Africa is a Country

Books: David Goldblatt’s ‘Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil Through Soccer’

In his book Futebol Nation, British journalist David Goldblatt explores the history of Brazilian football and how it links to the social, economical, cultural and, especially, political life of the country. As Goldblatt argues, despite its size and except for the recent surge in its economy, in the almost two centuries of its existence as an independent nation, Brazil has not managed to make a meaningful impact in the world stage. Yet, that statement would be completely false in the world of football, where Brazilian teams, players and style have dominated the imagination of international fans for decades. So football is the perfect excuse to go about analysing what it means to be Brazilian.

Futebol Nation tells the story of how football came to be not only Brazil’s favorite sport, but also how it turned into a way of building national identity in a vast disconnected country, a means of political control in an unequal, fragmented and federalist polity, and an endless resource for art, culture, hope and violence for its largely poor and disenfranchised population.

Goldblatt starts his tale chronologically, with the return, in 1894, of Charles Miller, a Brazilian son of a Scotsman, from his education in England. At his arrival at the port of Santos, in São Paulo, he carried a pair of boots, a rule book and a football. A decade later, football was already a craze in Brazil, with Miller’s passion expanding in São Paulo and other Brazilian-Europeans arriving shortly afterwards with a contagious love of the sport to Rio de Janeiro and other major Brazilian cities.

From here on, although he still works in a mostly chronological order, Goldblatt divides his book in themes which he aligns with what he considers to be distinct eras of Brazilian football: first as an amateur sport for the upper class communities of European expats and its descendants; then, as professionalization became widespread (even if not legal yet),  as a sport where the poor, or non-white could become, even so briefly, part of the elite; and so on. Goldblatt’s insistence on dealing with themes, rather than describing a mere sequence of events, does a wonderful job of explaining how football is interconnected with every aspect of Brazilian life. But, for those not initiated with Brazilian history and politics, like me, it can get confusing at certain moments, with his jumps back and forward between years, governments and tournaments. 

But, as a whole, the book is a well-written, thoroughly-researched and easily-explained version of Brazilian issues–its racism, its classism, its corruption, its violence, but also its drive, its ever-booming cultural production, and its never-fading obstination with its own defeats–all looked at through the glass of the national obsession that is football. 

Goldblatt goes deep into the Brazilian press’s archives to show the ambivalence the country has felt towards the sport since its early days, with some commentators arguing that it could highlight and uplift the nation’s spirits, while others treating it as a mere brute endeavor, and yet others dismissing it as an out-of-place foreign fabrication. He also looks constantly at the works of art (music, films, songs, novels) being produced about football at a specific time, thus creating an image of what the sport meant for intellectuals, artists and consumers of mainstream media. Indeed, media is essential to the history of Brazilian football, from the crônicas that filled newspaper pages, to the ritual of hearing matches in the radio, to the rise of TV rights and the conversion of the sport into the globalized phenomenon which it is today.

The book is largely a tension between those in power (politicians, presidents of clubs and the heads of the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol) trying to seize football from above for their own greedy purposes, and those below (the players, the casual fans, the organized torcidas and all the hopeful prospects) trying to make sense of their position inside in a corrupt industry.

These tensions are best exemplified in the stories of Pelé and Garrincha presented in the book. Teammates in the World Cup champions squads from 1958 and 1962 and widely regarded as the best Brazilian players ever, both had very similar backgrounds, but very different fates. Garrincha was born to a working class family in the state of Rio de Janeiro, while Pelé was born in a remote, poor town of Minas Gerais. Garrincha was ostracized because of the various birth defects which flawed his body, while Pelé’s black race was a constant source of discrimination.

Yet, Garrincha would become known as “Alegria do Povo”, “The Joy of the People”: though fantastic in his gameplay, both with Brazil and Botafogo, he always remained a regular, working-class man, a man of the people, never looking for fame, or fortune, squandering what little he had earned to fund his alcoholism. Pele, in contrast, was “O Rei”, “The King”, the quintessential example of using football to “get ahead.” Years after his retirement, he still takes advantage of his image to advertise and create lucrative business opportunities, and he has not been shy in looking for political power, even becoming a cabinet minister under president Fernando Cardoso’s tenure.

Pelé knew how to work his talent for his advantage. As Goldblatt tells us about him: “After scoring [his 1000th career goal in 1969] he ran to pick the ball out of the net and in seconds he was surrounded, then engulfed, by a horde of photographers and reporters. When he finally emerged from the scrum, it was a schmaltzfest. Pelé dedicated the goal to the children of Brazil and took and endless lap of honour in a especially prepared 1,000 shirt. A senator in Congress wrote a poem to Pelé and read it out loud on the floor of the house. Everywhere else in the world the newspapers led with the Moon-landing of the Apollo 12 space mission. In Brazil, they split the front page.” 

But Garrincha was clueless and disinterested in becoming a hero, which is why Brazilian media, constantly looking to create and destroy idols, promptly forgot about him, after retirement and until his death: “After another day of drinking cachaça Garrincha was taken to a sanatorium in Botafogo where he had already a number of episodes in rehab. This time he died in  an alcoholic coma. Within hours hundreds were gathering at the hospital. The press, who had not written a word about him for a decade, began to publish a torrent of remembrance. a municipal fire engine, like the one that had carried him  through the streets of the city with the 1958 World Cup winners, took his body to the Maracanã.”

The book also tells the story of other Brazilian greats, and their investment, or lack thereof with politics, such as Sócrates commitment to the Democracia Corinthiana, and, at the end, succeeds at explaining how football moves Brazil. Such is the case the success of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Dilma Rousseff’s and “Lula” da Silva’s party), which is partly linked to football and the 2014 World Cup, and such was the case with the 2013 protests around Brazil which coincided with and were amplified by the Confederations Cup held in the country.

Goldblatt asks himself in a coda added in February of 2014, if the movement that sparked those protests can, in a country still plagued by corruption, polarization and inequality, bring forth positive change. But after a successful staging of a World Cup and a new victory by the PT, this yet remains an open question.

* On Wednesday, November 19th, David Goldblatt will give a free talk (open to the public) on the globalization of English football at the Theresa Lang Center (55W 13th Street, second floor) at The New School in New York City. Sign up here for the event. Or see more information here.

Making Azonto: Local Roots and International Branches

As a DJ, having the platform of Africa is a Radio to showcase the music I’m feeling from artists around the world is a lot of fun, and quite rewarding. But, providing insight into the other branch of the music industry I work in, as a producer (creator), is something I don’t do nearly enough of. Partly because the old tradition of musicians relying on journalists to write about our music for us (and paying PR people to make that happen) stubbornly persists. And also because truthfully, self-promotion in this cutthroat social media age is still a bit awkward for me. Still, I often ask myself, “why rely solely on music journalists to get the word out about your work with so many ways to directly communicate with audiences today?”

So, since this platform is a place to delve deeper into various topics, besides taking the opportunity to share the following remix, I thought it would be good to take the opportunity to provide some context behind its creation. By doing so, hopefully I’ll help provide insight, and de-mystify some of what goes into the music production process. Who knows, perhaps writing about making music will become a regular thing over here, and not only for myself but for any artists interested in sharing (hint, hint!)

So here we go:

The above remix is my take on Teleseen’s song Baalbek. The melodies and harmonies of his original were inspired by both Ethio-jazz music, and Brazilian Batucada from Rio (where he and I are both currently based.) He merges the two and takes it into territory that might be welcome on the dance floors of techno meccas like Berlin or Detroit.

For my version, I decided to strip the heavily layered song down to only a few essential instruments, and ended up focusing on one of the several saxophone melodies going throughout the original. From there I decided to concentrate on building my remix around new percussion ideas, instead of harmonic ones. After the saxophone line, the next thing I added back into the mix was the guitar line that hits on the up beat. I foregrounded it and looped the strongest parts so it was continuous throughout the track. Once that was in it reminded me of the emphasis on the up beat of azonto, especially in songs like Sarkodie & E.L.’s “U Go Kill Me.” Expanding on that moment of inspiration, I added a bunch of percussion referencing rhythms prevalent in azonto. I rounded it out by layering the kicks with pitched 808 bass samples to create a new booming bass line, and my azonto-techno remix was born.

The beat for “U Go Kill Me” and many other azonto hits was produced by Ghanian beat maker Nshona. A couple years ago, when azonto was just hitting international airwaves, Benjamin Lebrave pointed Nshona out as one of the main innovators behind the musical style that accompanied the Ghanian dance phenomenon. The mark of his productions is (mostly?) Ga traditional rhythms on digital software such as Fruity Loops. And, I think Nshona’s instrumentals could very much merit the techno signifier on their own accord — making the name azonto-techno redundant:

However, I’m not the only one inspired to take azonto’s exciting energy down a new conceptual path. While the dance itself maybe losing steam in its home base, several producers outside of Ghana are still attempting to push it in new directions. A quick Youtube search reveals several takes on the idea of azonto-techno, each of which are quite unique.

One other example that is rather close to home for me is the Rasta Azonto Riddim, an instrumental by Kush Arora that uses dark synth sounds influenced by industrial music. My label Dutty Artz released an EP of the song with two accompanying vocal versions this past month:

And, as I mentioned before on this site, there has been a noticeable influence of contemporary African Pop on the Caribbean Carnival season this last year. From February through to Labor Day, I’ve been able to witness azonto making its mark on the various Carnival-inspired celebrations around the world.

I’d also be remiss to not mention the experiments of DJ Flex in New Jersey who blends Afropop hits with U.S. East Coast Club music:

Not only interested in morphing azonto with non-Ghanian musical ideas, some folks are interested in exploring the traditions behind the music. Since writing about Nshona for The Fader, Lebrave and his Akwaaba Music label have launched Roots of Azonto, a project that entails workshops and recording sessions in various parts of Ghana — in order to explore and expand the source material for the popular music of the day. By reintroducing “real drum sounds back into the studio” he, and workshop partners like Max Le Daron, aim to expand Ghanian producers’ vocabulary, and at the same time document, and thus help preserve Ghana’s diverse music traditions:

Now for the shameless self-promotion: My remix of Baalbek is part of the Anamorph Remix EP out on Brooklyn-based indie label Feel Up Records. Kush Arora’s Rasta Azonto Riddim was released on an EP featuring versions by Jamaican vocalist Blackout JA and Zimbabwean Pops Jabu. Follow the Roots of Azonto at the Akwaaba Music website, and Nshona on Twitter. And, don’t miss any of DJ Flex’s great remixes on Soundcloud.

As far as rappers Keur Gui are concerned nothing has changed in Senegal

“You’re heading straight to jail after that song is released” is what 25 year old rapper LDP said to Keur Gui (the house in Wolof) when he heard the lyrics of the track “Diogoufi” (Nothing has Changed) the first single off their new album.

The Senegalese rap duo, Keur Gui, recently released their highly anticipated double volume CD titled Encyclopédie (Encyclopedia). For those who don’t recall, Keur Gui were founding members of the of the Senegalese youth-led protest movement, Y’en a Marre (Fed Up). Keur Gui, consisting of Kilifeu and Thiat is arguably one of the most engaged hip hop acts on the African continent today.

After being away from the scene for a few years, the duo set off a media storm in August when they dropped the single. Thiat’s verse is a somber reflection on the situation in the country. It includes lyrics like: same cats, same dogs/same electoral promises/it’s only two years and we’re already fed up. Kilifeu then enters singing the catchy lyrics to the chorus, which translates to something along the lines of: the way you wake up is the way you will go to bed … You go straight to jail if you dare speak out with the ultimate message being that nothing has changed in the country but the president.

The song addresses the economic situation, power cuts, soaring prices for basic necessities, the selling off of coastal land to international entities, and most controversial, rumors about the interference of the first lady in matters of government. They also assert that current president, Macky Sall, was pushed into power by accident and ultimately has no solutions for Senegal. The track quickly became an anthem for the population. Thiat and Kilifeu were not arrested; however it wasn’t long before they started to feel the ripple effects of their critique as sponsors slowly dropped them. Thiat and Kilifeu were not to be silenced.

Their activism started when they were just 17 years old. Their first album set to be released in 1999 was thought to be too critical of the government especially against President Abdou Diouf and Le Haut Conseil de l’audiovisue (High Audio Visual Council) required that they change four out of the six tracks. The album was in essence censored and never released. Another track directly criticized Abdoulaye Diack, the then Mayor of their hometown of Kaolack for the difficult social situation experienced by its residents. The young duo were beaten by men sent by the mayor, arrested and stripped of their clothes. This is why they go shirtless during concerts, because they say; never again will anyone have the opportunity to strip them.

Keur Gui was not discouraged; they went on to release several albums over the years that tackled a variety of social and political issues. In 2008, Keur Gui returned with Nos Connes Doléances (Our Idiots Complaints)—a French pun of “Condolences”—an album that sought to both entertain and educate. That album led to numerous awards and they became recognized continent-wide for a brand of conscious hip-hop that confronts elements of bad governance and corruption. (Check out “Coup 2 Gueule” (Lets Act on our Words) from their 2008 album.)

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Even though they were widely recognized as conscious rappers, Keur Gui rose to another level of international fame as founding members of the Y’en a Marre movement that shook the Senegalese nation to its core when a collective of rappers and journalists joined forces to declare we’re fed up. Since the intensity of the protest movement died down, people wondered how Kilifeu and Thiat would interact with the new government that many imagine they helped to elect. The duo wanted to get back to the business of hip hop and went into the laboratory to concoct an al-bomb they say.

The album was recorded over a five-month period ironically at The House Studios in Washington DC. They emerged with their encyclopedia in two volumes: “Opinion Public” and “Reglement de Compte” (The reckoning). Public Opinion is a reflection on the state of Senegal, the future of the country and their take on continent-wide issues. The reckoning is a classic hip hop battle style album where they aim to quiet those who asked if they are still serious players in the Senegalese hip hop game.

They then released their second single “Nothing to Prove,” which is a classic ego trip song. On this track we see that Thiat and Kilifeau are clearly in sync as they share verses in order to argue that Keur Gui has nothing to lose, nothing to prove. They tell other rappers we fear nothing and have no equals, we never back down. We spit medicine for those in real need. We provide real solutions to problems. They further assert we’re the only hip hop crew that can give the government a deadline and are prepared to sacrifice our lives for the masses that we represent. We gave y’all a break, but now we’re back.

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There are tracks for people with all types of tastes. General, a young rapper in Senegal noted, “Public Opinion is for the intellectuals but The Reckoning, wow that shows Keur Gui is the best.”   One thing that’s for certain, Keur Gui has maintain their hard hitting, in your face style. The track Dankanfou (Warning) is deceptive with its serene piano and slower flow that draw the listener in. The song is a warning to Macky Sall as Kilifeu starts with, what kicked out Diouf/pulled down Wade/is warming up Macky and later, your grace period is over/life is still so hard. They warn Sall that he did not learn the lesson from the 2011-2012 protest movement but they take it further back by citing Diouf and Wade because youth were instrumental in helping to vote both out of office.

There are also songs like France a Fric that address France’s history and contemporary policies across Africa or No Comment that calls out everyone from Mugabe to Gbagbo. Personal tracks are also incorporated. In Alma Noop (Listen to Me), they speak to the next generation as Kilifeu passes on lessons to his son and Thiat to his imagined future daughter. While in Fima Diar (My History) Thiat talks about his life journey that led to meeting Kilifeu.

Keur Gui fans will be impressed by their evolution as they vary their technical flow; Thiat changes up his rhyme pattern and Kilifeu excels at his rapping/singing hybrid; have hooks in English, French, and Spanish; include a number of collaborations with DC-based musicians especially the Grammy nominated emcee Kokayi; blend hip hop and African sounds with traditional African instruments; and highlight Senegalese beat makers who are represented on 20 of the 26 tracks. Yet they remain true to their roots as they provide social commentary and give politicians and other rappers a lyrical thrashing. The album is a musical, personal, political, and ideological experience.

* The album will be available for purchase online soon. Until then, the author can be contacted about contact information for purchasing CDs. Image Credit: KeurGui Facebook Page (top) and Janette Yarwood.

Why debating and getting rid of Zwarte Piet won’t be a priority in Belgium

Why is the discussion surrounding Zwarte Piet getting far less traction in Belgium than it does in the Netherlands? For me, it boils down to one issue: racism in Belgium is endemic, and it is not taken seriously. Few are talking, and even fewer are listening.

The discussions on Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands have been well documented in foreign and national media. However, it is less known that this blackface figure is also present across the Netherlands’ borders, in Belgium, most notably in the region of Flanders. There are many reasons for the lack of debate in Belgium: the celebrations of Saint Nicholas Day are distinct in each country, and both the Belgians and the Dutch pride themselves on their cultural differences and debates as well as the ways in which their political systems are structured. However, when one acknowledges that Black Pete is just one of a myriad of symptoms demonstrating a discriminatory society, it raises red flags about how Belgium deals with racism.

In Belgium, the past few months have been littered with racism scandals: endemic racism was recently exposed within the Antwerp police corps, a national newspaper depicted Barack and Michelle Obama as chimpanzees, and then there’s Theo Francken the recently appointed minister of migration and asylum. Francken, from the right-wing Flemish-nationalist party the NV-A (the New Flemish Alliance), which dominated the last election, called into question the economic validity of the migration of African migration on his Facebook page. Immigrant groups are now calling for a national stay away on 19 December to protest his remarks. After an initial outcry, the debate about his remarks quickly died down.

What is interesting in these cases is how quickly and superficially they pass. When a leading and otherwise respectable newspaper pictures the president of the United States as a monkey, a short outburst and a quick apology cannot suffice. When that same newspaper a few months later allows one of its major football commentators to spout ignorant so-called “facts” as to why an “African team” can’t make it to the finals (I quote: “because they can’t focus on the goal for more than six weeks at a time”) it happens again, minus the apologies. In 2010 when the DRC celebrated 50 years of independence the most prominent figure on Belgian television was Jef Geeraerts, an ex-colonial administrator and writer known for anti-women and neo-colonist views.

Why are these matters laid to rest so quickly? Belgium has not had a real debate about its colonial past and most of this history is not part of the country’s collective memory. It is not properly taught to children nor adequately represented in the media.

Until recently migration from sub-Saharan countries to Belgium was mostly sporadic and short term. Since the late 1980’s larger numbers of people, predominantly from the DRC began to settle. Migrant communities have been hesitant to respond to flagrant discrimination and remain divided among themselves. As a consequence, in broader national debate, dealing with racism—especially the less overt kind—is not seen as important.

Another very important reason why you can’t mention the R-word is the development of Belgian politics. In the early nineties the popularity of the right wing and overtly racist party Vlaams Blok (VB) soured. At the time the word ‘racist’ became synonym for referring to someone who “votes VB.”

People didn’t have to look in the mirror anymore: as long as you were against VB you didn’t have to think twice about your own views or behaviour. The VB over time has all but disappeared (although many people from the party joined the NV-A) but racism has not disappeared with it.

This has left us with a difficult inheritance to deal with. Our overwhelmingly white and male political system and media have left us without a forum and discourse in which we can speak about racism. Political correctness has become a swear word and claims of racism are easily swept away as irrelevant or “not fun.” In this context debating and changing a phenomenon like Zwarte Piet will never be a priority.

The Kenya Art Fair

Over the past few years, artists like Michael Soi and Cyrus Kabiru placed Kenya on the global visual arts map. The first Kenya Art Fair is part of this move.

From November 6 – 9, 2014, the Sarit Center Exhibition Hall in Nairobi’s Westlands area was the epicentre of this vibrant art fair. Organized by Kuona Trust and sponsored by the Go Down arts centre, Pawa 254 and the Nation Media Group, the Kenya Art Fair gathered personalities from the national art scene to debate and build a stronger artistic movement through discussions and exhibitions. The exciting encounters between artists, gallery owners, collectors, art lovers and curious people has nurtured new and future collaborations.

Participants included Abdi Rashid Jibril from Arterial Network, Danda Jaroljmek from the Circle Art Agency, Elisabeth Nasubo from the Ministry of Culture and many creators like the performance artist Ato Malinda and the master cartoonist Gado. The diverse line-up of panels such as “digital art”, “the role of Kenyan government in supporting the contemporary visual arts sector”, “cartoon and comic strip”, “art and business” and “the visual artists challenge” offered visitors tantalizing choices. The talks have been a space for the exchange of ideas and debate thanks to broad audience participation.

Admission was free, and the organizers estimate that over 5,000 people visited the Fair. According to Kuona Trust director Sylvia Gichia, even the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta took a stroll through the art fair  to show her support for the art world.

But Kenya still faces challenges within the arts sector despite the Fair’s evident success. Questions Kenya’s artists must grapple with include how to ensure art is not only for the elite, what distribution models can benefit artists who are not represented by agencies or galleries and how to use digital platforms to promote and sell art at a fair price. The creators of the Fair will also have to determine whether it will now become a regular occurrence, like the Dak’art in West Africa or the Joburg Art Fair in South Africa, or model itself the recent successful 2014 Kampala Art Biennale in Uganda.

Whatever the case, the Fair has made its mark. Art lovers, take heed – keep your eyes on Kenya.

* Art by Eric Muthonga (“The Westgate Attack”). Video by Sebastián Ruiz. This post is part of a partnership between Wiriko and Africa is a Country.

Soweto Punk Revolution: The Cum in your Face

Someone told me that interviewing a punk band from Soweto–an urban settlement, the country’s largest, created in the 1930s to separate blacks from whites in Johannesburg, South Africa–is a stupid idea. “Black people playing punk? Is it mixed with kwaito or what?” I tried to explain that the ever-mutating punk mind-set is apt for anyone eager to stir things up, anti-establishment, equality and free thought, a revolt against the snobbish bourgeoisie. Hence, a dirty-riffed “fuck you” couldn’t be more fitting in a society, which lets its president get away with building a tax-funded “safety pool” when a quarter of the nation is unemployed.

Hell-bent to challenge this non-believer, I set out for Johannesburg to attend Soweto Rock Revolution–Punk Fuck III. Once arrived, local thrash punk band TCIYF (short for “The Cum in your Face”) made it clear that this has nothing to do with politics at all. It was about having a mad party, and – if one can speak about “the true spirit of punk” – this came pretty close to what one would imagine the DIY-embracing, eccentricity-accepting and obedience-ignoring CBGB’s of the ‘70s to have been like.

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There might have been more sun, smiles and jah at Punk Fuck III than at blood-dripping aggro mosh pits in the colder, northern hemisphere, but the spit-hurling anarchy was commonplace. Attracting skaters, stoners and spiked hair, the music at the event wasn’t always strictly Ramones and Sex Pistols, but the attitude certainly was. R15 (about $1,50) Black Label quarts flowed like they were for free; weed was sold through the speakers; fireworks went off under Dr. Martens; microphones were ripped from the stage; band members left before sets started; guitars were stolen and spray cans were brazenly used to propagate feel-good slogans. On top of that, “the fourth wall” – dividing stage from floor – was constantly broken down, creating a welcome unity of fans and performers.

The togetherness started with Matt Vend, who announced that he would play without the amplifier if we don’t mind, when – in true punk fashion – the sound encountered problems. Sing-walking in-between eager listeners, he played a muted acoustic version until a fellow musician figured out what was wrong and kindly plugged him in again. His set was followed by Amber Light Choices, who set up on the floor completely. When TCIYF played at last, there was no more distinction between crowd and band – neither in alcohol levels nor assigned space.

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Being members of the SSS (Skate Society Soweto), consisting of Thula (guitar), Pule (vocals), Tox (bass), Jazz (drums) and Sthe (special vocal guest) are influenced by rock’n’roll and half-pipes, but growing up there were few local outlets for their interests. They took matters into their own hands though, and organised low-key punk and skate jams in the township. The Soweto Rock Revolution, however, only really picked up after they left their home turf to play Punk Uprising and linked up with LeftOvers bassist and manager, Clint Hattingh. He had the right contacts and was able to convince Johannesburg bands to get their asses to Soweto. A small scene, possibly as diverse as South Africa’s people, was born. Our society seems obsessed with putting people in boxes like sorting socks from underpants or crayons from felt pens, yet Punk Fuck III –attended by South Africans of all backgrounds – proved that the exact opposite exists as well.

TCIYF’s show mirrored what the movement’s purveyors have in common: courage, a thirst for rebellion and a carefree nature. The Soweto punk fuckers are loud, ballsey and unabashed. But most importantly, fun as hell. “Who is drunk?” Pule screams before they rip through their songs, so boozed up that Thula slips off the stage and continues playing while leaning against it. In the meantime, a moshing mob jumps on and off the elevated concrete, surprisingly managing to keep cables and equipment intact. It was punk fuck alright, perhaps best epitomised in the drunken band’s words: “Fuck the answers. Fuck the explanations. Fuck the fear. Fuck everything. Just go ahead and just do it.”

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Similar to the statement above, our interview – which we managed to squeeze into ten minutes as all TCIYF members were extremely busy organising bands, beer and blunts – was accentuated, somewhat naively, by “fucked up”, “fuck this” and “fuck them” in regular rhythms. Short, but to the point, they made it very clear what they were about.

Unlike Johnny Rotten – who TCIYF dig – all band members agree that they simply don’t care about current affairs. Avoiding all media because it “brainwashes you”, they’re adamant not to vote (some band members don’t even have IDs). “It’s not to shock or to take away any meanings. It’s about what we think at that time. It’s about life experiences,” shouts Sthe, when I ask whether the use of Jesus symbolism in their video to “Church Wine” is just as unconcerned. Insisting that “it did happen,” Jazz adds, “We went to church, drank the wine and ate the food.” I wasn’t completely convinced and wondered if they weren’t kicked out. “No, they saw us with skate boards and said ‘Jesus loves you guys.’ None of our songs are lies, all of them are true. Like ‘Touched by a Boner’ is about touching this girl on the train.”

It shouldn’t be a big deal, but given my pre-party experience, why punk music? “We’re from Soweto but kwaito was way too slow for us, hip hop was way too monotonous… so boring! All they do is say nothing. So we just wanted to do something that was powerful,” says Thula after Sthe simply declares, “Because it’s the shit.” In fact, they see no contradiction in where they come from and the music they create. “Punk was London and New York. How fast are those cities? And how fast is Soweto as a township? It’s all according to the fucking lifestyle. If I lived in Kimberley I wouldn’t be in a band playing punk. There would be no need. I’d be farming or something.”

In punk’s early stages in the US and the UK, the raw, amateur sound was a slap in the face to the commercialisation of music. If the genre had a conscience, its liaison with a capitalising industry of dry-sucking big shots would be a sweat-drenched nightmare. So when I want to know what its future holds in South Africa, Sthe says, “Nobody cares about punk here, so I think it’s safe.” It has withstood some attacks though. According to Thula, they had a contract in front of them but sent profit-making packing when they realised the deal was just about numbers on a bank account. “We were like, ‘You don’t care about punk, you care about the money. That’s why My Chemical Romance is fucked. Even Lamb of God is fucked. Big bands are fucked. Metallica are fucked a long time ago. Everyone is just getting fucked because they are taking the money and forgetting what they are doing.”

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Their bling bling-condoning mind-sets fit “the requisites” of the initial movement, which – of course – isn’t new to the African continent. Late ‘70s SA bands like National Wake, Wild Youth and The Gay Marines probably had more balls than the roughest safety-pins-and-mohawk sporting squatters in Europe. And yet – although they deserved all the recognition possible – their bold, politically-charged tunes remained largely underground until Punk in Africa dug them up in 2012. In a sad way, this is somewhat positive. Like feminism bought into smoking, subcultures get scooped up by corporate brands, only to get trivialised, lose meaning and become dishonest. Maybe South African punk’s previously clandestine and currently marginalised nature is exactly what makes it so real.

What’s certain though is that while TCIYF whip out killer riffs, master crude, in-your-face lyrics and are probably the most humble act to see live, they really don’t give a fuck. Even their album, Buddha’s Cum, due December 2014, is recorded by phone. “No overdubs, pedals, mixing and mastering” and it will be given away for free. In a time of sell-outs like Green Day where hypocrisy is a trend and clubs like The Rat turn into “classy” hotels, the priggery-defying anarchy, fearless indulgence and shameless DIY are what make the Soweto Rock Revolution parties spectacular. But what’s more, while The Sex Pistols sacked Glen Matlock because he was into The Beatles, the Soweto scene is definitely less – Johnny don’t hate me! –“exclusive”. I came home with a variety of band stickers and a satisfaction that there are still musicians who hold on to no-profit principles to simply have a blast. And finally – in the cum-fuelled words of TCIYF –“part your lips” because township punk is alive and spitting.

* Image Credits: Christine Hogg.

Weekend Special

This was the week …

* We launched Latin America is a Country. (Had to get the PR out of the way first).

* It turns out African NGOs receive only 4% of the $3 billion of Gates Foundation money earmarked to end hunger–the rest is spent in rich countries.

* Kim Kardasian broke our Facebook account.

* We remembered the murder of Ken Saro Wiwa (sentenced to death on November 10, 1995 by Nigeria’s military junta for questioning oil profits and government corruption) and learned–surprise, surprise–from Royal Dutch Shell that a 2008 Oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria were larger than initially anticipated. Shell used to say the spill was about 4,144 barrels. They did not say how much bigger they think the spill is now. The people of Bodo, who is suing Shell in a case about to return to court, say its the equivalent of 60,000 barrels of oil. We were of course shocked by this news.

* Chinua Achebe, who passed away in March last year, would have been 84 today.

* Cape Town, South Africa is not just the capital of Mandela Ray Ban “sculptures” (and no, it’s not okay that the “artist” got permission from Mandela’s foundation) and anti-black racism. Like this. Sisonke Msimang provides some context here (on Daily Maverick) and here (on A.I.A.C.) and so did T.O. Molefe over on News24 here.

* A contestant in a Colombian beauty pageant was asked “Who is Nelson Mandela?” Her answer: “The founder of the beauty pageant.”

* While other entertainers make a mess about Ebola–Chris Brown (he is now a scientist) or Tori Spelling–rapper T.I. (who sadly also introduced the world to Iggy Azalea) shames CNN and Fox’s coverage of Ebola:

* Basketball player Serge Ibaka (whose Facebook page we love) posted this:

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Post by Serge Ibaka.

* There’s this for the South Africans:

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Post by Louise Støchkel Vagtborg Mathiasen.

* Oh, and here’s 5 reading recommendations:

Le Corbusier’s Visions for Fascist Addis Ababa (by Rixt Woudstra)

PROJECT DIASPORA: HISTORICAL SELF PORTRAITS BY OMAR DIOP (by African Digital Art)

Clickbait and stereotypes: Media coverage of the DR Congo (by Virgil Hawkins)

Nanook and Me (by Louis Menand)

Nigga? Please (by Talib Kweli)

* Who still watches Saturday Night Live, except the next day on the Internets? That’s where you see that delicious spoof of those fundraising videos and Kendrick Lamar’s live performance of this video:

* Finally, there were a lot a of music this week, but these two music videos by Somi and M.anifest definitely set a standard about what we expect from African artists. Step your game up, the rest of you:

** Weekend Special is basically highlights of the stuff we shared via social media, i.e. Twitter and Facebook. (We know some of you don’t use those media, so we’re being nice and useful at the same time.) We fell off but feel it’s the right time to bring it back. Look out for it on Sunday.

The Limits of Alternative Africas

Hard on the heels of an anti-climactic election season in the US punctuated by myopic views of the world and cataclysmic what-ifs, the resurgence of Nikolaj Cyon’s counterfactual map of Africa circulating on the web last week was a welcome relief from realpolitik run amok.

Cyon, a Swedish artist and self-proclaimed revolutionary, asks us to think back to the fourteenth century and imagine the ravages of the Black Death to have been worse than they were, a demographic catastrophe so severe that Europe’s recovery was insufficient to restore vibrant economic life, let alone generate the impetus for maritime adventures. To follow Cyon’s logic: a diminished Europe would not have produced colonial powers. How then might Africa’s history have unfolded?

Alkebu-lan

I’ll admit, my first reaction to the map was more puzzled than entranced. Some of the units Cyon depicts are familiar language communities, some are historical kingdoms, others represent economic or trading relationships, while a fourth category extrapolates wildly different outcomes from historical kernels (why the fanciful Al-Magrib instead of the imagined growth of an actual Moroccan kingdom such as the Almoravid or the Sa’dian, for example?) But seeing this only as miscued scholarship limits our perspective.

As art, the map is more inviting. I don’t worry that Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon don’t really look like women. If I don’t worry about a historian’s obsession with accuracy, what can I take away from Cyon’s evocation of a Europe-free African history? The greater presence of Arabic names and Muslim-influenced political structures makes sense, as does the diversity of political forms. But would the Swahili city-states have consolidated into a single polity? Would Merina or Dahomey have been large kingdoms without the slave trade? Questions, rather than criticisms, come through and I am reminded of issues I always want my students to grapple with: today’s geopolitics were not inevitable; contingency matters in the study of history.

But there are other, difficult realizations that Cyon’s upside down Mercator projection, colored with a palette surely intended as reminiscent of historical, colonial maps, cannot banish. Our reality conditions—and limits—the alternative worlds we imagine. Even the best science fiction has to connect to elements of lived experience (Frank Jacobs at Think Big explicitly connects Cyon’s project to Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt.) Eurocentric presumptions, and ideas deeply rooted in the production of western knowledge are part of the inescapable reality of both Cyon and his audience.

Debating whether or not Bujumbura would have been a capital without European intervention misses the mark. Eurocentrism runs much deeper. This project, although it depicts a markedly altered political landscape, sits comfortably within the norms of western geospatial understanding. Like Martin Lewis and Kären Wigen’s Myth of Continents, Cyon’s map productively disrupts conventional spatial representation. Cyon’s counterfactual vision reminds us that naming conventions—Africa, the Atlantic Ocean—are constructions and not inherent in the place. The map also shows that colonization and its aftermath were not inevitable, but it doesn’t imagine an alternative to bounded sovereign territories. Even without the Westphalian state system translocated through imperial adventure, we’re still looking at a map of contiguous states.

Given what we know about African state formation and territoriality, why presume a map that is completely filled in with claimed land? Both IMartin Lewis and Kären Wigen have painted pictures of African pasts with fluid boundaries and plenty of interstitial spaces. Granted, the Atlantic slave trade and colonization directly account for Africa’s “under-population” relative to terrain and compared to other regions, but imagining an alternative future free of those legacies might speculate about a political-economic order that did not allocate every square meter of space to an administrative unit.

Even more imaginatively, how might we visually represent polities constituted by people rather than territory? Since people, even farmers, are not permanently rooted in the ground, our mapping project begins to look very different. Both Tongchai Winichaikul and J.B. Harley reveal the pervasive cultural frameworks embedded in visual representations of space, politics, and human relationships—representations that we call maps. This visual register bounds the possibilities of communication as much as our linguistic limitations do. Cyon’s Alt-Africa map is arresting and provocative, but it can only go so far.

I can’t think or talk about Africa except through the veil of a specifically western epistemology. It’s not just that the languages in which I can converse are Indo-European. Improving my grasp of isiXhosa won’t get around the other stumbling blocks in my head, a set of assumptions about the way the world is ordered, and knowledge produced. I can’t just set that aside without unraveling the rest of the stuff in my brain.

Like everyone, I walk around with a set of cultural presumptions inherited from the community in which I was raised. A liberal arts education simultaneously helped me develop tools with which to perceive hidden transcripts and implicit power structures while also disciplining other presumptions firmly into place. I can suspend—at least for a little while—my reluctance to think about language groups, kingdoms, and trading networks as equivalent geographical spaces. I might disagree with some of Cyon’s presumptions about how a Europe-free history of Africa would have played out, but the fact that we can debate those presumptions, or together read the map he produced and come to different conclusions speaks directly to the western epistemology we share—and can’t shake. I want to push Cyon to check more of his Eurocentrism at the door, but as long as we’re both talking about Africa as a place he and I might reimagine, it’s clear that legacies of dominance rooted in histories of conquest persist.

5 Questions for a Filmmaker … Jihan El-Tahri

Legendary documentarian Jihan El-Tahri started her career as a journalist, working as a news agency correspondent and TV researcher covering Middle East politics before starting to direct and produce documentaries for French TV, the BBC, PBS and other international broadcasters. She has since directed more than a dozen films including the Emmy nominated The House of Saud, The Price of Aid, which won the European Media prize in 2004 and Cuba: An African Odyssey. Her most recent feature documentary Behind the Rainbow, which examines the transitional process in South Africa, has won various prizes since its release in 2009. She is currently finalizing a three-hour documentary provisionally titled Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs. As if this wasn’t enough, El-Tahri has also written two books, The 9 Lives of Yasser Arafat and Israel and the Arabs: the 50 Years War and is engaged in various associations and institutions working with African cinema.

What is your first film memory?

I actually remember watching Shadi Abdel Salam’s The Mummy at a hotel screening in London when my family moved there. I was around 5 and I knew I was Egyptian and the mummy terrified me but got me very curious. I remember the lighting of the film until today. It made these ancient stories so real and timeless.

Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?

I started off as a journalist because I truly believed that journalism is the first draft of history and if done properly it could actually change the world. Young and idealistic I thought I could change the world single handedly … Alas, the Gulf war of 1990 was a rough wakeup call. It is then that I realized that I needed to reassess many things, including my own identity and what stories were important for me to engage in. I finally realized that I could only tell one story at a time if I wanted to do it properly. Documentary was the obvious choice. I made numerous “observational” films but that still was not satisfying. Then one day I was hired to work with a company in the UK and they gave me their last film series to watch: Death of Yugoslavia. A 7-hour series that I stayed up all night watching. There and then I decided that that was the kind of documentary filmmaking I wanted to pursue.

Which film do you wish you had made and why?

Answer 1

In 1992 I wrote an extensive treatment for a film based on a topic I had been researching for a full year. The film was titled Allah’s Holy Warriors. It was about the brand new phenomenon of Islamic warriors returning from Afghanistan under the leadership of a then unknown commander called Osama Bin Laden. They had offices at Finsbry Park in London and I had spent weeks convincing them to allow me to film. They finally gave me the OK, I did go film a short sequence while they where in Sudan. They were due to leave and return to Afghanistan and I obtained the OK to actually film the move and spend time filming in their camps. I tried selling this idea to any TV channel but nobody was interested in an unknown Islamic fighter and his ragtag troops.

Without the backing of a channel it felt too complicated and decided to wait and do this story later …. Mistake!!

Why I think I should have done this film? It’s is not because of the high profile the story would have had later, My regret is mainly because it was a time when this totally inaccessible and incomprehensible group were willing to talk and explain their grievances, who they are and why their fervent beliefs are unshakable. I always feel that maybe if I had done that story, it would have allowed me – let alone others – to understand that whole Islamic “terrorism” phenomenon that has altered the face of my continent and the world actually.

Answer 2:

I hesitate between Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation – for the way she managed to isolate a very specific and unusual sentiment of alienation as well as using the city as her main character – and

Alex Gibney’s documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.  I am in total awe of how he managed to  – coherently and uninterruptedly – turn the murder investigation of a simple unknown taxi driver in Afghanistan into a worldwide interrogation of a political system.  The film is thorough, informative and scary. It is perfect proof that a film can uncover and contest a superpower efficiently and dramatically.

Name one of the films on your top-5 list and the reason why it is there.

Newton Aduaka’s film Rage

The film tackles multiple sensitive and personally touching issues with a force and a sensitivity that I find mind blowing. It is about being of mixed race, the case of my children and many of my friends. This space of not knowing where you belong… It is about negotiating this space as an outsider. Being a bit of a nomad I so understood and identified with the main characters’ clumsy attempts to fit in and his rage when realizing that he never will. Tackling this film through music and youth urban culture made the film universal, informative as well as extremely sensitive and compassionate.

Ask yourself any question you think I should have asked and answer it.

I guess I will add the question that I always ask myself: Is it worth it? Meaning is making a film with all the pain, the heartache and the minimal returns it entails worth it?

When I am frustrated about spending 3 to 4 years of my life chiselling away at what seems to be a mountain, my answer is usually: No! But once the film survives the first year and continues to make sense, I believe that there is nothing more precious than telling a story that can talk to others and allows your voice as a person to exist. Now old and much less idealistic, I still believe that this single drop in the ocean does make a difference, if only in a single other person’s life.

* The ‘5 Questions for a Filmmaker …’ series is archived here. Image Credit: Antoine Tempé

Mexico’s Deadly Virus

The United States lives in a state of constant fear. Currently, Ebola is to blame. The U.S. fears (but maybe also hopes) to be part of a world that is, to some American minds, every day likelier to live a pandemic outbreak like the one in The Walking Dead. But they are afraid to get infected without even realizing they have already caught something: indifference towards death.

It is an indifference that already “infected” the Mexican people and that has rapidly propagated throughout the world, even if few have mentioned it. Until last October 27th, around 13,000 cases of Ebola had been reported and 4,920 people had died of the virus worldwide, creating global outrage. Meanwhile, in Mexico, 57,899 homicide cases were reported ( (link Zeta) between December 1st,  2012, and July 31st, 2014. And there was barely any international news about them.

This doesn’t mean that some deaths should be more concerning than others. Ebola has highlighted again the dismal conditions that certain parts of Africa deal with, but also how the world is vulnerable to a distant pandemic. But, for years, those 60,000 deaths in Mexico did not highlight anything.

It seems these people died in the wrong place. Had they died, instead of Iguala, Ciudad Juárez, San Fernando, Ecatepec, Tetlaya, Aguas Blancas, Acteal, etc., in, München, Lyon, or Oslo, what would have happened?

These deaths seemed to not matter, to not make any kind of impact. Mexico has deteriorated to the point that, when a mass grave with 28 bodies was found, but they didn’t correspond to the missing people the authorities were looking for… it was reported as good news.

Nonetheless, the unfortunate disappearance of 43 students (I refuse to think they are dead) in Ayotzinapa and the murder of six of them by the municipal police of Iguala, in the state of Guerrero (acting, allegedly, under government’s orders), managed to shake the indifference of Mexico’s lethargic society. However, we Mexicans are still far from reaching our goals, basically because we are not sure what they really are. We are fighting different fronts and enemies as citizens.

I saw the press conference that Jesús Murillo Karam, Mexico’s General Attorney, gave last Friday and I could only think about all the victims. When I listened to the confessions from the Guerreros Unidos members, I thought the killers were also victims here.

They are also victims of the indifference; of the cynicism, arrogance, and ineptitude displayed by Murillo Karam during the press conference; of the sumptuousness of president Enrique Peña Nieto. “EPN”, as he is known, owns a seven million dollars house and his indolence showed when he took a trip to China and Australia amid the social and political crisis that Mexico is experiencing (he didn‘t even set a foot in Iguala, where it all happened).

All of them are victims of all the impunity that protects the whole political class in Mexico. The killers, just as the students, are also victims of a political system that has turned all of us into mere objects, devoid of our humanity. While describing how they tossed the bodies into a dump where they later burned them, one of the Guerreros Unidos members said: “One of us grabbed them by the hands and another one grabbed their hind legs. We swung them and then the bodies rolled into the bottom”.

Many Mexicans have organized massive protests, both in Mexico and abroad, trying to call the attention of international media and foreign countries, in order to pressure, politically and diplomatically, those in power in Mexico. Fortunately this is happening and they are turning their eyes towards what is going on in Mexico. They also have managed to pressure Mexican government to start finding real answers to questions that it hadn‘t answered until now. But it hasn‘t been enough. We have to spread a new disease, one that raises consciousness around the world about what happens in Mexico.

What the country needs in order to start seeing results is a complete transformation. That transformation begins with the spreading of information and the abandonment of an indifference state. We are seeing this happening and these are good news. Mexican people cannot get tired at this point. We must continue our struggle against this gigantic hydra that, “allegedly” is the one getting tired.

Mexico is looking for a helping hand. With the aid of non-violent arms we believe we deserve to get out if this huge mass grave that the country has become. Help and solace are wanted. This is why we have been taking the streets: to inform people of what is going on. We want to tell this story, and show the world that this indifference is scarier than a virus. If we manage to build awareness all over the world about what is happening in Mexico, somehow, I want to think, another step towards transformation will be taken. This is why we all must be Ayotzinapa. And in the end, we are all Ayotzinapa.

When Prince Charles went to Colombia

The official visit to Colombia by Britain’s Prince Charles, and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, left us with many picturesque moments, but two seemingly unrelated events stand out.

The first one took place on October 30th at the Centre for Peace, Memory, and Reconciliation in Bogotá, where the couple attended an event in honor of the victims of the armed conflict in Colombia. At the end of the ceremony, Prince Charles announced his religious, moral, and political support to the peace talks that the Government of President Juan Manuel Santos has been holding with the main guerrilla group in the country, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana, Cuba.

The Prince also supported the official meetings that several groups of victims have been having with Government and FARC’s representatives in Cuba, a crucial part of the peace talks’ agenda that has sparked controversy among the right wing and conservative circles in the country.

His Royal Highness invoked his own experience that day: he narrated how his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was killed by the IRA thirty years ago in Northern Ireland. “So,” he remarked, “I feel I do understand something of the bewildering and soul-destroying anguish that so many of you have had to endure.” Prince Charles has stated elsewhere the importance of finding a different answer to these instances of violence and searching for a more positive way to react to them other than vengefulness. “As one who has himself experienced the intense despair caused by the consequences of violence,” he concluded in Bogotá “it is my fervent hope that Colombians might find the strength to continue cultivating a commitment to peace and reconciliation in their own hearts.”

The second event was much more publicized in national and international media: on November 2nd,  the last day of the visit, Prince Charles and Mayor Dionisio Vélez unveiled in Cartagena a plaque dedicated to the memory of “the courage and suffering of all those who died in battle trying to take the city and Fort San Felipe under the command of Admiral Edward Vernon at Cartagena de Indias in 1741.” Cartagena, which was under Spanish rule at the time, was besieged for two months by Vernon’s troops amounting to almost 30,000 men and a flotilla of 186 ships.

Vernon himself had defeated the Spaniards two years before at Portobello, modern Panamá, with only six ships, and his forces pillaged and destroyed the settlement. Against all odds, Spanish Admiral Blas de Lezo, with men numbering ten times less than the British forces, resisted the attack to Cartagena and was able to push back Vernon’s siege, in a battle that would become the Spanish Admiral’s last glorious victory.

The plaque was met with general outrage in the country. It was a memorial to these same invaders who, in the event of their victory, would have destroyed the city of Cartagena, and raped and killed its inhabitants, like they had done elsewhere before. Citizens and public figures condemned the ostensible contradiction of a city which honors those who wanted to assault, pillage and destroy it. It was yet another example of the colonized mind-set of the country’s authorities who would go as far as reverencing plunder just to please His and Her Royal Majesties.

It was indeed appalling to see the servile and submissive attitude with which Colombian officials treated the heir to the throne and his wife. And it was disturbing to witness the artificial displaying of Black and Indian traditions with no mention whatsoever of the fact that African and Indigenous descendants are the most neglected groups of people in Colombia.

But it was noteworthy that those angry at the plaque failed to denounce the same acts of pillage, plundering, rape and murder committed by those who founded and governed the city. Most of its critics seemed to have forgotten that Cartagena was a major slave port from where the treasures of the region were transported to Europe and where African people were brought and sold as merchandise.

And yet, it is not this servile, colonized attitude what I find the most problematic about Charles’ visit, but rather the point of intersection between the two events I have described: the attitude of a royal figure, the Heir to The British Throne, who in the same visit managed to honor the lives of British colonists and assailants, and identify himself with the victims of the armed conflict in Colombia.

Prince Charles used his own experience of forgiveness to defend processes of peace and reconciliation, and this is a praiseworthy initiative. It is also praiseworthy that he himself had defended the peace process with the IRA in spite (or perhaps precisely because) of his uncle’s death. What I find unacceptable is the comparison of his experience with that of those victims present at the meeting, not only because it is a completely different political scenario, but also because the Colombian conflict has some of its roots precisely in a vision of history of exclusion, segregation, and the silencing of the claims that the victims of the privilege class try to voice. It is a vision of history that the British Monarchy has embodied (and still does), and that is represented in a ridiculous way by Prince Charles’ gesture in Cartagena.

It is because Prince Charles is incapable of understanding the absurdity of traveling to a country that has been colonized by European invaders and commemorate those same actions of murdering and plundering that the very own British Monarchy carried out throughout the world, that he is unable to see why his comparison with the victims of Colombian internal conflict misses the mark so widely, and why his support to the process is flawed from the beginning.

Among those present at the Centre for Peace, Memory, and Reconciliation in Bogotá were Gloria Luz Gómez Cortés, the head of the Association of Relatives of Detainees-Disappeared Persons (ASFADDES), and Yanette Bautista, the sister of Nydia Erika Bautista, detained, raped, and disappeared by the militaries in 1987. These two women, who still suffer today directly from the persecution by the Colombian state and its armed forces and paramilitary allies, have for 30 years led the fight for the rights of relatives of disappeared persons to know the truth and seek justice against these same forces.

Prince Charles cannot say, as he said to the victims in Bogotá, that he understands the “bewildering and soul-destroying anguish that so many of you have had to endure.” In the same gesture of unveiling the controversial plaque in Cartagena (even if it probably was not his idea, but another of the servile displays of Colombian ruling class) Charles shows that his visit to Colombia is still framed by the colonialism that the Monarchy has meant for the world for centuries. The plaque (first destroyed by an angry citizen, and then officially removed) is no longer there, but the act and his words remain untouched.

Music Revue, No.4: Moni

I remember being awe-struck by a picture I saw in on the Sunday papers somewhere around 2005. The members looked militant in their shades and flowing locks. There was a sense of urgency in the female lead’s look which stuck with me: black shades, black beret, all-black everything! They reminded me of Peter Tosh and the Dashiki Poets at once, with a hint of the Black Panthers Party to smother the masses. They were Kwani Experience, a band which had been bubbling in Johannesburg’s underground music circuit for a hot minute before being picked upon by a record label, releasing two albums, and somewhat disbanding.

Somewhat, because Kwani’s gone through many phases.

While some members have gone on to pursue other interests, there’s still a core connection which bleeds through different their various musical pursuits, be it on vocalist/percussionst Bafana Nhlapho’s two-step cross-continental wails, or multi-instrumentalist Mahlatse Riba’s explorations into the deeper elements of roots sound as one half of the house music project Sai & Ribatone.

Kwelagobe Sekele, Kwani’s emcee who now performs as the P.O. Box Project, has recently released his Maru EP which he refers to as a “digital Kwani sound” in a Mail & Guardian feature tracing the trajectory of the black band over the past decade.

Maru is the culmination of over six years’ worth of stop-and-start recordings, all the while sharpening that very concept. The initial sessions were with Ribatone, but P.O.’s focus shifted onto other projects.

Work continued in 2012, the same year he shot this video for “Moni” which was c0-directed with Justin McGee. Maru is available to stream on bandcamp. I got in touch and asked him to explain the album title’s meaning. This is what he had to say:

“The silver lining. Because clouds are ALWAYS there, even when you don’t notice them, even when they come and go. That’s my presence in this industry, during this 3-year Kwani Experience hiatus. The title is also an indirect homage to Bessie Head who wrote a book by the same title. This is my little 7 chapter book.

*You can purchase Maru on iTunes

54 Kingdoms: Apparel ‘with a Pan-Africanist sensibility’

As it stands the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) may not take place as advertised next January in Morocco anymore (UPDATE: Equatorial Guinea’s ruling family and its long list of naturalized footballers has stepped in as hosts). One thing we know for sure is there will be cool gear. This summer, while watching the World Cup around the city (in 3 of the 5 boroughs), we kept running into Kwaku A. Awuah (co-owner and President) and Nana Poku (CEO) of 54 Kingdoms, an apparel and accessory company with, in their words, a pan-Africanist sensibility. They were on their hustle, selling their Score for Unity (SFU) range, a series of 3 shirts in the colors of the African countries participating in Brazil 2014. Since then, as their Facebook and Twitter pages show,their business keep growing, including the new University of Afrika (UoA) sweater and henley range.  Long after the World Cup was over, we sent them some questions. Below is the email conversation.

Can you say something about your backgrounds? How did you meet? You have a background in fashion?

We were both born in Ghana, West Africa. Nana is from the Ashanti region, and Kwaku has ties to the Ashanti and Central region. We relocated to the U.S in 1997 (Nana) and 2001 (Kwaku), respectively. We lived only a few miles from each other in Accra, Ghana, but it took us almost ten years to meet through a mutual friend, who made the introduction back in 2007.

54 Kingdoms’ roots can be traced back to 2006, when Nana developed the concept in the fall semester of his senior year at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). “What if there was a clothing line that integrated designs and concepts from the African Diaspora to tell the Pan-African story?,” he wondered. This idea of using the Diaspora as a source of inspiration for designing Pan-African inspired fashion helped in developing the company’s name, 54 Kingdoms. The number ‘54’ symbolized the total number of countries in Africa, and the word ‘Kingdoms,’ signifies that each and every African country is a part of a larger kingdom spanning overseas to include the African Diaspora.

Although, we both didn’t go to a fashion school, it was the desire to create a conscious movement through fashion that led to the official registration and launching of 54 Kingdoms as a company in 2009. The rest as they say, is history.

Can you break down the company slogan, “It’s a Kulture, not a Brand”?

Our slogan signifies the embodiment of the 54 Kingdoms movement. While most companies or individuals focus on building a brand, we sincerely believe in cultivating a lifestyle movement. A lifestyle, that acknowledges the core Pan-African creativity in everything we do.

As we always say, “fashion shouldn’t be just about aesthetics; it should be the thread that interweaves our culture and identity, into the fabric of life that displays the pattern of our pride and self-expression.” We pride ourselves in creating pieces that have educational expressions and can create conversations.

Kwame Nkrumah spoke of a “United States of Africa.” You have decided on “54 Kingdoms”? I know it is symbolism, but monarchies don’t have the best reputation on the African continent.

As students and strong advocates for the Pan-African movement, we honor the ideologies and teachings of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah; one of the most celebrated torchbearers of Pan-Africanism and African liberation struggles.

Even Europe speaks of “continental unity,” although it has fought more wars than any other continent. For us, the question still remains, why can’t Africa speak of and pursue continental unity? The vision for a United States of Africa ignited by Nkrumah should not be mistaken for monarchical exploitation, and must be clearly understood. Nkrumah made Ghana the base for every movement that fought against colonialism, but he also knew that a strong Ghana didn’t necessarily mean a stronger Africa. Hence, at Ghana’s independence celebration on March 6, 1957, Nkrumah said, “Ghana’s independence is meaningless, unless it’s linked to the total liberation of Africa.” After all, what is the point of Ghana’s independence if the remaining African countries were still colonized? It was all about putting the continent first.

These are the same principles that govern our work here at 54 Kingdoms. We are both Ghanaians, and could have focused on telling Ghanaian stories through fashion. Instead, we are learning from diverse cultures and sharing different stories from the Diaspora. Not only is 54 Kingdoms providing education through fashion, but also connecting and bringing people together. We see this emotional and unified connection at our annual Storytellers in Fashion showcase; we always knew fashion could be much more than what people have been conditioned to accept it to be.

Talk about creative process for the Score For Unity (SFU) collection?

The creative process for our SFU collection was thought provoking and emotional, but overall, an amazing experience. It involved so many unique elements such as the designs on the apparel, the packaging, and official theme song Team Africa, recorded by Congolese-born singer, Rafiya.

We went into creative mode knowing this would be a challenging project, because it placed emphasis on African Unity – a not so popular topic for most Africans (believe it or not). We believed that creating the SFU collection would start a conversation about African Unity, and it proved us right; we ignited a #TeamAfrica movement through this collection.

Some may class you as Afropolitans. What do you think of the idea of the “Afropolitan” which has its own critics and supporters?

The idea of the “Afropolitan” is not new, but may be a more popular term used to describe today’s generation of Africans and people of African descent with a very global outlook.

As we often say, “you can’t see the picture when you are in the frame.” When Africans migrate to other places, we pick up new ideologies and different perspective on things (economics, politics, problem-solving, etc). It doesn’t make us less African, and it sure doesn’t make us better than our brothers and sisters on the continent. Through knowledge sharing, both Africans on the continent and “Afropolitans” can contribute effectively to Africa’s development.

You are Ghanaians of course. How did you make sense of the Ghanaian team’s meltdown during the World Cup? Who comes off the worse in this process? Who are the real culprits?

It is hard to defend the Black Stars’ meltdown in Brazil. There is no excuse; they let the entire continent down. Although, the embarrassment exposed the on-going corruption among top executives from the Ghana Football Association (GFA), the players looked worse in the process.

The top culprit is the GFA; they’re corruption principal, followed by poor leadership and coaching IQ exhibited by our then coach, Akwasi Appiah. We love the idea of African countries hiring African coaches, but each candidate should be examined carefully, and must go through essential trainings to acquire the necessary coaching skills needed to compete on the highest level and most importantly, win.

Finally, since I ran into you at a few places, especially Africa-specific restaurants in Brooklyn during the World Cup, from your experience where is the best place to watch either the African Nations Cup or, now, the World Cup, in the greater New York City area?

Madiba Restaurant (Brooklyn), Buka (Brooklyn), Suite 36 (Manhattan), Mataheko (Queens), Accra Restaurant (Bronx), Les Ambassades (Harlem) and Farafina (Harlem).

* More information: site, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Image Credits: 54 Kingdoms.

 

Bienvenidos a Latin America is a Country

Latin America is a Country is a website against the popular idea that everything south of Texas is a huge country called Mexico where everyone eats tacos. The title is ironic, clearly. Mexico is a country, as are Puerto Rico, Ecuador or Argentina. But Latin America is not.

This is an invitation to re-think what Latin America is all about. Is Cuba part of the Caribbean or part of Latin America? Is the Caribbean–from Jamaica to Haiti, to Grenada–part of Latin America? What about Guyana or Suriname? Are all Latinos in the U.S. or Europe part of Latin America? How should Latin America be defined? How has it been defined?

Latin America is a Country is the new member of the Africa is a Country family. This is a space for all of the people tired of the same tropes about Latin America, for those who are tired of being pictured as the continent of drug gangs (we prefer to talk about the U.S. war on drugs) or authoritarian caudillos (some of them, financed by colonial powers). It’s not about Shakira, not about tequila, not about Macchu Pichu as a cool touristy destination.

This is an invitation to open a dialogue from different cultural and political perspectives about that popular concept called “Latin America”.

Pablo Medina and Camila Osorio are two Colombian journalists editing this newborn project. They are both currently studying in New York, a city that was one described as part of the Caribbean by the former novelist Gabriel García Márquez. So if you want to pitch an opinion piece to the website, or a reported story, or just send some ideas for Latin America is a Country, you can email them at latinamericaisacountry@gmail.com.

* Also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Digital Archive No. 3 – Nelson Mandela Digital Archive Project

This week’s Digital Archive is inspired by Duane Jethro’s recent post on the Mandela Ray Ban Statue in Cape Town, in which he refers to this new art installation as “vandalism of Nelson Mandela’s legacy.”  This is just the most recent in a string of excellent pieces which have forced a rethinking of the construction of Madiba’s legacy.  Take, for example, Benjamin Fogel’s 2013 piece for The Jacobin, in which he points to the existence of “two Mandelas”: one, “the revolutionary, the lawyer, the politician, flaws and all,” and the second, a “sanitized myth: the father of the nation, the global icon beloved by everyone from the purveyors of global humanitarian platitudes to even the erstwhile enemies of the African National Congress.”  The latter Mandela, Fogel argued, “is removed of his humanity and touted as an abstract signifier of moral righteousness.”

The challenge for scholars, then, comes in finding ways to deconstruct the legacy from reality (whatever that really means).  One institution which has endeavored to aid in deconstructing Madiba’s legacy is the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.  Founded in 2004, in correlation with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, this organization aimed to “create a public facility to deliver to the world an integrated and dynamic information resource on his life and times, and promote the finding of sustainable solutions to critical social issues, through memory based dialogue interventions.”  These aims were furthered in 2011 when the Centre of Memory partnered with the Google Cultural Institute to launch a digital archive.

centre

Arranged along a series of chronological snippets of Madiba’s life, each virtual exhibits presents rich textual descriptions of certain episodes in Mandela’s life, enriched by primary sources, including textual and multimedia sources, that correlate with those chronological spans.  Though the site is, without a doubt, incomplete, with large gaps in content for Madiba’s early involvement with politics to his imprisonment, it is an easily navigable and digestable interface.  The design is coherent through each of the various sections, allowing the primary sources to be highlighted, providing relevant content while also leaving room for the audience to explore the site more fully through the somewhat hidden digital archive.

source

The striking thing about the Mandela Centre of Memory is the rich digital archive that it is built on, featuring many historical documents and media that have not yet been incorporated into the storytelling component of the site.  In particular, the never-before-published draft of Long Walk to Freedom is available through the archive, providing an inside look into how Mandela (and his co-writer Richard Stengel) viewed himself, especially during his presidential term which, as Fogel suggested, “is glossed over as some sort of miracle period in which he was able to unite black and white; his own political successes and failures in his one and only term go unexamined.”  Similarly, the inclusion of a number of Mandela’s journals from his time in prison, some of which have been previously published in Conversations with Myself or A Prisoner in the Garden, helps to get to the core of not only what life was like for Madiba in these trying times, but also, in a way, how he viewed himself.

Getting to the sources, without having to go to the physical site, allows for deeper engagement with the “real” Mandela (or Mandelas, as may be more appropriate); a much needed intervention, if we are to understand the true vandalism of public uses of Mandela like the Ray Ban sculpture.

**This post derives a longer post on my personal blog, published in January 2014, for a course at MSU entitled “South African History in a Digital Age,” taught by Peter Alegi.**

#MyDressMyChoice

On Monday, in Nairobi, a woman walking past a taxi rank was, first, catcalled and, then, attacked and stripped. A passerby videotaped the event, posted it to jambonewspot, and then it went, if not viral, spiral. The men called the woman “Jezebel” and accused her of “tempting” them. For the crime of temptation, she was beaten.

Kenyans have roundly condemned the action. Two twitter campaigns have emerged, the larger #MyDressMyChoice and its sister #StripMeNot. The Kilimani Mums leapt into action, and have organized a protest in Uhuru Park, next Monday, November 17. Here’s their message:

“On November 7th, 2014, a woman was stripped by touts at Embassava Bus terminal.

“This morning we as Kilimani Mums met and decided that we shall hold a peaceful procession to Accra Road on Monday 17th November at 10am. We shall go and deliver a message to the touts who stripped our sister that it is wrong and a woman has a right to dress the way she wants.

“We urge you and your daughters to join and support us. We will meet on Monday at 10am at Uhuru Park and march peacefully to Embassava. This is our chance to stand together as women and deliver a message to our country that sexual violence will not be tolerated.

“All our welcome to this walk- support your sisters, daughters, mothers and wives. join us Monday at 10am!”

From individual women and men to women’s organizations to matatu owners to Deputy Inspector General of Police Grace Kaindi, people have expressed outrage and a determination to do something.

At the beginning of this year, women in Uganda launched the #SavetheMiniSkirt, in response to threats by the national government to criminalize women’s attire. Last year, women of Namibia responded to a similar `national’ urge. The year before that, the spark was a video of an assault on teenage girls wearing miniskirts, at the Noord taxi rank in Johannesburg.

This is not an “African” phenomenon. In 2012, for example, India, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, Nepal, France, and the United States engaged in State policing of women’s fashion. For example, in New York, transgender women, and especially transgender women of color, were routinely stopped, in so-called stop-and-frisk operations. Their crime? Crossdressing.

In the Netherlands, it’s the blackface season. Everywhere else, it’s business as usual, which means, from State policy to mutatu bus stops and taxi ranks to university and grade schools campuses, a war on women’s bodies, autonomy, and integrity by criminalization of attire. #SavetheMiniskirt. #StripMeNot. #MyDressMyChoice.

* Image Credit: “Maggie, Nairobi” by Carlo Alberto Danna on Flickr.

Tis the blackface season in the Netherlands …

For all the Dutch claims about liberalism and multiculturalism, their love affair with a popular black-faced figure Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), associated with the annual tradition of Sinterklaas (a Santa Clause like figure), keeps exposing the racism that is a part of Dutch, culture, public opinion, institutions and national identity. If you forgot, ZwartePiete are the menacing blackfaced-helpers of Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas season starts in earnest again later this month and based on experience last year, it is all going to go pear-shaped.

Three years have now passed since Dutch police officers dragged artist Quinsy Gario to the ground and arrested him for wearing a ‘Zwarte Piet is Racism’ T-Shirt. Today, Zwarte Piet has turned into the epitome of how the Dutch majority silences and denies racist realities. He is found in courts (like arlier this week, when the Dutch Council of State ruled that the mayor of Amsterdam is not authorized to reject applications for permits because his office fears an event may be racist) and in regional governance institutions in the Province of Groningen, where right-wing PVV (Freedom Party) members have started to attend assembly meetings as Zwarte Piet (at least, last week they did).

In general, attacks on Zwarte Piet are widely interpreted as attacks on (white) Dutchness and threats to (white) children’s right to jovially celebrate their “cultural heritage.”

It’s old news now that the Council of Europe’s Anti Racism Commission and the United Nations Human Rights Group concluded that the tradition undermines the dignity of the country’s black minorities. There’s also growing activism and criticism by minority, particularly black, activists against Sinterklaas. In response, the city of Amsterdam has committed to reform Piet; make him “less black” over the next couple of years and “empower” him, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

For many Dutch citizens, however, such a change would set a dangerous precedent. Below we’ve catalogued some of the efforts Dutch citizens and organizations have gone through in the last month or so to retain Zwarte Piet:

* In mid-September, the right-wing leader of the PVV (Freedom Party), Geert Wilders proposed a Bill to legally protect Black Pete (as well as the Sinterklaas lyrics). Separately, the Dutch Center of Folk Culture, has applied for the current version of Sinterklaas complete with blackface to be placed on the national heritage list.

* The largest pro-Pete Facebookcommunity has 2,014,400 “Likes,” which –if all are indeed Dutch- equals 12% of the entire populace. (For anti-Black Pete groups, click here, here and here).

* Pro-Zwarte Piet activism is not merely limited to the internet. In Rotterdam, for example, pro-Piet activists have apparently started to hang Black Pete dolls withI wanna staysigns on lanterns across the city.

* And while some retail stores briefly considered banning the sale and display of Zwarte Piet, many of these went through great lengths to assure shoppers that, in their stores, Black Pete can be both displayed and consumed.

Albert Heijn, the country’s largest supermarket chain, makes for a good case study. Last month, it surprised everyone when it announced they no longer feel comfortable with Zwarte Piet. The associated candy would still be sold, but in the promotional materials a white boy would play the helper.
The announcement met with nationwide opposition. Jochem van Gelder (an actor and presenter of children’s TV) called for a boycott of the chain on twitter. To him, Albert Heijn’s move was childish and unfriendly to children. Albert Heijn’s main competitor Jumbo was quick to tweet that they still honored Piet’s blackface.
The public made it very clear that the failure to unconditionally protect Piet’s blackness is a costly affair. As soon as Albert Heijn realized that no principle could possibly be worth this kind of profit plunge, and that the restoration of the nation’s faith in their loyalty to Dutch values would demand a novel heartfelt reconciliation strategy, they chose to pen a Love Poem to Zwarte Piet and publish this in national newspapers. It goes like this:

Dear Pete,

You’re not even in the country yet

But you’re all over the news

They say you’re banned from our stores

But that, dear Pete, is a lie

You’re all over our shelves

Just like every year

To us, you’re amazing in Black and other colors

We will let the Netherlands pick

But that’s the reaction Zwarte Piet gets in the Netherlands. What if you dress up as Zwarte Piet and went to London and asked unsuspecting passers-by (including, somehow, Russell Brand), what they make of your venerated “tradition.” A white Dutch filmmaker did just that.* Watch and for your own health don’t read the Youtube comments by Dutch people below the video:

* The clip is from a new film, debuting on Dutch television next month.

Bob Geldof doesn’t need to do a #BandAid30 for Ebola. African musicians made a song already

Bob Geldof is going to put out another Band Aid single, another rehash of  the grotesque “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” with slightly altered lyrics. We’ve written about the problematic politics of such songs in detail before. Bim Adewunmi broke it down over at the Guardian today.

Disaster appeals are necessary but it also matters what picture they give of crises and their structural causes. People need to understand the long-term factors which have made the Ebola crisis possible. This crisis is part of a long colonial disengagement, and a consequence of the years of structural adjustment tearing up local healthcare infrastructure. Geldof, Bono et al are deeply complicit in glossing neoliberal policies towards the continent with a humanitarian/anti-poverty sheen of respectability. These policies will continue to fail ordinary people and actively prevent governments putting in place the quality public services people require. (Nick Dearden makes a similar point here.) Geldof is the one who always gets the international platform on crises in Africa (he says he’s responding to a request from the UN this time), but he never talks about these things. In his launch, he spoke about how “tragic” it was that “modernity” has arrived in Africa at last and it has brought Ebola with it. It’s the kind of nonsense you end up coming out with when you mean well but don’t really know what you’re talking about.

Gary Younge got to the crux of the issue weeks ago:

It is an issue of public health to which no individual or privatised response can make any substantial, meaningful contribution. To fight an epidemic like Ebola you need a well-resourced public sector, well-trained government employees, central planning and coordination and a respect for science [...] what really terrifies the right about Ebola is that it shows – albeit in a deadly, scary, tragic way – that we are all connected. It shows that no matter how strong the gates around your community, how high the wall on your border, how sophisticated the alarm on your house; no matter how much you avoid state schools, public transport and public libraries; no matter how much you pay the premium to retreat from the public sphere – you cannot escape both your own humanity and the humanity of others, and the fact that our fates are tied. If you want to feel secure in Texas, regardless of your race, income or religion, it’s in your interests that people have healthcare in Monrovia.

The desire to swoop in and be a savoiur is an archetypal desire. We understand the need, especially if one’s own life is full of tragedy that one does not want to resolve or face. However, that leads to one taking actions that actually do not help. Geldof may raise money, but who knows if it will be actually “useful” or used in ways that are necessary? Besides that, such aid efforts only erase the effectiveness of local efforts, making it appear as though “western” actions are what saved poor diseased hungry Africa once again.

Sisonke Msimang has written on the ways in which the Ebola crisis in Liberia has highlighted the failures of the Aid industry to make good on its purported function:

The Liberian Ebola situation can be summed up thusly: a virus that is deadly but can be effectively contained with good planning and logistics has managed to escape from a country that has one of the largest concentrations of ‘helpers’ in the world.

Perhaps the most telling fact is that there’s already a song for Ebola by high profile Francophone West African musicians. Why doesn’t Geldof simply promote that song? Or even acknowledge it at all?  “Africa Stop Ebola” features a number of major international stars: Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Kandia Kora, Mory Kante, Sia Tolno, Barbara Kanam and rappers Didier Awadi, Marcus and Mokobé. You can share the video and like their Facebook page.

Here’s the DEC Ebola appeal and MSF.

How to use a sjambok and other lessons from the South African frontlines

Um, so another day in South Africa, another outrageous racist incident.

In Cape Town a few days ago twenty two year old Muhammed Makungwa reported that as he was on his way to work on Monday morning, he was attacked by a sjambok-wielding white man driving a white BMW X5. For those of you who don’t know what a sjambok is, there’s a definition here.

According to Makungwa, he was a bit late for work so he decided to run down the road, towards his place of employment. Well, that wasn’t such a great idea. Obviously a black man running at 7 am on a weekday must be running away from something.

Makungwa works as a gardener in the Claremont suburb of Cape Town. Little did he know that at the same time that he was headed to work, a civic-minded white guy was also on the road looking around to make sure that there were no lawbreakers on the run.

Suddenly, Makungwa notes, “Someone in a car started shouting at me, but I don’t understand English very well and could not understand what he was saying.

“I kept on running and he then tried to drive his car into me. I stopped and he got out and started whipping me with a sjambok. He just went crazy and didn’t give me a chance to explain myself,” he said.

“He was shouting at me and I could make out that he thought I had broken into his car. I tried to explain to him that I was on my way to work, but he just kept on hitting me. My lunch box fell as he was whipping me and that’s when he stopped. He then asked me where I worked and after I told him he took me to (my) employers,” he said.

The great thing about the attacker is that once he realized his mistake he stopped hitting Makungwa and actually gave him a ride to work. Which was like a really sweet gesture considering that he didn’t even know him.  When he is eventually caught he’ll have a strong chance of convincing a magistrate that he’s a good guy who was just trying to make sure that the neighborhood is safe.

This approach kind of worked for Tim Osrin, the guy who attacked a forty-four year old domestic worker a few weeks ago. Like Makungwa, Cynthia Joni was on her way to her job in Kenilworth in early October when she says a man jumped out of his car and started to slap her. She says after that he threw her to the ground and kicked her. She started crying and screaming because, um, it hurt. Soon, horrified strangers came to her assistance so he had to stop beating her. He hadn’t explained why he was attacking her but it later emerged that he thought she was a sex worker. Which made everyone kind of go, ‘Whew! He’s actually a really good guy after all.’

In fact, to prove how nice he actually is, Osrin told the Cape Argus, “I hate people thinking that I am a monster because of this … I am not sure why Cynthia has trumped up all sorts of injuries either. I can only think she is going for some sort of payment, where she can leverage some cash…

“She’s probably thinking, ‘this white guy slapped me, great … here comes my Christmas box’. People do these things, you know.”

Ah yes, the Christmas box. There has been an epidemic of domestic workers begging strangers to attack them by standing provocatively on the side of the road waiting for their transport, just so they can fill up their Christmas boxes.  These people literally stand there with impunity, trying to look guilty, hoping that a white man will drive past and punch them in the face. The worst thing is that you would be amazed by how many white guys fall for this trick.

It works like this: once the victim of this elaborate ruse has been baited into punching one of these so-called domestic workers in the face, the person starts screaming, acting like it really hurt or something. This is just a ploy to get to the next phase of the plan: getting the neighbors involved. Once these bleeding heart white liberal employers are in the mix, they start pulling out their cellphones and calling the police. Next thing you know you are in the middle of a media scrum and all you did was get in your car and drive down the street. It’s truly shocking what’s happening in this country.

In any case, the sjambok assailant might just be at the forefront of a revival of the apartheid era instrument. If you are looking for new ways to use yours, it turns out that there are some great online videos. This one – used to educate, entertain and to advertise the Cold Steel Sjambok – is really powerful. Who knew that the sjambok had so many uses? Its “great for moving stock, it’s a premier snake killer and in an emergency it makes an unbelievably effective self-defense tool.” As the video shows, you can also use it on eggs, tomatoes, road safety cones and um, multiple ping pong balls.

Watch and learn friends, watch and learn.

Note: In case you are confused, all of the quotations in this piece are real. See here and here for the media coverage of these and other stories related to similar incidents.

Image Credit: Flickr.

Has the giant fallen? The split within South Africa’s largest trade union federation, COSATU

Recent developments in the largest trade union movement in South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), have been nothing short of extraordinary and cataclysmic. It is now commonly accepted that the ‘giant’ whose arrival was so evocatively declared by (now South African Deputy President and then mineworkers’ union official) Cyril Ramaphosa in 1985 is on its knees. On top of that, all of its dirty linen is now on public display for all to see and scrutinize. The so-called expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA), one of its largest affiliates, was supposed to be a show trial aimed at asserting the authority of leaders allied to what has been until now the hegemonic ANC/SACP political current within the federation. But the significance of these events is much greater than was intended by those who staged the show trial. This has left many in a state of shock and sadness, with analysts and journalists scrambling for ways to explain the implications of the ‘expulsion’ of the federation’s largest and best resourced affiliate.

I have observed developments in COSATU for the last 22 years since I left the employ of one of its affiliates and I am now convinced that what we have before us is not a mere expulsion of an errant affiliate. What we are witnessing is a split of the federation taking place in slow motion. The expulsion of Numsa was merely the spark that ignited an already highly combustible situation that had been building up since Cosatu’s last congress where nifty last minute negotiation averted a toe-to-toe contest for leadership positions. By ignoring calls for a special congress and instead expelling Numsa, COSATU leader Sidumo Dlamini and his allies succeeded in drawing the battle lines between the two factions and forcing the current split. We now know that seven other affiliates and COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi have openly revealed their game plan by supporting Numsa. In addition, significant sections of the unions on Dlamini’s side – Sadtu, Num, Ceppwawu, Satawu, etc – support Numsa and Vavi. The decision by the seven unions to boycott Cosatu structures, Vavi’s refusal to sign the Numsa expulsion letter, his public distancing from the CEC decision and his boycott of the press conference called by Dlamini to formally announce the expulsion have served to confirm the split once and for all.

What remains to be seen now is not whether the factions will split, they have split already! The question is, which will successfully wrestle and walk away with the mantle of the glorious giant we once called Cosatu. It would appear that some in the Vavi/Numsa faction are even prepared to forego the name because its reputation is in tatters.

None in the once hegemonic ANC/SACP faction bargained for a full-blast split. Their calculations seem to have been predicated on the scenario that once Numsa was expelled it would be consigned to the wilderness and, in time, some would trickle back, just like we saw with some splinters in the past, notably Cope. They never bargained for a split as we are now witnessing. The split has caught them off guard and they never imagined that there would be such groundswell of dismay at the decision and support for Numsa and Vavi.

In 1997 I wrote a paper (for the South African Labour Bulletin) on the tripartite alliance titled “Flogging a Dying Horse: Cosatu and the alliance.” I took a lot of flak for writing the paper and the book I subsequently published in 2010 (A Paradox of Victory). Some in COSATU never forgave me for the things I wrote. But union developments over the last two years have been extraordinarily sad and even tragic. This is not the time to spend settling scores or gloating about who was right. I hope that characterizing the events of the last few days as a split of Cosatu rather than a mere expulsion of Numsa will not earn me condemnation and insult.

Image Credit: Abayomi Azikiwe on Flickr.

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