I learned how to draw before I learned how to read and write. My mother bought a lot of colouring books and I tended to redraw the pictures that I saw in colouring books instead of learning to colour within the lines. When my father noticed this he and my mother encouraged my love for drawing, although my parents are avid gardeners and as a result named me Palesa, a Sotho word meaning flower. My parents always thought that I would pursue a career that had to do with plants or medicine. But whenever I was asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I would always say that I wanted to be a veterinarian.
I made plans earlier in my life to pursue a career in Nature Conservation, and at the age of 14 I found myself working at the Pretoria zoo on weekends and volunteered at the Die Veld Wild Life Cheetah Trust and dedicated most of my days to learning as much as I can about the natural environment. Apart from my school activities and the work I was doing on weekends; planning enrichment projects for animals, I would meet with my poetry and visual art friends at the Tshwaraganang Skills Center at Mabopane every Friday afternoon. The Tshwaraganang Skills Centre was established by the artists, Sello Malebye, Roy Ndinisa and Aubrey Motlhabi. This art centre provided a space as well as art material for children who were interested in art, and occasionally, we would have opportunities to visit museums and exhibit our artwork in galleries.
The Tshwaraganang art centre became a place where I would meet with like-minded individuals like my childhood friend Koketso Maifadi to write poetry, exchange books, create art and organize poetry readings. Myself and Koketso learned to organise poetry readings from a poetry collective that was based in Kgabalatsane called N.A.T.V an acronym for the founding members Nathaniel, Abbey. Tshepo and Vusimusi. Lefifi TladiBorn at Lady Selborne, Pretoria in 1949, Lefifi Tladi is visual artist, poet, jazz singer and drummer currently based in Sweden. Beyond his creative output, Tladi is known for his political activism during the apartheid era in South Africa. I situate Tladi’s work in the Black Consciousness canon not only because of its philosophical stance but also because of the relationship between Ga-Rankuwa/Pretoria art collectives during the 70’s and the Black Consciousness Movement met Koketso and I at the Tshwaraganang Skills Centre in in the year 2004, and we did not know who he was.
When we referred to him as “Ntante Lefifi” he responded; “we have come to know of many prophets, Jesus, Muhammed, Abraham…. have you ever heard anyone say Mr Jesus or Mr Muhammed? Call me Lefifi!”
Tladi chuckled after saying this as he always does after telling a joke, these were the first words that came out of his mouth and from that moment, he was one of us, he wanted to hang around us and we took him everywhere we went. We took Tladi to the poetry readings we organised, we took him to our homes and he attended and recited poetry at funerals if one of our family members/relatives passed away and we did the same whenever one of his friends or relatives passed away, we were always there, reciting poetry in times of joy and in despair. Tladi took us under his wing in the same year (2004), we had two schools, our regular school and everyday afterschool we would gather at Felix Tladi’s (Tladi’s late brother) house in Mabopane to write poetry. Bra Felix’s house was visited by Tladi’s children, family members, musicians and visual artists almost on a daily basis. On a regular day we would interact with Tladi’s late father Hosea Tladi, Collen Tladi, (Tladi’s brother), Antoinette Tladi (Tladi’s sister) etc and we also had the privilege of meeting and interacting with musicians such as Mohau Kekana, Duma Msuthwayo, Zim Nqawana and visual artists such as Isaak Nkoana, Motlhabane Mashiangwako, David Phoshoko, Gert Portgieter etc.
These artists’ homes were also our homes, we were fortunate to have a community of artists who always made themselves available to us and whose homes were always open for us. Both Koketso and I had accesses to Tladi and Motlhabane Mashiangwako’s book and music collection, and when we were not with Tladi, we would take the train to Mamelodi to visit Mashiangwako at his place and spend most of our time with him reading in silence for hours. Our teenage years were spent running poetry workshops and performing with Tladi and poets such as Kgafela oa Magogodi almost every school night and weekend, and in the audience I would always see our parents and the artists, Isaak Nkoana, David Phoshoko and Motlhabane Mashiangwako would dance and cheer us on as we recited poetry. All of these artists formed an integral part of our lives, we didn’t see or know them to be Black ConsciousnessShannen Hill in Biko’s Ghost: the Iconography of Black Consciousness (2015:XV) “Black Consciousness is an idea that means many things to people worldwide, but consistent among them is the belief that self-realization, a liberation of the mind is enhanced by identification with a particular history.” artists, they were just our uncles.
The first book that Tladi gave me to read was The Autobiography of Malcom X by Alex Haley (1965) and to Tladi’s surprise, I read it and finished it over the weekend and after giving us multiple books to read he decided to give us more tasks to challenge our mental capabilities. Tladi introduced us to the different types of poetry styles that he created and wanted me and Koketso Maifadi to write using these various methods of poetry writing. Tladi introduced us to:
Chain Poetry: Is when the last letter of each word is used to form the first letter of the following word.
Monosylabic Poetry: is formulated when the poet uses one syllable for each poem. For example, out of the syllables (A.E.O.U) the poet can use the syllable “A” and only use words that particular syllable for a specific poem.
Alphabet Sequence Poetry: Can be achieved when the poet creates poetry by using words that follow the alphabetical sequence eg, Africa’s Beauty Charms Dreaming Evangelists.
Palindromes: Words that can be read from both Sides, eg The word “Icici” can be read from both sides, Icici is a palindrome in Isixhosa and the word means earing.
Tladi also introduced us to the idea of word squares. Word squares are a set of words written out in a square grid and they can be read horizontally and vertically. In my teens I gravitated towards writing chain poetry and I managed to make 63 word squares.
Elysian Nuptuals – Chain Poem by Palesa Mokwena (2006)
Epistemophobic citizens shape decidophobic countries
Societies shielding governmental lunacies serve elitist turpitudes
Slaves seize eleutherophobic civilisations
Sordid dikephobic courts sentence egregious seditions
Spontaneous solicitors support taciturn natives
Spurious smiles sink laleidoscopic conversations
Sonic chambers sputter repetitious screeds
Simplistic chatter reflects social levities
Sesquipedatophobic columnists skip poetic cadence
Eluding gallant tendentious stories
Sardonic colloquiums satiate elusive exigencies
Septic coprophilic critics share elocutionist transmutations
Scatological literature expropriates semantic consciousness
Subliminal libels spook keen notaphilic constitutions
Scripophilic cooperation’s scrap pusillanimous staff for rebellious sybarites
Social libertines spoil lexical luxuriance’s
Servitude encumbers splendiferous stenography’s
Salons share exalted drawings
Saloons swallow writers
Stellar rhymes Shepard dismal linguists
Sham magniloquence exerts sterile encomiums
Swift tirades start Trojan novels
Scimitars skewer retaliating giants
Slaying gallant tyrants satisfies Spartan notions
Studying grammar redirects spiritual latitudes
Sporadic convalescing guerrillas secede Elysian nuptuals
Sanatoriums succeed divine entities
Secluding God dampens society’s spiritualism
Metrophobic citizens sear rhapsodomantic certitudes
Salacious stories scare emaculate ecclesiophobic congregations
Sombre emissaries satiate euphobic credulities
Scrupulous soldiers spare eminent trespassers
Savage elitism maintains.
Just like his versatility in poetry, we witnessed Tladi experimenting with different art materials and styles. We would often join Tladi as he created:
String Art – impressions made by dipping string in ink and placing the string on paper
Three Dimensional Collages – using books, cut out drawings
Photography- using negatives
Ceramic Art – Painting on Plates and mugs
Glass Art – Engraving images
Palette knife Painting
Wood and Metal Art (Sculpture)
Mokhopo – Setswana word that is used to describe the manner in which the Batswana women apply cow dung on the interior of their homes (on walls and floors) and the cow dung was/is applied by hand using circular motions. Tladi uses this motif in some of his art using oil paint on canvass.
Myself and Koketso Maifadi dedicated most of our youth to poetry. And this meant, reading daily, attempting to writing daily, and performing poetry with Tladi at one point on a daily basis. We were later joined by Bongani Mtshweni and Dimakatso Rapulane and Tladi gave us the name Amadlozi Poets. In my interview with Tladi, Tladi explained:
I had given you the name Amadlozi’s, Amadlozi of the Arts…those who will guide the nation’s artistic spirit.
We did not know why Tladi had given us that name and we did not think anything of it at the time, but 18 years later I am only beginning to realise/understand why this name was given to us and why Tladi and Mashiangwako were generous with their time and made space for us in their lives. In Dislocating the Body and Transcending the Imperial Eye: The Role of Abaphantsi, Through Izangoma, a Pioneer’s for Transformative Research Methodologies, South African Spiritual worker and scholar Tsoanelo Zwane (2021:22) explains:
Living with Dlozi (Amadlozi) spirits can be culmanative; meaning you may be born with a set number of ancestral spirits living with and within you, but that number can increase with time in your own evolution and with time in your own evolution and with the passing of spiritually gifted family members.
Zwane shares that having Idlozi or Amadlozi is a state where you share your body with other spirits, and being in this state allows one to have spiritual gifts and these may include having visions or having foresight, being able to diagnose illnesses, being able to pick up energies or the emotions of others etc. I can say today that both Tladi and Mashiangwako were not only artists but they were spiritually gifted individuals. And when Tladi chose to name our poetry group Amadlozi Poets, he already knew in the year 2004 that we were spiritually gifted children and I only became aware of this in the year 2022.
The lives of spiritually gifted individuals are not easy and it takes years to be able to cope and function in society.
I am thankful that I got to witness my teachers (Tladi and Mashiangwako) deal with their spirituality with strength and grace even if I did not know it then, but I have begun to realise that they have provided me with a template to navigate my challenges and awakening.
In this essay I look at both Lefifi Tladi and Motlhabane Mashiangwako as individuals who have contributed to South African Visual Culture and literacy. I situate both artists work in The Black Consciousness canon because of their work’s philosophical and political stance and because of the relationship between Ga-Rankuwa/Pretoria Collectives during the 70s and the Black Consciousness movement. In order to understand Tladi, it is also important to acknowledge the impact that Motlhabane Mashiangwako had on Tladi and vice versa. Both artistsf fed of each other and it is almost impossible to write about Tladi without mentioning Mashiangwako because they challenged one another and were equals on an intellectual, artistic and spiritual level.
The Black Consciousness Artists, Lefifi Tladi And Motlhabane Mashiangwako
“The only thing that is as complex as art is people and you cannot have art without people.”Nonhlanhla Mashiangwako
How do we position ourselves in the world without acknowledging our beauty and frailty? Multitudes of existences are defined and corroborated by time and space and yet time and space remain in a state of flux. The potentiality to exist at a specific time and place while still being able to reach other planes/dimensions of existence through consciousness, the subconscious, dreams, visions etc is nothing new, however this level of sensory perception is reached by few and only a limited amount of individuals bear these gifts. How can these gifts/abilities help us? What contributions can spiritual workers make in our society? And more importantly how has spiritual work shaped the ideology or artwork of the Black Consciousness artist?
Black Consciousness was not only a political movement but it was an organization that encouraged a culture of thinking and visual artists were at the forefront of instilling a culture of innovation and the formulation of a new human and world identity. Interestingly, in Fear of Black Consciousness, AfricanaLewis Gordon in An Introduction to Africana Philosophy (01:2008) explains that “Africana philosophy is a species of Africana thought, which involves theoretical questions raised by critical engagements with ideas in African cultures and their hybrid, mixed or creolized forms worldwide existentialistThomas Wartenberg in Existentialism: A Beginners Guide (147:2008) explains that “Existentialism, at least in its French version, is a deeply politically engaged philosophy whose adherents manifest a real concern with helping to eliminate the oppressive structures that keep human beings enslaved.”, Lewis Gordon (2022:55) states “If consciousness is associated with spirit or the light, then the prospects for blackness are at best dim.” Gordon pushes the reader to ask her/himself about the consciousness that is referred to when speaking about Black Consciousness.
The reader is struck with the realization that Black Consciousness is made up of two words, namely, the word black and consciousness, and in this instance the term black represents both a colour and racial identification. Gordon alludes to the fact that consciousness is a term known to represent spirit or light and one can say that when consciousness is used in relation to the colour black, consciousness itself runs the risk of being viewed negatively because one of the things that black people become aware of is that blackness is frownedMabogo More, in Biko: Philosophy, Identity and Liberation (42:2017) “In a racially white supremacist world, the consciousness of a person designated black invariably becomes a consciousness of a being whose humanity is perpertualy an issue.” upon and that we are born into an “anti-black world.”
And one can say that this factor contributes to the manner in which consciousness can be viewed in relationship with consciousness. In Biko: Philosophy, Identity and Liberation, South African existential philosopher, Mabogo More (2017:36) holds “Colour can be either a sign or a symbol.” More’s view on colourMabogo More, in Biko: Philosophy, Identity and Liberation (2017:36) “As a symbol, the colour black is viewed in the west and some other parts of the world as connoting negativity, and the colour white is viewed as connoting positivity. As a result, the two colours came to be conceptualized as oopositions. But this imposed opposition, to the exclusion of other colours, is not a visual one; it is strictly psychical and symbolic and even moral.” ) helps the reader to look at the colour black for its denotative and connotative values.
Meaning that while there is a literal meaning of the colour black, there is existing evidence of the suggestive (connotations) meaning of the term black or rather the term conjures up various emotions or thoughts which have contributed historically to both the denotations and negative connotations of the word. In other words the term has been racialised and the negative connotations have and still have bearing on how blackness is viewed.
According to More (2017:36) the negative connotations associated with blackness originate “from the bible and have persisted throughout the enlightenment and ultimately to modernity, and throught the associated systems of slavery, colonization and modern racism.” For More, various historical power structures of oppression have contributed negatively to how we perceive the term black and what it signifies and suggests. Cultural studies, or studies on Black Consciousness have expanded the manner in which we perceive the term black and how it is used as a racialized term. In Black Aesthetics, Paul Talor (2010:03) argues:
Black is not a colour but a condition. It is the condition of being racialized in certain specific ways – by social and cultural forces. Racialization in this sense is not a function of racial essences, biological or otherwise, but of contingent dynamics that have linked human appearance and ancestry to distinctive social, semiotic, and psychocultural locations.
Taylor explains that blackness is a condition, it is a state that is always in flux. And one can say that blackness as a state that is always ever changing has the potentiality to grow and shift from its previous position. However the state of the meaning of blackness is still steeped in its historicity. But movements such as Black Consciousness highlight why words (self-identification) are important and why the manner in which we perceive certain words has an impact on the quality of our lives.
The naming of the movement is itself an exercise that challenged and debunked stereotypes of blackness and afforded black people the opportunity to define themselves on their own terms. In other words, the naming of movements such as Black Consciousness birthed new creative productions that thrived and based black identity on new emerging ideologies that viewed blackness for its innovation, creativity and potentialities.
Based on the statement that Gordon posited earlier (“if consciousness is associated with spirit or the light, then the prospects for blackness are at best dim”) I unpacked the relation between the words black and consciousness and saw how our perception of blackness affect how we view or understand consciousness. But how do we understand consciousness without its connection to the word blackness? According to Wartenberg (2008:20)
“Consciousness is the only entity in the world that does not just exist, but also presents itself to itself as existing.”
Wartenberg explains that it is impossible for consciousness to exist on its own, its relational value ensures that its existence is always relative to another thing. In Phenomenology of Spirit, Georg Hegel (1977:52) expands on this concept by stating “Consciousness simultaneously distinguishes itself from something, and at the same time relates itself to it, or, as it is said, this something exists for consciousness; and the determinate aspect of this relating, or of the being of something for consciousness, is knowing.”
Wartenberg and Hegel’s extrapolations of consciousness are based on the relational value of consciousness, both writers emphasize how consciousness cannot exist on its own and how it relates itself to other things in the world but Hegel adds to his analysis that knowledge can be viewed as a framework of consciousness, meaning that to be conscious is to be aware or to be in a position of knowing. According to More (2017:40) “In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel pays serious attention to the concept ‘consciousness’ in the first three chapters of ‘self-consciousness’ in the fourth, It is these chapters that drew the attention of Biko and his comradesMabogo More, In Biko: Philosophy, Identity, and Liberation (2017:36) “Pityana recalls how he and his Black Consciousness comrades benefited from Hegel’s idea of consciousness: ‘looking back in time, it interests me that Hegel had become a very influential philosopher and sparring partner for those of us who were seeking answers, and out of which even more questions were, raised. The idea of consciousness is very Hegelian.” Nyameko Barney Pityana, b.1945 is a human rights lawyer and Theologian. Pityana is one of the founding members of the South African Students Organisation (SASO) OF Black Consciousness. .”
Black Consciousness Leader, Steve Biko as well as his comrades read widely, they read philosophical texts and were inspired by Pan African ideas. This together with emergence of resistance movements across the world helped launch their own ideas on Black Consciousness. One can say that although Black Consciousness followers studied and were inspired by various sources of knowledge, they fashioned a unique ideology that spoke of the South African Black condition from a unique perspective.
Having discussed the meaning of the terms Black and Consciousness, I am in agreement with More’s (2017:42) assertion that highlights that Black Consciousness is “ a consciousness that is aware of something, namely its blackness. People who are regarded by others and/ or regard themselves as black often speak of having a black self-consciousness (that is, a black self which serves to identify or distinguish them from others who consider themselves non-black.”
Simply, More explains that Black Consciousness is an awareness of one’s own blackness and this awareness is rooted in knowing blackness in its historicity and also being aware of how blackness tends to be perceived presently in the world. More (2017:47) adds that “Black Consciousness was fundamentally an existential attitude that required constantly making existential choicesMabogo More in, Biko: Philosophy, Identity and Liberation (2017:47) “An existential choice is a choice not of a goal but of oneself. One can, in this instance, existentially choose oneself as an activist of a movement.”.” Both More and Gordon’s work offers a unique perspective on the potentiality of existentialism as a philosophy, they show that it is not only limited to French writers, one can see its continuation in other parts and regions of the world.
Biko’s direct interest in the work of existentialists such as Frantz Fanon, who worked closely with existential writers such as Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, reveals Biko’s link to various forms of existential philosophy and one can say that his work marks a clear continuation of the existential tradition where human freedom is questioned and explored and where one’s human right of making choices is exercised. Wartenberg (2008:165) holds:
The existentialists approach oppression as a phenomenon to be explained in terms of the fundamental categories of human life. And this resulted in important insights into the nature of anti-semitic racism, sexism, and colonialism. But it also led to the existentialists personalizing their theories. Their own lives were shaped by their commitment to undercut oppression.
Existentialism is known for its strong focus on human freedom, one sees how existentialists like Sartre, de Beauvoir and Fanon developed their own unique perspective on the philosophy; Sartre was a prisoner of war and drew from his own personal experience, Beauvoir expanded existential philosophy by focusing on gender and drew from her own lived experience of being a woman in the world and on being a woman philosopher, and Fanon delved into the idea of colour, specifically on the idea of being black in the world. What these writers have in common is that they used other avenues or creative productions to bring their existentialism to life. Both Sartre and Beauvoir used fiction and Fanon used prose as an outlet to bring their political/philosophical ideas to life.
One can say that the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa depended heavily on art and artists. It used creative productions to bring the Black Consciousness Ideology into life. Creative productions of artists such as Motlhabane Mashiangwako and Lefifi Tladi are great examples of how the lived experiences and political/philosophical ideas can be transformed and reach various audiences. Both of these artists used theatre, poetry, music and visual art to express their Black Consciousness ideas.
In Biko’s Ghost:The Iconography of Black Consciousness, (2015:22) author Shannen Hill shares the insight that “among the great talents of this period is Motlhabane Mashiangwako (1945-2010). His artistic vision and professional decisions evidence black centredness ever since he first took up drawing at the Mphakati residence in 1974.” Known as Bra Si to those closest to him, Mashiagwako was born near Potgietersrust, he was tall in stature and was a man of few words. According to Hattingh (1990:19) “His love for the unusual was encouraged by the creative powers of his mother and her courage in venturing beyond conventional mural painting. She even used to carve designs on her walls. This motivated him never to deny himself the right to evolve creatively and to make his own unique contributions to art.”
Mashiangwako grew up surrounded by art, his mother’s mural painting were impactful on his creative outlook, one sees the connection to his mother’s mural painting by his interest in using soil/sand since African mural painting was/is still done on a sandy surface or a surface covered in cowdung. And his pursuit of learning about or creating new colours or colours that were originally used by mural painters in Africa or in cave paintings for example.
Mashiangwako was only 25 years old when he started drawing at the MphakatiFrieda Hattingh, in Oto La Dimo: Joint Retrospective Exhibition of Lefifi Tladi and Motlhabane Mashiangwako(09:1990) “In the early seventies the main base for a number of artists was the home of Geoff and Maokaneng (Stephina) Mphakati. This typical four-roomed house in Mamelodi west was undergoing extentions at the time and, though these were extensions of a different kind, they might be even regarded as symbolic, even prophetic: this house in transformation provided a vital creative nucleus for the artists. Motlhabane Mashiangwako, Lefifi Tladi, Gilbert Mabale, as well as the Johannesburg artists Fikile Magadlela, Dikobe Martins, Cyril Kumalo and the late Winston Saoli, used to frequent Geoff’s home where they worked together on a regular basis.” residence and this is the place where he first met the artist Lefifi Tladi in 1945. Tladi was only 22 years old when he met Mashiangwako and their friendship lasted for 39 years. In my interview with Stephina Maokaneng Mphakati, the widow of the late Geoff Mphakati, Mrs Mphakati in Mokwena (2021:04) shares:
Lefifi got inspired to draw and paint in my house by watching all of these artists, if he denies it then he is lying. Fikile and Mashiangwako were so strange, they would sometimes put a paper on the floor and walk all over it and those foot prints would end up being part of the artwork. Lefifi saw some of these things and thought that maybe he should give it a try. He would practice drumming and afterwards he would join Fikile and Motlhabane and try his hand at drawing. And Lefifi is the one who brought Fikile Magadlela to our home.
Mrs Mphakati credits Mashiangwako and Magadlela as the two artists that inspired Tladi to start drawing. Having being around both Mashiangwako and Tladi, I was aware of how close these artists were and they had a deep interest and admiration for each other’s work. In an interview with Mashiangwako’s son, Pone MashiangwakoPone Mashiangwako in Mokwena (04:2021) In black culture, when one passes on with a spiritual gift, if that person has children or lineage, it is going to go into the next one and I don’t know if I should say unfortunately but at one point I had to say unfortunately but it came to me and when it did I struggled for a very long time until I decided to embrace it and give into a higher energy” in Mokwena (2021:05) notes
“Lefifi made sure that every time he was with my father he would salvage something, he would make sure that you know…a great man like this – you can’t just let him go you learn whenever you can.”
Tladi would often go to Mashiangwako for advice and even for criticism on his poetry and visual art.
But Mashiangwako was not only a spiritual worker; his spirituality informs the basis of his views on Black Consciousness and his creativity. In an interview with Lefifi Tladi, Tladi in Mokwena (01:2022) shares that “Motlhabane believed that he was a healer, he was very open ended. He could venture into scary areas.”
I remember Mashiangwako as a kind hearted and generous person. He was an avid reader and had a passion for education and educating others. He was a peaceful person and treated every child like his own, his company had a positive effect on others because he was a positive and supportive person. In an Interview with Mashiangwako’s daughter, Nonhlanhla in Mokwena (02:2023) shares “My father’s name, Motlhabane… Motlhaba- is a type of earth or soil. So he was a conscious person interms of looking inwards. In terms of understanding what is out there.”
Mashiangwako was in touch with nature and dedicated most of his time to learning about the natural world. The name Motlhabane also means warrior and it is fitting because he was a resilient person, he fought many battles and came out victorious in most instances. Pone Mashiangwako in Mokwena (04:2021) explains that Motlhabane Mashiangwako
“Had reached an amazing level, he just knew things, he just communicated with anything. You could break off a branch of a tree and he would be sad. He would be like… ‘You are killing me, don’t do that!’ and you could see the pain in his eyes. This was a man who fully understood his spirituality and because it went into the cosmos.”
Pone Mashiangwako explains that Motlhabane Mashiangwako was as connected to people as he was to nature. Most traditional healers or spiritual workers are known for having the ability of sensing/reading the energies of others. Mashiangwako’s spiritual gift had a far greater reach. His connection to the natural world shows how connected we are to everything around us and how our sensory perceptions can help us understand humanity and the world better.
Pone Mshiangwako in Mokwena (2021:04) added that his father was a medicine man (Ngaka Tshupe) “Ngaka tshupe is not a Sangoma! No drums – no dancing. He was a medicine man, in English they would say apothecary. He knew medicine very well.” Mashiangwako’s knowledge of plants came from different sources. He studied and read about the natural world but he also received messages from spirits or ancestors about certain plants and their healing properties. Pone Mashiangwako in Mokwena (2023:03)
“Ngaka tshupe, apothecary or in Isizulu they would say Amakhehla. They get visions. They get dreams or they know specifically what to apply for that, so he was very spiritual to that point.”
Motlhabane’s spiritual work allowed him to know and understand people and the world in a deeper sense. And one sees his spiritual side coming to the fore in his visual art. Lefifi Tladi in Mokwena (2022:01) shares that Mashiangwako “Was always dreaming through his work.” And by this Tladi means that Mashiangwako’s work gives us the opportunity to enter into the world of his dreams, his visions and his life as he saw what is yet to come, what has already happened and what is presently happening in the world and in the lives of others.
His spiritual world presents a world of existences that most of us are not aware of and don’t have access to, and looking at this from a Black Consciousness perspective, one can say that Mashiangwako’s foresight and his ability to access past events in the world gave him more clarity on what is needed in the world. And the life that he lived and how he treated people and nature was exemplary of the state in which the world should be in. And that is a world where there is peace and harmony, a world where the spiritually gifted/African spirituality is celebrated/understood and not shunned.
According to Hattingh (1990:18) “A strict Christian upbringing contributed to his divided sense of being. His father, grandfather and maternal grandfather were priests. Traditional African religion, rituals, music and dance were forbidden territory to him, which meant he always felt cheated, normally sneaking away to observe these African activities from a distance.” One can only imagine how Mashiangwako grappled with his own gift as a healer while being struck by the awareness that traditional healing/spiritual work would be frowned upon by those closest to him. Mashiangwako would later become a MuslimNonhlanhla Mashiangwako in Mokwena (2023:04) “My dad was a Sufi muslim, his Islam had a bit of Africanism.” Nonhlanhla Mashiangwako has taken this path and is now a devoted muslim and wife. or join Islam and one can say that this also made him come to a better understanding of himself.
Pone Mashiangwako in Mokwena (2021:03) Motlhabane Mashiangwako “was the first Islamic leader in Mamelodi, the first church or the first mosque was in my home so after a while he just stopped. He felt like he still needed something more spiritual and was devoted to expanding his knowledge about the place that he exists on (earth)”. His curiosity about the origins of the earth, humanity and civilizations is in line with the ethos of Black Consciousness because being able to know and define oneself and it is a demonstrative of one’s independence and self-reliance.
One can also say that the Black Consciousness visual artists and their connection to spiritual work shows us that they understood that knowledge from an African perspective can come in various forms: knowledge could manifest itself in dreams, visions, energies, weather patterns etc. Black Consciousness artists understood how unique individuals are and knowing this they have demonstrated that given that individuals are different, we should employ various ways of teaching or passing knowledge since knowledge itself comes in different forms.
In Decolonising African Education, Khanyisile Litchfield Tshabalala (2009:01) explains that “for westerners, education has a Latin root, education, meaning a ‘breeding’, a ‘bringing up,’ a ‘rearing’; or it can be traced to another Latin root, educare; meaning to ‘bring up,’ to ‘rise’ to ‘nourish’.” Tshabalala shares that the root of the word education stems from the notion of caring, caring for oneself, others or things in the world.
The origins of the term education highlight how so much of human value is placed upon ensuring that something flourishes or grows and this makes one question what type of knowledge/education does one need to be given in order to flourish and grow?
Tshabalala(2019:01) emphasizes that “the Afrikan aim of education is to liberate Afrikan epistemology, to break asunder structural rascism, the axis of which is knowledge, and to gather it.” Tshabalala explains that there must be a strong focus on knowledge production in relation to the Afrikan continent, and in order to do this “scholars/Afrikans must examine the colonial history of Afrika as well as the sources of knowledge production in different historical periods.”
Being critical of knowledge production in Africa places us in a position where we can be able to create knowledge that “nourishes” and allows nations to grow. Tshabalala (2019:01) adds that “education is a process synonymous with upbringing, or as a way of shaping a child towards an acceptable system of being.”
I add that education is a consciousness-raising tool and access to education is a nation’s moral obligation to ensure and instil a lasting legacy of care and love.
12 years after Motlhabane Mashiangwako’s untimely passing I still find myself trying to put together some of the lessons and teachings that he shared with us as young artists and as an adult. To try to describe Mashiangwako as a person or to try to unpack the meaning behind his work of art and his poetry is a daunting task because he was a very intelligent and complex person. I have been growing more and more aware of Mashiangwako’s spiritual abilities, his ability to read a person and trace a person’s ancestral lineagePhilip Kubukeli, in Traditional Healing Practice Using Medical Herbs (1990:01) “Part of the Approach of traditional healing is its historic approach that views the patient as more than simply a sum of organ systems and neurophysiological hydraulics.” and see a person’s future and state of health.
Mashiangwako’s spiritual work allowed him to know and understand people on a deeper level. In hindsight I realize that his spiritual work allowed him to diagnose and or to know how to communicate and teach in a manner that would be most suitable to the people or students he interacted with. His teaching methods were solely based on the needs of the students he interacted with and the manner that the students approached learning. His awareness of the needs of those around him reflected the level of work that he put on his spiritual practice and how important spiritual work is, and continues to be, in various communities.
In Does Evidence Support Collaboration Between Psychiatry and traditional Healers? Findings from three South African Studies, Brian Robertson (2006:88) argues that “traditional healing uses an intuitive approach within an existential paradigm whereas western medicine uses an evidence based approach within a dualistic (mind/body) paradigm.” By comparing African Traditional healing practices to western medicine, Robertson provides his view of African health care in the modern world by examining African epistemologies from a western perspective.
This is necessary since Robertson’s aim is to explore the possibility of traditional/spiritual workers collaborating with western medicinal practitioners to meet the needs of patients based on the African continent. He concludes his essay by supporting the idea of collaboration between traditional/spiritual healers and medical doctors while still questioning the nature of this collaboration or rather, how this collaborationBrian Robertson in Does the Evidence Support Collaboration between Psychiatry and Traditional Healers? Findings from Three South African Studies (2006:90) explains “Collaboration with traditional healers should urgently be promoted, as they are clearly providing a significant mental health service to certain sectors of the population. However, much more knowledge needs to be gained, widely shared, and debated, about how traditional healers practice, and what form of collaboration would be most appropriate. To proceed in any other way, would be a disservice to our clients and to the health profession generally.” would work practically. In Indaba, my children: African Tribal History History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs, Credo Mutwa (1988:654) Argues :
The black man of Africa is a being who has puzzled the whole world, and it would appear that the more others try to learn something about the African, the further they drift from the truth. This is simply because all foreigners try to evaluate what they learn about Africans in terms of their own standards of civilization and social political thought.
Mutwa explains that very often, African knowledge systems tend to be ignored or dismissed because producers of knowledge usually provide explanations of African knowledges using foreign systems of knowledge production as the acceptable standard. Like Tshabalala, Mutwa’s sentiment suggests that it is necessary to examine African knowledge systems from an African perspective, in this way producers of African knowledge will be able to establish themselves independently without subscribing to foreign standards of knowledge production.
Continued in the next issue of herri.
|Born at Lady Selborne, Pretoria in 1949, Lefifi Tladi is visual artist, poet, jazz singer and drummer currently based in Sweden. Beyond his creative output, Tladi is known for his political activism during the apartheid era in South Africa. I situate Tladi’s work in the Black Consciousness canon not only because of its philosophical stance but also because of the relationship between Ga-Rankuwa/Pretoria art collectives during the 70’s and the Black Consciousness Movement
|Shannen Hill in Biko’s Ghost: the Iconography of Black Consciousness (2015:XV) “Black Consciousness is an idea that means many things to people worldwide, but consistent among them is the belief that self-realization, a liberation of the mind is enhanced by identification with a particular history.”
|Lewis Gordon in An Introduction to Africana Philosophy (01:2008) explains that “Africana philosophy is a species of Africana thought, which involves theoretical questions raised by critical engagements with ideas in African cultures and their hybrid, mixed or creolized forms worldwide
|Thomas Wartenberg in Existentialism: A Beginners Guide (147:2008) explains that “Existentialism, at least in its French version, is a deeply politically engaged philosophy whose adherents manifest a real concern with helping to eliminate the oppressive structures that keep human beings enslaved.”
|Mabogo More, in Biko: Philosophy, Identity and Liberation (42:2017) “In a racially white supremacist world, the consciousness of a person designated black invariably becomes a consciousness of a being whose humanity is perpertualy an issue.”
|Mabogo More, in Biko: Philosophy, Identity and Liberation (2017:36) “As a symbol, the colour black is viewed in the west and some other parts of the world as connoting negativity, and the colour white is viewed as connoting positivity. As a result, the two colours came to be conceptualized as oopositions. But this imposed opposition, to the exclusion of other colours, is not a visual one; it is strictly psychical and symbolic and even moral.” )
|Mabogo More, In Biko: Philosophy, Identity, and Liberation (2017:36) “Pityana recalls how he and his Black Consciousness comrades benefited from Hegel’s idea of consciousness: ‘looking back in time, it interests me that Hegel had become a very influential philosopher and sparring partner for those of us who were seeking answers, and out of which even more questions were, raised. The idea of consciousness is very Hegelian.” Nyameko Barney Pityana, b.1945 is a human rights lawyer and Theologian. Pityana is one of the founding members of the South African Students Organisation (SASO) OF Black Consciousness.
|Mabogo More in, Biko: Philosophy, Identity and Liberation (2017:47) “An existential choice is a choice not of a goal but of oneself. One can, in this instance, existentially choose oneself as an activist of a movement.”
|Frieda Hattingh, in Oto La Dimo: Joint Retrospective Exhibition of Lefifi Tladi and Motlhabane Mashiangwako(09:1990) “In the early seventies the main base for a number of artists was the home of Geoff and Maokaneng (Stephina) Mphakati. This typical four-roomed house in Mamelodi west was undergoing extentions at the time and, though these were extensions of a different kind, they might be even regarded as symbolic, even prophetic: this house in transformation provided a vital creative nucleus for the artists. Motlhabane Mashiangwako, Lefifi Tladi, Gilbert Mabale, as well as the Johannesburg artists Fikile Magadlela, Dikobe Martins, Cyril Kumalo and the late Winston Saoli, used to frequent Geoff’s home where they worked together on a regular basis.”
|Pone Mashiangwako in Mokwena (04:2021) In black culture, when one passes on with a spiritual gift, if that person has children or lineage, it is going to go into the next one and I don’t know if I should say unfortunately but at one point I had to say unfortunately but it came to me and when it did I struggled for a very long time until I decided to embrace it and give into a higher energy”
|Nonhlanhla Mashiangwako in Mokwena (2023:04) “My dad was a Sufi muslim, his Islam had a bit of Africanism.” Nonhlanhla Mashiangwako has taken this path and is now a devoted muslim and wife.
|Philip Kubukeli, in Traditional Healing Practice Using Medical Herbs (1990:01) “Part of the Approach of traditional healing is its historic approach that views the patient as more than simply a sum of organ systems and neurophysiological hydraulics.”
|Brian Robertson in Does the Evidence Support Collaboration between Psychiatry and Traditional Healers? Findings from Three South African Studies (2006:90) explains “Collaboration with traditional healers should urgently be promoted, as they are clearly providing a significant mental health service to certain sectors of the population. However, much more knowledge needs to be gained, widely shared, and debated, about how traditional healers practice, and what form of collaboration would be most appropriate. To proceed in any other way, would be a disservice to our clients and to the health profession generally.”