Let me share with you a few anecdotes from my rural village, New Eersterus in Hammanskraal, 40 kilometres north and slightly west of Pretoria. So I’ll start with my own homestead. My 92 year old mother wakes up at 9h00 every morning to have a cup of tea in bed, after bathing she goes into the living room at 10h00. Then as she enjoys her formal breakfast before she can take her daily medication, she watches television. Yes, her age mates in the village have passed on or are too old to visit. She watches only two channels that beam Naija movies in our homes. My sister who lives with her complains that she pays the exorbitant DSTV subscription just for the family to watch only two channels from 10h00 when my mother takes full occupation of the living room plus the remote control devices until 22h00 when she resigns to bed. It’s her daily routine.
My mother has never travelled beyond Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces in South Africa, though she has been to Botswana. My rakgadi (meaning my father’s elder sister) was married and lived in Ramotswa and my cousins live in Gaborone, so my mother has visited there a few times but only if there was a bereavement in the family.
Though my mother was a Motebele wa Moletlane (an umuNdebele) from Alma, a once train station plus one filling station location which has since 1994 developed into a location between Modimolle and Mabetlwane in Limpopo, she was brought up by her mmane (her late mother’s sister) in the Rustenburg area and got married to my dad, so my mother was familiar with the traditions of Batswana.
By the way, the influence between my clan and amaNdebele was synergistic as my clan’s praise poem was later modified to include a line that describes us as “mongalla Matebeleng ba gaabo ba le teng” (which means someone who took refuge in the land of the amaNdebele instead of fleeing to one of his ethnic groups). This spoke to my clan of Bakwena ba Batlase ba Baphalane who after strife over ethnic chieftainship broke in the Rustenburg area, they moved up to today’s Limpopo’s Mogalakwena region to take refuge under Chief Langa instead of fleeing to Bafokeng or any other Batswana ethnic group in the vicinity.
Bakwena ba Batlase were constituted by these families – namely, Mokoka, Molobi (including those who adapted the surname to Molubi as a security measure as the chieftancy battle was between Mokoka and Molobi), Moatshe, Mafora, Ntsimane, Molekwa, Letlape and Ntloedibe. So there was a strong affinity between the Batlase and amaNdebele (including those under the Lekalakala and Kekana clans) to an extent that there were intermarriages.
Sorry for this ethnographic diversion, let’s get back to my mother who watches only Nollywood movies. Her knowledge of the different Nigerian soapies, movies and the actors is unparalleled. Those of us who studied drama at university, were taught about the construct of “suspension of disbelief”. Let me declare my mother is an epitome of this construct. She reminds me of my first encounter of a movie in the 1970s when the then TEBA, which recruited villagers to work in the mines, came in a mobile studio truck and showed us karate bioscopes and obviously documentaries about how a great life mineworkers were leading in the mine compounds. This was a bi-monthly affair and we used to ululate for the starring as he walloped his opponents. Yes as us urchins couldn’t understand English, the Chinese choreographed antics of Shaolin and Kung fu masters made it easier for us to follow the plot.
So this should explain to you why I ended up joining a karate club in my village and, also when I did matric in 1983, I went to Rustenburg to go write an aptitude test for boiler-making training at s mine as my plan B in case I didn’t pass with an exemption to be accepted at a university. Furthermore, do remember that although television was introduced in South Africa in 1976, it only reached us black communities in the 1980s.
Documentaries we watched introduced us to the mining sector; karate movies introduced us to Chinese culture; just like Naija movies have introduced my mother to Nigeria – she’s able to sustain a decent conversation on Nigerian culture.
Then we have our direct opposite neighbour, Bra Solly Baloyi. Some kind of a loner though he’s highly sociable. He’ll put a speaker on his verandah, take out a beer, and play music at full blast – you could hear the sound of his powerful system within a radius of a kilometre (imagine my Norwood neighbours complaining about my rapturous laughter after 21h00, Bra Solly was going to rupture their eardrums). Bra Solly inadvertently introduced me to African jazz as his loud music permeated my neighbourhood air. I’m most grateful to him for having introduced me to the protest and rebellious music of Fela Kuti. So this then introduced me to Radio Bop’s “Moribo wa Afrika” (rhythms of Africa” programme which was ably presented by Mogale Mafatshe on Friday afternoons before Bra Solly returned from work. This programme introduced me to Matubaraka and other creative legends.
Then my classmate’s brother who worked for the library of the University of South Africa (UNISA) introduced me to Heinemann Publishers’ African Writers Series authors such as Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiongo. This solidified my pan African outlook. I’ve written about this encounter in my autobiography, ”Sound and Fury: The Chronicles of Healing”. Let me also clarify that pan-Africanism was bastardised when one political movement that broke away from the African National Congress (ANC) used the construct in their name. They then sought to create the impression that the ANC had drifted away from its founding principles as they tried to appropriate this construct.
Truth be told, the ANC’s ideological stance goes back to Pixley ka Isaka Seme’s iconic graduation speech that called for the regeneration of Africa; the demographics of the founding members of the ANC in 1912 also spoke to this; the 1943 “Africa Claims” document; the Freedom Charter and to cut the long historical journey short, Thabo Mbeki’s “I’m an African” speech in 1996 and his subsequent coinage of the African Renaissance construct were just constellation of pan Africanist ideas embedded in the ideological outlook of the movement. The ANC has always argued against narrow nationalism if you do consider the case of Tomlinson Makiwana and his fellow dissenters.
I remember after I moved from Johannesburg to take up employment in Polokwane as the Head of Provincial Communication Services in Limpopo’s Office of the Premier, in one of my drinking binges with Maxwell Nemadzivhanani, I asked him why did he leave the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) as its former Secretary-General to join the ANC? Although his answer had a tinge of historically reductionism, he said when former President Thabo Mbeki spoke about the African Renaissance and he looked at how the ANC had managed to mobilise the better part of the country to adopt pan-Africanism (as the party got a two-third majority in the 1999 elections); he realised that that was something the PAC had failed to achieve since its formation in 1959, he then thought as he was a pan-Africanist, the best was for him to join the ANC to push his ideological position which the ANC was enlivened to.
By the way, Pan-Africanism was an attempt to create a sense of camaraderie and collaboration among all people of African descent whether they lived on the continent or in the diaspora. This is why the African Union has now declared the diaspora as its official sixth region. Why did I talk about my events with cultural dimensions in my community and linking them to pan Africanism? The Jamaican-British cultural theorist, Stuart Hall, put it matter-of-factly: “The question of hegemony is always the question of a new cultural order.”
Yes I’m not propagating for cultural homogeneity across the continent as it is impossible to achieve as, to borrow from Frederich Nietzsche, every identity is a multiplicity of subjectivities. But we should be able to establish the core of a pan African identity that can bind us together as a people who are members of a global community. Stuart further says: “Identity is never singular but is a multiplication constructed across intersecting and antagonistic discourses, practices and positions.” Think about the Marxist law of unity and struggle of the opposite.
Furthermore, Stuart says: ”Identity is becoming more dependent on what people are willing to subscribe and less dependent on objective criteria such as skin colour or where they’re born. Ways of identifying blackness are no longer black or white. It’s not a case of us or them, you can now be us and them; like them but different.
“The nature of power in the modern world is that it is also constructed in relation to political, moral, intellectual, cultural, ideological, sexual questions. Popular culture is one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle. It is the arena of consent and resistance.”
Let me emphasise this pan African personality I’m advocating for transcends race as a demographic as per the definition given by Stuart. “Race is more like a language than it is like the way in which we are biologically constituted.” As the Freedom Charter spoke about the notion of “the people” which has since been amplified in the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, “the people… is a discursive device for summoning the people that you want. You’re constructing the people, you’re not reflecting the people.”
Before closing, here’s my parting shot which thank Dr Nimrod Mbele for hosting me on his Chai FM show, “Beyond Governance”, yesterday and Stan Montsho – an accomplished author, commentator and publisher – in which we de/constructed cultural industries particularly the business and politics of independent publishing in South Africa. To watch our one hour YouTube interview, please click on the video below.
I’m also grateful to Nkgadimeng Kekana of Thobela FM for hosting me in unpacking the parallels between South African and Madagascar’s economies particularly looking at how agriculture as a labour intensive sector could help reduce unemployment.
Let me conclude by quoting Father Trevor Huddleston: “God bless Africa… Guard her people… Guide her leaders… And give her peace.”
Enjoy your weekend.
Saul Molobi (FCIM)
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