Archives for May 11, 2011

Bantu, the language

I do not remember much from the time when I landed in Kansas. I think there was much emptiness, and a decent quantity of desolation keeping it company. I saw both from the sky as the aircraft landed, so I guess they could not have come from inside me.

Have I memories of the time I wish they are of those two falling without the father knowing of it.

I have naught but the madness that comes from personal choices.

When I heard a voice ask “Ndiphi?” I thought my personal choice had come for me. It was not. Disappointed, I had to focus hard to recognize what I was experiencing. Bantu, the language, impinged on my senses. It must have been this out of place experience that made me think of the Germiston train station. When I first went to Africa I had also thought of Germiston. But this was not Africa. I was in America. That is not what I told the language. To it I said, “In Kansas.” I said it in English.

Have I memories of that instant, I wonder at the collision of insignificant moments, words. People.

I remember feeling cheated later. I should have given Bantu a Wizard of Oz line with a township twist.

I could get a taxi to Lawrence, if I was willing to pay R500. It really was not so bad in dollars, less than a hundred. But I was not counting in dollars. Was there a cheaper taxi? Yes, R220. No, was there a taxi I can take to Lawrence, please, not a maxi taxi. No. A train? No. Where could I get that $35 transport again? Someone calls, they give the person on the other side a description of me. Just out the door, Sir, and wait for them to pick you up.

All the while the presence of Bantu on my senses, insistent, insubstantial, out of place. Perhaps the Dorothy line would not have been very funny after all. In JFK, where the last leg of my journey started, the last call for passengers to Johannesburg had not tickled me much either.

Walking to the door and into the sunlight of Kansas must have been hard on the language, for it asked again, “Ndiphi?”

“Kansas,” I answered, “then Lawrence and the University.”

I wanted to, but did not ask why it had come with me.

The Appeal of Black Consciousness

In 1954 Hendrik Verwoerd, one of the main architects of the apartheid system, said that blacks ought not to be trained above certain “forms of labour”.  This was intended to limit the prospects and possibilities of black people in South Africa   The statement, viewed from a post Apartheid vantage point, can easily be dismissed as words of a twisted old crank.  It would, however, be very naive on our part to adopt this attitude.  For one thing, the thinking behind the statement was to shape policies and programmes that were to affect generations of black South Africans. Black people’s possibilities were to be limited in ways that threatens their human being-ness; their agency; their capacity to being human in their own terms.  The Black Consciousness philosophy is essentially a response to this thinking and its social, political and economic consequences. 

To be sure, there is a certain arrogance in the historical black consciousness movement’s response to the white supremacist Apartheid thinking.  One can almost hear Biko, the black consciousness theorist, telling Verwoerd and his cronies “who the hell are you to tell me what I can and can’t learn?  Who are you to tell me how far I can go in life?”  The title he adopts for some of his articles is telling “I Write What I Like”,  and to fool the system he refers to himself as “Frank Talk”.  This is a man who, in his “writing” and “frank talk” dared to defy the limitations and restrictions set by white supremacist ideologies and politics on himself and his ilk. 

The Apartheid system buttressed by Verwoerd, set definite limits and restrictions on the possibilities of black South Africans.  In thought and practice, the Black Consciousness response to the system was to defy these limitations.  Black Consciousness has articulated black defiance and the rejection of standards set for black people as a precondition for freedom.   A refusal to conform to standards set by the system is accompanied by a call to take initiative, to test what the realm of possibility is and to shape a future.  “On his own, therefore, the black man wishes to explore his surroundings, and test his possibilities. In other words to make his freedom real by whatever means he deems fit.”  “Black man you are on your own” became a rallying cry for a generation of BC thinkers and activists in the 70s. 

Within the context of a society still addressing the legacies of the white supremacist politics, ideologies and economies, Black Consciousness remain appealing to some of us.  It remains appealing in its nullification of historical limits set on blackness.  It remains appealing in it capacity to inspire the speaking of truth to power.  It remains appealing in its call for imagination, initiative, the creation of a different reality and the expansion of our human possibilities.