Tag: Southern Africa

Robert Mugabe fashion range a hit in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe is renowned for many things, but his starchy dress sense and Savile Row suits are considered the lesser of his crimes. And yet “dictator chic” has found a niche among young people in Zimbabwe.

Wearing a beret, T-shirt or golf shirt bearing the signature “RG Mugabe” is not only a fashion statement but an act of rebellion in major cities where denigrating “Uncle Bob” or “the old man” has almost become de rigueur.

The newest item in the collection is a cap emblazoned “1924”, the year of Mugabe’s birth – suggesting that, far from being a liability, the 89-year-old’s status as Africa’s oldest leader is a point of pride.

Under the brand House of Gushungo - Mugabe's clan name - the 88-year-old president's signature is splayed in silver studs across caps, T-shirts, coffee mugs and berets. Some items show his birth year, 1924, in Roman numerals. (AFP)
Under the brand House of Gushungo – Mugabe’s clan name – the 89-year-old president’s signature is splayed in silver studs across caps, T-shirts, coffee mugs and berets. Some items show his birth year, 1924, in Roman numerals. (AFP)

This improbable successor to Che Guevara or Barack Obama in cool iconography is the work of House of Gushungo. “It’s a bit daring,” says Jason Moyo, a journalist at the Mail & Guardian newspaper who last year visited Yedu Nesu, the company behind Gushungo. “It’s rebellious: everyone in the cities is supposed to be against Mugabe. People don’t expect urban young professionals to support him.”

The design is hardly spectacular, Moyo adds, but the Mugabe signature appeals to a particular group, typically around 30 and running their own business, who feel they are doing just fine under his 33-year rule.

House of Gushungo sales have been slowly rising over the past three years. The T-shirts, starting at $10, umbrellas and other regalia were a big hit at Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party’s last conference. Saint Mahaka, the label’s designer, told the BBC: “The young guys are into fashion. They talk about label, label, label … he [Mugabe] is already a brand himself. We decided, there is Versace, there is Polo, there is Tommy Hilfiger, people are putting on these labels, but don’t know who they are and what the story is. We know President Mugabe’s story, we know who he is.”

But Gushungo may be a victim of its own success. Zanu-PF reportedly wants to cash in on the brand and the justice minister is seeking to patent the RG Mugabe signature. In another stunt aimed at wooing young voters born long after his liberation struggle, a new video shows Mugabe, accompanied by a hip-hop beat, putting a phone to his ear and asking: “What’s up?” – Guardian News and Media 2013

Lesotho’s promising hip-hop scene

I come from Lesotho, a country not only plagued by the tired narrative of western media – war, famine, HIV and Aids – but also one that possesses its own unique set of problems. We are often portrayed as little else but a nation of blanket-wearing horse riders and job-stealing immigrants. Lesotho-isms can fill up a novella – example: we’re horse meat-eating imbeciles whose country should be incorporated into South Africa because we “just sponge on South Africa and [have] no true right to statehood”. Yes, ignore historical events which led to the status quo; disregard our scholars; overlook our founder King Moshoeshoe I, who may have been the greatest diplomat on the continent. Just bundle this nation of 1.8 million-odd nobodies – nobodies who, by the way, hosted successful elections and oversaw a peaceful transition into a destructive mess that needs cleansing.

Collectively we are known as Basotho (the singular is Mosotho), an amalgamation of people from different clans founded by King Moshoeshoe I during the fierce Mfecane wars of the early nineteenth century. We have fought our battles, managed to win some, and suffered major defeats in the process.

Lesotho is as much a part of the continent as any other nation. Our potholes are no less different from those in Uganda; our highlands, though not as densely forested, are as green as any in the Congo; our government is as corrupt; our public sector services – health, education – as inefficient as those  in any other member states. Sometimes, the authorities like to pull a Ghana on us with rolling power blackouts, but thank goodness these are not frequent! We have food, we have life, and we have rap music.

Like elsewhere on the continent (Mali, for instance), our form of rap is informed by age-old traditions. Our rappers are from a lineage of liroki (praise singers) who used their oratory skills to record history for the sake of posterity. Lithoko tsa Marena a Basotho (Praise songs of the kings) by African folklorist Z.D. Mangoaela contains praise songs composed by chiefs during wartime; vivid portrayals of the setting, the events, and the aftermath are outlined in their moving depictions of battle.

Our hip-hop culture is devoid of burgeoning graffiti, deejay, or break dancer scenes à la South Africa or Egypt. Though we are aware of these elements, their incorporation seems to have been secondary to the rap aspect. Perhaps the paint was too expensive, and those who could afford turntables found collecting and spinning house music vinyl more lucrative. After all, hip-hop in Lesotho remains a fringe culture with no guaranteed returns; a labour of love where labourers toil with no end in sight.

L-Tore rocking the crowd at Litaleng, Maseru's prime hip-hop performance venue. (Meri Hyöky)
L-Tore rocking the crowd at Litaleng, Maseru’s prime hip-hop performance venue. (Meri Hyöky)

Rap was introduced in the late eighties/early nineties through people whose families had travelled overseas and had access to all the releases which were  making waves during that period – the Public Enemy’s, Rakim’s, and NWA’s. Throughout the nineties, local rappers tried to get songs recorded and released, but the odds adversely affected their individual and collective efforts. Firstly, no one in power saw hip-hop as a cultural tour de force, and everyone else  who was not a practitioner but had exposure to it in some way immediately dismissed it as an ‘American thing’. More importantly though, Lesotho has never had  a recording industry to boast of – all of the traditional Sesotho musicians had to – and to some extent still do – cross the border into South Africa in order  to ply their trade and become recognised.

All these factors, coupled with the environment at that time – one public broadcaster in the form of Radio Lesotho, lack of interest in the music by the general populace, as well as low disposable income of citizens – made it near impossible to have any hip-hop/rap movement to speak of.

And so it was that hip-hop heads got relegated to the peripheries of society, and rappers only had the odd show to attend – at least this was the case when I got involved towards the tail end of the nineties. While I had been listening to rap music for some years, coupled with the staple diet of kwaito à la M’du, Trompies and BoP, I had never considered rapping until then. The scene as I remember it at that time consisted mainly of rap ciphers (‘jam sessions’) around town; Wu Tang Clan and Canibus were big in the rap world, so naturally emcees gravitated towards their style of rap.

In 2013, the challenges have advanced beyond lack of airplay or live performance venues, though there is still a shortage of the latter. Rather, Lesotho hip-hop struggles with relevance: to purge the bones of Americanisms in favour of a more local aesthetic, one that derives from the ubiquitous accordion music scene, for instance. Along with this, the challenge is to also address and redress social ills (rape, police brutality, government fraud); to engage people in a conversation that stretches beyond the trappings of mainstream rap’s materialistic sensibilities. I am confident that we will get there. We started with cassette tape demos before graduating to lo-fi DIY recording and small-scale CD replication. Now we have our own bedroom set-ups and small-scale studios. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

Artists worth checking out

Papa Zee 

The legendary Papa Zee was one of the first rappers (along with his crew, the Ethnics) to make an impact on the Lesotho hip-hop scene by organising small-scale shows and talent competitions.

Terama le Lemekoane 

A duo of forward-thinking lyricists whose long-time involvement in the rap scene has given them a firm grounding on which to unleash their futuristic, kwaito-rap-afro-jazz-inspired brand of musicality.

Charles Alvin 

A relative newcomer, he understands the fundamentals of lyrically intensive hip-hop, yet utilises his natural flair for well-crafted raps to deliver borderline catchy songs, satisfying the uninitiated and the connoisseurs in the process.

Ts’eliso Monaheng is a Lesotho-born writer whose obsession with rearranging words is threatening to overtake his abilities as a computer scientist. He blogs at ntsoana.wordpress.com

New Mad Max movie sparks fury over Namib desert damage claims

The filming of the latest Mad Max action feature in the world’s oldest desert has caused a major outcry, with environmentalists accusing filmmakers of damaging Namibia’s sensitive ecosystem.

The Namibian government was delighted when the director George Miller chose to shoot his post-apocalyptic sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Charlize Theron, in its country, bringing in 370-million Namibian dollars (£27m) to the economy, employing about 900 local staff, and paying 150-million Namibian dollars in taxes.

The film, the fourth Mad Max feature, was shot in the Dorob national park, in the Namib desert, along southern Africa’s Atlantic coast. Scientists estimate the area to be between 50-million and 80-million years old.

A leaked environmental report claims film crew damaged sensitive areas meant to be protected, endangering reptiles and rare cacti.

The independent researcher appointed to write the report, the ecological scientist Joh Henschel, says public consultation prior to filming was insufficient.

“It all happened without an environmental impact assessment,” he said, “so it’s difficult to assess the extent of the impact without a baseline.”

Henschel said the decision to grant permission to film was made before the country’s newest enviromental legislation was promulgated. This, he says, would have prohibited it.

He said the film crews had driven over untouched areas of the desert, and then tried to erase their tracks by sweeping the area smooth.

“They are doing the best of what they can do under the circumstances, but they can’t undo the damage done, to the environment and their reputation,” he said.

Henschel said the film studio had hired a scientific team of its own to deal with the situation.

The government-run Namibia Film Commission is concerned the negative publicity will damage its lucrative film industry.

Florence Haifene, the commission’s executive secretary, said all the environmental requirements had been met. “We don’t want a bad image painted of our country, especially when the allegations are unverified and untrue,” she said.

In response to reports about the alleged damage, the commission placed a full-page advertisement in a state-owned newspaper denying the claims.

The coastal watchdog Nacoma (the Namibian Coast Conservation and Management Project) said the leaked report had been commissioned by the government in response to complaints during filming, but that it was just a draft that still needed to be finalised.

“[The leak] has been a bit of an embarrassment. It’s difficult and premature to make judgments,” said the co-ordinator Rob Brady. “It’s still being reviewed by other scientists.”

Brady said other films had been filmed in the same area before it was designated a national park. “But unfortunately,” he added, “this is a type of film that is quite destructive, racing vehicles and such over different sites.”

Nastasya Tay for the Guardian Africa Network.

Recovering from my own financial crisis

In 2007, I landed my first ever job as an accounts clerk at a printing company. I hated it. It paid the minimum wage and cost me more than I earned just to travel to and from work, but I was proud of the fact that I was employed.

After I got my first payslip, my ever-cautious dad began to badger me: “Ntoks, you should bring your salary slip and bank statement so we can go through it on a Saturday afternoon. I’ll help you manage your finances.”

Hell no! I kept my books away from him because they were badly kept ones which would reveal some questionable wastage – a McDonald’s treat for my friends, an extravagant dinner date, the occasional pair of shoes, and, uhm, splurges on a certain illegal green substance. (You’d be amazed at how active dealers’ bank accounts are.)

A few months later, African Bank offered me R5 000 of credit to be paid back over three years. At R150 a month, the installments were invitingly low. At the time I earned a salary of R3 000 so I was ecstatic about being approved for credit. I felt like a real adult but ironically I ignored the common sense that supposedly comes with growing up.

There I was in downtown Jo’burg in Gandhi Square, licking a R2.50 ice cream, when an over-eager credit sales person from the bank approached me, like a dealer on Oxford Road, and told me he could change my life. I was sold. I took the loan even though I did not need it – I was merely R200 short to top up my bus tag, and all I had to do to sort this out was call my mom.

I paid off my first debt in less than the stipulated three years, before I turned 21. By this time, in 2008, South African banks were over-extending themselves and loaning to people who earned even less than I did. Newspapers ran reports of how bad debts were eroding the South African economy, and the impact of the global economic downturn on our country.

Our economy was sucker punched into a recession, but our banks managed to remain resilient. This made me optimistic. And like a junkie, I went back to credit after being clean for only a couple of months, confident that I could control myself.

But the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, considered one of the worst ones since the Great Depression by economists, had different plans for me. Prices suddenly skyrocketed and I couldn’t afford what I used to. To make matters worse, in 2008 I made the bad decision to move out of home a month before securing an assistant business producer job at CNBC Africa. By then I was broke and pregnant. African Bank came to my rescue, with more than they offered me the last time! I paid rent, bought food, saved for transport, bought work outfits and booked a couple of doctors’ appointments. I even sent some of this money to my grandmother.

This is where the blur and the binge began. First it was one loan, then two then three then four, all from one bank and all with different repayment amounts. I signed up with Capitec Bank who introduced itself as my savior, but I ended up owning them more than I did African Bank. FNB, too, “helped” with the overdraft facility on my cheque card but it took just a few months for them to cut me off.

I survived on the overdraft facility for months - an extra R5 000 here, another R3 000 there - kidding myself that this was the solution. (Flickr/Images Money)
I survived on the overdraft facility for months – an extra R5 000 here, another R3 000 there – kidding myself that this was the solution. (Flickr/Images Money)

It finally dawned on me that I was deep in debt. It took a while for the depression to kick in. I am a business writer by profession; I report on economic issues and tell the world about bad business decisions and deals. I should’ve been smarter, and taken my own advice. At times, paranoia got the better of me. I was worried my financial situation would impact on my professional career and business reporters would gang up on me to say: “Ntokozo, we don’t need you to comment on this, you have bad credit, girl. Goodbye.”

I lay awake at night, eating chocolate chip cookies in bed and watching bad American reality TV shows like Money Chase, where people in huge financial trouble do crazy things to win money to pay off their debts.

This was the worst experience of my life, but it did teach me one valuable lesson: cash is indeed king. The banks usually neglect you once you become a liability to them; the friendly salesperson who helped sign you up for a loan quickly becomes your worst nightmare.

I am now slowly trying to control and erase my debt. I owe a lot of money to one bank, but rather one than three. I’m even being offered discounts on payments now (but I’ve learned this could be just another gimmick.)

My advice to other South Africans being tempted to spend money they don’t have is, simply: don’t. Save your money instead. I would never have said this five years ago, but putting away R100 instead of buying a pizza has made a big difference in my life.

Ntokozo Khumalo is a business writer, reporter, and producer. She is also the director of Hot Content Media. Connect with her on Twitter

Google honours Miriam Makeba

The life of Grammy Award-winning South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba was celebrated on Google’s search engine home page today. Born on March 4 1932, she would’ve turned 81. Makeba is regarded as the first artist to put African music on the world map. Her hit songs include the signature track Pata Pata, Aluta Continua, and Qongqothwane (the Click Song). Makeba was an anti-apartheid campaigner – she testified against the South African government at the United Nations in 1963 and had her citizenship revoked. In 1990 she returned home from the US and her career continued to grow. The singer, who was fondly nicknamed Mama Africa, died of a heart attack in November 2008 after performing at a concert in Italy.