We need the moment of Mafube

Simphiwe Dana
Simphiwe Dana

Oyama Mabandla’s eloquent dirge in City Press (January 8 2017) is a devastating account of how we as a black nation have failed to remember, while it simultaneously serves as an ode to nostalgia.

Mabandla’s use of jazz literature and its symbols as a lens through which we can read the state of the state, is both fascinating and refreshing.

In light of the provocative and robust artistic past that black South Africa has emerged from, where then did we drop the baton? To what past misfortune can we attribute our disinterest in being captains of our fate?

The euphoria of 1994 was a watershed moment that pulled black South Africa, in the main, from the throngs of decades-old systematic violence and oppression.

It was from that very year that we could have been the greatest in anything that we touched or imagined.

However, when you look at our artistic harvest during those heydays of a new South Africa, they were a sham, for we could not produce an epoch that was inspired by the birth of the new.

If we were to be crude, during the years of systematic oppression there was a healthier production of literary texts, films and music than during our years of democracy.

It is important to remember that, in fact, the artistic produce of those early days of democracy started very well, with the emergence of kwaito, a music genre that initially offered a social critique as evidenced by Arthur Mafokate’s “Nee Baas, don’t call me k*ffir”, only to morph into a musical liturgy that spawned youth subcultures of street bashes, jack-rolling and apolitical youth bands such as TKZee.

It is telling that, when the genre of kwaito was on its last legs, we saw the rise of music that yearned for ancestral intervention as popularised by Simphiwe Dana and Thandiswa Mazwai, among others.

If we were to think of this trajectory differently, and use the music genre of Dana and Mazwai, their aesthetic and the symbols they employed suggested that by the early noughties (2000-2009), there was a call for ancestors to intervene because we, the living ones, were not the beautiful ones, even though 1994 wanted to suggest otherwise.

This is not to suggest that 1994 was a false start. On the contrary. We black South Africans mistook the birth of our democracy as an end in itself, not realising the hard work that had to be undertaken in building and creating the society we wanted.

In a manner not unlike that of a drunken stupor, we edited out the powerful “Makubenjalo” (“Let it be”) from our anthem and, in its place, created a musical bastard that forced us to empathise hook, line and sinker with our former oppressors as we belted out Die Stem.

This act served as a preface to a nation that was so comfortable with its horrendous past, that it was willing to re-enact, on a daily basis, its painful past as a way of dealing with the present.

This schizophrenic mentality pervaded throughout our black administration as shouts of “Amandla!” and the singing of revolutionary songs could often be witnessed at state functions.

These acts remind us of the difficulty of transition, for if our rulers were not awake to the possibility that they were now in government and not in the trenches, by what figment of imagination, then, did we expect black South Africans to know that they too were now free and that, collectively, this country was ours to run, not so much aground as into deeper waters.

Early in the week it was announced that the British, in partnership with The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, would be producing King Kong, perhaps the only black musical that the country knows.

Of course there is Sarafina, which started life well as a theatre production, only to be destroyed by a poor film adaptation.

As Mabandla alluded to in his article, King Kong gave birth to musical luminaries such Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, among others. How do we account for the fact that this iconic show, born during the worst years for black South Africa, will see its revival under a foreign creative team?

From where I am sitting, it points in stark and painful ways to a black South Africa is comatose.

We are eavesdroppers on the creation of our future, and our pensive mood about what should be done either to reclaim or reimagine our dreams should revive our fighting spirit so that we can be at the centre of our economic, ethical and social rejuvenation; our children can finally do as well as their white peers; we can look to the pointers of 1994 as not the morning star but the guiding light; and so that this year becomes the moment of Mafube, an ideological awakening that we all are not lost as long as we, the people, have ourselves.

Ya Rona-Mamatu is an entrepreneur

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