White Zulu On Our Stoep: Mthethwa vs Mabaso
The Noble White, by Mthokozisi Mthethwa
There is a white guy who goes around telling black women that he wants to suck their breasts at some corporate company's corridors. He says it in isiZulu and apparently that is what I taught him.
A week ago, the South African arts industry lost yet another musical genius.
The death of Johnny Clegg, (The White Zulu as he was affectionately known to his fans), was a loss not only to art lovers but to the South African community as a whole. Clegg contributed immensely to the arts through his music.
There have been different reactions to his passing. But what has been disturbing to me personally, is how some South Africans have reacted to those who are praising Clegg for embracing African culture and music. I came across a Facebook post that criticised black people for praising a white man for being able to speak an African language and create African music. The person went on and labelled Clegg as "a friend of the natives".
I respect other people's opinions on any issues, however, I have a different opinion on this particular case. I believe the man was a true activist against racial segregation in this country. He even risked being arrested for contravening the Group Areas Act by associating himself with black immigrant workers, back in the days of apartheid. He embraced the African culture and isiZulu traditional music when it was not fashionable for a white person to do so. He himself had mixed roots, being born to an English father and a Jewish mother.
I personally acknowledge Clegg's effort to make a difference.
There many other white men and women who were struggle activists and are recognised in African history.
Racism is a problem in this country and it is not a secret that white people are racists. To say but not all white people are racists weakens the whole point.
I have an endured passion for art and I love languages. Amongst other things, I provide isiZulu language services to corporates and individuals who are keen to learn a second/African language. 80% of my clients are white. These classes which I give after working hours and on weekends, have afforded me the opportunity to interact with different individuals from different backgrounds. Their reasons for taking the classes are also different. Some to learn the language in order to understand what black people are saying behind their backs at work. But most of them are keen to be part of the South African community and want to communicate better with their fellow countrymen.
There are funny stories as well.
An elderly cleaning lady at some corporate company, once pulled me to the side and told me to stop teaching her boss rubbish.
There is an isiZulu phrase used to explain that one's mother tongue is isiZulu. "Ngasincela ebeleni". The literal meaning is; “I sucked it from my mother's breasts”.
At most times, such phrases, in any language, can only be understood by mother tongue speakers of that language. It is highly possible for a non-mother tongue speaker to misinterpret it, which was the case with this white guy and the old lady, who is actually SeSotho speaking, but understands and can speak some isiZulu.
All the lady heard was “sucking” and “breasts”, and she concluded that the guy was asking if he could suck her breasts.
Clegg gave us good maskandi music alongside his colleagues in this art business and we are grateful for that. But Clegg missed one thing when he learnt about our culture. Africans are given a chance to mourn. We can mourn for a week or three before we bury the deceased. Clegg died and was buried the next day. No, Johnny, that is not how we do it. You don't die today and get buried the next day and make it a private funeral. Rasta was still cleaning his paint brushes, Mzwake Mbuli was still polishing his stanzas and I was still writing this “tribute” and gwiqiqi, usugcwatshiwe Johnny.
Kodwa ke akusenani. Hamba kahle qhawe. Rest in peace.
*A public memorial service for Jonny Clegg will be held at Sandton Convention Centre on Friday 26 July at Sandton Convention Centre.
White People Didn’t Put Maskandi on The Map, by Monde Mabaso
In the past weeks following Johnny Clegg’s death, I saw a nation mourning the death of a musical icon. Well, if that’s what you want to call him. People all over social media were saddened by the news. They were reminiscent about some of his songs and social media profile pictures were changed to his image.
But then there was a smallanyana group of people who brought to my attention that Clegg, was in fact a cultural appropriator. The music he made was a mixture of maskandi and mbaqanga that he learnt from the Zulu and sold it back to black people. He sold us our culture and we bought it with a smile. We were happy to fill up concert venues where he performed and smiled excitedly at this white man who could sing our songs, dance our dance and speak our language.
Look, I’m not saying people must not mourn their icon, I mean, we’re still mourning Mandela. And I’m not saying that you must not like his music but at least acknowledge that he appropriated Zulu culture and made money - lots of it. But I don’t really blame Clegg for thinking it’s okay for him to take what does not belong to him and make money from it, his cousins (the whites) did that with our land and we still cry that we will starve if they leave our country. Johnny is not the problem, we are. By WE, I mean us BLACKS.
You see if we had told Johnny that “Tsek wena! You can’t come here, take our shit and make money from it”, he probably wouldn’t have continued. But no, not us. We bought our shit from him. We filled up venues to see him play our shit. We told other people about this white man who sings and dances to our shit. Heck, we even called “White Zulu”. Mameshane wake wam’bonaphi umZulu owumlungu? We put him on such a pedestal and told everyone how he put maskandi on the map. Fuck me, please, I dare you. So if Johnny put maskandi on the map, what were Phuzekhemisi, Ihashi Elimhlophe, Bhekumuzi Luthuli, Mfaz'Omnyama, Mgqumeni, M’tshengiseni and the rest doing?
Black maskandi artists do the most to promote their traditional music. They perform for free at taxi ranks and anywhere they can find space in town and sell their CDs Kwa Mayi-Mayi in the scotching South African sun but you want to give the credit of promoting maskandi to a white man. All because you are excited that ukwazi ukugida? Who gives you credit for speaking English, doing ballet and all the white people’s stuff that you have adopted?
Again, I’m not saying don’t celebrate Johnny and his music but give credit to the people who have worked their behind off making and promoting this music. Just this year alone, Khuzani Mpungose proved to the whole country that people, black people, really do love and support maskandi. He worked hard to book Moses Mabhida Stadium for his first ever maskandi concert. He filled up the entire stadium, kuthiwa kwakunge Quantum, kunge Brentwood, kwakuwum’hlola. Everyone bought tickets, even former president Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, but you know how he couldn’t go because someone was trying to kill him.
Anyway, that concert proved that we do take pride in our own things when we want to. We just need to stop the self-hate that made us think that a white guy is put our music on the map. Our traditional music is beautiful, authentic and can never be diluted, but we choose to celebrate and dance to mediocre songs like that Jabulani thing by PJ Powers. Sizovuka nini?