Tag Archives: Musa Okwonga

Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel

This is a cross-post from Musa Okwonga

Nelson-Mandela-009
Dear revisionists, Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel. Over the next few days you will try so, so hard to make him something he was not, and you will fail. You will try to smooth him, to sandblast him, to take away his Malcolm X. You will try to hide his anger from view. Right now, you are anxiously pacing the corridors of your condos and country estates, looking for the right words, the right tributes, the right-wing tributes. You will say that Mandela was not about race. You will say that Mandela was not about politics. You will say that Mandela was about nothing but one love, you will try to reduce him to a lilting reggae tune. “Let’s get together, and feel alright.” Yes, you will do that.

You will make out that apartheid was just some sort of evil mystical space disease that suddenly fell from the heavens and settled on all of us, had us all, black or white, in its thrall, until Mandela appeared from the ether to redeem us. You will try to make Mandela a Magic Negro and you will fail. You will say that Mandela stood above all for forgiveness whilst scuttling swiftly over the details of the perversity that he had the grace to forgive.

You will try to make out that apartheid was some horrid spontaneous historical aberration, and not the logical culmination of centuries of imperial arrogance. Yes, you will try that too. You will imply or audaciously state that its evils ended the day Mandela stepped out of jail. You will fold your hands and say the blacks have no-one to blame now but themselves.

Well, try hard as you like, and you’ll fail. Because Mandela was about politics and he was about race and he was about freedom and he was even about force, and he did what he felt he had to do and given the current economic inequality in South Africa he might even have died thinking he didn’t do nearly enough of it. And perhaps the greatest tragedy of Mandela’s life isn’t that he spent almost thirty years jailed by well-heeled racists who tried to shatter millions of spirits through breaking his soul, but that there weren’t or aren’t nearly enough people like him.

Because that’s South Africa now, a country long ago plunged headfirst so deep into the sewage of racial hatred that, for all Mandela’s efforts, it is still retching by the side of the swamp. Just imagine if Cape Town were London.  Imagine seeing two million white people living in shacks and mud huts along the M25 as you make your way into the city, where most of the biggest houses and biggest jobs are occupied by a small, affluent to wealthy group of black people.  There are no words for the resentment that would still simmer there.

Nelson Mandela was not a god, floating elegantly above us and saving us. He was utterly, thoroughly human, and he did all he did in spite of people like you. There is no need to name you because you know who you are, we know who you are, and you know we know that too. You didn’t break him in life, and you won’t shape him in death. You will try, wherever you are, and you will fail.

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The whispered words of Musa Okwonga

Part of what I do at Hynd’s blog is to try and draw to people’s attention the people, poetry and issues that are important to me.

I am fully aware how limited this platform, Hynd’s Blog, is. But still, I keep adding to this platform because if you do not dare to whisper out loud the things that are important to you, they will never be heard.

Someone who whispers with more wisdom and wit than I could ever imagine mustering is the poet and journalist, Musa Okwonga. Musa has unwittingly been on-going source of inspiration to me over the last few years.

He has a turn of phrase unmatched and yet, inexplicably, he is yet to become a household name.

Let me give you a few examples of why I think he deserves to be huge:

I spend a lot of my time trying to articulate the blight of racism in football. I struggle though, constantly, to put into words the human stories that football projects without losing the impact and influence the game holds.

In response to Roberto Carlos’ decision to walk off a pitch after a banana was thrown at him; Musa articulated these imagined thoughts of Roberto in the first person:

I am a man first, and a footballer second.  I am a grown man, not an animal, and I am not a creature on display for your entertainment.  You have come to a stadium, to watch human beings play football.  This is my place of work, and if you will treat it like a zoo, I will show that this pitch is not a cage, and I will leave it.”

And thus he treads that fine line that I so often miss.

A second example: Whenever I dare to whisper out loud about something personal to me such as my family or my partner I instantly clam up with dread. Exposing yourself on the internet’s oh so very social platforms, is something that I think people under-estimate. Just as standing on a stage to perform takes admirable courage, so I also think, writing about personal issues online does.

Musa, in an ever self-effacing way, manages to both perform and write about the most personal of issues with a confidence and coherence I cannot help but to admire. Here I would urge you to watch his performance of his poem, ‘Passport’.

But, it is when he integrates this personal with the overtly political does he really come into his own.

At this point, I would urge you to watch his performance of his poem, ‘Love versus Homophobia’. It is an articulate outpouring of anger at the ambivalence, arrogance and anger that some people hold for his understanding of love.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the Vatican will be playing this on loop. Nor do I think the US or UK government’s will be listening to his latest poem, ‘Monotony’.  But I leave you with this because, he has dared to whisper these words out loud not knowing who will hear them. All I can do is echo them and ask you to do the same.

This is our monotony:
They bring the most hateful of rainfalls,
And don’t make apologies:
They send storms from the jaws of a drone
To slay those who’d take the USA off its throne –
So each day, we’re preparing for rain;
For these drops not of water
But rage;
Wait –
All you’ll hear is the hum as they’re closing
A teenaged male isn’t safe in the open –
So we’ve taught them to run,
Our daughters and sons –
Taught them something most terrible:
That here in Yemen, it is never wise
To gaze up and daydream into our own skies:
This is –
The only way, we are told;
That’s not so bad as it goes:
No:
Shattered bone,
Shattered hope,
Shattered homes,
We all raise our eyes at the drones –
And so:
In many decades, our youth will explain
Why, when about town, they still walk with necks craned

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