Reconfiguring the Distorted…

Wangechi

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 uhurumahlodi@gmail.com I await all of your response.

To heal, reconstruct, redefine, and reassert our greatness…

When I was in Oakland, California last year in October, I accepted the invitation to teach young students of the Oakland Art School. I was initially concerned by the age group as my teaching experience is with youth adults of 19 years old or older. However they were very receptive and responsive, fascinated by the histories of black South Africa and black America. This inspired me to engage with the youth from my own country, and open up channels for them to learn the extent of the struggle which our mothers and fathers found themselves broiled in.

When I was in Oakland, California last year in October, I accepted the invitation to teach young students of the Oakland Art School. I was initially concerned by the age group as my teaching experience is with young adults of 19 years old or older. However they were very receptive and responsive, fascinated by the histories and relationships of and between black South Africa and black America. This inspired me to engage with the youth from my own country, and open up channels for them to learn the extent of the struggle which our mothers and fathers found themselves embroiled in.

The Beauty of Tomorrow is Today

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There is no greater force of motivation that the whirlwind that starts to swirl inside you as you enter an environment that houses your dreams, vision and future. Today is my first day at University since I came back to South Africa, and I must tell you, it’s a great feeling to be back. The familiarity of these marvellous buildings against the backdrop of the mountain and Kirstenbosch, the o-so-familiar corridors of the English department of UCT, and the welcoming faces of colleagues and former students are such a marvellous wonder to revel in. My former students are my hope. I remember each and every one of them because in one way or another they have contributed to my thought processes and hunger to be a better teacher.

The excitement of being back and pursuing this mammoth task of a PhD is coupled with terror. Ok, perhaps terror is a slight exaggeration, but I never for a minute underestimate the magnitude of this here dream that I have set up for myself. A PhD is no child’s play I must tell you. Every waking moment you think of ways to expand your knowledge system, ways of engaging in current debate, and unique personal path of contribution to the existing pedagogy through research: there are no options except for excellence. It is an unnerving task but fulfilling nonetheless.

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The UCT Jameson Hall with its intimidating grandness…

The Romans were onto something with architecture—or was it the Greeks? Or Egyptians?—the architecture of universities, same as those of medieval churches, high courts, municipal administration offices, are all designed to instil some kind of fear and order in those who dare to engage with them. They are designed, with their grand pillars, columns, high ceilings, didactic plates of commemoration, and relevant art, to make you stop and think; they are designed to rouse your serious side and leave playing at their gates. They are coupled with stairs that are metaphoric of rising, taking yourself from the bottom to the top by sheer determination. They dare you to rise… So entering the university grounds today instilled in me a sense of pride, duty, determination, and possibility. The latter being most important because if you let the architecture frighten your determination, then your dream seems so far away, impossible and unattainable.

The moral of the story here is that we become what we shape with our thoughts. We think ourselves into being. The truth is that I have not given as much as I have given before to my research—blame it on a number of things—but the bigger truth is that I am as good as done with my PhD because I firmly believe in my chosen research field, first and foremost, then I believe in my capabilities, my strengths, and my mental capacity. In future memory I am Dr Phalafala but because my physical body is trapped in time and space, I have to meet that future memory with present dedication and hard work. I am glad that the grand and challenging architecture of this university reminds me every day to live up to this equally grand and challenging task that I have set for myself. I believe that if your dream does not shake your courage every now and then, then it is not a big enough a dream. I am halfway to winning this race with myself just by firstly enduring the journey and enjoying its challenges, by having the thesis write me as much as I write it, and by enshrouding the finishing line with the gracious glory of my humility and hard work.

And with that, I commence with an intense reading and writing month. Jazz, poetry, poet laureates, more poetry, and diaspora aesthetics will be my food for the next month. I’m not complaining. Wish me luck. I will still be posting on this blog because it comes naturally to me as breathing does/odes…

Love this tune!

 

When Creativity and Academia Merge…

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In my process of creation, in my processes of creativity I have a vision: on a personal level I would love to use creativity to further my project of knowledge-of-self, to traverse the depth of my being and unearth treasures and traumas alike. On a more outward looking level I am doing the same really: I am furthering the project of knowledge of my people, of South African literatures and art, extending it to the continent and the black diaspora. I would like to traverse, in this lifetime, the depths of the colonial, slavery, apartheid legacy, and its effect on our people scattered over and yonder, through literature. That is what I have been doing with my scholarly work.

My life work is to research, unearth, and archive; and I have been tremendously fortunate to find this passion, to locate it in an industry as reputable as academia, and to have the funding that is necessary to propel me forward. As it stands I have three scholarships that all ensure that I can research all my days without having to worry about daily and monthly expenditures. I have also received a fourth and honorary, prestigious scholarship, Research Associateship Award, this year which distinguishes me as a promising scholar worth looking forward to. I am delighted that I can continue in my work of researching our rich history, unwriting the history of Africa written by the victor, and rewrite a history and curriculum we can be proud of.

ImageMy Masters was on the role of language in South African literature, and how we have to approach the English language with much ease, localising it and making it immediate for our environment, that is, making it carry the weight of our experiences; the importance of South African indigenous languages notwithstanding. I taught for three years at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and during my time there I have exposed my students, many of whom come from impoverished backgrounds, to a new kind of pedagogy, and learning that previously stuffy, Eurocentric, and westernised course called English Literature. I introduced to them a new, vibrant, and exciting way of enjoying poetry through the works of Kgafela oa Magogodi, whose work I am an expert in (having written both my Honours and Masters degrees on his oeuvre) – my Masters was also on Phaswane Mpe.

ImageToday I am most fortunate to have full institutional and financial support to undertake research for my PhD on the poet laureate of South Africa, Keorapetse Kgositsile, to have full access to him for elaborate interviews, and to see him feel honoured to have his own people be interested in his life work. He is of course well-known in the U.S and has been celebrated as a scholar in Universities there, but the intervention that I bring locates him in the South African literary history in which he is underrepresented. He is a giant, or should I say a dynamite, in facilitating our understanding and celebration of the social sciences and their role in humanism and healing as a nation. To speak to him is to drink from a well of wisdom and fulfilment. I am proud of assembling all the interviews and having means to archive them for future generations. Let us celebrate our living legends.

As it stands I continue to do work I can be proud of at the University of Cape Town, one of the best in the world; and am proud to be part of a young and tremendously knowledgeable team that is as dedicated to the heightening of our literary history to a new level of glory as I am. I have joined UCT in 2012, where my course on Magogodi was welcomed with enthusiasm, and I have since expanded that course to include other South African poets worth reading. It is all coming full circle as I have previously worked on a creative level and know personally all the poets I teach, and have had the means and support to host them at the respective institutions (I have hosted Kgafela oa Magogodi and Lesego Rampolokeng at Wits, and look forward to inviting Lebogang Mashile to UCT early next year). The work I do is incredibly fulfilling, and fills my cup with passion, courage, and wisdom. I am happy to share with you a course that I have designed (see under gallery of poets), and will be teaching to Second Year students at UCT in the English Literature department from February 2014. I am extremely excited to enter this new venture in the New Year.

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“Dread-locked dissenter”: Lesego Rampolokeng

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Lebogang Mashile

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“The dread-scribe”: Kgafela oa Magogodi

South African Black Poetry: From Apartheid to Democracy

Uhuru Phalafala

This seminar will engage with issues surrounding black South African poetry production under apartheid, into the state of emergency and into the new dispensation of democracy. Through tracing the lineage from the 1970s, after the ‘silent decade’, we will explore constructions of discourses through hegemonic power, inscription of identities, centre and periphery politics, Black Consciousness Movement, and censorship; and deliberate how protest poetry, or resistance poetry was (un)shaped by those (un)limiting mindscapes. We will also examine the city as a topographical site of cultural politics. These discussions will anticipate the new democracy and how black poets (un)welcome and (de)construct the notion of freedom, black identity, agency, authenticity, and authorship. We will also explore language as a key factor to the performance of identities and self-assertion, and juxtapose the two eras of oppression and liberation to debate how successful the national transition in 1994 has been to black cultural production in South Africa.

Primary Texts:

I will compile an anthology of South African poetry which will be provided by the department.

Assessment:

1st Essay, 1 800 Words: 30%

2nd Essay, 2 500 Words: 40%

In-class presentation of 15 minutes: 20%

Class Participation in analysing poetry: 10%

 

Featured Poets

First Quarter; Under Apartheid:

Mongane Wally Serote

Sipho Sepamla

Sindiwe Magona

Ingoapele Madingoane

Bessie Head

Oswald Mtshali

Mafika Gwala

Don Mattera

Dennis Brutus

Keorapetse Kgositsile

Second Quarter; Post-Apartheid:

 Kgafela oa Magogodi

Lebogang Mashile

Keorapetse Kgositsile

Lesego Rampolokeng

Vonani Bila