By Vusumzi Nobadula (this article has also been submitted to The Thinker)
Celebrity R&B singer and actor Keabetswe Motsilanyane, popularly known as KB, made the following profound statement in one of the scenes in Rhythm City earlier this year, where she plays the role of Lucilla: “Creativity is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.”
She was talking to the “talented but unpredictable” Shado (real name Samela Tyelbooi) in an attempt to convince her to take her music career very seriously if she wanted to succeed in the dog-eat-dog music industry.
For the purpose of advancing my main argument here, I will make use of the liberties provided by the principle of poetic licence and rejig the above statement to mean that “there is no glory without sacrifice”.
Molefi Kete Asante, the US-based Afrocentric scholar, addressing the Unesco-sponsored international conference themed “The Route of the Slaves” held in Lisbon, Portugal, on December 9 to 12 1998, made a similar observation about the risks taken by European invaders in the 16th century in their quest to conquer the new world, implying that it was pure bravery and grit on their part to travel by sea, as the ocean is more daunting than the desert.
Asante says it is not racial difference that has been a problem in discovering the ideological basis of the enslavement of Africans, but rather the idea of racial hierarchy, developed, refined and disseminated by Europeans who prosecuted the slave trade for three centuries. He says in part:
“All of us here are aware that the magnitude of the European forced migration of Africans has no peer in history. In its extraordinary reach into another continent and its equally overcoming of horrendous obstacles on land and the high seas, the European enterprise dwarfed all other examples of similar social and economic constructions. The sea, more daunting in ways than the desert, made the journey more perilous than any other forced migration of people. Yet it is also true that the magnitude of the so-called ‘trade’ must be measured in terms of the multiplicity of legacies, historical and contemporary, that it created. In the wake of the most mammoth forced movement of people over a period of centuries we see the very beginnings of the modern world, and indeed, the post-modern world, is in effect, the creation of the same legacies.”1
The results of taking such risks – (something that can be equated with the “first move advantage” as in the game of chess, put those who made such first moves during the Age of Discovery at a comfortable advantage as opposed to those who remained in their natural place of abode), as Martin Jacques explains in the Guardian newspaper on September 20, 2003 in an article headlined “The global hierarchy of race” – are that the Caucasoid race continues to reap the benefits emanating from such odysseys to this day. Jacques elaborates:
“In our 14 months in Hong Kong, I learnt some brutal lessons about racism. Every race displays racial prejudice, is capable of racism, carries assumptions about its own virtue and superiority. Each racism, furthermore, is subtly different, reflecting the specificity of its own culture and history. Second, there is a global racial hierarchy that helps to shape the power and the prejudices of each race. At the top of this hierarchy are whites. The reasons are deep-rooted and profound. White societies have been the global top dogs for half a millennium (500 years), ever since Chinese civilisation went into decline. With global hegemony, first with Europe and then the United States, whites have long commanded respect, as well as arousing fear and resentment, among other races.
“Being white confers a privilege, a special kind of deference, throughout the world, be it in Kingston, Hong Kong, Delhi, Lagos – or even, despite the way it is portrayed in Britain, Harare. Whites are the only race that never suffers any kind of systematic racism anywhere in the world. And the impact of white racism has been far more profound and baneful than any other: it remains the only racism with global reach. Being on top of the pile means that whites are peculiarly and uniquely insensitive to race and racism, and the power relations this involves.”2
Let me point out from the onset that Asante was actually not in praise of the Caucasoid race, he was simply making an observation. I use his observation here to drive home the main thrust of my thesis that “there is no glory without sacrifice”.
Again, as an express purpose of sticking to the topical question, I would as well intimate that KB’s statement can be stretched to refer not only to the creative arts, but to be used as a reference for all other human interactions, more so in the art of governance, as this form of human activity is the one that is always hanging as a dark cloud over our heads as ordinary citizens. Politicians control every aspect of our lives, from the cradle to the grave, and it very important to point out that total commitment to service delivery is the single most important obligation that any mandated cadre of public servants must take seriously and duly carry out if indeed it is determined to serve humanity. In this regard, action speaks louder than words. Those put into positions of power must walk the talk and no amount of public posturing in august conferences is going to make any difference in marginalised people’s lives if those tasked with bringing positive change to the lives of these people, dismally fail to do so.
Great thinkers with far-reaching insight and conviction seem to possess a natural ability to see things way before the rest of us mere mortals are able to do so. The late academic and freedom fighter, Robert Sobukwe, emphasised this aspect of the need for us to make sacrifices for the benefit of future generations to come. His clarion call during his days of social and political activism centred on the motto that was adopted by the organisation he helped found, the Pan Africanist Congress, which was “Serve, Suffer, Sacrifice”.3
The big mistake we made as a people is that, first, we didn’t heed such a call from this great man and second, we were not supposed to have jettisoned our core moral values with reference to our economic system even if historical imperatives compelled us to adopt new ways of economic sustenance because of the introduction of mechanised farming and industrialisation by foreign invaders.
Arguably, the scholar who best brings to life our way of life before our complete deculturisation as a result of conquest, is Dr Pallo Jordan. Writing a foreword to Tales from Southern Africa, a book written by his father AC Jordan, he expands on this particular aspect of the loss of historical and national consciousness I’ve just alluded to above. He writes:
“The central institution in the traditional societies of South Africa was the popular assembly. It breathed the spirit of community life, embracing the economic, political, and ethical outlook of the community. All men participated fully in the affairs of the assembly, hence there were no paid legislators, and there was no clear distinction between the political authority and the citizens of the realm. The king or chief presided over the assembly in council with advisers drawn from among the populace on the basis of merit and experience.
“In his political function the king was mediator between disputants among his people. The main concern of his office was the reconciliation of parties rather than the interpretation of points of law. He also symbolised the unity and integrity of the community. As such, any injury done to one of his people was considered an injury against his person . . . The ethos of traditional society was enshrined in an oral, legal, religious, and literary tradition through which the community transmitted from generation to generation its customs, values, and norms.
“Into this picture, from about the middle of the 17th century, intruded a new factor, destined to transform and finally destroy the traditional African community. For the next 200 years European expansion steadily pounded at the foundations of African societies until they finally collapsed under the weight of the bombardment. The Africans resisted with all the power they could muster, but, through a combination of territorial annexation and forced acculturation, the gun prevailed over the spear. Thus began a chapter in the history of South Africa, characterised by the total transformation of human relations.”4
In conclusion, I would like to say that the only thing we can do now is to try and encourage our people to be more innovative and work twice harder than everybody else and come up with new ways of making sure that we eradicate poverty and joblessness in our communities. We can easily do that, we just need to have self-confidence and show more respect to each other. In his book Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success by US-based Nigerian writer and former editor-in-chief of the African Sun Times newspaper,5 Dr Chika Onyeani, spells out clearly how this can be done. The problem is that if we fail to do so, the ongoing crises in almost all spheres of our country’s economic activity, sadly highlighted by the Marikana tragedy a few months ago and the militant De Doorns industrial action by farm workers just recently, will continue to plague this country to the point of irreversible moral decay and economic collapse. Surely, no sane person here wants to see that happen.
Also, it is clear that political freedom without economic justice is not enough. On that score, we definitely need to convene a national economic summit as a matter of urgency – an economic Codesa, so to speak – that will look at all the problems this country is faced with on the labour and moral fronts, where all the stakeholders will have an equal opportunity to thrash out their concerns and grievances, so that our country can have a clear way forward for the sake of a healthy socio-economic development of our children and their progeny – in their lifetime.
1. Molefi Kete Asante, “The Route of Slaves”, International Conference held in Lisbon, Portugal, December 9 to 12, 1998.
2. Foreword by Dr Pallo Jordan to his father’s book Tales from Southern Africa, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2004, Cape Town.
3. Simphiwe Sesanti, “Sobukwe – A role model then, now”, Sowetan Live, April 16, 2012.
4. Martin Jacques, “The global hierarchy of race”, The Guardian, September 20, 2003.