“[M]ass work requires its culture”— which is to say,… working on the masses must work to counter the dominant culture. In this passage, from Molaodi wa Sekake’s 2021 Meditations from the Gutter, I understood his words to also mean, ‘converting the masses’: generally me and you, to revolutionary subjects: arguably, the likes of Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and Mcebo Dlamini. The author sifts this analysis-cum-intervention after a marathon diagnosis cum lament. The deplorable state of being black in the world, note: not merely South Africa, but, in an abstracted sense (as opposed to empirical sense), the whole FUCKEN world, is lock, stock and barrel of the 121-page longwinded lament. This section is one of four that span a volume of sixteen folios just shy of 400 pages. Sekake further elaborates that what is needed to change this decrepit state, is “[a culture that espouses] political, moral and spiritual infrastructure against the prevailing logic of injustice… [a culture poised against the] dominant political, social and economic system.” Sekake then fancies that his prognosis of black social ailments and inoculation strategies ought to be accompanied by commensurate alms.
I pause here to consider that.
Sure, what good is an intellectual if for not wiggling his brainstem wand into shock therapy punchlines or dry humour? Indeed, in the broadest sense of easing the dis-eases of black life, Sekake disappoints not, as he figures that the silver bullet to the decrepit state refrain, is “a narrative” that “should be collectively crafted and understood by the oppressed.”
‘Really?’…, I wonder—“a narrative”, just one?
Well, to ward off the disabuse of this bony frame, Sekake thickens his single narrative plot recommendation with this caveat, “not [crafted] by ‘clever ideologues’ who merely push quotes down people’s throats.” Like a good evangelist preacher, he turns the double-edged sword of his curative outline in. He cuts not just his reactionary foes, he also knifes his unreflective converts ala comrades, within. To that end, he writes, “[W]e must be wary of being part of any action merely to tick the roster of ‘I’m on the ground, I’m no armchair critic’.”
I cull about six lines which I string in quotation beats and the patchwork I call ‘the opening paragraph’, above. All six lines, Facebook-post-friendly quips, cram page-48 of the paperback. My wild guess is that this book began its journey as a Facebook post: Disjointed, mulched into a padkos of soundbites, beat into a blog cum emoji-harvesting killjoy woke-evangelism. Only in the quarter-mark of section one, [of four], does the book muster a modicum of stirring something in me up. From this point on, the words jump off the page, and the author’s craftsmanship carries something approaching weighty. More than that, the writing proceeds to connect. For a week and a half, I had been trudging up a steep hill of unforgivingly underwhelming text, until, as I’m trying to make apparent, … until, I culled the said six lines.
When the said page had washed through my cranky flows and my jagged ebbs, I could cut through the drabby bits of:
i) motivational, self-help cum stream of consciousness the author calls “musings from below”;
ii) interviews— more musings with individuals the author calls “ontological infidels”;
iii) poetry – decent journaling lines but journaling no-less and,
iv) Facebook posts— 95% of which are ruminations already published by Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta portal, between February and July 2021.
I rode the underworld on a coffee-diet rider to inconclusive conclusions, end notes, in-text and bibliography referencing,… all the way to the very last diary entry: Elder Rubin. Here I find what I consider the liner notes of the LP (long) lament. It opened with John Meyer’s, Waiting for The World to Change.
“me and my friends,
it’s not that we don’t care,
we just know that the fight ain’t fair,
so we keep on waiting… (for the world to change).”
No, I lie! Although the ring of “me and my comrades”, in the opening lines of Elder Rubin’s story, may pluck from the lyrics, to sum up the gulf of crass opulence, and utter squalor, between birds of the same struggle credential feathers, John Meyer’s hymnal was spared.
If Sekake had, with no care to the leftwing aficionado line, cobbled the counter-culture imaginary I glean (in the opening paragraph), to the hung-to-dry innards he lets us in on, something far more compelling would have marked the text. As Ebrahim Harvey elsewhere laments Rubin Rashid Hare’s under-appreciated life, he writes “the post-apartheid South Africa was not kind to so many who sacrificed so much [including Rubin Hare] for liberation.” Minus Sekake’s longwinded, undecided stream of consciousness, black decrepit state pressed in 121-page wallow…, Something all-too-human is left in the wake here: Something in the visceral airs with which he, Sekake, captures his gutted response. And that righteous rage is triggered by seeing Rubin Rashid Hare like this, in a word, a malunde.
A quality of flux and indeterminacy ebbing the low registers of a language undercut: one denied by the official status and symbolic purchase of highly guarded standpoint epistemologies— the resistance tradition speak, the official speak ala Marxism and Black Consciousness— contests for a home here. The ‘gutter’ dweller, the ‘ontological infidel’, the now malunde touted to have been second in Command to SASO president in the early 70s, warrants serious meditation. If not Rubin Hare’s own articulate words, then the guttural cries of Mankunku Ngozi’s Yakhal’ Inkomo ought to bellow the call, to account.
If Oliver Tambo ferreted dustbins or slept at Mcebo Dlamini’s couch, nay, Mojanku Gumbi’s cottage, in his old age— which, without an iota of contradiction or hyperbole, is how Molaodi Sekake, the activist, found Rubin Hare,… stranded, at a university conference, in 2014, in his old age— any sane person would be curious to pick bones at claims of solidarity in struggle. Similarly, why did such a sensitive soul, a selfless man, a talent of tremendous feats and gifts, come to be “disbarred from practising as a lawyer and hitting hard times”, as Moemedi Kepadisa — former National Education Commissar of AZAPO— laments, and no-one bats an eye of compassion?
The life of barred entry points to a semblance of normal, the lot of tightening nooses of want (in our social pecking order), the broken will to power of too many berated elders, the marginal life that scavenges for sound minds and imaginative souls, the life of Elder Rubin: squeezed to the limit, and made to succumb to all these social affixations, and ultimately death, in November 2019, is a cause for deep inward-looking.
After all, Biko does say, “Black Consciousness is an inward-looking philosophy”, a self-reflexive vocation.
If Sekake’s book project forces us to think about how a life lived for the greater good of others solicits contempt and humiliation in its sunset of dissolution, then he has outdone himself. We are better off mulling over this: What we cannot achieve in the unbending lines of affiliations, we must make up for in more open ties that bind us, the “moral and spiritual infrastructure against the prevailing logic of injustice.” What seems to be the general takeaway, as the preacher, Sekake here, turns to the choir, is that the converts of the cause must not fall on their class blind-spots/unconscious (or consciousness crutches). The message is that, if the path of struggle makes comrades see gutter dwellers like Rubin as inconvenient, cumbersome nuisances who “demand too much”— as is wont to be said by comrades who betrayed the cause, and Rubin by extension— then self-reflection is not a luxury of armchair analysts, but an indispensable artillery of struggle!