Black Artistry

 

Writer: Rithuli Orleyn

Photograph: Musa N. Nxumalo

 

It’s a known fact that Blacks don’t have land and are therefore without the primary source of wealth. But Blacks are talented as fuck. There is no reason why so many of us, 13 million we are told, must live under the so-called breadline. Blacks are so driven they come to Jo’burg, live on a couch (at a friend’s place who is long gatvol with their black-ass), subsist on insults, survive backstabbing, undiagnosed depression, and miraculously end up producing your favorite TV show or starring on your controversial TV series – all because they were asked to write a few songs and voila a Viola Davis intense-brilliant Vathiswa Ndara actress is born/discovered/recognized ( add ‘self-taught’ when you recognize how amazing Black people are, even against odds…. perhaps because of how odds are stacked against us).

A Viola, in her mid-to-late 40s emerges underneath the contracted musical score. A Dr Malinga from no-where mesmerizes the nation as his years trot to the grave. We, the nation, the audience if you like, are the Jonny-come-late to these amazing godly creatures. Take a black person, anywhere on God’s blue(s) earth, a Black who went as far as standard two -grade 4…. for my born-frees and former Model Cs- (don’t scratch your head, you do know of an exceptionally talented person who hardly completed primary school – the president of the republic, is actually not the exception, but rather the rule when it comes to Blacks who defy the odds of falling through the cracks. And ghetto/blackness cracks are no ordinary cracks, they are great canyons with insatiable appetites for us all).

So you get Blacks, talented as fuck, better than Vusi Nova, much better than Ifani, rotting away. Blacks who sing far much better than Lira and J Lo, packing 2kg frozen chicken at Farmer-White Chicken. Filmmakers holding a stint at a local Internet Cafe (owned by someone other than an entrepreneur from the community). You find novelists and essayists at a debt-collection call-centre. Your children’s nanny from Slovo squatter-camp with a bachelor’s matric certificate not studying but cleaning after so-called middleclass spoilt brats, all because no one went before them to inspire and open doors for them, no-one went ahead to make restless their imagination. Because Msobomvu (then), NYDP/DA (now) only sponsors projects that lack imagination. They will give you money if you want to set up a butchery or want branding for a cleaning tender company. And they will send the guy who wants to start a real competitive ghetto-bred relevant-content broadcasting station (with innovative infrastructure to cut costs) from IDC (I don’t care) proverbial pillar to MDDA dumb doff pillar.

Now I speak here of land in terms of wealth or property. Mostly I try to avoid those terms. But let’s indulge this land-property dimension a little. Land is property we don’t have, that’s a given. But our talents, in the arts, at least, produce copious property-equivalents. Take for instance copyright royalties, publishing rights, and registered trademarks (we all know about please-call me intellectual labour invention that’s worth billions, and we also all know about The Apartheid Museum trademark that’s worth billions). Those two billion rand worth Black inventions aren’t the only ones. I know of young people who invented battery devices from studying YouTube videos, others invented television infrastructure that confounded Prime Media bosses. All that imagination by restless young Black goes to waste because people who are supposed to take these young people by the hand look forward to state tenders and political connections for get-rich-quick schemes.

Let’s go back to the easy music examples. If artists owned their publishing rights, by the time the artist’s song features in an advertisement for 15 seconds it collects between R50 000 to R 100 000 depending on whether you are Jonas Ngwangwa (with Grammies and Samas) or Mgarimbe (with dololo nominations). Same with your song featuring in Tsotsi. My point: with little horizontal imagination from our already hard working people and vertical support of that imagination we can get our people above breadline and off the grant-grid into proud thinking innovative successes in their varied pursuits kind of grid. This ability to know that radio and tv are playing your intellectual-labour property and the content you are watching on tv and are reading at school comes from your neighbourhood, Papa Ramps, Mgqolozana, Phakama, Jackie the poet, Mpho, Sbu, Zongi, and Thando, will cultivate not only belief and trust in one another’s ideas, but will concretely sustain our projects, lives, and give birth to more rewarded and rewarding innovations. Land? We will have to kill a fathafuka for land, but we must run to our people for harbour, people who are not so weakened by hunger that they can be bought to derail our historic mission.

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An Open Letter to Prof Ngidi: The Decolonisation Rhetoric at CUT

 

Dear Prof Ngidi

“The unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.”

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Just as when I was about to congratulate you on being nominated for the NSTF awards, I realised, when I read further, that you were not the one nominated. Seeing you in the picture, however, brought to mind an unpleasant memory of last year; during the Fees protests. It is unpleasant because of the amount of disrespect you demonstrated, especially as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning.

I am writing this in between classes; so be assured it’s going to be a short one. Nevertheless, I here wish to state my position on decolonisation and my disappointment in you.

On October 17th, 2016 at the student parliament, when asked to comment on and give possible directives insofar as decolonisation and the decolonial curriculum are concerned, you ascended to the podium and gave a very obscure and irrelevant history to what was going to become an inevitably fruitless lecture on the subject. This was an insult, especially as you stood there, with expensive phone in your hand and googling on what next to say. Hence what was to follow was unavoidably going to be fruitless. As DVC for Teaching and Learning, with a strong academic record on understanding the pedagogical aspects of Psychology, having been Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and, not to mention, taught History and IsiZulu; it would have been appreciated if you took the onus and displayed a more abreast understanding of the subject of decolonisation. We were, of course, not anticipating a Paulo Freire; but you could have put more effort and provided leadership.

Furthermore, I do not think there is going to be enough time for me for me to expand on my position apropos to decolonisation and colonisation. As I explained, I am writing this in between classes. As a twenty-year-old, months before the events of Fees Must Fall of the previous year, I wrote extensively on colonisation and decolonisation, and a few of my articles are available on my blog: https://mbiratafari.wordpress.com. In these articles, I do not provide an Alpha and Omega understanding of the subject, but dwell more on the fundamental tenants of colonisation. These include the fact that colonisation, as a process, is first and foremost destructive in and of itself; and therefore harbours no positive aspects. For instance, one can put it out and point at these buildings we call universities and suggest them as amongst the said ‘positive aspects’, but it will be them being ahistorical. I plan to summarise my argument in two points: 1) there already were academic institutions in Africa before the coloniser set foot here, and 2) the coloniser’s institutions, founded on a Eurocentric understanding of being and being-in-the-world, do more to erase indigenous epistemic understanding of such. As Aime Cesaire also understands: “…between colonisation and civilisation there is an infinite distance; that out of all colonial expeditions that have been undertaken, out of all colonial statutes that have been drawn up, out of all memoranda that have been dispatched by all the ministries; there could come no single human value.”

How then does a decolonised curriculum look like? I am tempted to briefly answer, thus: Giving education human values, the same Cesaire laments about colonialism to have none of. The world, the modernised world, which is deeply rooted in Eurocentric understanding of being, as earlier stated, has redefined humanity and what it means to be human, for the African. The latter therefore threads on, emptied of knowledge of self and baffled by new connotations found in the modern world – the world as we know it.

Bab’ uPhathabantu, to further add to my disappointment, the Vice-Chancellor went and gloated in The Weekly newspaper about how CUT is leading the discourse on decolonisation, even when it is known that this is false. The past two workshops I have seen advertised on campus were invitations to ivory tower, mouth-to-mouth resuscitations of a few academics. This exposes the refusal of the institution to keep doors open for engagement. As Black Space, we will be having a series of public lectures on Black Consciousness, putting into context Vladimir Lenin’s question of “What is to be done?” When there is such an event organised, if not the first, you will be one of the few academics to know about it.

Regards,

Ndumiso

Member of the Black Space, a Black Consciousness formation of students on campuses across occupied Azania (SA).