I need to share with you my achievement: I have completed my PhD! Since this platform was crucial to the process – the gruelling and unrelenting journey filled with self-doubt – I now invite you to celebrate this huge milestone with me. The journey ahead is formidable. But for now I sit and marinate in this moment…
In celebrating the big global movement and the shift in consciousness where womyn are putting our bodies on the line and frontiers of patriarchy that has pitted gender wars as well as calamity against the black female body, I now declare that the beautyful ones are here. We are here marching with the dance and song of generations of womyn who have had mind-bending and spirit-altering war meted against our bodies and psyches, who have been programmed to hate our wombs and battle against white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Womyn who have been shamed through adages such as “slut”, “nymphomaniac”, “ugly duckling”, “whore”, “witch”, and relegated to the margins of society where our image of ‘who we should be’ trapped us in schizophrenic identities that further alienated ourselves from who we are. The deep and internalised alienation wrecked and butchered our wombs, our divinity, our femininity, and left our gentleness foreign to us. We are now here, tomorrow’s daughters, today, using those very denigrated bodies to confront and expose the male whoredom of anti-female ideology in the brothel of history.
I speak in wake of students at Rhodes and Wits Universities; with the voice of Dr Stella Nyanzi at Makerere University whose “unethical” antics against an unethical system was articulated through her black naked body; I speak with the suffocating voice of Sarah Baartman who could not breathe under a colonial gaze informed by perverse white patriarchal fetishes; I speak in the wake of Beyoncé’s Lemonade (the visual masterpiece) where she puts her own body on the line crusading against a violent structure that advocates womyn not being enough; with the voice of Pumla Gqola whose embodied life work preaches the baptism of fire suffered by the black female body scorched by sexual violence over the centuries; in the voice of our mothers who built houses of pain with a fierce love that finds its reverberations today. I sing with Thandiswa Mazwai whose generational voice strives to challenge history’s lopsided narrative that villainized womyn and launched a witch hunt on any of us who strived to be tomorrow’s daughter in the hollowed womb of yesterday’s violations. I recite with Lebogang Mashile in her poem ‘Tomorrow’s Daughters’, that strives to bring the voice of “pretty black girls” from the margins to the centre of discourse:
I want to write a poem About pretty black girls
Who don’t relax and lie their dreams away
Voices that curl
The straight edges of history
Hair thin slices of a movement
Turning the world kinky
I respect the disciplines silent screamers
Who expose the holes
I revere people to my own detriment
Perhaps you did too
But when I enter your hallowed hearth
Please don’t turn me away
I want to show pretty black girls
How to look at their hearts
With eyes blaring full blast
The way you did
Together we can build a bridge
To the promise in their faces
And pull them towards poems
By pretty black girls
Wearing crowns of change
Mashile and our mothers’ daughters of tomorrow are here, retrieving a wholesome past poked with holes and lies about forbidden fruits in the garden, to make it whole again. We are reasserting the enduring unchained spirits of our foremothers; redefining a life of our own making that does not cross-reference patriarchy’s rules; and rewriting a history that repudiates adherence to the straight edges of a singular story by celebrating homogenous histories and dynamic genders through intersectionality. Pretty black girls have suffered more negligence, violence, dehumanization, rape, and marginalization than any other group throughout history; and we are here, refusing to “relax and lie our dreams away”. We are doing anything but relaxing. We are bushy, unkempt, sooty, fierce, animalistic and fighting for visibility. You cannot look away. The lie and the lye of maleness and whiteness corroded the fabrics of our being and aborted our dreams for centuries that break our backs. We are here with sjamboks, and we are loud, emerging from centuries of ravage and ruin, celebrating and wearing crowns of change.
I am reminded of Wanelisa Xaba’s pondering of schizophrenic traps set for womyn, in which she laments, “You shame us when we love sex. You shame us when we’re not interested in sex. You shame us when we want to use contraceptives. You shame us when we don’t use protection. … You shame us when we’re virgins. You shame us when we need access to abortions. You shame us when we choose adoption. You shame us when we’re single mothers. You shame us when we wear too much makeup. You shame us when we don’t wear any makeup. You shame us when we don’t fight back. You shame us for throwing a punch. You shame us when we’re too thin. You shame us when we’re too fat. You shame us when we’re sad. You shame us when we’re happy”. And the list goes on and on: trusted hotep brothers and Fanon-quoting ‘brothers’ peddling a brand of unattainable female goddess which most certainly always relegates any outspoken and sexual black female to whoredom.
That has been the life of a black womyn under the constant and unnerving gaze of the cis het men in the inner circle of ‘safety’, from our fathers, uncles, and male cousins to our boyfriends, and the entitled cat-callers whose derision is always a threat more than a compliment. Even the phrase “cat-calling”, most certainly a discursive practice cloaked in generations of inequality and normalised sexual possession of the black female body, is a perverse allusion to ‘calling the pussy’. Nobody is indignant of that ongoing abuse! We are enmeshed in centuries of oppression as black womyn, that even the language is gendered to perpetuate our subjugation (hence ‘womyn’ instead of ‘woman’ or ‘women’). Our subjectivity over the centuries has been engendered by the male gaze, rendering us commodities to be consumed by any Tom, Dick and Dickie, subject to discipline and punish, just like slaves—misogyny is surely meted out if we do not live up to those unattainable standard mentioned above of what constitutes the ideal female. Who is the quintessential female if even Jesus’ own mother was shamed, violenced and silenced?
The male gaze over the centuries has been one of the most powerful strategies of oppression and domination over the black female body, and we still witness the force of its power today. One who has the power to look, particularly in this power play where the one looked at cannot look back, has the power to objectify, classify, and subject the observed. The observed’s hypervisibility (owing to the fact that we constitute half of the population) renders us powerless because they are firstly subject to identification, and secondly cannot speak back against being labelled “sefebe” (whore), “lefetwa” (womyn who is not married by a certain age, literally translates to ‘not picked’), “letekatse” (prostitute, even though there is no name for men who essentially make us prostitutes through transactions), or “moopa” (barren womyn, where it was always assumed that the couple is childless because the womyn is infertile), because commodities do not speak. This ambivalence of ‘othering’ the black female body whilst simultaneously desiring to consume it is mostly what underpins male sexual violence against the black womyn, which is essentially male violence against itself.
The frailty of that brand of masculinity exposes itself through rampant contradictions: men-made laws against breast-feeding in public are riddling at best and evoke memories of how we were told to close our legs and wear long skirts as not to wreck patriarchy’s ship. This is all to protect male desire that simultaneously presents itself as disgust. It is the same nipple you proudly and haughtily reference when you claim to be a “tits guy”. This is also found in the disgusted reactions against menstruations and the advertising of them with blue blood. It seems patriarchy is frail indeed, and cannot stomach the inherent complexity of humans, where desire and disgust can be carried with grace: the duality of birth/death. Their colonial brothers also desired and were disgusted by the black female body, treating it with contempt while consuming it. This leads me to conclude that maleness cannot stand milk/blood of creation, but are very happy with blood of destruction as they continue to spill blood over the centuries.
Warsan Shire/Beyoncé puts it like so, “I tried to change, closed my mouth more … tried to be softer, prettier, less awake”; and those are the silencing, disabling, disfiguring, and debilitating effects of the male gaze upon the black female body. There is no winning in that hallowed hearth of hate they have created because the rules of their power games elude even them. Black womyn are done downplaying our inherent ‘wokeness’. We will never know the extent of our mothers and their mothers’ power; the textures, colours, breadths, and depths of their strength. But their strength is our strength and it comes back once more in hundred-folds in an unstoppable wrath, seeking to dismantle this unconscious consciousness and resurrect the womb from the tomb of patriarchy’s morgue. We are here, we are not going anywhere, and we speak with a timeless voice of generations.
When we last spoke I had wings where there were once shoulders; wings borne out of taking flight, soaring, and surfing the winds of itinerancy. My life has been fluid, like water, ebbing and flowing according to the calling of my heart. I obeyed and approached the fires that refined my passions. I have pricked my ears to listen, and I have prised my eyes open; I have been alert in order not to miss the divine appointments, and I have been abundantly rewarded, spirit and soul, with treasures that can never find expression here.
My ears have translated the sounds of all which call me from a place of passion, courage, hope and faith, without which all of this seems illusionary. The very palpable nature of the voices I hear root these otherwise ephemeral experiences. I have heard them. I have seen that which defies logic, that which goes beyond ones and zeros of this world; beyond rational. I have seen magic woven in my everyday existence. I have embraced what my eyes have seen without any doubt, and I have been abundantly nurtured.
My voice now strives to be heard, and I am called to the divine appointment of being an educator, a teacher, and an interlocutor. I heard and saw the calling with my third eye and ear – pricked, prised, sensitive, sensible and most sensuous. I am called to clear my throat chakra and speak in response to my passion. NOW. Poetry—the fluids that quench deserted thoughts; the echo that resounds generations past; the source of unbreakable resolve in my life—is calling me. It spoke through the heroic voice of former South African poet laureate Mazisi Kunene:
I possess a thousand thundering voices
With which I call you from the place of the sinking sun.
I call you form the shaking of branches
Where they dance with the tail of the wind.
You are the endless abundance
Singing with the lips of all generations.
You are like a trunk lush with branches in the lake
Whom the feller of woods felled in vain,
But sprouts with new buds in summer.
When it is loaded with fruit he comes again
And eats to saturation desiring to end its seasons;
But again and again the branches shoot forth with new seasons.
I am in a place of lack, of demoralisation, of defeat, and of hunger and thirst. I am in a place where those who speak to us from the place of the sinking sun are rapidly forgotten. The sun is sinking and setting upon us. We need its light. We need its warmth, its guidance, and its reassurance. I eat to saturation from the abundance left as our legacy. With that abundance nurturing me as a teacher, educator, and interlocutor, I have accepted the calling and divine appointment to be possessed by those thousand thundering voices that I have heard, seen, and will now speak of.
My work in its entirety in is conversation with the endless abundance which sing with the lips of all generations: Keorapetse Kgositsile, Ilva McKay, Mongane Serote, Mazisi Kunene, Dennis Brutus, Barbara Masekela, Mandla Langa, James Matthew, and many others whose voices echo the politics of Solomon Mahlangu, Bantu Biko, Moses Kotane, Duma Nokwe. This is our history which has not found its rightful place in the post-94 curriculum, and which I have accepted the calling to take to the youth in ways whose nature can only be anointed. The forces of a truth whose time has come cannot be stopped.
I travelled the breadth of the United State of America unearthing and collecting—exhuming—to bring home, the work of our exiled fathers and mothers; the stench of their sweat and the haunting darkness of their blood which they spilled for us to take and respond to in our lifetimes. These voices call us and they must possess us. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to access these resources which I have now brought home, and urged to bring to you. This is a bountiful and anointed abundance, not a reckless one.
Without the clarity of our history we cannot have clarity of vision. However, we can never be defeated as a people, for like a trunk lush with branches in the lake, we will sprout with new buds in summer. No matter how big the sledgehammer it cannot orbit the sky. Our promise of abundance is surely coming. I am now putting forth this message. I want to teach poetry from exile to all youth who are willing to receive it. I call those in care of youth to share this with them; to invite me to share with them their beautiful history which will surely have them thinking differently about themselves. I call all educators and NGO directors to employ my services. For free; by divine appointment.
I am a PhD candidate in Literary Studies at the University of Cape Town, and have, in my ownership and potentially larger ownership of my people, endless books out-of-print and rare, footage of interviews I have conducted with prominent South African and American writers, multi-media resources, and 5 solid years of teaching experience from the University of Witswatersrand and UCT. I am the change I want to see in our teaching curriculums, and the time for it is NOW. Invite me for a chat on firstname.lastname@example.org I await all of your response.
To heal, reconstruct, redefine, and reassert our greatness…
How do I start a gratitude piece for all the bountiful harvest that I have partaken in? That is the question that has been pushing me closer and closer to debriefing from a truly magnificent and perfect-in-every-form-ten-week-whirlwind of an American rendezvous. Well, as the trip fully and without any compromise demonstrated to me, perhaps I should start by thanking myself for the sheer tenacity, determination, courage, faith, and pure passion that has driven me to be still and hear, and be fully awake to see the signs as they presented themselves to me; to have trusted my perception instead of doubt it; to have shunned any inkling of doubt or fear; and to have honoured my own voice that has consequentially led me to my own truth.
I feel validated in my beliefs, gratified by my journey, closer to my relentless vision, and inspired to be extraordinary. I have seen in clear daylight the intensity of my own power; the unparalleled spark of possibility lying, dormant, seeking engagement with those driven by pure intentions to be creators in their own worlds; the spontaneous combustion between possibility and determination, initiative and faith, knowledge of self and passion; and the sheer magic that can be woven and witnessed in one whose higher self is in direct alignment with self. I am now possessed by a thousand thundering voices that speak with me, and through me. Where I once had shoulders I now have wings…
I am now more certain that ever that we are one with all living entities; the earth and its magnificent solar systems (this is no joke; the full moons and mercury in retrograde had me in full grips, begging for ‘normality’), the animals, plants, and human beings all form a cosmic and holistic part of who we are. I only exist because of all those living things. And there is no living without the dead—the persistent balance and harmony of life—so I have tasted the sweetest connections of them all; being awake in more worlds than this physical one; hearing, seeing, and feeling the intensity of the moment; but most importantly, trusting the moment and taking notes that I consequently use as a blueprint of my vision and dreams. Let no one succeed in convincing you your physical body is all you are!
I have grown spiritually, emotionally, mentally, intellectually, and cosmically on the literary pilgrimage I took from Amsterdam to New York, to Washington DC, to Chicago, to San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley, to Los Angeles; following and being followed by the footstep of a sage whose guiding hand, embrace, and mentorship—felt, heard and seen without his physicality—has led me to treasures of my own soul, of the larger cosmic world of our people, of the South African literary landscape, and of the broader black diaspora. The magnitude of the alchemy on this trip is to be fully experienced in the forthcoming months of writing this dissertation, this book, and producing this documentary. I have grown creatively too. I am decidedly embroiled in the cosmic world of the arts, where being a writer has so seamlessly and without any fear or favour led me to being a filmmaker: an art form that I have enormous respect for.
I trust myself more than ever. I am not the chosen one, but I chose myself to be the one for this task. Perhaps I should rephrase and say InI (I and eye—third eye perception and reception. I’ve explained this in detail here https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/ini-self-n-divine-self/ ) chose myself; perceived of self as capable, and received the ordained calling as my own. As the wisdom of the elders does state clearly, we exist in duality, like any product of nature and life—the yin and the yan, the body and the life force, the physical and the metaphysical—must be in unison. My life force and metaphysical self, the other ‘I’ in InI, are now lounging languidly with my physical self, at one, in perfect harmony, pregnant with larger-than-my-physical-body possibilities. My voice is stronger than ten weeks ago, and my resolve is only perfectly demonstrated by the image of being possessed by a thousand thundering voices. I move because I am moved…
What follows is a continuation of a photo essay that started here
America is a great country, there’s no doubt about that. There’s abundance here, and the feeling of ‘Coming to America’ has not escaped me in my everyday move. Things are advanced—I tried to watch TV the other day, and just gave up on the idea: everything has become smart—smart phone, smart car, smart TV, smart house… But this is at the cost of some of America’s citizens, the rest of the world, and most importantly, our precious earth. I see abundance in the big cities I’m visiting. I am currently sitting at the historical site of Washington DC, between Capitol Hill and the Washington Memorial, and what I see is tourists of course, but also Americans jogging, doing yoga on the capital’s sprawling lawns, and generally living life with reckless abandon. Instead of having feelings of splendour wash over me, I am filled with contempt for the cost at which this ‘paragon of freedom and equality’ comes.
I was so very happy when South Africa introduced the law that plastic bags at supermarkets would be for sale, for a small amount. No matter the amount, people have taken to brining their shopping bags to pick up their groceries. I have no idea—and it escapes me constantly—why in the U.S. they would still give you plastic bags for free, and even double them for even the smallest package. This is one of the most dangerous material to the earth—it is not biodegradable—and to the animals who could eat it, suffocate on it, or get trapped in its handles (think of herbivores accidentally eating plastic; or the ecology of the ocean with plastic in it). I truly am dismayed by the free plastic bags in supermarket, in 2014, in, of all places, the U.S. of A.
It’s not only plastic bags; when you buy a sandwich or these overrated bagels, they come wrapped in foil. Foil?! Of all the material you can use you choose foil. It is even more dangerous than plastic, and mind you most people don’t even reuse it. In our house when we rarely use foil we reuse it until it is in tatters. It is that kind of material. This is also in recognising that it is one of the most toxic material to the earth. While at it, all the fast food joints, from the lower scale McDonalds/KFC/Burger King to the upscale healthy food outlets like Wholefoods/Trader’s Joe dispense unreasonable amounts of serviettes/napkins—no one would use those in one sitting. For most people, instead of returning them or receiving half of the batch dispensed to them for their one salad, they throw them in the bin?! It’s truly unbelievable!
I see some of my more health conscious and green friends use jars and bottle jugs as glasses in their homes. I would absolutely do that at the rate everything is bottled in the supermarkets here. We ordered Mexican food and chocolate mousse, and the latter came in a glass bottle with a tin lid; like one of those valuable Consol bottles with metallic ring lids that our mothers kept and reused for decades. I imagine people eat their dessert and throw these away. Such waste! It is at this point that I wish to talk about African people and recycling. As our friend from TV once proclaimed: we’ve been having it! We are not hearing of reusing our plastic bags and bottle jars just today; in fact that was the order of life. These days we make it seems like recycling is for the educated elite with capacity to think critically of the consequences of their consumption to the planet. No ways man, recycling is not a luxury but a necessity. And boy did we know about necessity growing up under apartheid and colonialism.
When I grew up we used plastic bags from supermarkets to carry books to school. They suited and lived up to that function, and when they were worn out my grandmother would collect them and crochet plastic carpets for the house or veranda. In the village I grew up in you would be hard-pressed to find plastic littered on the ground. It was a commodity with many uses, and if found, could be utilised. I remember we used to buy homemade juice and mashwangshwangs—chillies or barbeque flavoured Nik Naks knock-offs—on our way back from school to enjoy on the long road home. The woman who sold these from her house would give you discount if you brought your own plastic or container to put juice or mashwangshwang. This meant if you saw these lying around your neighbourhood, you would pick them up and save them for later. I suppose this explain my high intolerance to littering even today.
We would reuse the tin that all tinned stuff—baked bins, pilchards, cling peaches, cream, condensed milk, etc—came packaged in. We would take the tin and vigorously frisk it over a brick until the tin is hot. This way the rim on top would be released neatly without leaving any sharpness on the top, making it a metal cup. We would then use this tin as storage for toothbrushes, crayons, and other small miscellaneous things around the house. We would also use it to scoop rice, sugar, or mealie-mealie. Tins of refreshments, like soda, would be used to adorn our wire cars as colourful wheels carefully constructed and linked to the steering wheel, turning and swerving with scientific precision.
The parts of America I have been to are living in abundance. A very reckless one that is costing the rest of the world, some of its citizens, and unfortunately the earth. How much does it take to meet the demands of every fast food restaurant’s serviettes, glass jars, plastic bags, foil, and containers for the ever growing pre-packaged foods? How much does it take to fuel the cars of those who have given up on the idea of walking anywhere because they are exercising their right to live their ‘best’ life in the best country in the world? How best is a country when it’s not conscious of its dying members who are hidden from the family album which America displays to the rest of the world? How good is the country when its perceived strength is at the cost of other civilisations bombed for their resources so that Americans can own toilets that flush themselves, subway stations that are lit 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wifi on public transport, and mary-go-rounds that go round and round even when there’s only one person on their seat?
I’m now talking carbon footprint per person here, in New York, and everywhere in this country. I am appalled by the ratio of excess to consciousness. In the chase to make more money so we can afford bigger, shinier things, and holidays on ‘unspoilt’ islands we tend to forget that we only have one earth, and we will most certainly lose against nature no matter our wits or courage. I’m not saying countries should not have wifi in their public transport for example. I am saying the infrastructure can serve its people, but without knowledge these people will abuse instead of use those resources. America needs more education on consciously thinking of the planet. It needs to humble itself before nature and curb the power mongering. At this rate the infrastructure promises to collapse because the supply cannot meet the demand. What happens next? Another country with oil gets invaded…
The last six weeks have been the most exciting, difficult, fulfilling, and overwhelming; on both my physical body and my mind. Spiritually it has been a time of growth, of validation, and of learning to be silent and listen to the flows and rhythms of the life I have crafted for myself. I arrived in New York with a master plan, a fancy high tech video camera, and a tripod, with plans to immerse myself in the cultures of Harlem, the sixties, and their attendant politics. The only problem? I didn’t know who or how to get in touch with the people I sought. But fortune favours the brave so I jumped on that plane and arrived in the New World, settled in immediately and got onto the mission: digging in the archives of the Schomburg centre for research in black cultures, and drawing up a list of who would benefit my research, and expressing that interest to the universe.
The memorial service of Nat Nakasa in Manhattan opened my heart and my sensibilities to just how painful exile was, how alienating and disconcerting it felt, perpetually, to be in this place called New York, with no hope of ever going back to your country which forced your exit and reinforced your banned status. Whilst at this memorial service not only my heart and mind were opened, but my eyes and vision too. It was at this auspicious event that I met my now-guardian mother in the U.S., Rashidah Ismaili, whom, upon hearing of my research which brought fond memories of special bonds shared with Keorapetse Kgositsile and the larger South African struggle, took me under her wing and blasted open all the locks that would lead me to the right people. She was my universe. She has been gifted to my enduring spirit, to guide my sail and be the wind I need to move forward.
After six weeks on the joyous and nerve-wrecking ride of my New York trip, I have finally amassed valuable information to start writing my book and thinking very clearly about a documentary (I am now a one woman show, interviewing and shooting the interviews at the same time, with much ease). As I now sit in Washington DC, only now, in retrospect, I finally appreciate what it means to be still and know that the universe is working. There is only so much you can plan, but further than that is out of your control. Listen and practice the act of vision instead of just looking, only then will the signs be revealed to you. I present to you in images the activities of my last six weeks in New York. Here’s to four more exhilarating weeks as I move from Washington DC to Chicago to San Francisco to L.A, and back to New York to fly out… The golden years are NOW! Always
I even managed to end up in the fashion pages of the New York magazine! Now that’s what I call researching in style:
It is my beloved husband’s birthday: my dearest darling, the mover of my worlds and the true celebrity in my life – I am constantly reminded of your transcendental spirit because wherever I am I feel you, I see you, I hear you, and I am enveloped in the safety of your love. I have put this album together, your expression of true love, sacrifice, and undying support, for you on this birthday to hold a mirror to you and show you the person you have allowed me to become. This is the greatest gift you can ever give me: believing in me and validating my passions and higher calling. I wish to celebrate you in this way today, and am in awe everyday of the man you are. You are the nectar that makes my bouquet blossom.