In 2019 The Annual Lecture was presented by Dr Gcina Mhlophe.
Dr. Gcina Mhlope
Picture: Courtesy of Dr. Gcina Mhlope
Excerpt from the 2019 Maxeke-Mgqwetho Annual Lecture
“What are we to do with all that remembering?”
Dr Gcina Mhlophe, 25 May 2019, St Mary’s School
Dr Gcina Mhlophe began the evening by singing her unique rendition of Nkosi Sikelel’Afrika inspired by the original Nkosi Sikelel’Afrika written by Enoch Sontonga.
When I was invited by Athambile to come and deliver this lecture. Somehow this word ‘lecture’ fascinating yhe? We come from the Nguni culture and when we look at certain words we kind of bring them into your mother tongue, isiZulu nesiXhosa, uzama ucabanga ukuthi itsh’utini konje mangiyi beka ngolwimi lwakithi? And some things are not say-able or translatable.
Why did I sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika at a place where I’m supposed to be delivering a lecture? I sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika because I’m grateful that Enoch Sontonga did not say, “God bless South Africa”. He said, “God bless Africa, the continent”. I’m a daughter of the African continent. I also sing it so differently because I’ve got a double-bass voice. I’m not there in choir, there in the soprano benz’ intozabo like I’m ngiguyena uGcina Mhlophe ngishaya idouble bass one time.
One of my favourite women – maybe you don’t even know who she is – is Mama Nokukhanya Luthuli. There’s my heavyweight. She was the wife of Chief Albert Luthuli. She was amazing, multi-talented like you won’t believe and that’s why she’s my role model. But how many times do you hear that name? How many times?
Before there was another woman, this woman was married to Chief Langalibalele Dube, his first wife was Nokutela Ndima and she sang, she played the piano, she could design beautiful clothes, she could cook, she could teach, she could do so much! She travelled all over the world and they fundraised for some of the money that went into building Ohlange High School. She insisted, believed in education, that there should be a school. And because she believed in education and believed that young women must be empowered, she also sang a song that keeps coming – it’s like that recurring decimal – I want to know when was the first time this song made it’s way into political spaces. I don’t know when it was but there are clever people abahambe bayeyunivesiti nhe bayazaz’ezinto.
[Sings] Lizalis’idinga lako, Thixo Nkosi yenyaniso. Zonk’intlanga zonk’izizwe. Mazizuze usindiso. Amadolo kwelilizwe makagobe phambi kwakho, zide zithi zonk’ilwimi, ziluxel’ udumo lwako.
For those who are currently disadvantaged, I will translate in English. “Lizalis’idinga lako”, let your promise be fulfilled. “Lizalis’idinga lakho, Thixo Nkosi yenyaniso”. And our Almighty has made promises to us. And we keep saying, “Lizalis’idinga lako”, because the people of the African continent are as worthy as people of any other continent! As worthy as people of any other continent. So time of thinking of ourselves as being in chains, nobody talks about us, nobody honours us; let’s go out there and honour ourselves and each other. And if the platform that umthetheli wabantu is that world out there in cyberspace let’s go in there. Let’s go in there. We’ve got a right to be there.
Umama uCharlotte I didn’t know about her for a while. I only found out after I found out about her younger sister Mam’ Katie Makhanya. Mam’ Katie I learnt about her, I read her, the book that was by the daughter of Dr McCord. And we were lucky to have this book. We bought many copies and we put them in every box of every high school we visited.
Who was Nozicwadi? Nozicwadi was my great-grandmother uMamChunu. My great-grandmother couldn’t read or write but she collected anything with words on it. She put them in a suitcase and when that suitcase stayed after she died – and just kept on, somehow nobody saw the value of it. I didn’t discover about mama Nozicwadi until 2000. When I found out I phoned my agent in Europe,
“I’m not available for a year! Leave me alone. I’m not available.”
“Oh you’re not available for what?”
“I’m not going on tour. I’m busy. I’m waking up the suitcase.”
I told my husband one Saturday, “Ngizolivusa. I’m waking up the suitcase”. I don’t know what he thought I was talking about but… We started our literacy campaign, Nozicwadi Mothering Books in 2001 and we visited schools in all nine provinces. We performed, we shared poetry, storytelling, we read excerpts from books and we donated books to every single one of the schools we visited. And I thought we could make sure that it is a gift from Nozicwadi to the school that we were visiting; she was operating from beyond the grave. She was operating from beyond the grave since I was alive and still am, Nozicwadi continues. Nozicwadi continues.
Uyishukumisile imamba, uyishukumisile imamba asemgodini wayo. You’ve shaken the snake in it’s big hole, in this place of forgetfulness where we forget powerful women! I don’t know if there any powerful women in the house, sometimes they are called “too much”.
Whether they’re Black or White or Indian or whatever culture you are, when you speak up, when you know who you are, when you know what you stand for, two words for you: TOO MUCH.
So we’re dealing with two women who were “too much”. Thank goodness they were too much. Thank goodness because there’d be no reason for us to remember otherwise. I look at a day like this as a day that also reminds us of those women who were just ordinary women like my great-grandmother. Because there are many of them who did something but because they were not close to people who would talk about them, they just ended up in the world where they would be forgotten.
I heard their voices and saw their faces, their beautiful faces, in my mind’s eye. I listened to all the spiritual voices that were saying to me, “These are powerful daughters of Africa. Daughters of the soil.”
So the day has finally come, a day like no other to unveil and honour, from the bottom of our hearts, two women. Women who did not walk on the same path, they were not born on the same day but they were having the same purpose in life. Awareness-raising and nation-building in their chosen professions. She insisted that African people had to stand up for themselves no matter how difficult things were. But especially the women should stand up for themselves because bayintsika yekhaya.
These daughters of Africa have somehow been placed in the shadows of history despite their great achievements. That beautiful voice that went to the United Kingdom all those many years ago. I wish they’d been blessed with a recording device so we could listen and learn as we sing along with them. I wish we could just press play and their voices could fill this room. But then again, we only have our imaginations to take us back. Let’s see them in our minds’ eyes, let’s hear them in our minds’ ears, let them resound in our spirits; these daughters of Africa.
We, celebrate them with the way we know how to. Today on a time where there is such a demand for strong leadership, for leaders with integrity and unyielding commitment to make a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate, it is more than apt that we choose to honour these two amazing women. Today’s young women may have academic qualifications yes but sometimes there’s a lack of real, ready information on the media. The presence of pioneers and role models they can learn from. Role models they can walk around with after they’ve passed on even after they’ve passed on.
So I call on each and every one of you here today, let us pull up our socks and be like our foremothers who took education very seriously as a nation-building tool. Zubeida Jaffer wrote a book called ‘The Beauty of the Heart’. She was a fighter. She was dedicated. She would leave no stone unturned to make a differ! But she had a beautiful heart; Mama Charlotte. So that is the book she wrote. It has made it’s way into the list of my cherished books, Beauty of the Heart. She has handed her in saluting this powerhouse of a leader extraordinaire. As we too answer the call to salute Mama Charlotte let’s also honour somebody who was as different as I am. Mama Nontsizi Mgqwetho.
We must acknowledge the work she has done. And in the process honour the work done by researchers because those researchers if they hadn’t done that work, they would continue staying there in the woods, in that place kwelokulibala in the graves that are dug for women who are ‘too much’. Because those researchers have done their work here at home and abroad, those efforts will continue to be of great value to us as we gather more firewood to keep the fires burning at the hearth, where these women’s contributions will be made to shine brighter than ever before.
Another African saying brings to mind something like this, “The axe may forget but the tree remembers.” Yet another crossroads in our history we have to be clear that those who robbed us of our land, mineral wealth, cultural and spiritual identity and heritage, our sense of community and human dignity left deep scars. Hiding under recurring, throbbing, infected wounds.
Sometimes they look like they’ve healed, you see us in shiny fast cars, fancy Western homes, elegant clothing, European languages that we cherish so much, much more than our own mother tongues, under all those façades, the sunny smiles and joyful dances at Freedom Day celebrations. Freedom Day celebrations then they fool the world. We can even fool one another. But in our heart of hearts we know the truth. The axe may forget but the tree remembers. Now the question is, “What are we to do with all that remembering?”
Do we moan and groan? Do we complain and accuse the oppressor every single day and act all defeated unable to face today’s struggles, to lift up this awesome continent called Mother Africa? Is that what we’re going to do? Moaning and groaning? This is the very cradle of Humankind. So do we add those memories in their millions to the uniquely potent ingredient for future-building antidote. The men may be the head of the family but the woman is the heart of the home. The same applies to our nation, our country in South Africa. This nation. Azania. Our motherland. The country we so love. Yes, the men have been leaders, heads of the state, but we the women have to reclaim our positions as the heart of the nation. Let’s do that. Let’s reclaim our position.
If the rights of Mam’ uMaxeke and Mam’ Nontsizi Mgqwetho achieved what they did, unapologetically a century ago, under the most despicable conditions, what is stopping us? What is stopping us in 2019? Whatever the reason for their names to not be part of today’s narrative on a regular basis, we have no right to keep quiet and not pay our tribute. No matter how humble we must promise that the future generations will know they lived; that they struggled proudly, they help they bright torches up high because of days like these our sons and daughters will be compelled to do the same.
Let the voices of the unstoppable Nontsizi Mgqwetho ring out loud. Let our minds’ ears hear her loud and clear. She never allowed those who thought that her gender was a disability to stop the praise poet in her from ringing the amazing eloquence with words simply rain to a thirsty soul. That wisdom and eloquence ran in her veins like the river of life. Umthetheli wabantu the newspaper that dared to publish her works must be lauded as well. For without these published works her words would have been buried in the many mass graves where creative spirits are buried today. The unbelievable dedication of writers like Jeff Opland, who has made it his life’s journey to celebrate Xhosa poetry, our gratitude to you too.
Those, those who opposed her role as a praise poet…she stood shoulder to shoulder with likes of J.J.R. Jolobe. Great poets S.E.K Mqhayi…they must have sighed a sigh of relief when she died. Those who didn’t like her, they didn’t know what is the story with this woman who won’t keep quiet. They didn’t know what is the story with a woman who kept reminding them of things they didn’t want to remember. A woman who cherished her mother-tongue and let it be like stars in the night sky to decorate our minds and make sure we remember who we are and what we are called to do. They must have thought, “At long last this nuisance of a woman shall be silent! FINALLY!”
Abangamthandiyo babebencume ngoncumo olugoso
Wena wabona ikati itshe icala.
Besiva onogqaza benqanqaza emathafeni
bephendulana nenkomo ezazigxwala emsanweni.
Zakuvakala ezondaba zilusizi ulandulele, ulandulele eli akasekho uNontsizi Mqwetho! Qaba ixhala unoqolomba efile nje.
Kodwa thina ke namhla siyavuya sitsho ngazwi linye sithi “Asinakuthula!”
We shall not be quiet.
Siyabonga, siyabulela, siyatyityimba, siyatshuluba.
Sizingomba isifuba qab’ ixhala okaMqwetho evukile nje.
Qab’ ixhala. Asinakuthula.
Iinyaniso owayezithetha ngemini zakudala zisabhentsile nanamhlanje oku kaloku inyaniso ayiboli. The truth never rots.
Ihlala iyinyani sithanda singathandi.
Ababemzonda babesitsho ngolunya nekratshi besithi liyakuthula nini elibhinqa elinoqhel’oqathu?
Sidikiwe nguNontsizi olilisela ubusuku nemini ngosizi lomntu omnyama.
Kanti ke bangandikwa, bangakruquka, banganyanya, bangacapuka baphike balale ngomqolo kodwa lona usizi lomntu omnyama lusayifuna ingqwalasela yethu nakaloku nje.
Yaye kukude engqinibeni ndiyakuxelela. Kukude engqinibeni.
Mam’ uNontsizi and Dr Charlotte Maxeke we salute you from the bottom of our hearts we make the promise to pick up the batons, to step forward and do what we are called to do in our own professions and our own areas of specializations. Our struggle changes faces and character every sing day; that is normal in any nations journey of growth but we have to soldier on. We have to learn from you our great pioneers and adapt to the current times and challenges. It was not easy then. It certainly is far from easy now and it will get even darker and colder before the sun rises again for our little sons and daughters.
Siyabulela sibamba ngazozibini. Eyenu indima niyihambile olwenu ugqatsho nilufezile. Sithi kuni camagwini mavulandlela amahle, Camagwini zithwal’andwe zezwe lakowethu, camagwini.
[Sings] Makubenjalo. Makubenjalo. Makubenjalo kude kube ngunaphakade, kude kube ngunaphakade. Makubenjalo. Makubenjalo kude kube ngunaphakade, kude kube ngunaphakade.
Let it be so.