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Kgebetli Moele

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

When we run dry



There is a Sotho proverb that warns the fish to hope for mud, as the water dried while it was not looking. It is not cynical at all, merely a friendly warning to the fish – who of course is not really a fish. It is a warning to humans to be prepared for the unthinkable, hence we have insurance and life cover. It is a hope that we will survive in the mud when the water runs dry.

Today, I was crisscrossing my mind, searching for answers that I already know. Why would I perform such a futile exercise? Well, because I have discovered that the world is full of lies and half-truths. I was reviewing the answers I already have, for they may all be wrong.

In all our lives we have lived a dozen lies believing them to be true, to the extent that we do not even question them. On the rare occassion we do question them, we only have professors, pastors, teachers and parents to ask. Professors tell you theories. Pastors teach us the word that they themselves don’t even understand; they can never give a reason why Noah cursed Canaan. Teachers who teach because they were taught that way. I was told that children come from aeroplanes. I was a child; I believed the foolish explanation, and when an aeroplane was flying past I asked for a “toy” baby brother to play with. These lies made me a fool because being fooled was part of my upbringing.

That is another issue altogether. Here and now: How much creativity is in an individual? My girlfriend – the only female intellectual I ever kissed, born on a farm, raised by a grandmother on social welfare and a graduate of the University of the North (please, on your feet, a round of applause) – the one who loves to read books. She shared a tear when she read that Timbila had shut its doors. She knew, read and loved the poet Vonani Bila, mostly because of Dahl Street and the poem in which Vonani was healing his raging but helpless self after his apartment was broken into and blaming “Boys from Seshego”.

She also fell in love with all the closet poets that Bila presented on an international stage.

Again on your feet: A moment of silence for Timbila and Vonani Bila.

My girlfriend, she commented: “Bila’s creativity has run out, it is all dry and now he can focus on important things about life and living.”

The statement had a load of implications, so I pretended that I did not fully understand it. But I did, hence this question: How much creativity is in an individual?

My colleague, the great Zukiswa Wanner, believes that every living soul has one book running within their veins. She characterises a writer as someone who has written a book and an author as one who has written more than three books. I asked, what about manuscripts? She gave a short answer: “Manuscripts do not count.”

The argument was filtered to this: Everyone can do 60 minutes of stand-up comedy and lift many people out of their miserable lives. Come the 61st minute, the comedian will have shitted out all that he had naturally and now has to think hard. If they make it to the 121st minute and we are still dead, laughing ourselves out of our miserable lives, it is true creativity. Most comedians are stuck under 60 minutes with just a one-hour DVD and the second hour, you can’t even stand to watch it to the end.

Bila is a creative individual. I defend Bila. That is one of the things that Timbila could not avoid; it was run for the sake of creativity, it traded on creativity rather than profit. As great as all his poets were, they did not make a substantial living from their publications. He was happy when some of us worshipped them and the world knew them. Sales and academic recommendation were far away from Timbila’ modus operandi. I think. I know that Bila was not tired of being a poet – it is in his blood – as Mpho Ramaano is. Yes, we do not have any more offerings from Ramaano but ask any woman who provokes his men what kind of praises flow out of his mouth.

Give any writer money and a story and ask them to produce in a month. My girlfriend thinks that I can never offer anything more powerful than what I already have on the table. I say, test me and see if I cannot grant you another Book of the Dead, one which has nothing to do with HIV/Aids but is equally powerful and revelling. Test me and find out how many manuscripts are laying waste and gathering digital dust in my digital drawer. Try me and see how many books I have stored in the compartments of this head basket.

When you see Timbila and the likes close down it is not because talent has run dry but because the rain never came to water it. If you don’t see any more of Moele on the shelves, just know that the investments are returning negative in this rented life.

Vonani Bila has talent, immense talent, but this life is for rent and we have to pay.

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It was a Dream

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Illuminating Africa



Killing SaharaIt is hard not to like Killing Sahara and its antagonist, for somebody who hates politicians needless of origin and nationality, and hoping for their substitution or total demise from society. Killing Sahara is Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ’s second born. He claimed while visiting us, here in Cape Town during the Open Book Festival, that he is better than his father, the Great Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. And when I was reading Killing Sahara, this little claim came along for the read.

What Mũkoma did here was an attempt to present the enigma that is Africa in a silver spoon, simple and complete. He tried. He did not fail though, it is just that no one can present Africa as a whole and still make sense. Therefore
Africa can only be presented in bits and pieces. It is still a challenge to anyone who thinks that they can write Africa between two covers.

There are many issues that Mũkoma confronts between these two covers and then, like a dog, he puts his tail between his legs and yelps, running away from them. This is an epic journey, not only of Kenya, not of the two detectives and their families, but of Africa, the continent and its relation with itself and the others.

The author has in a sense failed to present the epic continuous journey of this continent but decided to give us a crime story. Honestly, I saw no murder but high-end white collar crime and corruption, in total control. The issue of Rwanda and the massacres is presented like a half-naked pinup poster of a woman in the bedroom of a teenage boy. While trying to make her a strong woman, she rails off.

Then there is ethnicity, that other African curse that always rears its head like a black mamba ready to bite and inject its deadly venom in us. And it does; it induces us and then we pick up AKs and machetes, amputate a man’s arms and then rape our women, at worse we kill.

At the pinnacle; there is aid, another of Africa’s many curses. Presented on paper it is true gold but what always manifests in practice is not that which was written down but profit for individuals. Aid in Africa is a profitable business and this can be seen in the selling line: Help us, help them, those giving the aid mention themselves first as the ones in need of help.

There is Sahara and the International Democracy and Economic Security Council (IDESC), a well-to-do man who loves and understands Africa and Africans.

Honestly, I fell for his scheme, at times I was hanged and wishing that the story could go his way, maybe we would have a much better Kenya, a better Africa.

At the face of it, there are our politicians/leaders, former freedom fighters who think that the country owes them and their families, with no vision and dream for the country and only greed. These issues/characters are cut and paste, making way for the author to present the crime story.

Why did Mary have to die if the national security was threatened? Yes, she married a man of another ethnicity. This was the first low point of this tale, the author connecting O personally to the crime. This fails.

Killing Sahara is a sad book telling a sad universal story and the real criminals are the one that profit tenfold. To say that this is a crime story does this African tale injustice, this is an epic, filtered from being a human rights story to being a crime story of O and I.

The detectives are the only real people here, operating as private detectives with access to the state police force. They follow the trail of a murdered American man, and it is interesting and trilling the way the detectives peel away the onion skins to get to solve this murder. It is involving and engaging but they fail to solve the crime. They do get their man at a cost of O’s wife and a massacre but in the end they are party to the corruption of living this life as we know it.

The real winner is Jason, the security agent at the American embassy during the day cum intercontinental drug trafficker at night, and his profits are huge and intercontinental. He puppets our two detectives, buying them therefore buying their protection.

“I no longer believe that we are serving justice.” Ishmael declares while sharing a cold beer with Jason as Kenya is being used as a port for Jason’s individual profit. What Amos’ dead body lead O and I to was Jason but they let him live. This is the sad reality of this life: there is no one serving justice.

Is Mũkoma better than Ngũgĩ? Not yet, he still has to prove himself and the odds are against him.

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