Gael Reagon meets the spirit formerly known as Zebulon Dread.
On Friday 18 July, when most South Africans enact their humanity through a ritualised act of charity under the rubric of Mandela Day, the indomitable art iconoclast Zebulon Dread, purveyor of the self-published satirical magazine Hei Voetsek!, returns to public life and consciousness after a decade-long sabbatical. Headlining the launch of the Chimurenga Chronic (the purple, graphics issue) at the Book Lounge in Cape Town, Zeb Dread will – for the first time since pounding the streets and societal barricades with his pugilist brand of commentary – unveil himself as Swami Sitarama Dasa, the Black Guru and editorialise for current and future times his mission statement.
Last week I had tracked him to Bonteheuwel, to inform him of the launch event of the issue that features a pull-out supplement of his last, unpublished Hei Voetsek! from 2005. Handed to the Burning Museum Art Collective, it is a cut and paste publication, both invention and homage to his work, in the best tradition.
Trim and existentially replete, the Swami has completed his hermitage phase. Now seeks renunciation: no substances, no sex but smilingly confesses “soe innnie winter dink ‘n man aan ‘n meid met warm boude”. Tells me with his characteristic tongue swagger since his divorce and the kindness of his daughters in leaving him to become the Black Guru, “to fulfill the desired purpose of my life,” this is the last-ever Hei Voetsek! He plans a R200 000 auction of the last 10 issues including three original cut and paste issues. This will be his legacy to his daughters, Yamuna, Radhika and Gaurandi, who between them have written nine books. “I have to make a kakhuis of cash for them”.
Our reconnection shapes rather wondrously. “Lying here in my small ashram on the Cape Flats I am more afraid of myself than anyone could ever be of me because I am ma-se-poes dangerous as will soon be seen. Why? I am in possession of the greatest knowledge in the cosmos and have to give that to the most ignorant fearful people in the world.”
“Ek vat hulle almal aan: almal die slamse, almal die lying jews en almal die mal christians. I feel immeasurably sad that people have sold their lives so easily to religion, have sold their souls to pastors, imams, rabbis that offer them nothing but enslavement.”
“One of my great predecessor gurus said ‘the ecclesiastical thieves have dammed the river of spirituality and replaced it with the lakes of dogma ‘. And what is dog ma, mother of dog, barking, barking, this is mine, my earth, my religion, my God, only my saviour can save you, my god is bigger than yours.”
Three weeks back in the mother city after a 4-month continental pilgrimage in India – walking as a sadhu, meditating, exploring spirituality – he had asked of the Himalayas permission to pursue his destined work and to don the appellation black, even guru. He received his universal answer in the form of a mountain-shower of snow. In what is to mark his embrace of paradox, he then asserts: “I am not black. I am not male, African, South African, human. I am eternal soul dedicated to my FATHER, FRIEND, BENEFACTOR, ETERNAL BELOVED, GOD, SRI KRISHNA. I am pure spirit.”
In the near future is a book of this journey, Funky Monk in Skunky India.
Reclining in his wooden zozo, dred guru gestates and instructs me in the law of action. Of Karma. Energy is currency. The self-realised being understands his and her existence as elemental energy.
“Who are you,” he asks me. Momentarily trapped in rationalist bipolar mentality, I hesitate for thought.
“Unless you understand who you are and where you come from, how can you move in this life and appropriate its energy, without knowing the origin of the energy?”
Example, he postulates. “Take a drop of water from the ocean and place it alone somewhere. Does it have any purpose? Power? Can it quench anyone’s thirst? No. But connect that drop to the ocean and it becomes a wave, a tsunami, a moving force. Therefore the soul, the living entity, the self is who and what we are.”
“Never have we not been spiritual beings – we are as eternal as God. I cannot die, you cannot kill me. But the body dies. Therein lies the differentiation between madness and sanity. Once you understand that you will be sitting on the top of Table Mountain laughing jou ma-se-poes off.”
“The West has no understanding of karma; of the fact that everything that happens to you – rape, personal mayhem, persecution – every minute element, positive and negative, that enters and leaves your body is karma. Karma is the unbiased current of justice emanating from that which we call fate or providence which rewards the soul with an action and reaction that becomes the foundation of that being’s existence.”
“We took our collective birth in South Africa where, under the aegis of being black, we suffered at the hands of so-called white people. Which means that many souls, together, took their birth to endure karmic punishment – which they’ve not understood. Because the same people who subjected us to their horrendous madness of their pigmentation diseases, under their pig mentality of pseudo superiority, will take their birth in other dimensions and be subjected to the same i.e as ye sow, so shall ye reap. Which is why we are here.”
OK Swami Zeb Dread, my own spiritual questioning seeks an end to humanity’s inhumanity. Is this possible?
“Can we stop this cycle? Yes, of course, this is what the motherfucking universe wants. You were born to this. To wake up. To wake up from the darkness of tribe, the nation, religion. It is to wake up from the misidentification of the self with the body. That is the direct reason for our troubled human existence. And I have come to destroy this myth.”
“I am spirit soul. In that aphorism is embedded the complete liberation of any man, any woman, any soul because it is the factual position of the self, free from tribe, nation, religion, any emanation in the mind. Our liberation from human psychosis lies in the awakening of the eternal consciousness which is based on this very concept. You break the cycle by becoming consciously aware, by finding a spiritual guide who has broken the cycle.”
“I will tell you something, and that, simply put, is that I was born for this revolution, to become a spiritual revolutionary. Because this science of God, of Krishna consciousness is the eternal juice of my soul, the river of my life that I have been searching for life after life. I am home at last. I am home completely, in all elements of my existence. I am free of all doubt, illusion, and bewilderment. Because, I, the tiny drop of water, have found my ocean – the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who, by the way, is pitch black.”
“They are going to kill me.”