It has been such a long road – Alfred T. Qabula

6 November 2012, 8:31 am

This poem is one of the last pieces composed by Alfred T. Qabula (1942-2002), a poet from the trade union movement in Durban in the 1970s and early 1980s, famous for “Praise poem to FOSATU” and as one of the poets of Black Mamba Rising (1986). “It has been such a long road” was published in World Literature Today in 1996 and it is thus interesting to note this early critique of former comrades, now become moneyed government functionaries, from a worker and trade unionist’s perspective. (Here is an obituary and commemoration of Qabula by Ari Sitas.)

It has been such a long road

It has been a long road here
with me, marking the same rhythms
everyday.
Gentlemen, pass me by
Ladies, pass me by
Each one greets me, “eita!”
and adds:
“comrade, I will see you on my return
as you see I am in a hurry
but do not fear, I am with you and
understand your plight.”

“Do not worry
no harm will greet you
as long as I am alive.
We shall make plans with the guys
and we for sure will solve your problems.
You trust me don’t you?
I remember how hard you struggled
and your contribution is prized.
In fact everyone knows how hard it all had turned
when you were fighting for workers and for the community’s emancipation.”

Nothing lasts forever
and our friends now show us their backs
and they avoid eye-contact
pretending they never saw us.
Even those whom by chance our eyes did meet
would rush and promise and leave behind
a “see you later.”

“What is your phone number comrade?
I will call you after I finish with the planning
committee on this or that of the legislature
and then we shall work something out for you, be calm.”
Days have passed, weeks have passed
years have also passed
with us waiting like the ten virgins in the bible.

I remember the old days
when we had become used to calling them
from the other side of the river.
Some of them were in the caves and crevices
hiding when we called
but we hollered loud
until they heard and they responded to our voices.
As they came to us dust sprang up
and spiralled high all the way up to the sky.
When the dust of our struggle settled, there was no one there.
The dust covered my body
it cursed me into a pathetic fate
disguising me, making me unrecognisable
and whoever recognises me
is judged to be deluded, deceived
because the dust of their feet still covers my body.

And now we, the abominations, spook them
as the dust of their feet covers our bodies.
And they run away
each one of them saying: “hold up the sun
dear friend, doesn’t the fog cover each and every mountain?”

Although you don’t know us, we know ourselves:
we are the movable ladders
that take people up towards the skies,
left out in the open for the rain
left with the memories of teargas, panting for breath.

Winter and summer come and go and leave us the same.
The wind or the breeze has not changed us. Here is a summary of our praises -
the iron that doesn’t bend, even
Geneva has failed to bend it,
the small piece of bath-soap about which
meetings and conspiracies were hatched
to catch and destroy it.
It still continues to clean men and women
who desire to be cleaned.

It has been a long road here
see you again my friends
when you really need us
when the sun clears the fog from your eyes.

Alfred T Qabula, 1942-2002


Manning Marable

3 April 2011, 6:19 am

13 May 1950 – 1 April 2011

Intellectual giant. During the mid- to late-1990s, I learned a lot about post-Civil Rights politics in the USA from his pen. I was researching race and representation in the USA as I was developing an unhealthy obsession with early Spike Lee. This was post-1994, and so a lot of Marable’s analyses of the Civil Rights Movement, its victories and its massive shortfalls, were becoming apparent in the newly post-apartheid South Africa. Most specifically was his analysis of how organising along a politics of identity will only bring victories in representation. Without the actual transformation of institutions and society, it will only ever amount to representation without authority. Window dressing, in short.

Obituaries at New York Times and Racialicious.

Wikipedia page.


Vincent Kolbe

6 September 2010, 10:21 am

Griot of District 6, 1933 – 3 September 2010.

Obituary, by John Edward Mason.

Short documentary by Rio Allen, aka The Filmo.

Google search.


Civil Society statement on POI Bill

19 August 2010, 6:59 pm

Note: The following is a statement drawn up, I understand, by Civil Society organisations, mainly for such organisations, but also for individuals, to endorse. The Institute for Security Studies is administering/organising it. According to http://writingrights.org the deadline has been extended to 20 August. Contact details are at the end of the document.

I wish to add my name to the statement.

Let the Truth be Told – Stop the Secrecy Bill!

A responsive and accountable democracy that can meet the basic needs of our people is built upon transparency and the free flow of information. The gains of South Africans’ struggle for freedom are threatened by the Protection of Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill) currently before Parliament. We accept the need to replace apartheid- era secrecy legislation. However, this Bill extends the veil of secrecy in a manner reminiscent of that same apartheid past. This Bill fundamentally undermines the struggle for whistleblower protection and access to information. It is one of a number of proposed measures which could have the combined effect of fundamentally undermining the right to access information and the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution.

Read the rest of this entry »


What’s the time?

31 March 2010, 1:35 pm

Brandon Edmonds knows what time it is.

He’s just published a comprehensive take-down of the political sensibilities that underpin figures like Gareth Cliff (radio ‘personality’, self-proclaimed libertarian) and David Bullard (columnist), most pithily expressed as in: “Well, fuck you, Gareth Cliff, and David Bullard, and the ‘courtesy cars’ you drove in on. Fuck your racist, self-serving alternative-scenario porn.”

It’s a brilliant piece, full of verve (his other pieces at Mahala are too). It shimmers and slithers, and prickles, like the skin of some rough beast awakened, but the rage just in control and never allowed to get the better of the analysis. And it gives voice to something that I am sure many people think and feel.

Check it.

More articles by Brandon Edmonds at Mahala.


The Talented Mr. Poplak

25 March 2010, 9:12 am

“Ag nee, man, fok” – Sven Eick

(for Sven)

Despite the length and eloquence of Mr. Poplak’s response, it should be clear to anyone willing to resubmit to reading his original piece and my long comment on it, that he has not read my original comment with the required perspicacity, such as one would rightly expect of someone who writes with such an eloquent and bravura mixture of discourse that flits quite comfortably from informal ‘street’ rhetoric to high art to arch-postmodern anthropology, even if the latter appears in “lite” aphoristic reference. The to and fro of such long and eloquent disquisition says at least one thing: Die Antwoord is a cultural product of some worth. Had it been otherwise, individuals would not be investing so much time in spilling ink, real or virtual.

But it seems that saying something like “a cultural product of some worth” – in this style of archaic charm that I adopt here, for I am easily charmed – may not be evidence enough of a critic’s viewpoint, or his or her likes and dislikes. Mr. Poplak, it seems, would prefer that one either celebrate something in absolute carnivalesque abandon or not raise one critical squeak.

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SpeakZA: Blogs for a Free Press

24 March 2010, 8:14 am

Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of the ANC Youth League spokesperson, Nyiko Floyd Shivambu, came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the Secretary General of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money laundering practices of Dumisani Lubisi, a journalist at the City Press. The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations.

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Blogs 4 Free Press

22 March 2010, 9:11 pm

Sipho Hlongwane, who writes at ThoughtLeader, is calling on bloggers to join him on Wednesday, 24 March, in publishing a message to the ANC and the ANC Youth League. Email him at sipho.hlongwane@gmail.com to get further details.

Here is his appeal, grabbed from Chris Roper’s blog:

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Review: Notes from the Middle World, Breyten Breytenbach

17 March 2010, 10:45 am

[Original in Afrikaans at Rapport.]

Breyten Breytenbach, Notes From the Middle World, Haymarket Books, 2009, 978-1-931859-91-2

Once gathered into English liberal bosoms for his cultural and armed opposition to the ideology of his tribe, Breytenbach has of late received controversial coverage, especially in the English press. (But I do remember a cartoon in the Afrikaans press – was it in Vrye Weekblad? -, which showed Breytenbach standing in Paris and pissing on SA.) In 2008, a lot of this centred around A Veil of Footsteps (see the coverage at BookSA). His new book of essays, Notes From the Middle World (it includes two beautiful but scorching poems), has now already received a critical review at the Sunday Independent.

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My Countrymen – Kelwyn Sole

20 November 2008, 9:33 am

My Countrymen

As our treacherous land spins now
away from the sun, and a carpet of stars
descends on the cold floor
of winter

we, separately, yawn
brush our teeth with the defence budget
and go to bed without each other -
the Magopa patriarch flung at Pachsdraai
a clod of crumbled soil;
the cleaner who’ll climb the skyscraper night
now cooks her husband’s supper
already sick with tiredness

and old and powerful men
sucking their thumbs in sleep, one hand curled
round the cuddlesome security of the Nkomati Accord,
faces blissful

and the rest of us

the many lessons we haven’t learnt
the courageous stands we never took
the synapse between pain and knowledge
of ourselves, our nerve ends bathed
in acetylcholine and history

where fate plays roulette with our skins
(but we daren’t call it russian)

my countrymen

of the homespun hopeful visions
we wear as underwear this season

our night has come again

– Kelwyn Sole, The Blood of Our Silence, 1987


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