Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and a former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and a former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Celebrate Madiba Jive to keep memories of what the country has been through alive

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Dec 2, 2021

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Dr Pali Lehohla

In the novel titled, No Longer at Ease, the legendary African author, the late Chinua Achebe, brings up two characters, Obi Okonkow, a young bureaucrat who went to study English in England and a chairperson of the public service commission, who is going to hire him. They were engaged in the subject of tragedy.

Obi Okonkow defined it as a swift storm-like event leading to a definitive end. The chairperson of the commission had a different explanation. He defined it as a visitation of a lifetime series of devastating events in one’s experience. He told Obi that “life was like a bowl of wormwood: one sips slowly, all one's life long.” It is a vile, a sip at a time world, without end.

The 367 years of South Africa, punctuated into colonialism, apartheid and democracy, except for about the first ten years in democracy, have been a vile, a sip at a time world, without end.

In banter between the Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, who in celebrating the life of the Arch, Dalai Lama accosts Archbishop that he seems to be an eternal optimist. The Arch retorts that he is a prisoner of hope. How then are we to secure being prisoners of hope rather than eternal optimists?

Hope is a prisoner of memory. He who loses memory, is lost. The 367 years of struggle, in good part, are about the constant effort by the colonising force to erase the memory of Africans. This is a permanent global racism project of colonialism and neo-colonialism. It is about erasing memory of the colonised.

In the just under a generation of South Africa’s freedom, the project of erasure of memory is in high gear and is assisted by the newly liberated as they acquiesce to the economic tantrums of the neo-liberalism of capital. Bling, riches and hankering after tenders showed their most ugly physiognomy at the height of the pandemic.

But even before then, the erasure of Winnie Mandela’s home of banishment in Brandfort has banished this historic monument into a distant memory. The Mandela’s house in Vilakazi Street has been threatened with auctioning a number of times, whilst his Houghton House is now a hotel. Robben Island has often been under constant threat and barely survives. These theatres of struggle and monuments of public service run the risk of commercialisation and becoming transactional items for capital.

When memory is commodified and transacted through market forces, it gets perverted and allows strange behaviours to emerge. These tendencies are not reflective of the nation’s struggles. But memory is a strange phenomenon. This is because the mind does not stop asking. However many attempts to destroy memory are made, it only affords to bury memory deeper in the people’s DNA and allows space for deeper. A vile, a sip at a time, a world without end describes our national psyche.

Seven years ago, in honour of our memory, an African youth, Zwide Ndwandwe, based in Umhlathuze in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), invented the Madiba Jive. This is a programme that defines development and nation-building as growing and sustaining memory. Although all indications were there that South Africa was entering a slippery slope, a tragedy in Okonkow’s definition, little did Zwide at the time know that we would be visited by a pile of vile, a sip at a time, world without end.

We have been visited by what now seems to be a constant pandemic, Covid-19. This has been accompanied by two tragic events of the demise of His Majesty that was followed by Her Majesty in KZN. While in the middle of this bereavement, large scale loss of life in Phoenix, wanton destruction of property by fire and looting occurred in large parts of KZN as well as in Gauteng.

The intervention through Madiba Jive is our vehicle of memory construction and translation of what is happening amongst ourselves as a people. Ubuntu is an instinctive African precept, but it needs to be nurtured. Join Zwide Ndwandwe in Umhlathuze for a weekend of three programmes that build memory based on the Madiba theme.

On Friday, December 3, Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the legendary recipient of Kamanga National Orders Award, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, will inaugurate the Madiba Social Cohesion Lecture. This will be followed by the fifth Vintage of the Madiba Jive in Richards Bay Stadium on Saturday the 4th, and the 5th will be Madiba Prayer Day for peace at the same Stadium. I support Zwide, an ordinary youth and citizen in restoration, preservation and advancement of memory as development and Ubuntu.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and a former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him @ www.pie.gov.za and Palilj01.

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.

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