Creating Our Own Myths: A Public Conversation

“When the colonised intellectual writing for his people uses history, he must do so with the intention of opening up the future.” Dr Thokozani Mhlambi opened the conversation by quoting these immortal words by Frantz Fanon. This was at a gathering of cultural innovators that was held at the KZNSA Gallery in Durban, South Africa hosted by Afropolitan Explosiv. This is where there were talks of how the current African can forge an identity that can move us forward. The main contributors in the conversation were    Dr Vukile Khumalo, Dr Thokozani Mhlambi, Prof Ntongela Masilela, and many other formidable thinkers of our time.

Opening the dialogue, Dr Thokozani Mhlambi

Dr Vukile Khumalo firstly shared jokes he used to throw around with the legendary writer Prof Mazisi Kunene, to whom he was a student at the University of KwaZulu. This was before Khumalo went to complete his PHD at the University of Michigan, USA. Khumalo currently works at the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts Culture, where he has been assigned the task of reconstituting the public archive in the province. One of the delicate tasks of this assignment is the bringing together of archives which once belonged to previous governments of Zululand and Natal, which tended to have different motives for archiving. The motives were also deeply wedged in the ambiguities of the South African decentralized state and its secrecies. Today, these institutions must also meet with alternative ways of knowing; to include film, video and audio content, and to think about new forms of digital curation.

“Dealing with the past is not only for a few. Not only a few people called intellectuals are supposed to commit themselves to the national struggle. Everybody must be spurred into action,” said Dr Mhlambi. As we are moving to the next stage of our freedom as a nation, it is important for every citizen to contribute to the course. The only way a rainbow nation could be realized, is when the whole nation would be accountable in making it happen. If it is so, there will be less room of complaining about who was supposed to do what for who.

The past is a nightmare from which many of us are trying to awake. It has been dark and there are records and scars to prove it. At the moment, the nation is facing the aftermath and moving on seems to be difficult. We seem to be moving around in circles, and history is in the mood to repeat itself. But fortunately, we are standing on the shoulders of mighty giants; Dr Khumalo shared advice that                 Prof Kunene once shared with him, “Even when things were so bad(during the apartheid era), you just had to clear your head. Don’t let your mind be occurred. Because if it is so, you have the ability to imagine anything.” And imagination is something that has been emphasized by many greats who have done anything worth remembering.

Khumalo continued, “It is very difficult to unentangle ourselves from things that happened in the past. It’s part of the mission we are born into. But if we were to think enough about Mazisi Kunene’s intervention…” Mazisi Kunene contributed greatly to indigenous culture. He wrote in Zulu and only in Zulu during a time when almost all great literature from this country was being written in English. Kunene did for Zulu what the English writer William Shakespeare did, writing in his native tongue English, back in a time when it was not normal to write in English. Thus, through his writing, he contributed in the great kingdom that would go on to conquer other kingdoms with a sword and a word. What a mighty kingdom indeed!

Dr Vukile Khumalo and Dr Thokozani Mhlambi

“Many writers in the 1940s,” Khumalo mentions, “were trying to fashion an African identity. What many of them did was, they drew inspiration from the pre-colonial era.” I think for me this is about realizing that there are those who came before us and made a contribution to society—therefore we can pick up, benchmark from their achievements, and seek to exceed them. “Frantz Fanon,” Khumalo says, “is one of those provocative writers of all time. It’s also that he wrote in the time of colonialism. Oppression is what spurred him on to write.” So what was meant to be something that would put him down, was actually what made him rise above the ordinary. Then Khumalo raised the question again, “But is the question of colonialism still relevant?” In other words, are we still colonized? Could it be that, even in the time of colonialism, there were those who were not aware that they were oppressed?

Say you are in a building. The building has five floors. You are on the ground floor, but you want to get to the fifth floor, and the only way to get up there is through an elevator. As the elevator goes up, it may stop on the third floor, open up, some people would get off the elevator, and some would get on. Opportunities that will take us to the fifth floor may be on the third floor. The delay is necessary in order for us to make it up there.

Khumalo also suggested how conversations about such matters should be held even in townships and villages, so that we can be given an opportunity to influence each other.

Towards the end of the session Prof Ntongela Masilela intervened in this way: “Every era has to create it’s own myths for it to go forward. But that myth cannot disconnect itself from the past.” He mentioned a number of monumental innovators such as John Langalibalele Dube and Frantz Fanon and their work, then added, “Given what we have produced in the past, I am really optimistic about what we have in the present and what they can do for the future.”

The event was part of the KZN Concert Series, in 2016.

By Nanu Mabaso

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