Molweni ma-Afrika!

Bonjour l’Afrique!

Hujambo Afrika!

Salam Alaikum!

Income-based economics

What happens when there is excess produce in a capitalist system? Answer: destruction of the excess produce. 

What? Never. That’s impossible.

There is no way that farmers (as an example) could destroy food when there are people who cannot even afford a spoon. Well, someone said: “Welcome to the real world” or I should rephrase – welcome to the capitalist-inclined world. The Minister in the South African Presidency, Ms Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, may have at first sounded apathetic when she indicated police were to use as evidence and then destroy the recovered loot from the past ten days although her view was that it should be donated or auctioned off with proceeds used for relief. The former option mentioned by police reflects how things work in a capitalist world. They had no choice but to say what they did. The looting disrupted the supply and demand structure as well as the economy’s ability and pace to rebuild in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces of South Africa after the chaos.

Ordinary citizens were hit a quintuple whammy (pardon my limited vocabulary):

  • Over 40 000 businesses looted costing the economy over R5 billion in losses
  • Over 100,000 jobs potentially lost, 
  • The demand and supply structure was interrupted, 
  • Prices have gone up (during the past week the laws of capitalistic economy based on demand and supply ratio demanded that people purchase basic foods like bread at an astronomical price of R40), 
  • Some of the loot is getting recovered (and destroyed) and 
  • Heavy surveillance by the army and police (with the potential to infringe on people’s human rights). 

Capitalism is based on generation of income by businesspersons. The entrepreneurs need to see the demand and supply mode coming back to normal. Tough one.

Dress code

How you dress immediately says something about you – to you and those around you – I’ve always thought.  Some say, “you are what you wear”. As Homo Sapiens, we are conscientised about what we wear, how do we wear it and are influenced on how it makes us look. That is why the concept of fashion is possible with human beings. So we are the only members of the animal kingdom that wear clothes, even though some of those clothes are made using other species within the animal kingdom. 

According to Charles Darwin, emotion is one of the central features that define human presence. What you wear affects your emotional outlook. Tell a human being that “you look good in that top” and you see them blushing. Darwin suggests that human beings are the only members of the animal kingdom that can blush thus revealing their innermost emotions unlike other members of the animal kingdom. Cats, cows and all other members of the animal kingdom do not have the same capacity to be habituated by clothing. 

Psycho-Analysts have studied the influence that clothes have on human beings and have come up with an interesting concept – Enclothed Cognition. This is understood to be the influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes. This goes a long way in showing the truth behind the statement: ‘clothing makes the man’ or ‘you are what you wear’. Parents tell their children that if they break the law, they are going “going to wear that ugly prison uniform”. Therefore, scientists look at clothing primarily from the point of view of what it says to the wearer and how it makes them feel. They, further, insist that human beings ought to dress the way they want to feel as opposed to how they feel and as a form of self-expression, controlling one’s mood and masking emotions.  

Do you want to look like a hunk or in control or relaxed or wealthy, etc? The answer to these questions sends a message to you and does speak to those that may be part of the audience. 

Dr Jennifer Baumgartner says that clothes are very revealing about our personalities. She says clothing is a social indicator. Therefore, there are people who have managed to embrace certain dress codes that seem to define them more than others. Some influential persons dress in certain trademarked styles that become congruent with their personalities. These come in different forms and with the right influence, they also show leadership in the field of authority. 

It would sound odd to view political revolutionaries like Fidel Castro (may his soul rest in peace) as fashion trend-setters with the Cuban Shirt that has become a signature dress code for many across the world.

They are what they were

“Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them,” so says Rachel Joe.  This statement must have been for Gill Marcus. Marcus worked with Pallo Jordan in the Communications division of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) and was the Editor of the London-based weekly newsletter in the 1970s when the organisation was in exile. She also became a Deputy Minister of Finance in a post-Apartheid South Africa, a Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank and Chairperson of the Amalgamated Bank of Southern Africa (ABSA). She is very committed to her fashion style. Her dress code is quite thought-provoking as it has become synonymous with her. It comes in a variety of colour combinations, tepee-shape and loose-fitting. She never compromises on this style even when she rose to become the Governor (the premier position making her the public face) of the South African Reserve Bank.  A colleague suggests to me that there was a little brouhaha about whether she was the right person to take the position as she is white. Knowing that most would be dressed in dress codes akin to the British fashion, a senior party leader told the attendants that “… actually, Gill Marcus looks more African than most of you gathered here”.

H.E. Dr Kenneth Kaunda had trademark style and dressed with poise. The former President of Zambia used to carry a white handkerchief. When you observe his mannerism while meeting audiences, he used it as a tool to communicate with them. When arriving at an event, he would use the white handkerchief to greet the crowds gathered and the audiences would respond with loud cheers. Also when emphasising a point, during his speeches, he would use the white handkerchief to recapture the attention of the addressees. During media interviews, he would do the same. I think it had become a part of him.

When he became President of the newly-liberated Zambia in 1964, he was wearing the fashionable English “gentleman outfit’ – akin to Charles Dickens description in “Great Expectations”. Eight years into office changed the game. Dr Kaunda also wore suits that, in the 1970s and 1980s, ended up being called KK safari suits. These suits were short-sleeved, even though they have evolved with fashion designers also making long-sleeved variations. 

Dr Kaunda, at the time, was advancing a style that promoted an Africanist dress sense that defied the long-standing western imperialist look. Through these safari suits President Kaunda emphasised his Africanness. One of his safari suits has been placed in display at the Zambian National Museum in Lusaka. I don’t own a KK suit or look alike but one day someone will buy me one – I wish.

Freedom fighters and presidents of many African countries, during those times, could not afford to have a wardrobe that did not have this outfit. I have seen many images of former Presidents of his era like Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Samora Machel (Mozambique) and Sam Nujoma (Namibia) wearing them with pride. There are pictures that show them in matching colours and designs. The former President of African National Congress, South Africa’s national liberation movement then exiled in Zambia, Oliver “OR” Tambo, also wore these, at times. Dr Kaunda, at the time, was advancing a style that promoted an Africanist dress sense that defied the long-standing western imperialist look. 

Another very interesting dress code is the one that the post-teenage Michael Joseph Jackson wore. He lived his adult life as if Gianni Versace was talking to him when he said: “Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress”. Known as a ‘King of Pop’ to some and ‘Wacko Jacko’ to others he grew up from being a 1970s teenage music stars to being the most awarded musical artist and one of the biggest stars to ever live. Born to an African family that is known for musical excellence, as a kid, his dress code was as simple as any American child’s attire. Things changed when he went solo after a successful period with his brothers in a group that was called ‘The Jackson 5’.

Michael Jackson preferred to look different. He wore a solitary sparkly glove. He wore tight trousers, white socks and a moccasin. He also wore a jacket, with many zips, that went on to be named after him. His outfit was custom-made, one would argue. Some refer to his dress code as an exaggerated biker-style even though there is a Michael Jackson brand customisation that cannot be imitated not even by the bikers. 

Some suggest that Michael Jackson had a prophetic side to himself as he wore masks more than 15 years before COVID-19 forced the whole world to do so. People used to mock him as they wondered why he would go to an extent of hiding half of his face – it just made no sense at all. I can only remember one music video, in his elderly years, when he was dressed normally in a white shirt, vest and black trouser. Part of his dress code also came as an unintended consequence. He had an injury on his knees and his fashion designers created a new amendment to his dress code. A number of Michael Jackson wannabes have always tried to dress like him and they have all failed to look normal. That dress code was made for him and him only.

Ras Tafari Makonnen must be one of the most well-dressed African heads of State in his typical army uniform. He became Emperor Haile Selassie on ascending the throne and his reign ended in 1974. By the way, his name was used to give to the Rastafari religion of most reggae enthusiasts that has become a very strong religion in Jamaica and all over the world. 

Former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, defines his own fashion and style, as well. Using colours that are difficult to ignore, he makes the Yoruba traditional wear look synonymous with his name.

Last week we were celebrating Mandela Day. I spent some time thinking about how ordinary and extra-ordinary Nelson Mandela was as a human being.  When you go through his biography, you will discover how particular he was about what he was wearing. In May 1994, just before he was inaugurated as the first President of a democratic, non-racial, post-Apartheid South Africa he appeared in public walk wearing a different shirt. Desre Buirski gave one such shirt as a gift to Nelson Mandela without knowing how much he would love it. 

The old man loved it and asked the young designer to design more for him. This was a relaxed, loose-fitting silk shirt, worn with no neck tie similar to the Indonesian Batik shirt. Buirski suggests that she has designed more than 120 shirts for him. I almost fell off my chair when I discovered that this shirt had been there for ages before Mr Mandela started using it. 

Another claim suggests that President Mandela got this shirt as a gift from the former Indonesian President Suharto when he visited Indonesia in 1990. So began what became a signature dress. He addressed many formal functions wearing this shirt whilst other attendees were in their characteristic English formal wear. He addressed the United Nations using the pre-dominant English suit and in later years address the same body wearing his Madiba shirt. 

Buirski suggests that she was over the moon when she discovered that the famous Italian designer Giorgio Armani phoned Madiba to ask “why he had chosen to wear these ‘wild shirts’ as his suit”. She, further, says he (Mandela) wanted to “look and feel like Nelson Mandela”. So popular is the shirt that even the likes of John Kerry wear it regularly. His shirt definitely fitted with his approach to interacting with ordinary people. There are many instances when he would step out of protocol and just mingle with ordinary people. I am not sure if he was a good dancer but if choirs were singing he would start dancing with the choristers. He, as an unintended consequence, ended up founding what today is called the Madiba Dance

It is not my intention to praise political prostitution, but let us give credit where it is due. 

Mobutu Sese Seko was another unique dresser. He wore a leopard skin hat and a matching cravat around his neck. He used to wear what was called an Abacost which looks very similar to the Mao Suit (made famous by Mao Tse Tung of China). An Abacost is in full “a bas le costume” which is a French translation of “down with the suit”. Citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo (then called Zaire) were banned from wearing suits, shirts and ties. When he was overthrown, the abacost lost its usual favour within the citizenry.

Who can forget Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, also mainly in his military outfit? Kenzo Takada says: “Fashion is like eating, you shouldn’t stick to the same menu”. This is how Gaddaffi seemed to relate to his multi-coloured fashion. He was one of the most fascinating leaders insofar as his dress code was concerned. Besides his hairstyle, transporting a camel for his use in Paris, dyeing his hair more than necessary and alleged accompaniment by virgin female bodyguards, he always dressed in a way that differentiated him from the rest at whatever function he attended. He was a man of colours. He could dress in a white suit, with his noticeable hairstyle and dark shades. He could also wear an imposing Kufi. His military suits must be the most famous of his wardrobe. The strange thing is that he used to wear a countless number of medallion all over his chest. 

We should all enjoy the clothing that defines. I will continue wearing my pantsula takkies (Converse All Star) or my soccer shorts even when I’m 60 years of age. 

In closing, there has been a drop by 1.8% in the number of new COVID-19 infection cases in the continent over the past week. Ironically, an analysis that excludes South Africa reflects an 18% increase which begs the question – has the drop in South Africa’s statistics not been affected by the postulations that the week of looting discouraged the pace of testing? Wear your mask, maintain your social distance and follow government instructions – we shall overcome. 

Enjoy your weekend.

Andile Msindwana



Follow me Twitter: @MsindwanaAndile