It must be dying season for our revolutionary creatives. I am having to write something about a deceased musician almost every week.
Last week it was about the leader of the Cool Crooners. This week it is about Ray Chikapa Phiri and I would be remiss not to. I met Phiri in 2013 and interviewed him when I was writing for a local business weekly. It was an unforgettable experience, as he took me through his journey from the early days through to what is arguably his greatest moment on the Graceland Tour with Paul Simon.
Famous for songs like Zwakala, Who is fooling Who? and Whispers in the Deep — who can forget his gruff and yet soulful voice as the frontman of Stimela, that super group of yesteryear? His enduring legacy was his group’s anti-apartheid work. Born to Malawian immigrants, Phiri became one of South Africa’s leading voices against oppression during the struggle. Africa mourns his passing away. Phiri was an African music colossus.
What is concerning me is the fractitious mood of our nation at present. Judging by what I read in the papers and on social media, this nation needs a new ethos. The culture needs a shift. Again I must reiterate that we need to be more inclusive of others, to embrace diversity and promote excellence.
We cannot, as a country, be held hostage to loyalties that do not deliver these ideals. At a certain symposium, veteran liberation war fighter Dumiso Dabengwa offered this insight: “Upon attaining Independence, we concentrated on governing a state and not on building a nation.” A nation needs transcendent and energising symbols.
Confronting prodigies of desolation
Ours is a typical African narrative of a revolution hijacked (to some extent). And as we have been mourning the deaths of former freedom fighters such as comrades Chinx, Abel Sithole and lately Ray Phiri, we have to reflect upon how African culture must shift in critical ways.
In this vein, professor PLO Lumumba is one of Africa’s leading voices in advocating a seismic change in Africa’s socio-cultural landscape. We are standing in the age of confrontation and we have to confront the man in the mirror.
The African has to have a renaissance in terms of how he or she views himself against arrogantly a geo-cultural context of nations that are having their way with the mother continent. We cannot, as a people, afford to hanker after an era gone by. The theft of public funds is prodigious. The abuse of public office is beyond pale. To borrow Albert Nyathi’s words we must now cease to be a nation of “laughing hyenas and crying children”.
Face the music
Embracing the present challenge to alter the course of our collective history requires, in my view, the leadership ethos that current Tanzanian president John Magufuli appeared to be running with initially. He cut back on the trappings of power and this is clearly antithetical to the manner of most African leaders.
A man of action, he does not seem to favour African talkshops and photo-ops. He also does not seem to be a favourite of his African compatriots in leadership. We have to continue cheering him on insofar as he exercises discipline in the management of public funds. But some see in him a budding dictator and there appears to be evidence of him costricting freedom of expression.
Maybe he is just an impatient man. His impatience may be related to what some of us feel as regards the continent playing second fiddle to all others. More importantly, whatever Magufuli’s merits are, Africa needs to veer away from personality cults and the culture of sycophancy. We need, to quote former US president Barack Obama: strong institutions, not strongmen.
One billion reasons
Notwithstanding, when everyone plays their position in this continent, we may change our fortunes. We have been a nation and continent bereft of public shame and anger.With over one billion people, we are not in such a bad state insofar as size is concerned. French President Emmanuel Macron seems to think we are too many. His comments widely reported in the press imply that Africa suffers from rampant child bearing. I dare say that is an exaggeration.
Moreover it is a humiliation.
The brutal truth, however, is that it is an understandable perspective coming from a forgetful and pervasive former coloniser. But, when your children eat at the neighbours house everyday, he has a right to tell you that maybe you should not have more kids that he has to feed. It is a clearly fair comment. So what is the problem with our people? From Cape to Cairo, we have a cultural malady (not uniquely African) whose remedy is another revolution. Evolution is taking too long. The children cannot wait…
“Africa is much like China in having a wide cultural diversity of people living in vastly contrasting environments.
The difference is China is one country with a very strong consciousness of oneness within its people. It is the accident of history that one powerful state of China conquered six others, uniting China and in Africa, colonialism divided the continent up as it is today. The past cannot be changed but the future can. If Africans can work on promoting the consciousness of one Africa within differing ethnics groups, and nationalities, it will someday be a power house of the world.” — Yen Tao.
Heard it through the grapevine
At Bulawayo’s Large City Hall, a claimant to Mzilikazi’s bygone throne raised a flag. It was, as he put it, the flag of his “separate”nation of Mthwakazi. With dangerous temerity, he is staking a claim on a bygone kingdom. Does not such a claim necessitate war and conquest to reassert control? How sustainable is the claim of ownership to a region? What historical epoch must one use to sustain the claim? Will we also not see the resurrection of the Munhumutapa and Mapungubwe and Rozwi empires? Are there no claimants or pretenders to these former kingdoms as well? How far back must we go to invoke the claims to power or territory? Is it not an exercise in futility to invoke bygone imperical claims? Where does it end?