Pardon Mzwahhe Mbuli!

by IAIN BOAL

Text of remarks by IAIN BOAL at Black Oak Books in Berkeley on September 24 during an evening of readings and discussion sponsored by PEN West in observation of Banned Book Week.

"No oppressive regime can press on the hot lid of a boiling pot forever". These are the words of the imprisoned South African poet and musician, Mzwakhe Mbuli. He was born in the 1950s in Sophiatown–the Harlem of Johannesburg–home also to Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim and other writers, musicians, and poets later driven into exile or killed. His hometown was razed to the ground in the early 1960s by apartheid’s bulldozers, now a more familiar instrument of terror, then rebuilt as an Afrikaaner settlement and renamed Triomf ("Triumph").

Mzwakhe Mbuli was relocated to Soweto, and moved with the young lions of the 1976 intifada. At public rallies and funerals his grandiloquent voice carried the collective grief and anger. He became the chief remembrancer of those felled in the struggle for freedom. Once the eulogies were spoken, he would melt away into the throng of mourners. He became known simply as "uMzwakhe". His dubbing and rapping in the township styles of marabi, kwela and mbaqanga were banned from the airwaves, but his poetry and songs had, and have, a life beyond state-approved and corporate media–on the lips of an enduringly oral culture. Because he continued to sing and perform while banned, Mzwakhe was forced underground. He did time in the dungeons and torture rooms of the South African police. In 1994 he delivered, in the amaZulu tradition, the praise-poem at Mandela’s inauguration:

I talk of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
The leader that stood the test of time
Like gold and diamonds.

Mzwakhe may have played state poet for a day, but the new South Africa was no more receptive to his fearless "reprezenting" than the apartheid government. The censorship and persecution continued. The Inkatha Freedom Party banned his 1996 album KwaZulu Natal, and he survived an assassination attempt. In 1997, when about to confront Mandela with evidence of police corruption and brutality under the ANC government, he was framed–quite egregiously–for armed robbery, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He found himself in the same death row block where he was tortured and held in solitary confinement in 1988. He was put in a cell with Januzs Walus, the white supremacist assassin of his friend Chris Hani. No surprise, perhaps, that Mzwakhe has written a poem called "Freedom Puzzle".

Tonight Mzwakhe is still not free, despite the long campaign at home in South Africa (muted by widespread fear of reprisals), and despite the international solidarity work by P.E.N. and Amnesty, and by Dorothy Flynn in Boston. And despite–finally–a prison visit from Mandela. There is hope of a release in November, but even so, unless he obtains a presidential pardon from Thabo Mbeki, neoliberal huckster for the free movement of goods and capital, Mzwakhe’s own free movement, and his ability to perform, will be seriously curtailed.

His pardon will not only be a blow for justice, in more than one sense, but will give heart to the banned and the censored everywhere, fighting against the proscribers, the impounders, the inquisitors, the commissars, and all those with their hands pressing on the hot lid of the boiling pot.

La lutta continua. Thank you.

For more on Mzwakhe click here.

Iain A. Boal, an Irish social historian of science and technics, teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. He can be reached at: iboal@socrates.Berkeley.EDU

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 30, 2015
Bill Blunden
The NSA’s 9/11 Cover-Up: General Hayden Told a Lie, and It’s a Whopper
Richard Ward
Sandra Bland, Rebel
Jeffrey St. Clair
How One Safari Nut, the CIA and Neoliberal Environmentalists Plotted to Destroy Mozambique
Martha Rosenberg
Tracking the Lion Killers Back to the Old Oval Office
Binoy Kampmark
Dead Again: the Latest Demise of Mullah Omar
Kathy Kelly – Buddy Bell
No Warlords Need Apply: a Call for Credible Peacemaking in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
Darker Horizons Ahead: Rethinking the War on ‘IS’
Stephen Lendman
The Show Trial of Saif Qaddafi: a Manufactured Death Sentence
John Grant
The United States of Absurdity, Circa 2015
Karl Grossman
The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press
Cesar Chelala
Cultural Treasures Are Also Victims of War
Jeff Taylor
Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon
Conn Hallinan
Ukraine: Close to the Edge
Stephen Lendman
What Happened to Ralkina Jones? Another Jail Cell Death
Rob Wallace
Neoliberal Ebola: the Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
Dmitry Rodionov
The ‘Ichkerization’ Crime Wave in Ukraine
Joyce Nelson
Scott Walker & Stephen Harper: a New Bromance
Bill Blunden
The Red Herring of Digital Backdoors and Key Escrow Encryption
Thomas Mountain
The Sheepdog Politics of Barack Obama
Farzana Versey
A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism
Norman Pollack
America’s Decline: Internal Structural-Cultural Subversion
Foday Darboe
How Obama Failed Africa
Cesar Chelala
Russia’s Insidious Epidemic
Tom H. Hastings
Defending Democracy
David Macaray
Why Union Contracts are Good for the Country
Virginia Arthur
The High and Dry Sierras
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, the Season Finale, Mekonception in Redhook
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz