “I”.)

The establishing of the skin as double difference, though, does not entirely close off the “inside” and the “outside”, but rather separates it conceptually and politically. As we have pointed out before, some of the vital functions of the skin lie in its permeability and transmissibility. Closing off the “inside” from the “outside” would almost instantly lead to the death of the organism. On the contrary, the purpose of this double difference lies in the rigid control, the supervision, and the taxation of everything that goes inside and outside of the body. Indeed, all dominant ideological and religious formations that contributed to our global present—such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the nation state, capitalism, the liberal market, individual property, psychoanalysis—have made decisive contributions to the project of administrating, explaining and mediating above everything that affects the human body, everything that crosses the “I”, every penetration of the skin and the body.

In modern capitalist society it seems every diet, every defecation, every act of violence towards oneself and others, every perception, every act of speech, every act of care, is either ideologically “mediated” or economically regulated by consumption. This is why the great moral taboos of modern society generally are associated with the violation of the rules or laws that organise the permeability of the individual body, and often aim to punish or delegitimise transgressions of it. We only need to think of the act of killing (by perforation of the skin or cutting off air supply, for example), defecation, sex, drug use, the act of speaking out, and so on. Jurisdictions and morals are parts of the systemic effort to detect, control and administer what goes through all bodies at all times.

Although jurisdiction and morals in western societies ultimately claim to be protecting the security and integrity of the “inside” of the body, at the same time there are two main constructs that regulate the systemic accessibility of the “inside”, and thus legitimate violence against the body: race and gender. In western societies it is a fact, that the darker a skin tone is, the more legitimate and even legally upheld it is to violate the integrity of its “inside”; put a bullet through or whip it open. Historical and present-day record tells us so. The same can be said about the accessibility to the “inside” of women’s body through sexual assault, as reproductive incubator and disregard for the psychological or physiological repercussions for women as a result.  

Both race and gender are decisive factors in the denial of fundamental rights that pertain to the individual, including freedom of choice and control over one’s body and life; the denial of this basic freedom continues to be largely regulated and eroded by a ruling economic imperative in contemporary liberal and post-colonial societies.




Once we have understood the legal, economic and political function of the double difference represented by the skin, we should be careful to refer to “humans circulating” and “things circulating through humans” in an enumerative way, since the opposition of “things that circulate through our bodies (in and out)” and “human beings circulating on the surface of the planet” reaffirms a pre-given ontological difference following the dominant understanding of the “human” in western society, and that of all other “things”.

If, on the other hand, we look at the human body from the point of view of circulation, we must extend our understanding of that body and overcome that difference. For human life, the human body and circulation are inseparable: the “things” that circulate through it are the body itself. It is not the skin, but various forms of circulation that compound existential elements and flows and integrate it as an extended body. Let’s take the example of water:

The human body is two-thirds water. That water is in constant exchange, it isn’t still inside the body, it needs constant refill and expulsion, otherwise the organism dies. It is similar with other life preserving elements like glucose or oxygen: if the organism doesn’t constantly get them, it cannot survive. These elements de facto have a physical extension. They literally form existential parts of the body. The same two-thirds of the human body simultaneously belongs to another living cycle, the natural water cycle, and thus is constantly flowing along its path in a constant flow, and inseparably connected to the living natural cycle of water that embraces the whole planet. Seen from the perspective of the human individual, to exist at least two-thirds of what is considered to be inside the human body, is constantly also outside the human body. An individual might understand it thus:

Two-thirds of my body is not only mine. I share two-thirds of my body with the natural water cycle. Two-thirds of me is constantly flowing in rivers, in the ocean, levitating as clouds  raining down, watering the fields. Who knows, perhaps two weeks ago two-thirds of my body was floating along the River Seine in France, or along the coast of Cameroon, or is in this moment raining down on the Brazilian rain forest.     




Alarmingly, there are masses of quantifiable floating bodies on the Mediterranean Sea right now: bodies that are not allowed to get to a safe harbour in Europe, or that are sunken by Frontex with armed force; bodies and parts of bodies that are washed onto the coast, or dissolve into the water; bodies that are deliberately set “outside” of their human condition by European border politics.

Yet the primary problem is not the border. To be set “outside” of one’s human condition, means to be cut off from access to existential elements or flows that constitute the living extended body. If a living organism has been cut off from water, through its theft by pollution or privatisation for example, it means that the existential element, water is no longer accessible and, therefore, the survival of the living organism is in acute danger. The only chance to survive is to immediately go after that which has been stolen, to the house of the one responsible for stealing it.

From a cosmic perspective, every closed European border is an extension of the skin as double difference. The body is contained in circulation, just as circulation is already contained in the body, and no border can change that. Yet, for a refugee floating on the Mediterranean, a closed border is as murderous as an open wound, a denial of the primal human right to live.

More than any border, it is the predatory forms of contemporary capitalism that simultaneously secure Europe’s wealth and make vast regions outside of Europe unlivable. The current crisis is still that of the refugees’ lives and the human condition of their bodies, and not of Europe’s safety or wealth. A bit of welfare and a visa here and there, and opening or closing another border will not solve the problems inherent to capitalism. Those Europeans who argue otherwise—who claim to have invented human rights, and all its associated discourses on the right of movement—are being intolerably cynical. For only if the “inside” of Europe assumes the political responsibility of what their political system has done – and still does – “outside” of Europe, will an end to this “refugee crisis” be imaginable.


 This and other stories and maps are available in the new issue of the Chronic, On Circulations And The African Imagination Of A Borderless World, which maps the African imagination of a borderless world: non-universal universalisms, the right to opacity, refusing that which has been refused to you, and “keeping it moving”.



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




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HOLIDAY PLANNING WITH HEI VOETSEK! https://chimurengachronic.co.za/holiday-planning-with-hei-voetsek/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/holiday-planning-with-hei-voetsek/#respond Thu, 20 Sep 2018 14:21:16 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=13652 And now for an important travel advisory. Planning to visit Johannesburg or […]

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And now for an important travel advisory. Planning to visit Johannesburg or Holland for the hols? Don’t. Zebulon Dread is away – and hating every minute of it. Enough with elsewhere! PMS is thrilled to present this extract from the never-published Hei Voetsek! Issue No. 10.


Three or so years ago I eventually arrived in Jo’burg with magazines, books and oodles of personality to see if the Great North is capable of handling pure unadulterated Cultural Terrorism and Lord of Hosts, do I get the surprise of my life!!!! I hand magazines and books to some black Arts Editor from some black newspaper only to be told that eish! brother, that’s a lot of reading. Maybe you can like give us one book, you know and then I’ll pass it around. I stand aghast, take a hard look and see, for the first time, the dullness acquired from too much sex, too much pap and meat, too much beer and it’s well, too much!

I arrive in Melville and there, on the corner of 7th and 4th, I think, is Spyros. Outside of Spyros sit some of the not so black elite wanting to be the black elite and all they do, these black elite, is ogle pussy! Yebo yes! Pick up your Vodacum and ooze sperm into the ether. In between sipping the legacy of Johny Walker, actually I lie, it’s mostly cheap white wine, they quaff lots of alcohol, from whoever is buying, and spout inanities like a flowing river of sewerage. There’s your wannabee singer insisting that her CD is played, much to everyone’s embarrassment! There’s your average jock. There’s your great plan maker. There’s just so much drivel it could drive a gecko down the wall, never mind up!!! It’s Jo’burg and fuck it stinks! The air is filled with the acrid pong spewing from so many 4×4’s, huge cockroaches with funny tentacles, taking over the asphalt kingdom, it’s actually laughable! And everywhere you have those absolutely demoniac taxi’s, those dumb numbskulls called Metro Police. Never in my life have I seen so many huge big butt police men and women anywhere. Great living demons.

Hei, you drive and laugh at this ugliness personified. Yes, it’s Jo’burg, capital of The Rhema Church where uncelebratable humans parading as celebrities come to pay homage to the God who allows them to be filthy rich, dumb as a fucken toadstool, yebo yes, and not feel guilty about it while filling the pockets of the funniest white man clown ever seen anywhere who goes by the name of Pastor Kreepy Crawley. Shit, I hope I got his name right. Yes, Pastor Kreepy Crawley who will wash out your heart with the most inane crap in the name of religion as long as you simply give him 10%! 10% and you can be saved. Shit, I feel, after a short while, that I want to be saved from them and not by them. And then there’s those god awful dumb beauties. Sexy! Yes, oh God! Are they sexy well yes, until of course they open their mouths!!! Oh Lord, it’s enough to make you lie down in the middle of the road and have a huge cockroach drive over you!

Serious! Seri-arse! Fuck the irascible Jo’burg kugle, here comes the dumb arse black bitch! Gucci, Cardin, Diesel, Klein, you name it and they’re in it Just put a sassy name to your garment and they’ll splash out because well, it’s Loxtion Culture. It’s my culture to be beautiful! Now I can smoke, fuck anything and anyone I want because hey, I’m free!! Free to do with my pussy just as I please!! Free to die for and with my pussy!

Sister, fuck your pussy because if no one’s told you yet, you are not your pussy! You are not your body, although you have a body! You are not the made up beauty that wakes up so butt ugly in the morning that you have to paint all over it, wear skimpiest of skimpy clothing to attract the attention of BEE fuckwits simply dedicated to business to acquire as much of your butt ugly pussy as possible. You are a spiritual being! You are an important living entity! You are special because you are in the human form of life and that depends not on anything you dress in but rather on what you drape your mind in. It depends on intelligence. Actual intelligence! And if you don’t have that, you still have your humanity, your decency, your self respect. Fuck, I was amused to see so many useless individuals with too much money or rather with flashy credit cards simply basking in the glory of wanting to be. Oh, I should name and shame them but of what use will it be when I’m simply naming and shaming idiocy?


Sometime in the neo dark past I was invited to The Winternacht Literary Festival in Holland and God of God of Gods, was I bored? Ek snak na my asem! I gasp for breath. No almighty wonder those Boere came and colonised our wonderful comer of the earth. Lord Almighty, I was absolutely petrified that I might become as petrified as them. It was held in The Hague. I ended up watching dumb white women screwing the lily livered penises of equally dumb men. Hey, it was satellite TV and I sure as hell wasn’t going to pay for this.

I also ended up smoking some terminal shit in the coffee shops while trying to amuse myself. It rained in the morning, in the afternoon, at night and throughout the night. It was dark at around 9 am and everywhere everyone wore black and held their coats tight against the wind. The food was absolutely tasteless and so kak that I became very constipated. Antjie Krog read the Oracles of Africa and I sat in amazement at the kak those cretins spouted afterwards. I cannot even begin to tell you how fucked I was that it was these people’s forefathers who had colonised us and caused so much kak that it took nearly four hundred score years to unravel. How did they do it? Was it the Jesus muti? The Big Black Book Bible muti? What? I stood in sheer disbelief and wondered if our forefathers were just stupid, lazy or simply couldn’t give a flying tuck since they had so much to eat, so many women.

Yes, Hol-land!!! Van Riebeeck was the first Hol-lander to land on our shores! Ag nee fok. And to crown it all, I smoked just too much expensive zol and hash in the coffee shops, missed my fucken plane and had to spend two days in European airports trying to get home that cost me an extra R750. Now that was one fucken expensive smoke. As for the dagga! Got wiet! Fokken hydroponics kak that taste of sewerage. No one can pay me to fokken go there gain. Nee fok, nee!!!! One thing I must say is that those trains are unbelievably nice. It’s because the bloody fucken smooth thing glided so softly that I simply glided past Schipol, after a zol session in Amsterdam, and ended up back in The Hague which I had left earlier that day. Fok, and I am an old dagga-roker at that!! Djirre, I laughed at myself so lekke, I somma kicked my own arse! Djy, pasop!!

Want more Zeb? Visit Zebulon Dread a.k.a Swami Sitaram at home or read about Hei Voetsek! in the Chimurenga Library or get a copy of Chimurenga Chronic: Graphic Stories (July 2014) Print

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Writing Nervous By Brian Chikwava https://chimurengachronic.co.za/writing-nervous-by-brian-chikwava/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/writing-nervous-by-brian-chikwava/#respond Mon, 17 Sep 2018 12:27:28 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=13351 One can argue that great literary works are rarely about good sentences […]

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One can argue that great literary works are rarely about good sentences or syntax. Given a good literary mind, these are insignificances that will normally sort themselves out. More often than not, it is the pulse of the mind behind a piece of work that either turns it into a shoddy bundle of words, or a creation that will find resonance across cultures and connect peoples experiences in ways unenvisaged before. Such minds have been seen in geographically disparate corners of the world: Nawal el Saadawi in Egypt; Augusto Roa Bastos in Paraguay; Abdullah Hussein in Pakistan; Ngugi Wa Thiongo in Kenya; Boris Pasternak in the Soviet Union; Steve Biko in South Africa; the list is endless.

Whilst this is a literary pantheon that many a Zimbabwean writer can only dream about belonging to, one hopes that perhaps an urgent pulse is entering the work of Zimbabwean writers, both established and the upcoming writers.

Thankfully, in spite of or because of the difficulties that Zimbabwe is going through, the turn of the century has seen a quiet adjustment in the publishing of fiction, giving new voices a better platform to be heard.

In this regard there has been amaBooks Short Writings From Bulawayo, Volumes I to III, Weaver Press short story anthologies Writing Still and Writing Now, of which a natural progression ought to be Writing Nervous, for it is a nervous pulse that beats beneath the face of any Zimbabwean, be it a writer or a crack lipped mother in the rural areas who knows first hand the kind of tricky relationship a child can have with its empty stomach, or a nurse in diaspora who dreads the text message from her family asking her to wire more money back to their family who find themselves increasingly unable to look after themselves in an economy ravaged by inflation, the unemployed citizen who braves the aquatic predators of the Limpopo to become an illegal immigrant in South Africa, or the firebrand intellectual who dabbled in utilitarianism of a Stalinist variety advocating the tearing down of the social fabric and national institutions in the name of the final revolution, the third chimurenga and now finds him/ herself sitting at his/her desk; pondering the question of again cutting whatever is left of our national nose to show what we are capable of when push comes to shove. All are in a nervous condition; all are hostages. That includes the president himself, who held hostage by his own will, is nervous about the future. Nervous because although he may have seen the moral shallowness of imperialism, colonialism, global capitalism and mutations of such, far from raising himself above such moral conventions, he continues to live in a moral depravity that he makes up for by exercising brutal power over ordinary citizens. His would be a fascinating contribution to Writing Nervous.

That Zimbabwean writers of wildly differing opinions, whether inside or outside the country, find themselves moved to commit pen to paper in larger numbers, is a healthy development for Zimbabwean literature. And it is perhaps fitting and natural that such developments should be accompanied by the appearance of the above mentioned short story anthologies that have given new writers platforms to be heard. Gone are the euphoric and rather innocent days when the unknown short story writer had to look to the magazines Parade and Moto or the Sunday Newspaper supplements to cut their teeth.

Those were the days when Auntie Rhoda, Parade Magazines famed agony aunt, had the answers to all the citizens questions, from the challenges of living with alcoholic husbands to handling bad tempered mothers in law who were going through a mental pause (sic). Today the social pulse is a different one, the questions are bigger and perhaps true of Cameroonian scholar Achille Mbembes view of many a post colonial African country: a reality that is made up of superstitions, narratives and fictions that claim to be true in the very act through which they produce the false, while at the same time giving rise to both terror, hilarity and astonishment. No doubt there are still issues that Auntie Rhoda would still be able to take in her stride, but even she would probably quiver at the thought of an impending whack on the head were she to give answers that are sympathetic to one political truth at the expense of another.

Because of this, it is appropriate that some of the tricky questions be dealt with in these recent short story anthology series; the conversation can no longer be with Auntie Rhoda, but amongst the writers themselves.

Perhaps due to these and other developments, new writers have come into visibility, myself included. These include Stanley Mupfudza, Gugu Ndlovu, Andrew Aresho, Edward Chinhanhu, Chris Mlalazi and Lawrence Hoba among many.

Some have come into the public eye through the British Councils Crossing Borders programme, amongst them, Chaltone Tshabangu, Adrian Ashley and Blessing Musariri, while from the diaspora poet Togara Muzanenhamo, Stanley Makuwe and Petina Gappah (who was recently shortlisted for the 2007 HSBC-SA PEN Literary Award along with Chris Mlalazi) are emerging. And to add an urbane and gritty realism to this cacophony of voices is a gang of spoken word practitioners like The Teacher, Manikongo, Lucius, Comrade Fatso and Mbizo who, through their performances at The Book Caf頰oetry slams have over the years been creating another row in the choir, right behind such seasoned performance poets like Chirikure Chirikure and Ignatius Mabasa.

The names mentioned here are only a handful picked from many equally good writers. In the years to come, some will be able to tap into the national psyche and produce inspired and great works, while many more of us, will be lost in the fog of our condition. Today, with the aid of digital chatter, our perceptions of our epoch are set to multiply dizzyingly, and from this heap of words, facts, fictions, sophistries and startling lies, one hopes that something will emerge, something that will at least measure up to the past works of names such as Charles Mungoshi, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Yvonne Vera, Chenjerai Hove or Shimmer Chinodya. No doubt, the hurdles ahead are many, and the intellectual demands on the writer or poet of today are greater.

Whereas yesteryear it was enough to talk of Zimbabweans suffering in the colonial era and during the war, today it is the fictions of liberation that must be put under scrutiny; it is time to ask harder questions, and perhaps soberly consider, creatively enquire and consider in our own different ways, such assertions as those of Czech born playwright Tom Stoppard who in reference to communism in Eastern Europe suggested that revolution is a trivial shift in the emphasis of suffering. To question continuously, put ones finger on a nations pulse and at the same time hold the mirror to its collective face without flinching, one imagines, is the staff of works whose worth is not only judged by syntax or the number of adverbs.

Brian Chikwava is a Zimbabwean writer who lives in London. In 2004 he was the winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing and is currently is working on a novel alongside a short story collection.

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The Making of the Impossible https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-making-of-the-impossible/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-making-of-the-impossible/#respond Mon, 09 Apr 2018 13:55:11 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=9652 Review by GWEN ANSELL October: The story of the Russian revolution China […]

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October: The story of the Russian revolution
China Mieville
Verso, 2017

The Last Days of New Paris
China Mieville
Picador, 2016

“There is a brand of naive anticolonialism,” China Miéville has said, “that falls back into the ‘Noble Savage’ narrative; that simply replicates a notion of beautiful natives and a place or a past that, if we could return to it, would answer all of our political problems. And it is very difficult to recognize the toxicity of colonial relations without getting caught in this kind of narrative.”

Miéville was not – but could have been – discussing the tsunami of anti-colonial romanticism that has washed through cinema audiences since the release of the Hollywood fantasy, Black Panther, in February 2018. He’s caught both sides of the debate. Colonial relations were and remain more toxic than polonium, and must provoke the radical desire for a different world. The joy unleashed by simply seeing on screen one vision of such a world can’t be dismissed. But invoking a utopian, allegedly unpolluted Wakanda – where feudal dictatorship is unproblematic, where the non-elite are present only as mute and beautiful walk-ons or battle fodder for contending kings, and where the CIA, the UN and a charitable foundation are part of the solution – doesn’t even start talking to today’s political problems, never mind answering them.

But while Western cinematic engagement with the fantasy genre has historically often relied on lucrative superhero tales, writers from Ursula le Guin and Octavia Butler to N. K. Jemisin, Anne Leckie and Nalo Hopkinson have chosen other paradigms. They have conjured protagonists and settings encompassing all imaginable social and narrative structures, sexualities, origins and degrees of difference.

Where apolitical genre critics box his radical speculative fiction into the category of “New Weird”, Miéville prefers to describe it as “Socialist Irrealism”:  his concern is with “alterity, not utopianism”. His two most recent books, The Last Days of New Paris (2016) and October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (2017), use two apparently opposing approaches – an alternative history fantasy in one, and historical narrative in the other – to explore the “real” and socialism (both regular objects of implicit interrogation for him) very explicitly indeed.

Yet, despite these different forms, there are ways in which the two works speak eloquently to one another, and in which other parts of Miéville’s opus provide a copula between them. The Last Days of New Paris is an alternative history of a Second World War that stretches into the 1950s: a prolonged guerilla war in an irreal New Paris, not only between the Resistance and the Nazis, but also between the accidentally deployed manifs of the Surrealists and Nazi-aligned demons from Hell. It is told almost cinematically, with deliberately disrupted narrative lines and disturbing jump-shots.

Literary commentators often treat surrealism as a European phenomenon. Philistine and racist critics and acolytes, such as white beat poet Jack Kerouac, sometimes reduced the movement to something exclusively and toxically masculine. (There were precedents. Andre Breton was a notoriously vicious homophobe.) Similarly reductive is the statement that surrealism’s invocations of the bizarre and the grotesque are mere “fantasy”. For the peoples of Africa, America and Asia, alien invasion, experimentation and the forced grafting together of irreconcilable thoughts and forms are lived experience: they are called colonialism.

So it is unsurprising that some of the most radical architects of surrealism were black, female and revolutionary, rejecting via their work the colonialist distinctions between metropolis and periphery, and between “sophisticated” and “primitive” creative expressions. The Légitime Défense group were black poets and philosophers from Martinique, including Suzanne Cesaire and Simone Yoyotte. They declared in their manifesto, Murderous Humanitarianism: “We surrealists pronounced ourselves in favour of changing the imperialist war, in its chronic and colonial form, into a civil war. Thus we placed our energies at the disposal of the revolution, of the proletariat and its struggles, and defined our attitude towards the colonial problem, and hence towards the colour question.”

Threaded through the fantastic imaginings of New Paris, those political truths are always present. Real evils exist and must be fought; wars entail real horrors and heroism. In a world where the imaginable gets realised, the soporific and overworked clichés of banal art exert their own malign power, “bringing peace and prettiness… Paris will be an empty city of charming houses [under its] terrible, emptying, picturesque gaze.”  The book ends with a victory – but to say whose would be to spoil the ride.

Yet there’s also a Bakhtinian sense of the carnivalesque in what Miéville describes, and as much playfulness in his own juxtaposition of tropes, images and events as in the surrealist juxtapositions he recounts. He constructs a story within the story: the whole tale is the memoir of one of its survivors. There are Casablanca moments in smoky Resistance cafes, and helter-skelter, shoot ‘em/ kill’em sequences straight out of Grand Theft Auto – except that the targets popping up are hybrid bicycle-women, sickle-headed fish, bat-winged businessmen and giant eyeballs.  “It’s a tie-in,” Miéville says, “to a video game that doesn’t exist and may or may not ever exist”.

October, by contrast, is a carefully researched, conventionally narrative re-telling of events in our historical record: the October Revolution of 1917. The work has a useful index, thumbnail biographies of key figures, and a curated reading list for those who want to find out more. For those who have only read about the revolution in dry school textbooks or as a cautionary tale embedded in free market propaganda, October provides another, more compelling, human reality. Making change mattered to the people who made the revolution. They hated their conditions of oppression and ached with desire for a different world. Miéville breathes life into them as they bring to the struggle their hearts and their dreams as well as their sickles, hoes, typewriters, paintbrushes and guns.

Those dreams are where the two books start to talk to one another. Part of the power of dominant discourses is their capacity to render the existence of different ways of relating, working, and seeing invisible. In those situations, we must fight to think and realise them, even as the hegemony calls them “unrealistic”. Miéville has spoken of the need for a sense of hope and wonder in both the crafting of speculative fiction, and in the struggle for social change. He has called the manifs “something that you can’t possibly recognize, yet that you really do feel as if you recognize.”  That’s also how people feel when they glimpse alternatives to omnipresent oppression naturalised over time––ways of living together that could replace tsarist feudalism, for example, or the global hegemony of the 10 per cent.

But Miéville is explicitly not constructing an analogy of “as then, so now” in October. He finds much to admire in the events whose beauty and power he describes: “There is an incredibly moving poster (which I’ve never been able to find again since seeing it, so if anyone who reads this can help, please do!) which consists of two pictures,” he told the International Socialist Review. “Above is an image of a worker working, I think, on the wheels of a train, and it reads, ‘Before, I was an oiler; I oiled the wheel.’ In the picture below he’s giving a speech before an audience, ‘Now I’m in the soviet; I make decisions.’ That move from the first to the second is an historic and profound shift.”

At the same time, he acknowledges Victor Serge’s characterisation of multiple strands within Bolshevism, of ways in which things could have gone differently. October ends with an extended and arresting riff on Marx’s characterisation of revolutions as the locomotives of history. Miéville works with that metaphor not only because it reflects the technology of the times – revolutionary events and victories often depended literally on open lines and clear signals – but because it also entails the question of “not only who should be driving the train, but where.”  

And that train also recalls the Miéville novel that offers a bridge between New Paris and revolutionary Russia, Iron Council (2004). Workers who turned a strike into a successful revolt now run their own autonomous collective on a train far from the capital. Struggles over who should drive the train, how and where, intersect with bigger debates about how to interact with that capital – now embroiled in a destructive colonial war – and the struggles going on there. It is both a gripping story of revolutionary endeavour, and a visually audacious evocation of disparate, sometimes manif-like, bodies. And like the other two works, it defiantly asserts what any revolution also proclaims: that there is, in Miéville’s words, “joy in the making of the impossible”.




 This and other stories available in the new issue of the Chronic, “The Invention of Zimbabwe”, which writes Zimbabwe beyond white fears and the Africa-South conundrum.

The accompanying books magazine, XIBAARU TEERE YI (Chronic Books in Wolof) asks the urgent question: What can African Writers Learn from Cheikh Anta Diop?

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NONE BUT OURSELVES https://chimurengachronic.co.za/none-but-ourselves/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/none-but-ourselves/#respond Mon, 09 Apr 2018 10:13:13 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=9643 The history of reggae in Zimbabwe echoes far beyond Bob Marley’s historic […]

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The history of reggae in Zimbabwe echoes far beyond Bob Marley’s historic concert in the earliest days of the country’s independence. Percy Zvomuya crawls the web of influences that makes up not only the sonic cartography of a revolution fuelled by chimurenga music and reggae, but which are the very groundations of today’s Zimdancehall.

Sometime in april 1980, a chartered Boeing 707 plane landed at Salisbury’s airport from Gatwick, London. This, in itself, wasn’t unusual, for in the months preceding this charter, with the official end of the war, the airport experienced more air traffic. Even some people who had escaped the country as “border jumpers” – most prominent being Robert Mugabe, who arrived on 27 January 1980 in a plane load from Maputo, Mozambique, after five years in exile – were returning to Southern Rhodesia.

Lord Christopher Soames, Winston Churchill’s son-in-law and Southern Rhodesia’s last British governor, had also arrived in the weeks that followed the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, which had restored the country to the Commonwealth, shredding Ian Smith’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence, before the elections which would bring majority rule.

On this particular Boeing 707 were lighting and sound equipment, technical crew and Mick Carter, a name which outside of reggae annals doesn’t mean a lot. Mick Carter was a tour promoter for Bob Marley and the Wailers and had arrived in Salisbury in the role of the herald, the prophet who would smooth the path of the coming king, reminiscent of the function John the Baptist played for Jesus Christ. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” Isaiah wailed, “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

The journey into Salisbury, the capital of the formerly renegade state of Southern Rhodesia, which for years had been at war, was a flight into the unknown and Carter thought to arrive in religious garb, an Exodus tour jacket: “The people in customs hadn’t a clue what to do, how to deal with us. What got us and everyone through was a huge bag of Bob Marley T-shirts that I had sensibly persuaded Island to give me before I left. These were liberally dispensed all around. And it also helped enormously that I was wearing an Exodus tour jacket, which was my passport to everything.”


BOB MARLEY would be the first show by an international act since 1972, the year American soul man Percy Sledge performed in Southern Rhodesia, the year in which the guerrilla war against white minority rule began in earnest. (My mother, a fan of Percy Sledge’s music, was at the show and when I was born a few years later, she named me after him.)

Bob Marley and the Wailers arrived on 16 April and, on the morning of 17 April, the day Marley performed at the independence gig, a dry and functional story appeared in The Herald, the country’s biggest daily newspaper: “Top Jamaican reggae artists Bob Marley and the Wailers and an entourage of more than 20 arrived in Salisbury from London yesterday.” The report continued: “the band was warmly greeted by a small but enthusiastic crowd of supporters and representatives from the local recording industry.”


IT WAS 1980, the long brutal bush war had ended and rushing in was the future. In this future, even terrorists like Robert Mugabe and their sympathisers like Bob Marley were now welcome. So blinding was the light cast by this tomorrow that no one paid attention to the warning in the song “Zimbabwe”:

 Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny,
And in this judgement there is no partiality.
So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle,
‘Cause that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble.

 A couple of stanzas later, Bob Marley sings:

No more internal power struggle;
We come together to overcome the little trouble.
Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary,
‘Cause I don’t want my people to be contrary.

Even though about 50,000 mostly, black people had died, the new nation under the leadership of guerrilla fighter Robert Mugabe was keen to move away from that past. Instead of vengeance and justice, as the thousands of whites who emigrated in the months leading to independence on 18 April 1980 expected, Robert Mugabe signalled national reconciliation: “[T]he wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten… It could never be a correct justification that because whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power blacks must oppress them today because they have power.”


BOB MARLEY GOT TO ZIMBABWE – the country he had helped sing into being – against the odds. The new government had no money to bring him to perform. But that was a small matter. Bob Marley would pay from his own pocket for the gig, as his gift to the people of Zimbabwe. But even if the new government did have the means to bring the Rastaman to Salisbury, Marley’s namesake was no fan of his music. Robert Mugabe preferred Beethoven, Bing Crosby, Jim Reeves and others, and was no fan of the hairstyle. “The men want to sing and don’t go to colleges. Some are dreadlocked,” he spat, later. In the 1990s, in outrage at the popularity of dreadlocks, Robert Mugabe had urged Zimbabweans to imitate his hairstyle, not Marley’s. So, Mugabe had to be persuaded to invite the Rastaman, whose songs had been listened to with reverence on battery operated wirelesses in the guerrilla camps in Mozambique.

Mugabe’s attitudes towards the music filtered among the elites of Zimbabwe and its judicial and administrative institutions. Dambudzo Marechera, who many mistook for a Rasta man because of his dreadlocks, wrote in Mindblast, his 1984 sketches of the writer as bohème in Harare: “I cannot account for the national paranoia about Rastafarians. They invite a lot of Rasta musicians to the main centres of the country yet at the same time, in the whorehouse bars and hotels… in the government corridors and in the squatter settlements – everywhere it seems – the Rasta man and anyone who remotely looks like him is abused verbally, physically, historically, socially, psychologically.”

Zimbabwe’s love for Bob Marley was quite by happenstance. Fred Zindi, a scholar of educational psychology, music critic, and writer, was at the 1980 independence show. “We started off, in the 1970s, with Jimmy Cliff (whom Robert Mugabe preferred to Bob Marley), Desmond Dekker and Johnny Nash; those are the artists we knew here until Bob Marley came in 1980,” he told me at his office at the University of Zimbabwe, where he works as a Professor in the Faculty of Education.

Desmond Dekker? Why Desmond Dekker?

“He had a hit,” said Zindi, and then hummed the tune of “The Israelites”.

Since my return to Zimbabwe in 2014 after a decade in South Africa, I have been digging in crates, looking for records, trying to trace Zimbabwe’s sonic cartography through what has been discarded in flea markets, dusty SPCA, shops and what people are selling. Desmond Dekker is a rarity. Forty years after the Rhodesians’ affair with his music, there is almost no trace of his records. What you find a lot is Bob Marley. Bob Marley in pristine condition; Bob Marley without sleeves and pockmarked with scratches; Bob Marley with sleeves and in reasonable condition.

“I met Bob Marley after the show and he said: ‘you must teach them people to love my music, man. The people were standing like stoogies,’” Fred Zindi recalled. And then Bob Marley asked a company man to give Fred Zindi some records, about 50 of them,  which he then gave to Mike Mhundwa, a DJ at Radio 3, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

In The Herald report a spokesperson for the Wailers said: “[W]e will be here until next Wednesday but may have to stay longer. It depends on how the people feel.” When someone speaks a truth without realising its full spectrum, the Shona say one is speaking as if they have medicine in their mouth.

Bob Marley left Zimbabwe a few days later and would be dead within a year, but his sound remains and can be said to be part of the Zimbabwean psyche and landscape.


THOMAS MAPFUMO, the co-founder of chimurenga music (with guitarist Jonah Sithole), is also the godfather of Zimdancehall. In the person of Thomas Mapfumo is to be found both reggae and chimurenga music, the sonic with the closest connection to the mbira and the drum, Shona metaphysics and ritual, a way of being criminalised by both church and state since colonial conquest in 1890.

In a Moto interview in August 1990, Thomas Mapfumo was asked: “You are known widely as chimurenga king. How do you yourself define chimurenga – is it the rhythm or the message?”

“I don’t want to hair-split issues. We cannot separate the two (message and beat). Chimurenga music is that traditional beat of mbira, rattles and drums played at important gatherings for our ancestors. So I would not outrightly agree that I am the founder of the beat but rather just [someone] who inherited, improved and perfected it and managed to present it using modern electrical instruments and made it to be liked by more people in these high tech times,” was Mapfumo’s response. This was 1990, by which time Thomas Mapfumo had released albums including Mabasa (1983), Chimurenga for Justice (1985), Zimbabwe–Mozambique (1988); Varombo kuVarombo (1989), Chamunorwa (1989) and Chimurenga Masterpiece (1990).

Of interest to the story of reggae’s evolution in Zimbabwe is Chimurenga for Justice, a five-track album on which a mainstream Zimbabwean artist first attempted the sound.  In that same year, Misty in Roots, a British reggae band that had repatriated to Zimbabwe in 1982, also released an album, Musi–o–tunya, the name the Tonga people, who had lived for hundreds of years by the Zambezi, called the Victoria Falls before it was discovered by David Livingstone. The personnel on that album include Walford Tyson Poko on vocals, Delbert McKay Ngoni also on vocals, Joseph Munya Brown on drums, D. Briscoe Tawanda on keyboard, Dennis Augustine Tendai on rhythm guitar, Antony Henry Tsungirai on bass,  Crossfield Kaziwai on guitar, and Delvin Tyson Tafadzwa again on vocals. The last names, all Shona, are those the musicians added to their given names after relocation to Zimbabwe.

“Mugarandega,” Shona for “the person who lives alone”, is Thomas Mapfumo’s sonic riposte of a celebrated motif in literature in Shona and English. Much romanticised in Shona oral traditions is the brooding and solitary figure. This stock character – laconic, “without family and friends”, and who prefers the company of his dogs – appears as a spectral presence, first as Samambwa in Waiting for the Rain, Charles Mungoshi’s 1975 classic, and as Mhokoshe in Strife, a 2012 novel by Shimmer Chinodya.

While it is in Zimbabwe’s English literature   that this character gained a rugged charm and currency, outlines of this figure were, in fact, first set down on the page in Tambaoga, a 1968 novel about courtly intrigue and ambition by Giles Kuimba. The Shona classic, which partly borrows from Hamlet, features a central character, Tambaoga, the son of a king who has been murdered and who beseeches his son to avenge his death and the usurpation of the throne by his brother. Tambaoga literally means “play on your own” but should be understood to mean “keep your own company.” This name forms a loose association with other Shona phrases, words and names like zai regondo, (the eagle’s lone egg), karikoga (only child) and mbimbindoga (the head strong person).

On “Mugarandega”, Munya Brown – who would later be the mainstay of the legendary Zimbabwean reggae band, Transit – after playing for a while with the popular group Ilanga, was on drums, and Dennis Augustine played keys.


WORD REACH FRED ZINDI that Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, who were on a tour of Europe, were in London for a series of shows and the recording of a new album. So, Fred Zindi took a bus to Addis Ababa Studios on Harrow Road and on arrival met the chimurenga man, who said to him, “I hope you have come to help us. We are trying to record an album which we will call Chimurenga For Justice.”

Zindi has written elsewhere that the band was not used to multi-track recording, preferring to record all instruments at once: “Together with the Misty In Roots, we advised Mapfumo to lay down the tracks one-by-one, starting with the drums and bass, until all instruments were recorded. This would bring perfection to the sound as you monitor it track-by-track.”

Tobias Areketa, normally the band’s backing vocalist but who on the day would share the main podium with Thomas Mapfumo, as he had been tasked with doing the Jamaican style chanting, would go into the studio last. “Does that mean I have to wait until tomorrow to do my vocals? In Zimbabwe, we all record together at once.” Zindi explained to him that in the motherland, things were done that way because the record companies wanted to shorten the time bands spent in the studio. 

Thomas Mapfumo could have asked Munya Brown or Dennis Augustine – or any of the Misty in Roots crew with a West Indian heritage on the mixing desk – to do the auto-mythologising chants. Instead the chimurenga man asked Tobias Areketa.

This is when the template for Zimdancehall was set down. Tobias Areketa is the harbinger of Potato and the herald of Major E; Tobias Areketa is the ancestor of Winky D.


WITH LOVE you know from Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited,

The only man to sing all freedom songs during the struggle for Zimbabwe
Our motherland you know;
So me say, talk about the man and his beautiful ways

So me say, so me say, so me say,

 He is a true man African

He is a true man African

He is a true man African

He is a true man African
I say the man is the Thomas

I say the man is the Thomas
I say the man is the Thomas
I say the man is the Thomas.

Dem a put him in jail


Dem a put him in jail


Dem a put him in jail

He was singing culture

He was singing culture

He was singing culture

He was singing culture


You know one day them police men, you know, during  Smith regime,

They took Thomas Mapfumo, you know,
Because he was singing culture

Culture for the motherland


What you say?

I said I love Mr Thomas

I said I love Mr Thomas

I said I love Mr Thomas

I said I love Mr Thomas

He is a true man African

He is a true man African

He is a true man African

He is a true man African.


So let’s love one another

Let’s love one another

Let’s love one another

Let’s love one another

To love the man Mr Thomas

To love the man Mr Thomas

To love the man Mr Thomas

To love the man Mr Thomas

He is a true man African

He is a true man African

He is a true man African

One love you know.

This song, “Mugarandega”, from Chimurenga for Justice, was also issued as a maxi single with side two as a dub version. When, in 1988, Thomas Mapfumo released the hit reggae maxi single, “Corruption”, in which he decried the pervasiveness of graft in Zimbabwe, it also came with a dub version. Later, on Chimurenga 98, he collaborated with DJ Yuppie Banton on the song, “Set the People Free.” (Yuppie Banton is part of a clutch of DJs that includes Potato and Major E, who mostly chanted in English in faux Jamaican accents, and featured on popular songs from the 1990s.)

On these three songs – “Mugarandega”, Corruption”, and “Set the People Free” – Thomas Mapfumo was laying the foundation for the sonic revolution which took shape after 2000, by which time the chimurenga man himself was in Oregon, in a forlorn exile.

A few years ago, from across the Atlantic, Thomas Mapfumo picked a fight with Winky D, by most accounts the star of the Zimdancehall cosmos, which also includes DJs like Toki Vibes, Killer T, Soul Jah Love, Dadza D King Shaddy, Ninja Lipsy and many others. “I listen a lot to what the likes of Winky D are singing and my heart bleeds. People like Winky D are destroying Zimbabwean music,” he stated.

It’s easy to imagine some ardent traditionalists with their faces in a knot when Thomas Mapfumo first ran electricity through traditional war songs like “Buka tiende” and “Nyama musango”; or when he penned “Hanzvadzi”, a beautiful re-imagination of “Nhemamusasa”, the mbira song said to have been laid down after the Shona first settled in (or from)  Guruuswa, the mythical place of origin for the Shona.

In the tune “Gombwe”, the title track of the album of the same name, Winky D is heeding the cry Thomas Mapfumo himself made in “Vanhu Vekwedu” on Hondo, an album from 1991. “Vanhu vekwedu baba havasati vaziva,” he sang: our people still live in ignorance. The chimurenga man was bemoaning the hegemony of English and American music on national radio and the secondary place local languages occupied in the hierarchy of languages, no doubt because of Robert Mugabe’s own conservative tastes and British pretensions. In that tune, Thomas Mapfumo deftly condensed the polemics of Ngugi’s Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature into just over seven minutes.

On the track “Gombwe”, from Winky D’s eighth album which came out in early 2018, the Zimdancehall champion is beginning to explore Shona spirituality in ways I haven’t encountered in the genre before, reminiscent, in fact, of Thomas Mapfumo’s own trajectory. Mapfumo recalls the 1960s and 1970s Rhodesian music scene: “There was no consciousness among our artists; they were into copyright music, very few of them wrote their own music at the time because that was a British colony. Everything the radio played was foreign and people had to go for foreign music. Politics was very low at the time. People never thought of that. They never believed in themselves. They thought the white man was superior, he was untouchable, he was like God.”

In “Gombwe”, Winky D chants:

Mangoma aya ndabva nawo kunyika dzimu

Anga achitambwa navadzimu

Ndabva ndati ndiwaunze pasi rino

Abva avachemedza samariro

Ndini gombwe remangoma gaffa rinobata matare engoma

(I have brought these tunes from the spirit world/ these tunes were being enjoyed by our dead ancestor / I thought to bring them here/ they made people cry as if at a funeral/ I am a spirit medium and I hold conferences with the dead ancestor about this sound).

In some ways, Thomas Mapfumo and Chiwoniso Maraire, the late chimurenga chanteuse who updated the mbira sound for the R&B generation, belong on the same sonic, spiritual and modernist continuum, geniuses with gourds in hand, which they use to draw deep from the recesses of Shona metaphysics. If Winky D continues on his current trajectory, the master of the Jamaican-Zimbabwean DJ style might one day join this pantheon.


IN THE 1980s AND 1990s, in the ghettos and townships to which Ian Smith and his predecessors had relegated Africans, most working class households owned a hi-fi, some of them with so much wood they looked like coffins. In the aesthetics at play in the manufacture of these appliances, the carpenter seemed to be as important as the electronics engineer.

The radio, it’s no exaggeration to say, occupied a central place in the living room of most homes. It was reminiscent of the huva, the raised mound directly opposite the entrance in the round hut used by many as the kitchen, where we kneel to commune with the ancestors and pour libations and perform other sacraments. Dzangaradzimu, the Shona word for radio, references dzimu, the root for the word for spirit world; dzimudzangara, the inversion of that word is a mythical and ghostly creature, said to be so tall that you can barely see its head.

In the 1980s, before the liberalisation of the command economy, salaries were low and foreign currency was scarce, and it’s no surprise that very few households in the ghettos had televisions. But the radio was everywhere. In the Supersonic and WRS hi-fis, Zimbabwe’s small electronics industry managed to successfully clone the technology to compete with the big boys: Philips, Sony, Aiwa and Telefunken.

Most of these coffin radios played only records, not compact cassette tapes, the technology which towards the late 1980s and early 1990s bridged, in the parlance, materiality and the digital. Whatever the compact cassette lacked in durability, it more than compensated for in portability and, most importantly, by placing into the hands of whoever held it, the power of the recording engineer.

In the early1990s, as Apartheid fell and men lost their jobs due to the introduction of neoliberal reforms to economy, enterprising Zimbabwean women stepped into the breach. They would venture to South Africa to sell doilies, curios and other wares. On their way back, these women would buy small radios, televisions and groceries for resale in Zimbabwe.

On Thursday and Saturday nights, multitudes of teenagers like myself would sit by these small radios, a blank tape or an “original” inserted, hand hovering over the “record” button, waiting to press “record” on the tune I liked and would love to replay whenever I wanted.


FOR OUR GENERATION, Dennis Wilson was one person whose shows were recorded weekly, and endlessly replayed. Dennis Wilson was a Jamaican Briton who had found a job as technician at Posts and Telecommunication Corporation of Zimbabwe, the local telecommunications parastatal. He had started off playing at friends’ parties and had then been invited to play on Radio 3. Back in the United Kingdom, Wilson had been involved in the Downbeat Sound system in Fulham and taken part in the sound system clashes involving Duke Reid Sound, Coxsone, and others.

“People ask me, why Zimbabwe, and I ask them why not? I don’t know where my ancestors come from. Sometimes the way I feel about [Zimbabwe] it could be here,” Dennis Wilson told me in 2016.

Once, the DJ went on a visit to the rural home of one of his friends, a descent into the old country resembling the land from which his ancestors had been kidnapped. There, an old man, referencing the old identities which ceased the moment Dennis Wilson’s ancestors got off that boat, asked him about his totem.  It had been a few centuries since Dennis Wilson left and he was at a loss. “What’s that?” Dennis Wilson asked back. They would have explained to him how the Shona tribes have an animal, or part of an animal – the heart, say – or a feature from nature (the river, as was the case with Morgan Tsvangirai) that they hold sacred and that they can’t eat, or with which they can’t be familiar.

When Wilson said he didn’t have a totem, the old man offered to adopt him, to embrace him in his own totemic expanse. “Don’t worry,” the elder had said, “you can have mine.” “That made me feel so accepted. It meant so much to me,” Dennis recalls.


IN MBARE AND MABVUKU, Highfields and Kambuzuma (where Winky D is from), and other ghettos in Harare, in Pfupajena, Umvovo and other ghettos in Chegutu, in Senga and Mkoba in Gweru, and in many other towns and cities, young listeners considered Dennis Wilson’s name as totemic and, twice every week, had a date with him.

When Linton Kwesi Johnson chanted that “Inglan is a bitch”, the youths, probably looking at the dusty roads, clogged sewers and cramped conditions they lived in, found the incantations true for them as well. When U-Roy enjoined the massive and crew to dance to “King Tubby skank”, it was in the ghetto community halls Ian Smith had built that the youth danced with the most frenzy. And the “late night blues” , Don Carlos voiced so funereally, were at their most real in the ghettos. 

Harare’s spatial politics of ghetto and suburb, rich and poor, crowded and spacious, rugged and polished go back to the foundations of the city itself. Today, the division is marked by Samora Machel Avenue (previously, Jameson Avenue, named for Cecil John Rhodes’s right-hand man and lover, Dr Leander Starr Jameson). The city’s division was once signalled by two features: the Kopje, the small mountain in the south which the white settlers had originally chosen to settle in, in September 1890, and Causeway, in the north east, a nondescript piece of land near a stream which had been drained of water.

An observer quoted in Tsuneo Yoshikumi’s African Urban Experiences in Colonial Zimbabwe: A Social History of Harare before 1925, wrote: “[T]he two ends have ever since been playing the monotonous game of ‘pull devil, pull baker’ to the infinite loss of Salisbury itself… Causeway and Kopje have become political terms in their little way, and the thing is so notorious that a Bulawayian orator is said to have recently adjured his fellow citizens not to be as Salisbury, a house perpetually divided against itself.”

So today, via a sinuous route, Zimdancehall looms over all; this sound, which grew and found sustenance in the ghettoes, was first voiced in English using borrowed Jamaican accents, which morphed into Shona chants, and now has become the primary tool of Zimbabwe’s reinvention. Urban grooves and hip hop – the sound transmitted in the posh accents shaped in the private schools of the lush northern suburbs of Borrowdale, Greendale, and Mount Pleasant – wilt in the shadow cast by Zimdancehall.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning.


IN THE PIONEER COLUMN, the imperial force gathered by Cecil John Rhodes to colonise the region we now call Zimbabwe, there was a motley crew of African pedagogue-evangelists who volunteered to join the colonising party from the Transvaal and the Cape Colony. Among these proselytisers were Josiah Ramushu, Modumedi Moleli, Samuel Tutani, and Wellington H Belisa. These men established Methodist missionary stations which grew to become important schools. Nenguwo, which later became Waddilove Institute, was set up in 1897 (AppleSeed, later JahSeed, of Bongo Muffin fame, was a student at Waddilove). Other institutions they set up include Sandringham in Mhondoro, Moleli in Zvimba (Robert Mugabe’s rural home), Pakame in Shurugwi, and Thekwane, near Plumtree, close to Botswana.

Divine Chekenyu enrolled for his secondary education in the late 1980s at Moleli High School, a boarding school about 80km south-west of Harare, named for Modumedi Moleli. Divine Chekenyu grew up in Chegutu, a three-street farming and mining town 100 km south of Harare. Every alternate Saturday night, he told me, there would be a dancehall session at Moleli at which students would play records from their collections. Black Uhuru and Culture, King Tubby and his protégés, King Jammy and Scientist, Yellowman, U-Roy, Lieutenant Stitchie, and many others, would blare from these speakers.

He had been introduced to reggae by Courage Chekenyu, his older brother, who would take him along to listening sessions run by Ras Trio, a troupe of reggae loving brothers who would take out their speakers, sit on their porch in N-section, Chegutu –  an especially rough and cramped part of the town – and play records. Young people, in the neighbourhood and beyond, would bring beer and herbs which they would pass around while taking in and talking about the music. “I got to know reggae not knowing that I am actually digesting the sound. At the time, I don’t think I owned even one record,” said Chekenyu.

With this background, he had a head start on his peers when he went to Moleli High School. After he left school, he started working for David Whitehead Textiles, then a behemoth which employed most of the town’s men. By this time, he was financially independent and, together with Wilson “Madd Wirris” Mano, had started attending dancehall sessions at Tube on Mbuya Nehanda Street, Turtles (the Agony Centre) on Jason Moyo, and Jobs Nite Spot on Julius Nyerere in Harare. At these and other venues, sound systems such as Silverstone run by Jackie Bango, Stereo One International run by Jah B (the biggest sound system of them all), Small Axe run by Farai Shambare, New Generation (King Alfred), African Exodus, and Alkebulani (Lecturer Munya) would perform every weekend to adoring fans.

By some accounts, Jah B (government name William Sinclair), now late, Farai Shambare, and Pawa Chitemere are the pioneering sound system men in Zimbabwe. In the early 1980s, they had become part of Africa A1, reputed to be the first sound system. When they left Africa A1, Farai Shambare, Jah B and Mike Dhliwayo formed Level Vibes, which used to play out of Mbare, the oldest ghetto in Harare. After a dispute, Jah B branched out on his own to form Stereo One, and Farai Shambare founded Small Axe.

Divine Chekenyu and Madd Wirris, like many of their generation, used to buy Jamaican dancehall cassettes from Harare’s informal markets.  One fateful weekend, while having a drink at Chegutu Hotel – a creaking edifice built in neo-Victorian style on the Harare–Bulawayo highway – they asked the resident DJ, DJ Classic, if he would sample a cassette they had. The DJ liked what he heard and when they told him they had more in their collection, he asked them to come and play a set the following week at Baghdad, a night club named in honour of Saddam Hussein. The duo’s set met with popular acclaim, and soon, they started playing with DJ Classic. In this way, without much deliberation, Divine Chekenyu, Madd Wirris and their friend, Terence Jena, had founded a sound system which they named “Black Nature.”

(Later, they were joined by Raphael Mavhunga and Mika Joka. After a while, because of family commitments, Divine Chekenyu withdrew from Black Nature. In its next incarnation, Black Nature became known as Lion Heart, named for a song by Garnett Silk.)

“We then sat down and realised we had become a crew without any premeditation. We said, we can do this, and for while we played cassettes,” says Divine Chekenyu. Ambition gnawing at them – after all, the sound system business is ultracompetitive – they did some research and found they could utilise the connection with the metropolis for their sound system. In Britain, there were reggae retailers like Green Sleeves and Dub Vendor from where they could source the latest tunes. So they would regularly get catalogues, tick off what they wanted, pay through Standard Chartered Bank and get a monthly consignment of between 20-30 records.

And so it was that young men from a small, nondescript town were accepted at the highest table of the sound system business – at which they arm-wrestled with the sound’s biggest boys.

This is, you might say, rather reminiscent of the night of 17 April 1980, when the Union Jack was lowered and the red, green, black, and yellow of the new nation was raised. When the clock struck 12, the public address system rang out: “Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers,” reportedly the first words said in the new Zimbabwe.

As the liturgy of the transfer of power was going on, the povo stood in the night, shut outside the gates of Rufaro Stadium where guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe sat with Prince Charles and other dignitaries who had become his new friends. When the restive people heard the first of six songs that Bob Marley played that night, they said, fuck this shit, we will be part of this party, and broke down the gates. For St Matthew wrote: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” And then there was teargas.

“All of a sudden,” said Judy Mowatt, “you smell this thing taking over your whole body, going in your throat until you want to choke, burning your eyes. I looked at Rita [Marley] and Marcia [Griffiths] and they were feeling the same thing.”

“I feel my eyes and nose,” recalled Aston Family Man Barret, “and think, from when I was born, I have to come all the way to Africa to experience teargas.”

The following day, it was suddenly decided, there would be another show for the povo, where some 100,000 recently liberated people would chant “Africans shall liberate Zimbabwe”, in unison with Bob Marley.


THE LAST WORD should go to Dennis Wilson: “It’s not strange that Zimdancehall is popular now. It’s our own children who are doing it. They have taken the music and made it their own, to suit the market here, so that they can understand it.”



Acknowledgments: we give thanks to Ree Ngwenya, whom I have not acknowledged in the piece, but whose article “When Bob Marley caused Riot inna Africa” was important reading.


These images are part of an ongoing documentation of the Zimdancehall culture in Chitungwiza and Mbare townships in Harare by Dwayne Innocent Kapula.


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01. Zimdancehall artists outside recording studio, Mbare
02. Jexious Corner Crew, Mbare
03. ChillSpot Studios, Mbare
04. Avalanche, Chitungwiza
05. Godobori aka Ghetto Sangoma, Chitungwiza
06. Bhalu, Chitungwiza
07. Picasso, Chitungwiza
08. Kina, Mbare
09. Diva Musoja, Mbare






 This and other stories available in the new issue of the Chronic, “The Invention of Zimbabwe”, which writes Zimbabwe beyond white fears and the Africa-South conundrum.

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The post NONE BUT OURSELVES first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.

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Dansons Donc le Zouglou https://chimurengachronic.co.za/dansons-donc-le-zouglou/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/dansons-donc-le-zouglou/#respond Wed, 18 Nov 2015 10:27:34 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=6486 By Henri-Michel Yere Déscolarisé In 1980s Côte d’Ivoire, exclusion from the schooling […]

The post Dansons Donc le Zouglou first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.

By Henri-Michel Yere


In 1980s Côte d’Ivoire, exclusion from the schooling system became a possibility that many high school graduates had to face. An economic crisis had set in; the prices of the country’s main produce – cocoa and coffee – had undergone a sharp decrease in the late 1970s. Le succès de ce pays repose sur l’agriculture, was still dished out at lunch time, daily, on national TV. But Agriculture was no longer thriving, and it did not take long for the International Monetary Fund to identify the fact – by 1983, Côte d’Ivoire had started with its first structural adjustment programme. To this day the IMF claims they are busy healing our wounds.

The legendary fits of anger of our founder-president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny (1905-1993) against the raw material price speculators did not change anything in our falling fortunes. The old leader then tried to convince the unemployed youth idle in the cities to ‘go back to the land’.

Up to 1983, high school graduates all received scholarships as a reward for their admission to University; they were literally salaried to go to school. This was part of the system of wealth distribution as the Government had conceived it since the opening of the National University in 1963. As a counterpart though, students had to accept that they would be orientés, assigned various field of study.

In 1983 the scholarships dried up and those left behind became known as the déscolarisés – literally ‘de-schooled,’ school dropouts. To this group of youth suddenly made redundant, you could add those who had been stopped by the probatoire – a filtering system, in the penultimate high school year, to limit the annual number of graduates.

This country had thus far operated on the premise that National Education was the door to social success. Since 1946, when the first high school graduates left the colony to go to university in France, the university degree had become the key to social recognition. This first generation of graduates came back and staffed the first Ivorian government in 1956–1957. Their example showed that through a formal education, one could hope to reach the highest levels within the public service and become a cadre, the figure of success par excellence. A cadre didn’t just stand for one’s own family, but also for one’s entire village, one’s entire region, one’s entire ethnic group. After Independence in 1960, cabinet ministers were picked among the pool of cadres available to presidential discretion.

Zouglou: A Fighting Prayer

Zouglou, a musical genre that was aired for the first time on Ivorian national television and radio in October 1991, saw the tail of hope as it was vanishing into the darkness. And it started to mourn it. As such, it was not ill-placed to think of Zouglou as the locale for the imagination of an alternative dream to emerge. But Zouglou was never about dreaming differently; it was about complaining that the road to power had been rendered more difficult, not that the fact of looking for a road to power could be a problematic concern in and of itself.

 Its creators and first exponents were university students, hailing from the Université Nationale de Côte d’Ivoire in Abidjan, precisely from the university residence of Yopougon, the largest district of Abidjan. Like any other new rhythm that comes into fashion in Côte d’Ivoire, Zouglou was introduced to the public with an accompanying dance. That dance was a fight and a prayer: a disarticulated series of supple movements, a riot of arms pointing to the heavens in an actual prayer to God, feet sliding smoothly on the ground and through the air in a way Bruce Lee would not have disapproved of, to defend whatever it was that the Ivorian University Student still owned, that is, mostly his or her desecrated status as University Student.

The music started out from the basic beat of alloucou, a rhythm that came from Western Côte d’Ivoire, popular in the 1970s. The melodies that made up Zouglou chants are a patchwork of melodies from all over the country. The genesis of Zouglou is the story of high school students travelling the country during the OISSU championships, a series of State-sponsored school sports competitions, which mobilised up to 40 000 competitors in any one year. Each team was assisted by the services of a home-grown groupe d’animation (supporters’ group), whose job it was to root for their teams. They did so by adapting melodies from wherever they heard them while travelling across the country. Their style became known as ambiance facile, for their music ushered in a relaxed atmosphere of joy and playfulness. Groupes d’animation collected something like two to three hundred songs from all over Côte d’Ivoire, which they sang most of the time in the one language that they all knew, French, soon to become nouchi

Zouglou also filled a void in Ivorian popular culture – left by the untimely death of musician Ernesto Djédjé (1947–1983). With Zigligbithy style, Djédjé had achieved the unique feat of inventing a new musical genre in a smart arrangement of a particular rhythm from his native Bété region. After learning the ropes with the dean of Ivorian music, Amédée Pierre, Djédjé asserted his artistic independence and in 1977 hit the airwaves with his unforgettable ‘Ziboté’. The song became an Africa-wide success, a first in Ivorian music. Djédjé also made the point that it was possible to ‘modernise’ so-called ‘traditional’ genres; this led many artists to go home and ‘rediscover’ their musical heritage. However, after Djédjé’s passing, none of his self-proclaimed successors managed to capture anything of the talent of their hero, let alone his charisma. Besides, Ivorian musicians underwent severe competition with the likes of Kanda Bongo Man, Papa Wemba, or Youssou N’dour who had a faithful audience in Côte d’Ivoire, and for whom Abidjan was an obligatory pit-stop in their conquest of the nascent ‘World Music’ audience.

As mentioned above, at this early stage, ambiance facile as a musical style catered for the students during school competitions. Progressively, ambiance facile developed into a musical movement widespread among all youth in Abidjan. Every neighbourhood had its own group that would perform during public ceremonies such as sport competitions, but also funerals, political meetings, etc.

In its singing, in its lyrical content and in its dancing style, Zouglou stems directly from ambiance facile. Thus this style had an audience before it was officially presented to the wider Ivorian audience as Zouglou music – as a studio-produced and arranged music – on national television. On 1st October 1991, Didier Bilé and his group Les Parents du Campus released ‘Gboglo Koffi,’ a litany on the hardships that university students went through on a daily basis. The opening chapter of his hit (90 000 tapes sold!) stood as the manifesto of the Zouglou movement:


Ah! La vie estudiantine!

Elle est belle mais il y a encore beaucoup de problèmes

Lorsqu’on voit un étudiant, on l’envie

Toujours bien sapé, joli garçon sans produit ghanéen

Mais en fait il faut entrer dans son milieu

Pour connaître la misère et la galère d’un étudiant

Ah ! Bon Dieu, qu’avons-nous fait pour subir un tel sort ?

Et c’est cette manière d’implorer le Seigneur qui a engendré le Zouglou

Danse philosophique qui permet à l’étudiant de se recueillir et d’oublier un peu ses      problèmes

Dansons donc le Zouglou ![1]


From this solemn overture follows the story of how little money students receive each month; how the university restaurants dish out food ‘only good for dogs’; how students can find themselves to be seven squatting in a room meant for only two students etc. The story told in this song revolves around a student trying to seduce a young woman, basing his whole seduction strategy solely on his student status. It appears that being a student still means something, for he succeeds in seducing the young woman – if it wasn’t enough to be a university graduate to land in the comfortable seat of State Office, it still meant something in terms of seduction. This was probably the last terrain where the student could use the social value of his status. This song laid bare the dilemma of the student condition, stuck in the middle of the Ivorian dream of social success: unable to reach what looked like a certainty only a generation ago (the cadre status), while the general public still viewed the student as someone with a bright future ahead of him or her.

One of the characteristics of Zouglou is that the songs are related in the manner of a story. They are snapshots of the lives of different characters. What makes the stories interesting and accessible to the wider public is that each and every one is able to recognise in these characters figures of the Abidjanais social scene. The student, the gazeur[2], the football supporter, the déscolarisé youth recount a particular episode of their lives in the shape of a song that becomes emblematic of their destiny, adding a new story to the popular consciousness of the day. Another characteristic of Zouglou is the humour with which these serious themes are rendered.

The Zouglou movement participated in the wider movement of democratisation of the political playing field at work in Côte d’Ivoire and in most of Africa at the time. While the IMF had managed to place one of their own in the position of Prime Minister (Alassane Ouattara) in 1990, the one-party state as such had ceased to exist. New political parties, new newspapers, new trade unions, new ideas became part of the everyday. But this novelty had come a little late; it had come at a time when the means to renew infrastructure were not put forth, whereas the desire for newness had never been so strong. An immense thirst for change was waiting for the new leaders of the country; political liberalization may have felt like a storm for old one-party state stalwarts, but really it was a few drops of water, because the new pluralism came shrouded in the glove of a stingy economics referred to as rigueur (austerity). The rigueur economists – in other words, the Government – simply forgot how difficult it was to postpone a thing like thirst.

The generation that came of age through Zouglou thus felt that their fate was nobody else’s business but theirs. This generation had come of age at the time when Houphouët-Boigny’s State Capitalism was about to capsize. Those who went to university got there at the time when neo-liberal thinking became the ideological reference for dealing with the problems of the Nation. The déscolarisés were seen as parasites within their own families. The effect of this absolute let-down – neither the Government nor your family will take care of you – made it possible to let out a fearless critique of Ivorian society, worded and sung in the poetry of the everyday, a poetry perceived as harmless through the use of humour. Instead of drowning, the déscolarisés taught themselves how to swim, on the spot.

After Parents du Campus, many groups built their fortunes on Zouglou, expanding its repertoire and opening out the range of themes that it dealt with. Zougloumania, Esprit de Yop, les Potes de la Rue, les Poussins Chocs became household names to the Ivorian listening public. These groups were typically made of young men whose school career had been interrupted because of one of the many roadblocks that the government had instituted in the 1980s. Zouglou was as much the child of the déscolarisé youth as it was that of the university students. L’Enfant Yodé, one of the founding voices of Zouglou, made a hit in 1993 with his song Les Côcôs. The song was delivered in typical nouchi language, dwelling on the theme of parasitism:

C’est les côcôs (bis)

Les côcôs, les côcôs sont pas sérieux

C’est les côcôs

Les côcôs, c’est des gens ils sont pas gentils

C’est les côcôs

Savez-vous ce qu’on appelle Côcô ?

Les côcôs c’est des gens qui vivent

Dans la poches de leurs camarades

Ceux-là c’est les côcôs.[3]

The word côcô (pimp) cannot be found in a French dictionary. In this song L’Enfant Yodé argues that the best-dressed people in Abidjan are in fact côcôs, part of the struggling lot that had become a feature of Abidjanais life in the 1990s. It is a variation on the theme of poverty, a poverty that can no longer be masked by beautiful clothes, or by attitudes that are meant to suggest affluence.

L’Enfant Yodé borrows heavily from nouchi. Yet another product of urbanisation in Côte d’Ivoire, nouchi is the idiom identified with Abidjan youth. It is the result of a mixture of French, national languages spoken in the land (over sixty of them), and foreign languages learnt in school such as English, and sometimes Spanish. Its vocabulary, based on onomatopoeias and metaphors, feeds on what happens in the news and in society in general. Nouchi started out as a secret code that was used between workers in the so-called informal sector, so that they could escape the control of their bosses in a sector that is not regulated by any law or any protective measure for the workers. These youth doing at times menial jobs are none other than the déscolarisé youth, who are de facto disqualified from entering the formal sector.

Zouglou Prophetics in Times of Trouble

As poetry, Zouglou had revelled in the naked engagement with the most pressing issues of its time. Zouglou had told the truth of a time when a few power-hungry men successfully captured the energies of the Nation. The most enlightened supporters of these men understood that they were playing for their very lives in the theatre of the desire for power. Yet they went along with the game. That is the power of power: this unique ability to make the sacrifice of life in its quest look like something normal, and the gall to call in history to the rescue as a justification over the coffins of the countless young people fallen for somebody else’s belly to grow rounder.

The first time people started to give their lives for power in recent Ivorian politics was during the campaign for the 1995 presidential election. The incumbent president Henri Konan Bédié was looking for a legitimacy he’d been striving for since his assumption of power after the death of Houphouët-Boigny in 1993, whom he had succeeded. He had managed to get rid of his most threatening competitor, former prime minister Alassane Ouattara, by denying him the right to compete in the presidential elections. Ouattara had once carried an Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) passport – and this was a disqualifier according to the new legal conditions cooked up by Bédié. Laurent Gbagbo, the historic socialist opponent, locked in the mysteries of a bizarre alliance with the neo-liberal Ouattara, decided to follow his ally and not to be a candidate either. Instead, they decided to ‘actively boycott’ the election. That was when people started to lose their lives for the cause, a cause made to look grander than whatever it really was about.

Les Salopards captured the sudden brutality of Ivorian power politics, and compared it to what was happening in the rest of the Continent. They warned that politics was simply a murderous affair:

Politique, politique assassine!

Ne vois-tu pas ces pays en guerre

À cause de toi?

Politique, politique meutrière!

Voyons en Angola,

Voyons en Somalie,

Voyons au Rwanda,

Tous ces pays en guerre

À cause de toi![4]

As if this had not been enough of a warning, Bédié, who won an unconvincing 96% of the vote, was well aware that he did not stand on solid enough ground as president. After all, Houphouët was dead; he was forced to exist on his own. So he created ivoirité, which he presented as ‘the philosophy of what it means to be an Ivorian’. Once again, it was Zouglou, through the voices of Petit Yodé (not to be confused with L’Enfant Yodé) and L’Enfant Siro, that read the consequences of this risky intellectual and political adventure to its logical end:

Tu sais qui je suis?

Si Ivoirien te dit: ‘tu sais qui je suis?’

C’est qu’il veut dire

qu’il est Ivoirien que toi

Affaire de Ivoirité

A l’école primaire

L’histoire de la Reine Pokou

On nous a dit que les Akan étaient venus

Du Ghana

C’est aussi pour fuir la guerre

que les Krou sont venus du Libéria

(…) Et puis ensemble on a formé un joli pays

Où y a pas palabre[5]

Zouglou’s Dubious Heritage

At that time, palabre (strife) was still boiling under the lid, although it was slowly becoming the most effective manner of politics in the land. The successors of those who had become university students in the early 1990s started to use strife as a strategy, and they let it establish its disturbing laws over how they went about business, before they managed to domesticate it…

Some from the generation of students that had invented Zouglou had managed to graduate, and many of them had chosen the safest and juiciest spots of the Ivorian State apparatus in order to launch their careers. They were police commissioners, customs service officers, while the rest divided themselves between the revenue service and the justice system. This was a remarkable feat: they secured their degrees in the midst of a university crumbling with strikes and police repression; against all the odds, they rose to relatively comfortable positions. But even there, one felt that their entry into the professional world was surrounded by an aura of shameless greed.

To those who followed them at university, they left Zouglou as a heritage. By that time, Zouglou was no longer regarded as the exclusive property of university students; it had acquired a life of its own. The pontiffs of the local music business were very happy to take care of such a providential golden goose with the likes of Magic System and their 1999 international hit Premier Gaou. What this first generation of university students had left their successors was not so much Zouglou as music as much as Zouglou as attitude: the defiant look in the eyes of the guy you thought you had drowned, but who survived; not only that, he learned how to swim in your waters…

In this inheritance also: an organisation active in Ivorian schools and universities born from the same whirlwind that begot Zouglou, the Fédération Estudiantine et Scolaire de Côte d’Ivoire (FESCI). FESCI had been a thorn in the side of every Ivorian government since its birth in April 1990. Every secretary-general of this student union had been to prison at least once. Banned in 1991, FESCI was still the partner the Government sought after for negotiations if they were serious about ending a strike among students… FESCI managed to impress by its own resilience as an organisation. When the heirs to the first Zouglou generation seized hold of FESCI, they realized that the struggles of their elders had not necessarily yielded as many fruits as expected: there still weren’t enough lecture venues, nor were there more student residences; neither more books in the libraries, nor more libraries for that matter. The struggle had to go on.

The violence that Zouglou as a dance had symbolically translated into a celebration of the body-as-intercessor between our world and God, that violence had been a structural component of student politics since the early 1990s. FESCI had been banned on the grounds of its alledged role in the assassination of Thierry Zébié Zirignon, a student who had been in the employ of the then ruling party PDCI, and whose role it was to terrorise FESCI sympathisers. A mob of students one day in May 1991 marched on him, and beat him to death.

In the late 1990s, the heirs came in with a renewed sense of hunger in the face of the tasks still at hand. They were about to achieve a tour de force that had not announced itself as such. As to whether they had thought about it themselves I cannot ascertain. What is clear is that when outgoing secretary-general Guillaume Soro handed over FESCI to its new head, Charles Blé Goudé, in 1998, clans had formed inside the union, at the more or less secret behest of political parties vying for the control of so vital a constituency as the youth. Internecine warfare inside the student union prefigured Ivorian politics in what it was to look like in a few years’ time. While in the official circles of power verbal battles were taking place in the velvety venues of parliamentary politeness, on the campuses of Abidjan and Bouaké machetes were showing the way of the future. The FESCI leaders were too busy fighting to be truly preoccupied with actually studying – indeed, nobody can ascertain whether they got any degrees. What is certain however is that a few years after they had left FESCI and university, they did not rush to customs services or to the financial services of the State; instead they went straight for the jugular. They managed to impose themselves as indispensable figures during the most serious political crisis that Côte d’Ivoire has known to date. Guillaume Soro emerged as the leader of the Mouvement Patriotique de Côte d’Ivoire (MPCI), the civilian branch of the military rebellion that tried to overthrow President Gbagbo – head of state since 2000 – in September 2002. MPCI held the Northern half of the country under its direct control for five years. As for Blé Goudé, he imposed himself as the leader of the Patriotic Youth, whose support for Gbagbo has been critical to his remaining in power to this day; in other words, Blé Goudé was Soro’s counterpart in the loyalist camp. In a sense, Soro, Blé Goudé and their cohort represent a break, in that it is their leadership qualities honed in the Zouglou movement, their ability to muster political support, that became the key instrument of their success. Not their acquisition of degrees in spite of the fact that they went to university. These undeniable qualities allowed them to jump over the heads of the generation between that of the top brass of Ivorian leadership (the Bédié/Ouattara/ Gbagbo) and their own, in order to rally the highest circles of power in contemporary Côte d’Ivoire.

After years of an untenable stalemate, in December 2006 the rebellion and the Government of Côte d’Ivoire entered a series of talks, which found a successful conclusion in the March 2007 Ouagadougou Agreements. They provided for a power-sharing deal between the rebellion and the Government. In the interest of peace, Guillaume Soro was appointed Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire. At the time of his appointment, he was 34 years old.



[1] Student life might look wonderful/But it’s fraught with problems/When you see a student, he makes you envious /always well dressed/handsome without beauty products (produits ghanéens)/When you get to know him intimately though, you see his real problems/Good Lord what have we done to deserve such a fate?/And it is this prayer to God that has brought Zouglou to life/A philosophical dance allowing students to meditate and forget about the harshness of life/Let’s dance Zouglou!

[2] Gazeur: a word borrowed from nouchi (language of the street), referring to the animators of the party scene in Abidjan, which has got its own rules and hierarchies.

[3] Côcôs aren’t serious people/côcôs aren’t kind people/Do you know who they are?/Côcôs are people who live out of other people’s pockets/These are the côcôs.


[4] Politics, you are an assassin!/Can’t you see all these countries at war, just because of you?/Politics murderous politics!/See Angola/See Rwanda/See Somalia/All countries at war because of you!


[5] You know who I am?/If an Ivorian asks you: ‘you know who I am’/he means to say/he is more of an Ivorian than you/That’s Ivoirité for you/In primary school/the history of Queen Pokou/We were told that Akan people had migrated from Ghana/To run away from warfare/just as the Krou came from Liberia (for the same reasons)/And together we made a beautiful country/with no strife (…)


This story is in print as part of Chimurenga Vol. 15: The Curriculum is Everything (available here).

Presented in the form of a textbook, Chimurenga 15 asks what could the curriculum be – if it was designed by the people who dropped out of school so that they could breathe?

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Not only our land but also our souls https://chimurengachronic.co.za/not-only-our-land-but-also-our-souls/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/not-only-our-land-but-also-our-souls/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 15:09:35 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=3129 Andile Mngxitama challenges historical and contemporary rhetoric that positions land theft in […]

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Andile Mngxitama challenges historical and contemporary rhetoric that positions land theft in the realm of material dispossession. He asks us to plumb deeper to discover the narrative of loss that is the black experience*.

In 1997, just three years into ‘democracy’, South African church leaders gathered in Johannesburg for a ‘Church Land Conference’. The children of God were gathered together to confront a bitter reality: the church in South Africa is more than an accomplice in the un-peopling of Africans through land dispossession. Indeed, the church is a land thief and it is keeping the loot.

The conference groveled, confessions of sin were declared and commitments made to repent and redress. Notwithstanding, and almost 20 years later, land has not returned. Ironically, the same band of thieves left a message in their official conference communiqué back in 1997: they declared that land was above commerce and politics; land was the source of life and death; it was, they suggested like a mother who gives her children sustenance without which they would perish. We were reminded, land is always with us, it gives us life and when we die it takes us back.

If land was more than just land, what then have Africans lost by being dispossessed of it? Moreover, can this other loss be named, and the conditions of redress concretised in a set of demands that can speak the language of rights and fit into the established lexicon of the losses that can be repaired? Will these losses be repaired and satisfied with the return of the land?

When one loses a lover, it’s not so much the loss of this beloved person, but a loss of ones capacity to love without fear again in the future. One grieves for not only the past, but also a future that is so linked with the present in ways that already are too damaging. A charred future? Without understanding the dialectical relationship between history and the future we end up being unconscious agents of a history we wish to obliterate. We have to plumb the heart and soul of history, crack open the narratives and data that organise our contemporary agonies and desires.

When I reported these thoughts, a friend pointed out that I had, by accident, put my finger on three things that haven’t been sufficiently reflected upon: namely love, loss and land! My friend indicated that a loss to death is traumatic, but nevertheless a loss fully accounted for and for which closure, of sorts, can be attained.

Loss of land is altogether more devastating because we are condemned to encounter it every day – in passing koppies, smiling mountains and angry rivers – as a loss that exists as a gain for the other. The loss of land dramatises the loss of too much for the African who became the Black – a void and a great menacing silence. This loss is the most complete.

My friend noted that the foremost Africana scholar, Lewis R Gordon, had also ventured into similar territory in one of his meditations on melancholia:

[A] form of suffering that is a consequence of loss that is distinct from bereavement. In the case of death, there is not a chance of reconciliation with the lost object. But in the case of melancholia, there is a continued presence of that which has been lost.”

Blacks in South Africa, and perhaps the world over, live with a loss that resists demands for reparations. When we lost our land, it was part of the trajectory of the irreparable loss inaugurated by slavery. Once the African was reduced to property next to other beasts in the auction block, claims to territory, to autonomy and bodily integrity became silly luxuries not available to us. Often, we forget that land dispossession through colonialism is the second coming – the first being the dispossession of the selfhood of Blacks through the long nights of transatlantic horrors untold. Most narratives of loss have focused narrowly and dangerously on land and thereby cut off the Black experience, or rather the creation of Blackness from its very base. There are grave implications for this move, which the current obsession with the 1913 Land Act repeats with relish.

When in 1997, the South African clergy declared land the mother who took care of us in life and in death, they were talking the language of the living among those who exist through death. This register failed to account for the impossible way of being in the world for Blacks. The rights to land, which the church – and later the constitution – gave, were spoken in a language whose structure automatically and fundamentally excluded Black people. I’m not accusing the church of scheming – in fact the clergy may have meant every word – but words refused to speak! This is the danger we face 100 years after the Land Act: generating another set of discourses of denunciation, commitment and disappointment.

Six years after the church’s land declaration, we lived through an incident that speaks to what signifies Black life today. Our brother and leader of the Landless People’s Movement, Sipho Makhombothi, who had been ill for some time, declared he would be buried with his forefathers on the land from which they were forcibly removed by Whites, who now occupy it under the protection of the law. I remember how the instruction: “bury me at my land” was delivered to us. Makhombothi, who knew clearly that he had not many days left on earth, smiled and told us: “You are cowards! You won’t bury me at my land”.

It must be remembered that Makhombothi had been violently and forcibly removed from the land where his ancestors rested. Now, with the existence of a movement and friends, he made a clear demand that the fight must be had over his bones. On the night of the burial, a vigil was held. The family was divided. The less militant ones said it would be best if the body was buried at the nearby squatter camp, among the discarded. The more militant said, “the word of a dead man can’t be defied”.

Those of us who represented the movement had heard clearly what he said. The representatives of the movement said they couldn’t defy Makhombothi and therefore all must at once leave and go to prepare the grave of a warrior. We moved in dark cold night and dug with anticipation and reverence. Morning came. The people arrived in their hundreds and buried the body of their beloved brother in defiance of the police and White farmers armed with guns and dogs.

Two years later the farmers won a court order and exhumed the body of our brother. It is said that they did it with total disrespect. Makhombothi’s bones were made landless by a court of the democratic state, the exhumation presided over by the guns of the democratic government of the people, which is committed to “dignity and equality for all”.

Makhombothi’s bones – landless in life, landless in death – still scream for justice across the fields and plains of Mpumalanga.


With hindsight, and struggling now with the location of white and Black bodies in regimes of loss, I see clearly the contrast, observed through an exhilarating moment in 2004 in the small city of Montpellier, France. I was there at the global meeting of peasants and the landless (La Via Campesina). Jose Bove, a highly respected veteran land activist and small-scale farmer, had just been released from prison, having served time for fighting global food polluters, McDonalds and Monsanto (The story goes that Bove and others broke down a McD’s structure brick by brick).

There was a concert of celebration planned as part of the conference and at which Bove was to be welcomed back by thousands of supporters. Some 10,000 waited for him to show up, and gave him a deafening and long standing ovation when he did. By evening the gates to the large farm where the event took place had to be closed because more than 350,000 people had gathered! A stampede was feared. At one point during the concert, Jose Bove appeared back on stage, with me and other representatives of movements across the globe. We raised our hands and voices in unison: ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE! More than a quarter million voices shouted back in affirmation.

Away from the seductive moment of brotherhood in struggle, I had to acknowledge the contrast. In France, small-scale farmers are fighting with a grammar that responds to their demands or rejects them within a community of shared language, desires and pain. However, Sipho Makhombothi’s struggle and that of millions of dispossessed people in South Africa, extends beyond the loss of land into the realm of a loss of fundamental human rights. Bove’s humanity, however harsh it might sound, is derived from the un-peopling of Makhombothi.

Perhaps it is to Orlando Patterson’s brutal coinage we need to turn in an attempt at explanation: particularly his idea of a “social death”, which offers insights to Black lives in a White world. The fact that Jose Bove can call for a recognisable demand for autonomy and Makhobothi cannot, speaks sharply to the conjoined reality: for Bove to be human, Makhobothi was produced and existed in the zone of the death.

Patterson doesn’t seek to speak back to power, he seeks to show that slavery has shaped Blacks desires in ways that even when they seek liberation reproduce the plantation. Patterson is scathing, for example, on the cultural heritage of Blacks in the US:

It was not a heritage to be passed on. Like their moral compromises, this was a social adaptation with no potential for change, a total adjustment to the demands of plantation life and the authoritarian dictates of the masters … A people, to deserve the respect of their descendents, must do more than merely survive spiritually and physically. There is no intrinsic value in survival, no virtue in the reflexes of the cornered rat.”


Enter Sol Plaatje

What I’m thinking about is how the same regime of compromised expressions of freedom has wobbled black South Africans on the land question? The problem is not the creation of Sol Plaatje, but he was certainly its modern founding father. Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa records the sadistic destruction and dissolution that the 1913 Land Act visited upon the majority of South Africans, as evoked in the opening line of the classic: ‘Awaking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.’

Plaatje catalogued the consequences of the Land Act and invited the world to condemn the unnecessary and vile suffering these caused. But the world didn’t respond. The sensibilities of some in British high society might have been offended by news of such naked brutality taking place in their colony, but most likely shrugged their shoulders and swanned off to the next important social function. Plaatje’s words had no place to land and germinate and thus were rendered landless. It must have felt like speaking into the white void that gained its coherence by resting on his blackness. The black can’t speak!

Plaatje’s problem was that he arrived too late and helped author a discourse of demand that was already compromised. What he saw in the Land Act was the impact of desperate whites, who needed to carry out petty thieving and exhaust their desire of whiteness through total brutality, which, in turn, led to the scores of blacks gravitating to the roads with no sense of place or time. Plaatje recorded the opportunistic evil of whiteness, but not whiteness itself.

The 1913 moment was a dramatisation of what had been taking place for more than 250 years, from the arrival in 1652 of Jan Van Riebeeck and his gang. Bambatha’s fall in 1906 was the confirmation of a sad truth: the Maxim gun had gained total dominance over the assegai and the shield. Shaka’s horse-shoe formation did not hold the white tide back. We blacks were created! The Land Act was a codification of a fact, not a creation of one.

Plaatje listened and recorded whites debating what they could do and would do with blacks and he was moved to indignation. But our ‘thingification’ was long achieved and Plaatje, like so many black political actors, assumed the position of common humanity with the oppressor. He constructed a set of concerns in the grammar of suffering that was understandable to the white world. As Frank Wilderson, the dramatist and filmmaker, so beautifully put it: ‘to act politically the black must assume a structurally adjusted position.’

As a result, we have two discourses which have been rarely examined in parallel. Plaatje and the Congress movement represent one, the other is represented best by Okonkwo, the tragic hero in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Yet, there is a historical figure who carries the mark of Okonkwo better – Autshumao, also known as Harry die Strandloper! Recall how Harry was brought from Robben Island by Van Riebeeck to negotiate peace with the defeated; he, unlike the 1994 negotiators, spat at the face of the invader and ended the dialogue. He wouldn’t sell his birthright for peace. It was about the land.

Plaatje believed in the powers of dialogue, but he didn’t realise how loaded the dice of dialogue was against the dispossessed of the world. His appeals were sent to Europe, packaged to be understood and empathised with by the world. One wonders if he should have wasted his money and time with such niceties, or rather given serious consideration to turning the Maxim gun on the enemy and chasing them out of town, once and for all; kill whiteness so that new relations could be realised.

Native Life reproduces the colony of blacks as the beings without being. Thus our imagination of the devastation of colonialism was dramatised by Plaatje’s accounts. This first mistake has led to other, bigger mistakes in the contemporary era. When the African National Congress took power in 1994, it was advised by whites and it happily agreed to peg the land question to 1913. Here, one can’t help feel that the African educated class, of which Sol Plaatje was a member, entered the chambers and continued the debate on what to do with the native and the land. Like good house Negroes, they carried the motion of legitimating dispossession through a devious plan of doing something to ensure nothing happened. The South African Land Reform programme is a perfect example of such.

The mistake of placing the black and white on the same humanist plane without accounting for the fact that the white is human at the expense of the black, led to tragic mishaps. Plaatje ended up repeating the US tragedy of good whites from the north and baddies from the south, albeit his discourse took the form of bad Afrikaner vs. the good English. Pleading with the British crown, Plaatje went further and, in the end, legitimised and sanitised British colonisation:

[T]he British vocabulary includes that sacred word Home – and that, perhaps is the reason why their colonising schemes have always allowed some tracts of country for natives family life, with reasonable opportunities for their future and progress, in the vast South African expanses… [I]n 1910 much against our will, the British Government surrendered its immediate sovereignty over land to colonials and cosmopolitan aliens who know little about Home – because their dictionaries contain no such loving term… 

Contrast the above with his take on the bad Afrikaner:

The northward march of the Voortrekkers was a gigantic plundering raid. They swept like a desolating pestilence through the land, blasting everything in their path and pitilessly laughing at ravages from which the native races have not yet recovered…

It is hard to understand how Plaatje could possibly have made such a neat distinction – heaping scorn on the one faction of the same band of marauding thieves and murderers, while at the same time praising the other. Was this a desperate attempt at placating the Brits against their Afrikaner cousins? There is a simple but devastating truth we must face: whenever whites are at war with each other, blacks needs to know that it’s about finding the best mechanism to subjugate the blacks. The idea of bad and good whites is an oxymoron; whites exist within a system of power which by definition is anti-black.

It is too easy to claim that Plaatje’s problems could have been improved had he not been among the early nationalists within the African Native Congress, who spent day and night preparing petitions to the British Crown. The discourse around land and the demands for it that Plaatje launched permeate all formations that claim to speak for liberation in South Africa, including the Africanists who broke away from the ANC. It’s not enough to say Izwelethu! (The land is ours!) We need to see that what was taken was far more than the land.

If we look carefully at the church and its theft of land, we see that it was not only the land they took, but also the souls of black people. If we take seriously the burden of loss and the hopes of redress and reparations within a paradigmatic reality that doesn’t yield to the coordinates and charms of dialogue, rationality and proposition, but rather to the very demand of life itself, then we must imagine the impossible. We are indebted to Aimé Césaire, who anticipated and framed the task of reclaiming one’s soul in another world; we sit with him the whole night, holding vigil from a small European island in his majestic Notebook of a Return to the Native Land:

But who misleads my voice? Who grates my voice? Stuffing my throat with a thousand bamboo fangs… dirty end/ of the world. Dirty end of day break. It is you weight of the insult and a hundred years of whip lashes… What can I do? One must begin somewhere. Begin what? The only thing worth beginning. The end of the world.



*Dedicated to all those who lost their lovers.


CHRONIC Front Page


This story features in the April 2013 edition of the Chronic. Contributors to this edition of the newspaper include Jean-Pierre BekoloBinyanvanga WainainaDominique MalaquaisMahmood MamdaniNiq MhlongoPaula AkugizibweHoward French, and Billy Kahora. Stories range from investigations into the business of moving corpses to the rhetoric of land theft and loss; from latent tensions between Africa’s most powerful nations to the soft power of the biggest satellite television provider; and from the unspoken history of Rushdie’s “word crimes” to the unwritten history of PAGAD.

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Name Death & Text https://chimurengachronic.co.za/name-death-text/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/name-death-text/#respond Sun, 04 Aug 2013 12:07:30 +0000 http://www.chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=1914 Achille Mbembe unpicks the assassination, disfigurement, and attempted degrading of Ruben Um Nyobè.   Ruben Um […]

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Achille Mbembe unpicks the assassination, disfigurement, and attempted degrading of Ruben Um Nyobè.


Ruben Um Nyobè, Secretary General of the CPU (Cameroonian Peoples Union), was shot dead on September 13, 1958, in the early afternoon, by French troops dispatched to put an end to a rebellion sweeping the Sanaga-Maritime region since 1955 – a rebellion fomented by the CPU. His death came seconds only after one of his aids, Pierre Yém Mback, was killed. This is how it came about. Men who had started out with Um, but who were now firm allies of the state, told the French – one Captain Agostini, an intelligence officer, and a sidekick of his by the name of Inspector Conan – where to find Um’s base camp. At dawn, on Saturday September 13th, several patrols systematically searched Bumnyébel, a small town off the main road linking the cities of Douala and Yaoundé. One of the search parties, which had started off in the village of Libel li Ngoy, was accompanied by local collaborators of the state and by a gaggle of prisoners; among the latter was Esther Ngo Manguèlè, whom the French suspected of being a liaison officer for Um.

Military reinforcements had arrived from Makai. Still others had crossed the Pugè River, on their way from Njok Nkong. The lot of them met up at the base of a hill near Um’s camp. First they cordoned off the area; then they set out on a manhunt. Ralliés (finks), prisoners and local trackers were made to help. Shortly, one of the trackers turned up traces of the shoes Um was wearing. Aware of the danger he was in, and at the insistence of his entourage, Um had left the camp, probably the night before. His plan had been to move to a new hideout, which Alexandre Mbénd was setting up for him. But the preparations were taking too long, so Um and his companions had decided to lay low in the brush, near a boulder abutting on a swamp. That very morning, Mayi Matip had queried the spirits: nothing bad, he said, was slated to happen today.

Now that it had found the shoe prints, the search party sped up. Within minutes, it located Um’s group. Martha, Um’s companion on the run, was with him. She was pregnant with his son-to-be, Daniel Ruben Um Nyobè. Um Ngos, the man charged with overseeing Um’s base camp, was there too, as well as Pierre Yém Mback, the CPU secretary, Yèmbel Nyébél, the party’s administrator, Ruth Poha, Um’s mother-in-law, and, of course, Um himself. Immediately, the guns went off. Yém Back was hit first. The soldiers, among them a Chadian conscript called Sara Abdoulaye, were firing in all directions. At first, the trackers had not recognized Um. Yém fell inches from Um’s feet. Um tried to step over a log, so he could shift his body around the boulder and get past the swamp. At that very moment, one of the trackers, Makon ma Bikat, recognised him. Abdoulaye shot Um in the back. He crumbled, dropping as he fell a briefcase containing some documents and several notepads he used to jot down recollections of his dreams. Um moaned and died.

The bodies (among which his mother-in-law’s) were dragged to the village of Liyong. They arrived bloody and disfigured. The locals were corralled so they could get a good look at the corpses. The peasants recognised Um and Yém and said so. Ruth Poha’s body was left with them. The villagers buried her according to local custom. Um and Yém’s corpses became the property of the state. And so they were transported to the town of Eséka.

Yém Mback was buried right away in the Catholic mission cemetery. Um was packed off to the local hospital. There, a doctor by the name of Ntimban examined the corpse – just enough for the necessary papers to be signed attesting to Um’s death. Then the body was set up in a large room usually reserved for the ill and dying. In the meantime, the authorities had made up and distributed a tract announcing the death of “He who had turned out to be wrong.” Several thousand copies of the tract were printed and passed out in cities and towns all along the railroad line running through southern Cameroon. On the tract was a picture of Um lying dead on the ground. Back at the hospital, Jacques Bitjoka – one of the government’s main men – attempted to desecrate the corpse.

He showered it with insults, smacked the dead man’s forehead with his right index finger, and defied the corpse to stand up and fight – live up to its reputation, godamnit, Bitjoka would win no matter what. Getting rid of the corpse altogether was impossible. But it was suggested that the head be cut off and the brain removed, for examination. The burial, since one had to happen, was of the kind reserved to reviled men. The families were not invited. Mourning was forbidden. Pastor Song Nlend, of the American Presbytarian mission, held a brief service. The rites to which a man is entitled who has been killed as Um was (nyémb matjel) were denied him. No questions were put to the dead man. No meal was held in his honour. No explanations were given. True, he was granted a grave. But, on strict orders from the government, his corpse was first covered in cement; only then was it lowered into the ground.

To understand the sheer weight – the symbolic drama – of Um’s burial, it is worth remembering why he was assassinated: for opposing, without ever resorting to compromise, the colonial regime and for refusing to be corrupted as so many were by a government willing to go to any lengths to morally vanquish those who dared rise against it. He had also managed to evade public execution – the lot usually reserved for dissidents (men like Douala Manga Bell  and Paul-Martin Samba, put to death publicly in 1914). As he had been a source of disorder during his lifetime, the state decided to use his burial as a means of restoring order. The idea was to abolish, metaphorically, the ruptures, the discontinuities that Um had sought to create in the history of colonial power in Cameroon and, in the process, to show the shining glory of the power he had meant (and succeeded) to disrupt. The very manner of his burial was a play on images of order and disorder, deployed to rob Um’s death of the very elements that made it so powerful. The colonial state wanted to shut Um’s corpse up. It went about this in several ways.

First, from the forest in which he was killed all the way to the village of Liyong where he was identified by local peasants, the corpse was dragged in the mud. The whole body was disfigured: Um’s skin, his head, his hair, his face – all were marred with deep tears. And so Um lost his singularity, the specificity of his features, what made him distinctive – his appearance as a human being. The idea behind disfiguring the corpse was to destroy the individuality of the man, to turn what was left of him into an unrecognizable blob. Then came Bitjoka’s insult. This too had its reasons. It had proven impossible to humiliate Um while he was alive, so it was now essential to humiliate him in death, by refusing to grant him the status he deserved – the status that his life, the witness he had borne to his times and the awfulness of his death should have allowed him to claim. For this reason too, he was given but a miserable, anonymous grave. No epitaph, not even a name. As the point was to deny everything that he had been, to erase the very face of him, nothing was to subsist that might allow for the faintest glint of life to live on.

Just to make sure, the body was immersed in concrete. Um’s corpse would be allowed no contact with the earth in whose bowels he lay, no physical means to commune with his forebears or, in time, his descendants. The goal, in the end, was to erase Um from the collective memory of humankind, to consign him to chaos and, thus, to nothingness. When independence came in 1960, the freedom Um had fought for so hard fell to a clique that had objected to the very principle of it. This new state saw to it that no means were made available to recall the man or his death.

Determined to drown Um’s name in a sea of silence and forgetfulness, the postcolonial state went about disappearing everything he had been (what he had done and written, who he had been in relation to others – every one of those things that had made him the singular being that he was). For a long time after Um’s burial it was dangerous to say his name in public, to refer to his teachings, to keep in one’s home an effigy of the man or a trace of his writings. Thirty years on, in the late 1980s, Um and his memory were still buried deep under the denial and censorship of the state. Still, his “trace” and his “shadow” perdured, lived on as if phonetically, spoken, written, in spite of the state’s insistence that he be forgotten – in spite of an insistence whose very excess, for years, stood as the sole, strident cry of a crime duly admitted. In the very act of forgetting – within an official fable that sought once and for all to do away with him, exiling him deep in the night of those forever unnamed – something of Um had remained.

In the unconscious of this African place that had come to be known as Cameroon, neither his “name” nor the text of his death and burial had disappeared, even as the postcolonial state denied that there had been a death or that, for participating in it, it had incurred a debt. “Um”: in death, like a grapheme, the name lived on; Um’s very name became his testament. In the act of seeking to forget Um, in trying to sink his memory, to say that he was no thing – in their desperate quest to purge the country of its recent past – those who had taken over the reins of power showed how irreplaceable the dead man in fact was, how impossible it was to replace his name or the text of which he had been the bearer. For one can only un-do what was previously done, remove what once was there.


Achille Mbembe is the author of On The Postcolony. These words are excerpted from La naissance du maquis dans le sud-
Cameroun (1920-1960), and translated from the French by Dominique Malaquais. They previously appeared in print in Chimurenga Vol. 11: Conversations With A Poet Who Refuse To Speak.

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