Go ipona seiponeng sa menagano e menaganeng. Go ba le bokgoni ba go itlhatholla, go ipala ntle le go ipalla. Go lemoga boteng ba leihlo la monagano le ka mo le iponagatsang ka mo Motho o Itshwarang ka teng. Boitshwaro. Boinagano.
Seeing yourself in the mirror of your recurring thoughts. Having the ability to decipher yourself, reading your essence without reading to yourself. Realizing the presence of the mind’s eye that can be seen in the way a human being composes one’s self. Conduct. Self reflection.
Boitiragatsi ba botaki ba Lefifi Tladi bo balega botoka gebo tlhaloganywa bo theilwe ke tlhotlhomatso ya Boitemogelo ba Botho bo Botoka. Boitemogelo bo bo tokafatsa ke, go ya ka keletso Ntate Geoff Mphakati, ke go boitiisetso ba boitemogelo bo Motho o ikanang ka bona, bo o inaganang ka bona. Go inaganela botoko ke go itokollosa. Mme boitiisetso bo bo ka bonwa mo boipoelletsong, Ka go boelletsa meetlo e bohlokwa mo Boitlhoding ba Botho ba Motho. Boipelletso bo isa Boipuellong le boikarabelong, mo boipusong ba nnete bo bonagalang ka boipuselletso bo itlholang sefsa. Go bona boithlodi bo re ka itlhola pakeng tsa go tlhaloganya meetlo ya Malopo, e leng ona(malopo) tlahlosang mediro e boitiragatsi bo re lekang go bo tlhatholla.
Lefifi Tladi’s artistic activity can be best comprehended when it is understood to be founded on an elevation of the state of consciousness of becoming a better human being. This state of being conscious is reified, according to Mr. Geoff Mphakati, as a commitment to the consciousness to which one dedicates one’s self. Self-liberation is a process of constantly magining better ways of being. And this commitment can be seen in self-expression, by reiterating rituals in the ongoing re-affirming of one’s own Humanity. This reiterated practice leads to a sense of articulation and responsibility for one’s self, wherein true independence is reflected through the repetitive practice of re-inventing and recreating the Self. To experience this re-creation, we can examine and reinvent ourselves within an understanding the traditions of Malopo ritual practices, which are the ones that describe the work of the artistic activities that we seek to decipher.
Boitiragatso bo ke modiro wa boitemogelo ba boimamello, bo e leng peu ya boitshebelletso, le boitshebo bola ba boipuello ba boipuso. Boitshebo bo lekanang le tsebe tsa Tlou, di utlwang modumo wa mothalo o foufatsang ba se nang menwana ya boiphopholo bo sa phopholetseng . Go ipha pholo ntle. Boiphopholo ba meropa ya matlalo a bomamanthane ,eo e foufatsang bao ba tlhokang leitlho la boraro. Ga re imameleng, ka lengwe lentswe, “Ga re Itshebeng”.
This artistic activism is the function of a self-reflective consciousness, which bears the seed of self-determined actualisation, along with a self-articulating independent introspection. The Introspective voice is equal to an Elephant’s ear, which hears the sound of a line that blinds those who have no fiddling fingers to place on the beating pulse. To heal one’s self with indubitable precision. A caress of bat-skinned drums, which blind those without a third eye. Let’s listen to ourselves, in other words, “Let us deliberate with ourselves”.
Return to innersense. A Renaissance.
“One must not only be (Black) conscious, one must also be committed to their consciousness.”Geoff Mphakati
Some roughly 20 years ago, I found myself leaning heavily into the art of language as a part of refining my drive for the written and spoken word. This interest was highlighted in numerous ways in my youth that included the writing of letters to young girls who caught my fancy, secondly it showed up in my interest in the art form of lyricism through hip hop. This interest in Hip hop and lyricism led me to a practice of reading possibly far ahead of my full comprehension at the time. I remember digging through my science teacher’s book shelf looking for books on various concepts that could boost my vocabulary and a richer appreciation for diction. In search of throwing the most complex words into the regular cyphers we participated in I leaned deeper into books about philosophy and thought. A book I picked out, Perspectives in Philosophy was one that never quite made its way back to the bookshelves. I found myself wrapped up a series of internal conversations with old white folks like Descartes and introduced to thinkers such as Kant. As coincidences often live true to their meaning, this was a path that would have me soon crossing minds with Lefifi Tladi.
On one evening we attended a session at the South African State Theatre where I met up with the poet Khalif the Black Seed, a GaRankuwa-born creative and better known today as the writer Percy Mabandu. We exchanged words of congratulations for a great experience and introduced our collective Azali Nuru. As always we used the moment to invite each alluring poet we met to our readings and sessions. One of the attendants of our sessions, after attending only a few sessions, noted that there seemed to be a monotony that was beginning to plague the poetry circles and sessions.
If you had been to one in Pretoria, you had been to all, the same could also be said for Jozi. Out of our keenness to improve this condition, myself and partner Donald set out to start hosting a series of poetry workshops and writing workshops where we would seek to connect outside of the performative sessions to try and improve the quality of the offerings. It is during the series of workshops that a parallel program arose from within Azali Nuru to host workshops and a poetry competition for schools in Phelindaba. At this time Mabandu suggested we enlist the help of Ntate Lefifi Tladi, who in his first presentation of the workshop introduced us to a couple of concepts that have stayed with me since.
Word Consciousness and Depth of thought as tools for poetry writing.
With growth I have seen these as tools for myth making, understanding philosophy and cultural practice as a whole.
Ntate Lefifi’s passion for teaching and running these workshops meant that he would help us facilitate these workshops, along with his assistant Dimakatso Rapulane who at the time wrote circles around most of us who considered ourselves good poets, at no cost. Our best offer was that we would offer them transportation to and from Mabopane. And on these rides was often where the most learning experiences occurred for me. I would often find myself marvelling at the non-figurative graphic creations hung around his Ntate Lefifi’s home. I returned to Mabopane numerous times after that to continue this out-of-school apprenticeship with Ntate Lefifi. And the extended workshop has carried on as a conversation over the years and has offered me a chance to come to grips with the overall significance of the work of Ntate Tladi.
It was during this time that I was studying graphic art and visual communications at The Open Window arts academy. It was in this way too that I was impacted by the cultural practices of Ntate Lefifi Tladi, and his collective community of creatives that include Sir Ike Nkoana, Motlhabane Mashiangwako and Morris Legoabe, to mention those few whose work I have gotten to and continue to study and draw inspiration from. As an art student seeking to learn how to perfect figurative representation my perceptions of what constituted great art was shifted by this engagement with the way this collective thought about the arts. A well-known and accepted point is that these artists and creatives pinned their creations to the liberation artistic practices and contributed to the cultural expressions of Black consciousness. And one cannot speak of this collective without the mention of Ntate Geoff Mphakati, whose influence on these creatives and others is seminal to say the least.
We introduced this piece with a quote by Ntate Mphakati accordingly and would like to engage and unpack my thoughts around Lefifi Tladi’s work in line with this leading thought surrounding consciousness and with a particular focus on words as tools in language as cultural signifiers. We will also seek to unpack and not so much to translate the opening preface to the piece which is written in SeTswana. The code in the Setswana text is written for the self-realisation of those who comprehend it, and to comprehend it in its fullest one must be a speaker of, or be intimately familiar the tongue through which it is written. This language must have a place in all levels of their consciousness, including the unconsciousness. It is often said, in jest, that your subconscious language is determined by what language you dream in. This is in fact the language with which you conduct the sub-conscious and perhaps even unconscious thought.
We will however make the concession to illustrate the profundity of these thoughts in English. We will make an effort to paraphrase as best as is possible to locate meaning in the interest of common understanding of these concepts as conceived by those who artfully formed the SeTswana terms and the philosophies they carry. Though we have to clarify, the piece in Setswana is written in the context of boitshebo, as part of an introspective conversation. In some instances the poetic weight of the words is found within the alliterated utterances that draw on common roots and phonetics. As can be seen in the words boitshebo (introspection) and boitshebelletso (service to self).
During the poetry workshops, Lefifi Tladi made us aware of the point that poetry was in fact a series of proverbs that were interwoven, and that any line in a stanza, or composition that could stand on its own could be seen as a proverb. In the SeSotho Languages a proverb is called Seema, or diema plural. The root of the word here is ‘ema’ which means to stand or to wait. Thus we could say seema sa ikemela. A proverb stands for itself, and is a self-sustained thought. And on one of our subsequent late night conversations, he opened up an A5 notebook in which he had started to compose these proverbs, not as part of poetic stanzas, but as standalone philosophical punchlines. And the first he shared was also a reinvention of an old saying which could be seen to be toxic to the communal psyche.
The saying “Mphemphe ya lapisa, motho o kgonwa ke sa gagwe” which loosely translated means that, “constantly asking for assistance can grow tiresome, and one is better served by having their own”. This saying in this form negates the communal nature of existence a botho posits it. The remedial adage that Lefifi Tladi proposes reads “Mphemphe ga e lapise, motho o kgonwa ke selegae, go hloka selegae, ke go tlhoka sa gago”. Which translates to say, “asking for help should not be tiresome, when one has a sense of communal belonging and homeliness, for in the lack of this community one cannot truly have anything to own.”
Another of these proverbs that formed part of a collection that was turned into prints as a dedication to artists reads, “Ke nako ya go taka ka Leleme la setso” (it is time to create using our cultural/native tongues). To date the composition of proverbs numbers beyond 10 000 new proverbs, ranging through a myriad of social commentaries on the current conditions, to recommendations for futuristic improvised ways of thinking, ecological observations as well as one line dedications to artists and other contemporaries of his. With these the artist, poet and philosopher Lefifi Tladi exemplifies the importance of the artist in shaping cultural ways of thinking and indicates his commitment to his state of consciousness.
“Ke nako ya go Taka ka leleme la setso.”Lefifi Tladi
Art (culture) is a methodical practice of making consciousness memorable. In our attempts to find definitions for the creative systems that are to be found in the forms of figurative and non-figurative speech and in the spirit of consciousness focused in the singular word, we zone in on the title Boitemogelo. The word can be translated to awareness, consciousness and self-determination or realization. The use of the word in SeTswana affords us the ability to create systemic definitions that do not lend themselves too deeply to colonial mindframes.
Consciousness : noun
1. the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings/environment
Of course the proposition of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was initiated out of the awareness that the black condition was not entirely conducive to facilitating a quality of life out of which a people could freely self-realise. The term Boitemogelo, implies more than just a state or moment of stasis as per the concise dictionary definition. A great part of what begins to be praxis-driven largely by culture, is the process of meaning-making from what we perceive, or feel. It underpins a De-Aesthetic approach as framed by Tumi Mogorosi to Black expression, perhaps in our general focus on the various signifiers we use it is De-Semiosis of Black metaphysical existence.
The conception of this committal state, especially of one’s state of mind could lead us to thinking about the kinds of asylums we find ourselves forcibly committed to by colonial thought. In our quest to understand the works of the artists who were mentored by Ntate Mphakati we need to dispel one of these asylums into which Black art in South Africa has been thrust into. The Township. Lefifi is known to often state in jest that
“The township is the only ship that never sets sail”.
The dissociation and transcendence beyond this township-ism is a necessity because it most times seems to be equated with all Black cultural productions that emerge from artists who were forcibly located into that space.
We refer to the township space both as a concrete physical space as well as a mental frame of mind.
The transcendence is necessary in order to refine the definitions of the Black conscious cultural traditions that arose in the 70’s as well as possibly to locate and trace artists who would have been dealing with some of the spiritual and cultural forms of creation during the period when the township definition took hold in the colonial gaze.
Parts of these township definitions have in fact been found to infiltrate thought systems associated with Black consciousness, where there is this obsessive focus on the Black condition. This can and has been viewed as a form of stagnation in thought. It has spewed forms of art that can be related to struggle and other forms of poverty porn and Black traumatic experiences without offering remedial solutions. This in some sense is one way of defining consciousness as is concisely found in the Oxford dictionary.
In the SeTswana preface we make use of a particular device in the language found in the word boitemogelo in the prefix of the word we make use of ‘bo’, which speaks to an active state of being. When followed by the letter ’i’, it infers to the activating force of the self that sets this state of being into motion or in action, finally the root, ‘temogelo’, from the verb go lemoga directs the self to act on a particular sense of the state of being that the self in question is aware of.
Digging deeper still into the word we find the verb ‘go lema’ or ‘tema’, which means to cultivate, as one does in the planting fields. To add to this connection of roots emerges the geometric Azanian writing system of ‘Ditema tsa dinoko’ which works by signifying phonetic origins of words spoken within the oral cavity, created as we know by moving and placing the tongue (leleme) .
These devices in language of word construction are used numerous times with various roots that we will try to unravel in order to illustrate which direction this state of consciousness ought to be committed and, most crucially, regarding the creations of Lefifi Tladi and his emphasis on consciousness and refining the senses by way of the arts.
“In order to educate the imagination. The creative has to learn to deal with the world of things, events, people; open up all the pores of the body, bombard the sense organs until they cannot help but register impressions that press against them, and must try to make meaning out of them”Es’kia Mphahlele
In our reading of the combined prefix “boi” is actually the beginning of a self-realising consciousness on its own and the root that follows defines the state. We can take for instance the word Boitiragatsi which we would equate to creative artistic actualisation, with the root verb here being “dira” meaning ‘doing’ or making. Within the creative frame the state of mind and consciousness is involved in the making of the self, through the arts, in order to transfigure the conscious being into an elevated form of perceiving, from which one can then commit to doing better and improving the act of goitiragatsa.
“Boitemogelo bo bo tokafatsa ke, go ya ka keletso Ntate Geoff Mphakati, ke go boitiisetso ba boitemogelo bo Motho o ikanang ka bona, bo o inaganang ka bona. Mme boitiisetso bo bo ka bonwa mo boipoelletsong, Ka go boelletsa meetlo e bohlokwa mo Boitlhoding ba Botho ba Motho. Boipelletso bo isa Boipuellong le boikarabelong, mo boipusong ba nnete bo bonagalang ka boipuselletso bo itlholang sefsa.”
Depth of Thought – Boinagano
The quest to finding these philosophies at home is in a search of finding systems that better edify concepts we first encounter in education, with its colonial leanings. Unravelling these meanings of systems requires one to define and refine the process of meaning-making through thought as a key function of consciousness in relation to what is being perceived through the elevated senses, in order to elevate the state of consciousness. Ntate Es’kia Mpahlele emerges again and is quoted to say “I feel what I think: I think what I feel”, indicating a certain level of immersion in the process of thought which, we are reminded by Lefifi, through the process of poetic thought is the depth of thinking. The root verb in the word boinagano, which is “go ina”, means to deepen. Implying that thought by definition occurs in the depths of consciousness. Another use of the root is found in Leina/maina meaning name or names, or more pointedly towards the naming conventions that arise from a depth of systemic imaginative thought characterised by art practices aimed at consciousness raising.
To Return – Boipuso – Boipuselletso – Boitiisetso
We return again to the lessons by Ntate Mphakathi, as stated above, that one’s consciousness requires to be committed to and in SeTswana we use Boitiisetso meaning self-affirming. We state that this self-affirmation that one can engage consciousness in, is seen through the practice of Boipuselletso, (repetitive practice and return to self) which enters one into the realm of ritual as the praxis through which self-invention consciously occurs, or in this case, re-invention.
Amilcar Cabral speaks on this matter of a “Return to the source” as being crucial in the processes of revolution, which are the auspices under which the Black Consciousness Movement arose. We would here love to defer to his own awareness of the matter in relation to the sociological struggle that then ensues between the class systems that colonialism breeds amongst the oppressed and how we can then draw parallels between what he speaks about and the South African cultural situation at the height of the birthing of Black Consciousness and how it is viewed now, with a particular focus on culture, memory, and the arts.
“The fact that independent movements are generally marked, even in their early stages, by an upsurge of cultural activity, has led to the view that such movements are preceded by a “cultural renaissance” of the subject people. Some go as far as to suggest that culture is one means of collecting together a group, even a weapon in the struggle for independence”Amilcar Cabral
Cabral further illustrates how the social class structures that arise between what becomes the native ruling class and the masses in the rural areas, where the latter remain untouched or “almost untouched” or unaffected by the colonial forces and therefore become the custodians of this culture to which the urbanised native along with the ruling classes must then return to.
“The above argument implies that generally speaking there is not any marked destruction or damage to culture or tradition, neither for the masses in the subject country nor for the indigenous ruling classes (traditional chief, noble families, religious authorities). Repressed, persecuted, humiliated, betrayed by certain social groups who have compromised with the foreign power, culture took refuge in the villages, in the forests, and in the spirit of the victims of domination. Culture survives all these challenges and through the struggle for liberation blossoms forth again. Thus the question of a “return to the source” or of a “cultural renaissance” does not arise and could not arise for the masses of these people, for it is they who are the repository of the culture and at the same time the only social sector who can preserve and build it up and make history.”Amilcar Cabral
Anyone who was aware of the many utterances about culture around the times of Thabo Mbeki’s time in the presidency would remember hearing about the African renaissance. This is probably something that was lost in the times long before there was even a clear ruling class in the form that we see it today. The returners of today were possibly lost in the age of Black condition art, or struggle art as well as Township art. Much fuss is made about the unimaginative representational trauma art of the Apartheid era, and very little is said about the liberation art practices of the Black Consciousness cultural contributions and we suspect this to be by design.
We can attach to Cabral’s thinking that in the South African context, within the urban environments of the townships, the one space where the cultural mind has been left somewhat untouched is in language and our assertion to drive home Lefifi Tladi’s lesson on word consciousness is made clear.
“Ga re Itshebeng” is a call for us to introspect and to dream in our own tongues.
Boitshebo (introspection that becomes Boitshebelletso service to the growth and development of the collective self).
Boimamello (listening to/perceiving from the inner senses) which could poetically be rephrased as fuelling the weight of the fires that burn within our Being (bothong ba rona) go ima mello e llang madinng a elang ele medumomello e tswang mo go beteng ga dipelo tsa rona – to conceive and be pregnant with the flaming frequencies that murmur in our blood flowing as reverberations from our heartbeat.
The “return” in boitemogelo is autonomous, it is mastered and effortless, it is a fact of being without the burden of decolonising proofs and gazes. It is at the instance of the realisation and the awareness no longer boipuselletso (repetition) it is and stands as Boipuso (independence).
“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was… The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.Milan Kundera 1929 – 2023  During the time of the writing of the article, Milan Kundera died on the 12 July 2023. And this quote emerged as part of the prominent narratives around his contributions, further emphasising the importance of culture in the processes that include a struggle, and most importantly in the independent thought-making, self-defining and determinant endeavours that must follow. It is our humble understanding and conviction that the seeds of these must be planted in actionable conscious cultural thought.
|During the time of the writing of the article, Milan Kundera died on the 12 July 2023. And this quote emerged as part of the prominent narratives around his contributions, further emphasising the importance of culture in the processes that include a struggle, and most importantly in the independent thought-making, self-defining and determinant endeavours that must follow. It is our humble understanding and conviction that the seeds of these must be planted in actionable conscious cultural thought.