Exhibition puts Spotlight on Lobola

Machona’s exhibition Greener Pastures on display at the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town in October/November 2018. We investigated what it is about.

Gerald Machona, artist, thinker and DJ, is a fascinating creative generator: manly in his avowel of lobola tradition, gentle in his love for pretty things like flowers and decorated vases, which are some of the artefacts of his latest exhibition.

The work, titled Greener Pastures, is a biographical sketch of the experience of being home and then moving elsewhere in the search of greener pastures. As the story unfolds through Machona’s creativity, we get a sense that the search for greener pastures is not always a pleasant road. There are uncertanties about trading currency value for instance, which comes up Machona’s work.

Followers of history will remember that in 2009 the Zimbabwean currency, Zim Dollar, was discontinued due to the accelerated devaluation of the currency, accompanied by hyperinflation. This was during the period of Robert Mugabe’s land redistribution program, which led to destabilization in the financial markets and a lot of economic uncertainty.

Machona collects a set of disused Zim Dollars to create artwork. In some of the pieces he uses currencies from other countries in the continent, in order to accumulate the diversity places people come from who are now settled in South Africa. He is thinking about issues of belonging, and asking whether this place where he now lives can be called home; this is considering the xenophobic violence that erupts now-and-then in the country. He is thinking about this experience of home as he thinks about his own genealogy which includes Xhosa ancestry in past generations. And yet somehow when he interacts with Xhosa-speakers today he is viewed as a foreigner.

Emanating out of the problems Machona forces us to think about through his work are the dynamics internationalism and its viability in the African continent-specific location, amongst Africans themselves. While in past eras most of the migrations that stimulated Pan-African conversations took place in the colonial centres of London, Paris, etc.

One can mention here for example the West African Student Union (WASU) in the 1930s and 1940s in London, which helped to mobilize for the independence of African territories. They did this with the collaboration of Caribbean intellectuals like CLR James and George Padmore; who were also eager to bring credibility to their diasporic struggles. Today, these kinds of interactions are happening in the metropolitan centres of Lagos, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Nairobi and Harare, as much as they are happening in New York, Kingston, etc.

The other ambivalence in the notion of home as reflected in Machona’s art work lies in the fact that he underwent lobola(bridewealth) negotiation so that he could marry his wife, a Zulu-speaking South African. Part of the rituals of lobola are about bringing families together, this is based on the central significance of cows (izinkomo) in sub-Saharan sintu-speaking communities. The idea is that with the exchange of cattle strangers then become united as family, under assumption that once your cattle are in my kraal, they co-create with my own cattle to give birth to more cows, thus forging intergenerational ties.

So the question then becomes if we have become spiritually united as family, and this country that was once your home is now my home, why does the sense of foreignness still linger?

I believe Machona has given us some food for thought here, which we as Africans must grapple with in order to create a true African global village, by promoting mobility within the continent and amongst its people. §

staff writer

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