Songlines of freedom

2012-01-21 10:13

Few of us can ever forget the haunting soundtrack of the Sarafina film. The piercing ­lament of the Our ­Father with its searing strains, or even the tragic tempo of the chant “Freedom is Coming Tomorrow” remains a national lullaby that transports us back into the painful years of Apartheid South Africa whenever we hear it.

In those days, most of us sat around the fire, thinking of the flames of a New South Africa that would burn bright and right for years on end.

These memories were brought back to me by the incessant ­chitter-chatter that littered sound waves and broadsheets in the build-up to the celebrations of the ANC’s ­centenary.

Anyone who has had to look after a very old person will tell you that most of them live their last years in deep reflection of their lives, gently perusing the choices they made, and in sombre meditation of the consequences of their ­decisions.

Spending my holidays in ­Hoedspruit, a rural town near ageing Phalaborwa, I asked myself if the ANC and its age were to be personified, what sort of Gogo or Mkhulu would it be? At once I ­decided that it would not be a Mkhulu, for few men live to be that old. Indeed even the mightiest of elephant bulls kneel before their death in their 50s.

I settled on the persona of a ­Gogo, not because women are ­failures, far from that, but simply because women live longer, if ­urban legend is anything to go by.

I thought of this image and twirled with its appearance in my head. I imagined all the Gogos I have met in their twilight years.

Some of them still hang on to the idea of who they once were – sassy, neat and immaculate. Others have been marked by time in cruel and painful ways.

Then there are those who never quite reached their potential and so curse their years as punishment, as they live in the shadows of what they could have been, but were unable to be. Their image of themselves in these latter years is one of bitterness and pain.

I remember the song Image by Nina Simone and its ­lyrics. Nina starts thus: “She does not know her beauty, she thinks her brown body has no glory, if she could dance naked under palm trees and see her image in the river she would know.”

Does the ANC fully appreciate its history? If it did, why is it so ­content to discombobulate it, by insisting on the very same path of its former oppressors?

Like the Gogo in Nina’s song, the ANC does not appreciate the glory of its history, for if it did, the ­Information Bill would never have seen the light of day and the less one speaks of the Media Tribunal the better.

On the other hand, the ANC knows very well that it has an imagined remote control in its hand over the memories of most black people. This remote control is an instrument that privileges ­remembering over forgetting, the same way Gogo would retell ­ancient stories to her grandchildren, capturing their wondering minds, to a specific time in history, when such and such happened.

The little ones, now immobilised by the patina of time, are then forced to repeatedly realise the jewel that is their grandmother, and as such, any thought of her imminent passing terrifies them as they wonder what they shall ­become when she goes. The ANC with her ageing heart, has learnt this trick of dis-ease very well.

This dis-ease is the fear of the unknown, for if the ANC has repeatedly asserted that it shall govern until the Second Coming of Christ, it effectively denies the possibility of an alternative strong black party with the capacity to govern.

The fear of the unknown is a trick the ANC uses to haunt the memory of black people, for so entrenched are our fond reflections of the past, that we are brought to tears when we hear the melody of  Lizalis’idinga lakho,  or even the romantic allure of Sobashiya Abazili Ekhaya, a lament we sang as we crossed borders into Mozambique to train and fight the white enemy.

You must understand that not much happens in Hoedspruit, ­although the wounded among us might retort and say not much ­happens under the ANC ­administration either. This would be untrue, as a lot happens in Hoedspruit, such as the leisurely pace of the place – after all, it serves as a holiday ­destination.

Does the ANC understand the mandate it has been given by the majority of the land?

As it twirls meditatively with its age, will the party be able to ­account for the leisurely delivery of basic services and intervene ­without paying lip service?

When the noise of the centenary wind dies down, will this party be able to brutally confront the fractured mirage it sees in the mirror?

The ANC, sooner or later, will have to learn to articulate a vision that uses the future as opposed to the past as a starting point.

Perhaps this moment of the ­centenary is exactly that, when it looks at its heirs, to pose the question, what sort of country does it wish South Africa to be?

In a world that is suspect of the capacity of blackness to govern, the ANC has the potential to ­re-write the future differently, for a failure on its part to do this, would be treason to blackness.

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