The Mandela story ends where it began

Nelson Mandela. (Pic: AFP)
(Pic: AFP)

The way the Mandela story ended was the greatest comfort I could have ever been given. I could say that his funeral was the greatest gift that could have been given to the people that gave birth to him. It was the greatest tribute to Africa. Something about it was cheeky, it spoke more about the soul of the man who would become famous as the darling of the world. The Mandela who had been sown to everyone else but the Eastern Cape would choose his final resting place to be in the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape. Struggle heroes such as Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Chris Hani who all hailed from the rural Transkei were buried in Johannesburg.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, that great giant whose Xhosa name is often misunderstood by the international community, was buried in the region where his umbilical cord lies. This man was not like the men in his village who may have only lived in one place their whole lifetime. This man was once sentenced to life in prison far away from his people, where he was never supposed to see the hills on which he once played or walked. As a free man he became president and he was revered the world over. He has seen the most beautiful places and the worst places in the world. He was celebrated and continues to be the most celebrated human being that has ever walked the earth within their lifetime yet, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela chose Qunu as the place of his final rest. Rolihlahla means “to pull a branch”, which means to cause trouble. African languages revel in idioms and proverbs and his indigenous name is no different. His father named him on purpose. Mandela caused much trouble to the apartheid system until it was brought to an end. As a freed leader Mandela caused trouble with his own people, challenging them to be at peace in a time that was supposed to be marked by bloodshed. In Patricia de Lille’s words: “Many of us believed that we would shoot our way to Pretoria. but he [Mandela] convinced us to talk.”

Mandela famously instructed a heated stadium to throw away their weapons into the sea. He was causing trouble, the kind of trouble that is character-building and takes people to new heights and leads them to realise something greater. Mandela continued to be a trouble maker as president, he infuriated black South Africans by refusing to change the Springbok rugby emblem and by wearing a Springbok jersey at the 1995 World Cup final. That was the kind of trouble that forced South Africans to cross over old barriers and dare to see one another as people who are not playing on opposite sides but as one nation. Mandela was the kind of trouble maker that forced us to face our pain by showing us what is on the other side of the pain if we leave our bitterness behind.

Nelson Mandela, dressed in a number 6 Springbok jersey, celebrates after South Africa beat the All Blacks by 15-12 to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup on June 24 1995. (Pic:
Nelson Mandela, dressed in a number 6 Springbok jersey, celebrates after South Africa beat the All Blacks 15-12 to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup on June 24 1995. (Pic:

How does this trouble maker end his story? How does he conclude his life? How does he continue to trouble the leaders who succeeded him? While Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla was still at the centre of national scrutiny, Mandela would be buried where the poorest people of the nation live. He would force the nation to look at the forgotten province of the Eastern Cape. He would make it most difficult for our leaders to ignore the state of the rural community in South Africa. He would add further pressure by being so important that all the leading men and women of the world would want the honour of attending his funeral in rural Transkei. He could have chosen to be buried in Johannesburg or a more accessible, developed area – one South Africa could later show off as a famous site, like we did during the 2010 World Cup. That event hardly registered in the Eastern Cape, nothing happens besides poverty in these forgotten hills. Here, in Qunu, Mthatha, former rural Transkei among the forgotten poor, where development has not yet been imagined, Mandela would host one of the largest events of the 21st century. The world would bury its hero. Qunu would be known. Mthatha would be uttered in the powerful offices of every continent and every major nation. East London would be discovered, along with the famous peaceful hills of the rural Eastern Cape and its beautiful wild coast. He would cause trouble by disrupting ordinary rural life with the arrival of the most prestigious world leaders and celebrities, cameras flashing non-stop. Qunu, despite not being built as a world stage, hosted the world’s greatest leader. Which village in the world can share that same story?

I absolutely love how the Mandela story ends… it ends where it began. It ends where economic justice is still waiting and where recognition and acknowledgement of the rural people is still pending. It ends where the battleground of colonialism and apartheid began. It ends there because it has not yet begun until it has been accomplished and completed where it began. It ends where life is romanticised by onlookers and those who live in it are forced to pack up and live in shacks in the cities because of poverty and lack of resources. It ends here, where Mandela chose to be buried among his people.

The coffin of Nelson Mandela is carried on a gun carrier for a traditional burial during his funeral in Qunu on December 15 2013. (Pic: AFP)
The coffin of Nelson Mandela is carried on a gun carrier for a traditional burial during his funeral in Qunu on December 15 2013. (Pic: AFP)

Mandela’s burial place forced the world to look at the seemingly unsophisticated simplicity he came from, the place that most Africans would identify with. He was laid to rest on the hills that taught him the greatest gift his life gave to the world, the power of forgiveness through his ability to preserve the dignity of humanity, even when a human being behaved like an enemy. Here kings, queens and presidents came to behold the humility he came from and returned to. How could such greatness hail from such a place, they must have asked?

The people of the Eastern Cape had to be onlookers as their greatest son was buried. However, they would remain there while the world would leave. They would forever know those rolling hills and have reason to keep looking. This provides all sorts of possibilities. It means that life in the now world-famous Eastern Cape will not remain the same. It indeed cannot.

 Siki Dlanga is a writer and poet. She has published an anthology called Word of Worth. She is passionate about nation building, sits on the South African Christian Leaders Indaba steering committee and is a member of Freedom Mantle. Connect with her on Twitter: @SikiWrites

Africa’s mad and most loved emperor


Who doesn’t love a good story about the rise and fall of empires, blended with a spicy bit of romance and the gothic intensity of a mad king?

Chaka, by Lesotho writer Thomas Mofolo, is that kind of novel – a weird and gripping tale about one of the most enigmatic figures in African history.

“I do not believe,” Mofolo writes, “that there was ever a human being whose life was as full of mystery as that of Chaka.” An attempt to capture this mystery led Mofolo to write Chaka in 1910. But his missionary publishers were so freaked out by the novel that they refused to publish it until 1925.

Chaka is the guy who grew up knowing that everyone, except his mother, wanted him dead. Tough luck for a kid born near perfect. Tall, handsome, brave, hardworking, and self-sacrificing, Chaka could not understand why everyone hated him. Like any oppressed soul, Chaka believed that things would change since right and justice was on his side. That illusion faded away when he heard his father order his death even as he stared Chaka in the eye.

Chaka is on the run from assassins when he meets one of the most ruthless witchdoctors that ever graced the pages of an African novel. Isanusi is the guy who makes things happen. He is the magician, the sorcerer, the therapist, the priest, the conman, the strategist, the visionary, the confidante, the doctor, the hit-man, the fixer—the everything man – that every great empire-builder in history has had by his side. The novel is worth reading just to see Isanusi at work.

He’s the one who “inoculates” Chaka with the “medicine of blood.” “If you do not spill blood,” Isanusi explains to Chaka, “it will turn against you and kill you instead. Your sole purpose should be to kill without mercy, and thus clear the path that leads to the glory of your kingship.”

Isanusi turns Chaka into a killing machine. A man who had been hunted all his life had returned to bring the world to its knees.

Mofolo’s novel is a dark, mysterious, and poetic critique of the principle of violence that defines all empires.

By living up to this mandate to kill or be killed, Chaka instituted a political order never before imagined in his part of the world. But the blood on which his beautiful empire is built does not stay still forever. Chaka is eventually consumed by the violence that made him king and lives out the rest of his days in what Wole Soyinka has described as schizophrenia. The story of great emperors gone mad is old and familiar, but Mofolo tells it with all the dark, romantic flair of an African storyteller – sorcery, the supernatural, graphic violence, and tragic love. 

No story about war and empire is complete without a special someone. The love of Chaka’s life is the “amazingly beautiful” Noliwa—the girl with the “light brown complexion like a cannabis seed.” How Chaka screwed things up with such a goddess of a woman is a depressing and perplexing story. It is easily one of the most sublime moments in the history of modern African tragedy.

If Achebe had not happened, Mofolo’s Chaka would have been the Things Fall Apart of our generation. There are novelists in Africa – a multitude of novelists. But there’s only a handful of storytellers. Achebe was one. Mofolo was another.

Anyone who loves a damn good story should partake of Mofolo’s dark and quirky love song to a king who inspired a continent and paid the ultimate price.

Buy Chaka by Thomas Mofolo trans. by Daniel Kunene here.

Brittle Paper is an African literary blog featuring book reviews, news, interviews, original work and in-depth coverage of the African literary scene. It is curated by Ainehi Edoro and was recently named a ‘go-to book blog’ by Publisher’s Weekly.

The larger-than-life puppetry of Macdonald Mfolo

The work of South African costumer and puppet maker Macdonald Mfolo caught our eye after a recent interview with Another Africa highlighted the large scale puppets he created as part of the collaborative fashion and photography exhibition NOT x Chris Saunders. The cross-cultural project fuses the work of South African artisans and designers together with that of Jenny Lai, a New York-based experimental womenswear designer, and Chris Saunders, a photojournalist living and working in Johannesburg. The exhibition puts a spotlight on the social and cultural climates that creatives from New York and South Africa find themselves inhabiting while showcasing the viability of global collaborations in this digital age.

Macdonald Mfolo and Jenny Lai constructing a puppet head. (Pic: Chris Saunders)
Macdonald Mfolo and Jenny Lai constructing a puppet head. (Pic: Chris Saunders)

Mfolo, who is based in the Orange Farm township and picked up his puppet-making skills a few years ago as part of the production crew on the Pale Ya Rona Carnival, primarily works as a costume designer for the Pantsula dance group Real Action Pantsula. His full-bodied puppets are put together using papier-mâché and re-purposed materials such as discarded cement bags salvaged from construction sites and plastic bottles from a nearby recycling depot. Mfolo’s collaboration with Lai takes the vibrant Pantsula aesthetic and blends it with Lai’s avant-garde apparel for a surreal visual experience captured through Saunders’ lens and channeled through the movements of South African performance artist Manthe Ribane, who wears the puppet suits.

Manthe Ribane models a Macdonald Mfolo creation. (Pic: Chris Saunders)
Manthe Ribane models a Macdonald Mfolo creation. (Pic: Chris Saunders)

Though his puppet-making work currently exists only within the sphere of performance, Mfolo’s goals are and always have been community-oriented. “I want to create a skills college,” he told Another Africa. “I think skills development needs to be more emphasised in South Africa. We export a lot of things instead of creating them here.” In 2005, he established Farmland Production, a free workshop-based initiative that aims to empower local women and youth by teaching basic sewing skills that would help the community to become more self-sufficient. In addition to this, Mfolo’s organisation produces uniforms for local schools, and spearheads talent showcases and dance competitions. Read the full interview to learn more about the emerging designer.

NOT x Chris Saunders will be on display at Wallplay in New York City beginning September 10th.

Jennifer Sefa-Boakye for okayafrica, a blog dedicated to bringing you the latest from Africa‘s New Wave.

Recognition for Nigerian architect’s ‘floating school’

Two years ago, a floating school in Lagos’s ‘floating’ slum of Makoko was labelled as ‘illegal’ by authorities who then threatened to demolish it. This year the school, which is the brainchild of Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi, was nominated for the London-based Design Museum’s Design of the Year award.

The Makoko Floating School was built for the Makoko water community in Lagos. (Pic:  NLÉ / Iwan Baan)
The Makoko Floating School was built for the Makoko water community in Lagos. (Pic: NLÉ / Iwan Baan)

Adeyemi is the founder of NLE, a design and architecture company focused on creating sustainable buildings in developing regions. His innovative design came about after he had had several discussions with Makoko residents about how to resolve the environmental issues – such as flooding – that concerned the local community. He and his team came up with a prototype for a floating building, which is now the Makoko Floating School.

“There are hundreds if not thousands of Makokos all over Africa,” Adeyemi says. “We cannot simply displace this population; it’s important to think about how to develop them, how to create enabling environments for them to thrive, to improve the sanitation conditions, to provide the infrastructure, schools and hospitals to make it a healthy place.

“My belief is that in developing Africa we need to find solutions that can be developed by the grassroots, through the grassroots, and achieve the same level of significance as we have on the high-end projects.”

  •  Read more about the construction of Makoko Floating School

Now, in a new documentary series by Al Jazeera that looks at unconventional pioneers in the architecture industry, Adeyemi’s floating school is brought to life in the episode “Working On Water”, directed by award-winning South African filmmaker Riaan Hendricks. Launched on August 18, the six-part Rebel Architecture series will air every Monday through to September 22.

Dynamic Africa is a curated multimedia blog focused on all facets of African cultures, African history, and the lives and experiences of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora – past and present. Visit the blog and connect with the curator, Funke Makinwa, on Twitter.

Chido Govera: Transforming lives in Africa by growing mushrooms

Chido Govera. (Pic:
Chido Govera. (Pic:

When she was 10 years old, Chido Govera was offered a way out. A relative walked many miles to see her and said: “You know, I see that you’re suffering and I would like to help you. The only way I can help you is my husband has a friend and he’s around 40, he’s been struggling to find someone to marry and he thinks if you marry him, it would be a chance of escaping all this poverty and abuse. So you should come and meet him next Wednesday.”

Other girls in Govera’s position in rural Zimbabwe might have acquiesced. She never knew her father and lost her mother to Aids when she was seven. She was left to care for her grandmother, who was virtually blind, and her five-year-old brother. She would often wake up at 4am, search for firewood, walk at least a mile to fetch water, work in a field, attend school and go to bed hungry. She was also physically abused by members of her extended family.

When it all became too much, aged nine, she dropped out of school, abandoning her mother’s dream for her of boarding school and studying in America. “It was tough,” she recalls. “I remember I cried many days after that and I used to watch other kids going to school that I used to run around with, and it was painful. But it was more painful to go to school and spend the whole time thinking about what’s going to happen when I get home. Getting back home to watch the hungry faces of my granny and little brother. It was unbearable.”

So when next Wednesday came, the young girl with few prospects was expected to meet the man 30 years her senior who would become her husband and provider. “The reason why I was supposed to find it attractive to marry him was because he had two sisters that were going to South Africa to buy clothing and coming back to Zimbabwe.”

She chose a different path: “I did not go because I realised if I got married, then I was leaving my grandmother and my little brother alone and I wouldn’t be able to help them any more.

“When I was eight years old I’d told myself, ‘I want to help other young orphans so they do not have to experience what I was experiencing.’ I thought, ‘If I get married, am I achieving that or not?’ And it was clear that was not the way to go. I didn’t go to meet the guy and my relative told me, ‘I tried to help you, you turned that down and from now on you’re pretty much on your own.'”

Green fingers
Today things looks very different for Chido Govera. At 28 she is a successful farmer, campaigner and educator with her own foundation, The Future of Hope. She has trained nearly 1 000 people in communities in Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania and South Africa. Her work has reached schools and communities in India, Aboriginals in Australia and entrepreneurs in the US and around Europe. The key to this one-woman revolution is mushrooms.

A year after turning down the stranger’s marriage proposal, Govera was among 15 orphan girls in Zimbabwe invited to receive training in mushroom cultivation, supported by the Belgian environmental entrepreneur Gunter Pauli. She had been accustomed to harvesting mushrooms in the bush but this was different: “My grandmother was so knowledgeable that even when she couldn’t see any more she could smell which mushrooms were edible, inedible, poisonous … But to grow them was very strange.”

The group received bags of waste mixed with spores and learned how to manage a mushroom house. In less than a week, mushrooms were growing. When Govera took her first taste of one, it came as a shock. “They were completely different from mushrooms gathered from the forest,” she laughs. “It was a bit like eating a snail. It had sliminess to it and the crunchiness of a snail.”

Soon the group was producing enough to sell, earning money to buy food and pay for the school fees of orphans including Govera’s brother. “You realise that if you can work, you can actually get there step by step, you can put food on your plate,” Govera says. “In this case it was converting waste into food, creating food for the community, but also doing something that no one else in that community was doing. We were unique in that time, doing something that was highly scientific without having studied at all. In my case I’d only done five years of primary-level education. It was like magic.”

The girls’ success made them attractive marriage material and of the 15 taking part, 13 quickly fulfilled society’s expectations by finding husbands. Again, Govera did not. Instead, from the age of 12 to 16, she was to be found in a university laboratory taking advanced studies in what she describes as both the art and science of mushroom cultivation. She continued to hone her expertise during spells in Colombia, Serbia and China.

And in Pauli, she discovered the father figure that had always been missing in her life, most notably when she was being abused and had no one to turn to. “One of my biggest dreams, of course, never having met my father, was to actually have a father.

“The lady who was teaching us in the laboratory sent a message to Gunter Pauli saying, ‘You know what Gunter, we have a girl who’s got green fingers, mushroom fingers, and unlike the others she doesn’t want to get married.’ Then he says, ‘Well, what does she want?’ He was told she needs a father and that’s how he became my daddy.”

‘We are not what happened to us’
As Govera travels the developing world teaching mushroom farming to women and orphans, she is also pioneering new techniques, for example growing mushrooms from coffee grounds for commercial use.

Otherwise she divides her time principally between South Africa and Zimbabwe, a country many still associate with 90-year-old president Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian regime and its ruinous economic policies. “I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing now in Zimbabwe if I didn’t believe there is a possibility for a change,” she says.

“I strongly believe that, regardless of what is happening in politics – not just in Zimbabwe but in many different parts of the world – if we want to change things, we will need to go to the grassroots and teach them to stand up for themselves, because if we can empower them beyond being a victim of a political situation, then we are making change happen.

“The reason why I go into communities, select groups of young orphans, empower those and bring them back into the communities to inspire change there is because we need to change the way change is viewed. People say politicians or the grownups or the successful ones are going to change things in the country, but I think everyone has a part to contribute.”

Zimbabwe’s politicians are sometimes accused of being imprisoned in the past. This is not something Govera herself could be accused of as she looks back on that 10-year-old who, one Wednesday, decided to take the road less travelled.

“I learned to redefine myself regardless of what happened to me when I was a kid,” she reflects. “I’ve been able to reclaim myself. This is something that’s required for every individual. We are not what happened to us.

“From those experiences there’s some kind of lesson that inspires me to do what I do now, but I’m not back in the moment when I was 10. I’ve dealt with that. I just look at the future with a new hope. I’m 100% sure that I am not going to be one of those women who say, ‘Things are the way they are because I grew up as an orphan.'”

David Smith for the Guardian