Gabisile Nkosi (4 February 1974 – 26 May 2008)

gabi nkosi I can’t quite remember when I officially met Gabi Nkosi in Durban, but we met on and off in the art scene during the later 90s. One only had to know Gabi for a few minutes to be convinced that she was a really nice person. It was only on a residency at Caversham Press in 2002, where she worked as a studio assistant, that I got acquainted with her much more. It was an all women residency and the six women of different ages, races and backgrounds hit it off from the very beginning. After a day in the studio, we would gather around food and wine and talk in the uninhibited way that women can do when they are alone and familiar.

hairstyles It was during these sessions that I got to know so much more about Gabi, and shockingly to find out that an ex-boyfriend had once stabbed her during an argument in front of their son. It was hard to imagine that this beautiful young dynamic woman, from whose lips laughter was never a moment away, had endured so much in her young life and had managed so much despite it. Her way of analysing her life and herself informed her many prints.

I became a fan not only of Gabi, which was easy to do, but of her detailed, personal linocuts and silkscreens that recounted scenes from her home life, be it braiding hair around a kitchen table, to feeling like a ‘frog out of water’ in moving between her home at Caversham in Pietermartizburg and Umlazi township in Durban.
I never got the sense that she begrudged any of what she went frogthrough, but instead accepted that there were aspects of her life that were conditioned by societal forces she couldn’t control, yet felt she must question.

Gabi was a devout Christian, a dedicated mother, a talented artist, a community worker and an advocate for human rights, which she championed in her artwork. It is thus the harsh irony of life that her right to life was cut short on the 26th of May 2008, when she was brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend in her home in Pietermaritzburg (the ex was also killed in the incident).

According to friends who spoke at her funeral, she hinted that she was afraid that the ex-boyfriend might try to harm her, but tragically her fears were not taken seriously enough. Her untimely death is a most unfortunate example of the levels of abuse and killing of women and children that permeates South African culture. She is yet another statistic, but the magnitude of the loss of this woman can only be truly recognised by all who knew her, if only for a short while. Gabi, my friend, it is no doubt that the South African art scene has been robbed of your great talent; your colleagues of a dedicated worker; your family of a great daughter/sister/mother; your friends of a great soul. We continue to dearly miss you.

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Isaac Hayes (20 August 1942 – 10 August 2008)

Isaac Hayes It was the era of bold black masculinity, the age of Blaxploitation. When musicians were not scared to have big bushy beards, wear silly clothes. You can just imagine what fashion magazines would say now if NE-YO or Chris Brown showed up with a full unshaven beard.

In America Black people were not only more self-confident but were also just fed up. So looking like Nat Turner was the thing to do. The apologetic politics of the civil rights movement had given way to James Brown’s Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud. Isaac Hayes was a big part of that. The earliest memories I have of the dude was of him in red tights and chains. For a while he took to calling himself Black Moses.

In music it was not unheard of to have tracks that are more than 11 minutes long and a long monologue to go with it, typically in a deep baritone voice. Of course the sistaz were also into monologues Millie Jackson in All the Way Lover and Shirley Brown in Woman to Woman. The staple diet of many Sunday afternoon radio shows was Isaac Hayes’ Stand Accused.

And who can forget the album that won him the grammy the soundtrack to Shaft. In those days the horns and the strings were not produced electronically. Musicians toured with a big band.

But Black Moses had his fair share of low moments. He was one of the musicians along with Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and others that broke the cultural boycott and performed in Apartheid South Africa. And of course he also went into that place that old rock stars go to that we shall not mention from where he found reincarnation as Chef in South Park.

Of course this was all just a little before the time I came of age in the 80’s and by then people like Isaac Hayes were beginning to fade from the popular scene. But the music lived on and still does.

Tribute Magazine (1987–2004, 2006–2008)

tribute1 Since the emergence of an Black middle class in the mid to late 19th century there have been iconic publications that have expressed the aspirations and the views of this section of the Black populace. It is not that the other sections of Black people could not identify with these aspirations but in my opinion what made them special is that these publications often carried a mixture of contradictory impulses. While they were nationalistic they were also cosmopolitan, they were published by the elites but claimed to speak for the majority of Black people. Amongst these these were Imvo Zabantsundu and Ilanga laseNatali. Tribute Magazine belongs to this illustrious lineage of publications.

tribute2 Throughout the 90’s this magazine certainly articulated the hopes of the aspirant Black population. My only gripe with it is that it tended to universalise what Black people ought to aspire to. The ostentatious display of wealth often displayed in this glossy magazine, I thought, tended to alienate readers who did not subscribe to the same idea of success or Black advancement.

In retrospect the value of this Tribute was to offer a counter narrative of Black life to what publications such as Bona and Pace had to offer. After a near-death experience in 2003 the magazine was brought back from the brink of extinction in 2006.

Sadly, the grim reaper just won't leave Tribute alone. Even though Tribute may be well and truly dead now (we certainly hope this is not the case) its philosophy and legacy lives on in more recent publications such as Baobab and Afropolitan (whether their publishers admit it or not).

While we mourn the loss of another quality publication we must wonder why such publications seem to have such a limited shelf-life.

For Prof. Es’kia Mphahlele (17 December 1919 – 27 October 2008)

eskia mphahlele I once sat at an inaugural lecture and cringed with horror, as someone paid tribute to the chief celebrant, by noting that this scholar had "risen beyond being an African philosopher" or something to that effect. The speaker seemed to see the tag 'African' as some kind of a yoke, which, if an African scholar worked hard enough, they could shed and successfully join the world of scholarship (‘proper’). I'm not sure whether I was more horrified at the notion of the label ‘African’ as something to be transcended by scholars of African descent; or at the fact that the African in question did not publicly challenge this promotion to 'sans Africain' philosopher glory. Thinking about the life and work of Prof. Eskia Mphahlele, I am reminded of this incident.

As a non-South African (aka ‘African foreign national’) I have known Prof. Mphahlele’s writing since my teenage years. As a high school student, and later during my undergraduate years, Mphahlele’s portrait of Marabastad in Down Second Avenue, coupled with Richard Rive’s District Six in Birmingham Palace and Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People added an important depth and nuance to my ‘Sarafina’ portrait of South Africa.

Over a decade later when I finally met Prof. Mphahlele, it was a pure, humbling experience. For here was a legend of no mean proportions, who remained so humble, so modest, and most importantly, an educator at heart. Here was THE Prof. Mphahlele, with all those books and critical works to his name, all those years of teaching experience all over the continent and beyond; all those keynote addresses – here he was, genuinely chatting to a no-name graduate student about his experiences across the continent with such pride and passion. And as I listened to him, I felt honored to meet him. He was an African intellectual who embraced and celebrated Africa in its fullness without succumbing to the urge to romanticize and edit her less sightly features: – not a 'weekend special' African who occasionally reaches into the dusty backwaters of their identity to retrieve the Africa of the Timbuktu manuscripts and Egyptian pyramids on special occasions as a stamp of self-approval; nor a shallow so-called-Afropolitan who embellishes an uncritical embrace of that now-fashionable word ‘cosmopolitanism' with the prefix 'Afro'. He was African who celebrated his blackness, his Africanness and his humanity so passionately, yet with such intellectual rigor and critical reflection that he inspired pride in me.

And as I turned the news of his death over and over in my mind, my heart mourned for the walking archive of wisdom and insight that had been taken away from us. Most importantly, it mourned for the South African academy and its cracks, through which some of its priceless cross-generational memory slowly slips unnoticed, as the work of the Mphahlele’s of this country – celebrated in curricula across the continent - continues to be relegated to the periphery in South African curricula. I often wish this academy would borrow a leaf from Prof. Mphahlele's work, thought and life, and embrace a meaningful Afropolitanism.

Thank you, Prof. Mphahlele.

Bernie Mac (5 October 1957 – 9 August 2008)

bernie mac On the 9th of August 2008, Bernie Mac (Bernard Jeffrey McCullough) passed away due to complications from pneumonia. Mac was well known for his stand-up comedy, especially as part of The Original Kings of Comedy routines (the other ‘kings’ were Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L Hughley). Bernie Mac’s own successful The Bernie Mac show ran in the US from 2001 to 2006 and earned him two Emmy Award nominations.
His film credits include Friday (1995), Life (1999), Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003), Guess Who? (2005), Transformers (2007) and Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa (2007).

Two Bernie Mac roles that stick out in my mind are as Officer Self Hatred in Don’t be a Menace to South Central While Drinking your Juice in the Hood (1996) and as Mr 3000 (2004). As Officer Self Hatred, Mac spoofs the famous scene from Boyz n the Hood where Cuba Gooding Jnr’s character gets pulled over and interrogated by racist cops (one of them black). Mac’s small role as the black-hating black cop was outstandingly hilarious, exaggerating an already absurd situation. In Mr 3000, Mac plays a pro-baseball player, who respects nothing but his talent. He quits his team when he gets his 3000 runs despite the fact that his team needs him for the final games of the league. Mr 3000 cares only for himself and his legacy (evidenced by a wall honouring himself in his restaurant). That is until his legacy is contested (they discover he hasn’t quite made 3000 runs in order to get into the baseball hall of fame) and he has to return to his old team – no love lost on their side either – and finally learns what it is to be a team player, even at the risk of his historical runs. This could have been yet another corny, soppy baseball movie about ‘doing the right thing’ and has a largely predictable storyline, but Mac’s subtle acting skills create a likeable yet arrogant ‘hero’ in need of some life lessons, which we are prepared to sit through.

I was really disappointed that South African TV largely ignored this great comic actor when he passed away. He only made TV scrawl. I guess a 50 year old black comedian, married (to Rhonda McCullogh) for 31 years, winner of the Humanitas Prize for television writing that promotes human dignity, and various television awards for his comedy performances and writing is hardly worth airtime (we do however have time for Heath Ledger’s or Anna Nicole Smith’s drug overdose or whatever it is that Ms Hilton is thinking or saying). Well Bernie, I noticed and I am sure many of your fans did as well. Even just hearing your voice on Madagascar 2 made us miss you. Say ‘hi’ to Isaac and Luther for us, won’t you?

Mahmoud Darwish (13 March 1941 – 9 August 2008)

darwish

يطفو المرء حين يقرأه. يضحي إنساناً أسمى. لا لأنه مقاوم، وإنما لأنه شاعر. شاعر يرى الإنسان بوضوح، ويمضي في أكثر من بعدٍ زمنيّ. يخبر عن الحاضر وهو يرويه ماضياً. يتجاور "الآن" و"البعد حين" في شعره. فهو يقف في موقعٍ من الزمن يقف فيه وحده. يشرف وينفعل.
يحكي كثيراً عن الأحلام وعن الماء وعن النهايات التي تلي النهايات، وتفصل بينها محاولات.
يروي قصة القافز مرة تلو الأخرى إلى الموت، ينتظره في كل مرة موتاً يكون "أكثر"، ولا يدعو الناس من بعده إلا إلى الثقة بالماء.
الماء يغسل الوجوه، منه يولد البشر، وإليه يعودون كلما اشتاقوا أو احتاجوا الولادة من جديد. الماء يرطّب الأرواح، يخصّب الأجسام، ويعيد الكرّة.
لم يصنع إلهاً من فكرة، وإنما خاطب الواحد منا في أشدّ صفائه. الإنسان في لحظة مع نفسه. في أدق الصميم. هنا تدخّل. وهنا تحدّث. وثقته واضحة بأن هذه العلاقة ممكنة مع "الجماهير"، وهي سبيله إلى كل فرد فيها.
يقولون أن كبيراً اختفى وبالتالي اختفى إنتاجه وما عاد لنا سواه. فهو من ربط الفتى العربي بالشعر، بعد سنوات المدرسة، لا لشيء إلا لأنه يجعل النصّ، بشكله ومضمونه، يغوي ويغري. والإغراء يجذب الأجيال المختلفة، ويطوّعها. لغته تفعل ذلك. اللغة التي يخاطب بها الحياة، والصور التي يقترحها على العين، تؤكد ذلك. هذا الرجل يخبر عن إمكانيات اللغة العربية، ولقد أكّد أنها ليست محدودة بالواقع العربي. وهو يخبر عن إمكانيات الرؤية، ولا يعتبرها محدودة بالنظر.
اللغة حرّة. وهو بادلها الرقص فوق السحاب، قفزاً من غيمة إلى أخرى، وبعينٍ شاخصة إلى الأرض، أسرُه هنا. فهو يرى.
لا يصف الظاهر، لأنه قادر على الرؤية أكثر. هذا الرجل لا يرى ما يراه الناس، وليس لأنه مات يُقال ذلك وإنما لأنه فعلاً يرى. نصه يقول بذلك. لا يكتفي بالخطاب وإنما يشرح جذوره وأسبابه، يفترض إمكانياته، ويراقب تتماته، في بيت شعر واحد، لأنه يرى. يرى، كمن كُشف عنهم حجاب الشكل، وما عاد يحدّ نظرتهم إلى المضمون إلا اللغة.. فجعلها الرجل حرفته.
يخشون أن تخلو "الساحة" في غيابه. وكيف تعمر؟ بماذا؟ بمقاومات الجائعين إلى اللغة، أو بسلطات تستهدف المعنى بالإلغاء؟ من أين تولد الكلمات إن كانت خارج الإستخدام، معطلة؟ لا أحد يستخدم اللغة، الجميع يستهلكونها. لغة أدبية أو سياسية أو تعبوية أو دينية أو راقصة، تبقى لغةً بوظيفة، وسيلة لبلوغ غاية. والغاية مسطحة، كمكسب. فتضحي اللغة مسطحة، كوسيلة.
هو لم يقف عند ذلك. لغته حلّقت. الرجل ليس أداةً للمقاومة أو الإستسلام أو سواهما من المواقف المعلّبة، الرجل ربّ لغة ملكها فملكنا بها. اللغة الجميلة مدّتنا بمّا احتجنا إليه كي نحب أرضاً ورجلاً وإمرأة ونكهة ورائحة وسواها من مكوّنات الحياة. الرجل خاض في الأسباب ولم تشغله النتائج المتغيرة التي تهوس بعض الكتبة. الرجل يحكي في صلب القصة، يمسك نبض عنقها بإصبعين، يروي تدفق الدماء في العرقٍ، يقيم في موضوعه، ينتظر لحظة ينتهي الكلام من التدفّق كي يبدّل الموضوع، ولا تبدو لهذه النهاية بدايات. فنصّه بحر لا قعر له ولا حدود، كالمطر. لا شيء يحدّ قوله.
كل شيء في غيابه يكون أقل حضوراً وتسميةً.
حبّ الأرض في غيابه يكون أقل بلاغة وحرية.
إنتظار صدور كتاب الشعر يكون أقل تشويقاً.
غيمة، ليست بيضاء، يثقل حضورها ويخنق سواها من إمكانيات الغيم.
شكل شباب العرب أيضاً بات أقل شبوبية وإغراء.
المشهد يزيد القلب ضيقاً.
في يوم الدفن، ولأجل الدفن، تكشف هذه الصورة خمارها للحظات، فتظهر كاملة جلية.
المطلوب إذاً هو الهدوء في التوقعات، والبحث عن رشاقة الفراشات.
تصبح على خير.

سحر مندور