Ray Phiri's State Funeral is for Nation Building

2017-07-20 04:32

I have been searching for the reasons why an official state funeral is worth and deserving for Ray Phiri. In my search for the reasons why I came up with a dossier. The reasons are solid and strong like the rock of Gibraltar.

I present the core elements of that dossier here.

But let us first begin where we are currently this week and do some valid connections.

This week has been greatly significant. It opened  with the honoring of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday in what has become to be known as Mandela Day. Mandela Day is fascinating in the fact that it arouses a clatter of emotions, especially among Africans. Those emotions ranges from adulation to mild protest. There is some kind of vague feeling that you get that Mandela kind of let - up or sold out. But overall in the ultimate end we get united in the fact that it is Mandela who gave us this South Africa that we now live in (good or bad).

The week is closing with  the memorial (this Thursday) and later funeral service (this Saturday) of Ray Phiri. Ray Phiri was the founder / head and public representative of Stimela musical band.

Ray Phiri

Ray Phiri and Stimela forms part of the great South African story from its long developments.

The 1950s saw the generation of bright young leaders rising up. We had legendary young men and women on a whirlwind crusade across the nation against Apartheid as it was recently established in 1948. Notable among these young leaders was Nelson Mandela. They launched a jihad protest against Apartheid. They had immense superior organizational abilities and power that as the 1950s slipped into the 1960s a powerful front was emerging against Apartheid.

The 1960s saw the Apartheid authorities reacting in a mighty force - in counter attack. The Apartheid government struck back. It arrested the ring leaders and threw them at Robben Island. Key among those arrested was Nelson Mandela.

But the fire has been lit, and there was no way of quenching it.

The 1970s represented the darkest period in the history of South Africa. Tortures, mass killings and arrests were made common. All these reached their high point or rather low point in Soweto uprisings of June, 1976 and subsequent gruesome murder of Steve Biko in 1977.

Ray Phiri and Stimela shed the light to these darkest background and grief stricken 1970s. Ray Phiri and Stimela burst into the national consciousness as the 1970s slipped into the 1980s. Ray Phiri and Stimela defined and shaped the 1980s era. This was the time when people knew, that come what may the days of Apartheid were numbered. People felt that the powers of Apartheid has no other place to go to but down. Only down! The tears were beginning to dry up as the glimpses of the coming of a better tomorrow were on the horizon.

The word Stimela means a train. But the reference to Stimela by Ray Phiri was not about the train as it rolls. Not the sound of the train or its machinery, but what was happening within the train. Within the train you have people engaging in simple random conversations that revolved around the ordinary daily struggles.

The Wake Forest University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry once conducted a study in Black political thought germination. She asserts that along with the intricacies of family and work among Africans there are social spaces. These interactions are more than social. These are spaces where Black people develop political attitudes.

She states: “Therefore, one important element, in understanding how black people interpret and make sense of the political world is to listen on in their everyday talk".

Think about those ordinary random conversations as like dissertation ideas. And Ray Phiri took those random ideas and published them in a journal. The journal in this case is the Ray Phiri and Stimela music band. The ideas once published spread across and reshaped and redefined South Africa.

In writing the Souls of Black People, the Harvard educated W. E. B. Du Bois described Black life as existing behind a veil. He was saying on the mainstream you had the White people and White domination. And Black people existing behind this veil - the mainstream. And it was within this behind the veil conversations that Ray Phiri and Stimela anchored a nation.

Ray Phiri says/sings in Whispers in the Deep that he "beat the rhythm of flame, who's songs are as truthful". What does he mean by beating a rhythm of flame? One thing is for sure that rhythm of flame ignited in a ball of fire that shape this country to where it is now.

Stand up! Wake up!

Speak out your mind!

I'm inspired.

But I can't understand hate.

-Ray Phiri and Stimela  in Whispers in the Deep (1986).

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