A black identity crisis in our time

inlPicsCopy of SI Bheki Mlangeni 3 INDEPENDENT MEDIA Catherine Mlangeni, the mother of Bheki Mlangeni, at her home in Jabulani, Soweto. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/Independent Media

Big Men all around Africa are falling over themselves in the mad rush to line their pockets, writes Don Makatile.

One fateful Saturday in February 1991, a young black Soweto lawyer sat down with a cassette player to listen to a tape that he had received by mail. When he pressed play, the right earphone exploded, killing him instantly.

He left his young wife and small child behind. This past Tuesday, he'd have turned 60.

We will return to this young maverick later. Our sister newspaper The Star carried an incisive write-up on Tuesday (“A country in crisis”, page 9) about the dire straits South Sudan - a country supposedly oil-rich - finds itself in. Its coffers have been looted dry by kleptomaniacs who, in their conspicuous consumption, do not appreciate the vulgarity of their shiniest blackest SUVs navigating the potholed streets of Juba.

This rape of Africa by her children has unfortunately become shorthand for the state of affairs on the Mother Continent even at the zenith of the Black Lives Matter campaign, during this, Black History Month.

Black lives on the continent and in the diaspora are a shambles our forebears did not countenance when, like Kwame Nkrumah, they argued for a United States of Africa and, like US historian Carter G Woodson, peddled the need for continuous black African introspection. Everywhere one casts one's glance around the African continent, its Big Men are falling over themselves in the mad rush to line their pockets because they think the present, as in the words of one of Michela Wrong’s titles, It's Our Turn To Eat.

The third-termism they are ready to kill for has nothing to do with the altruism of their promises - it is a push for personal gain.

As you read this, Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni may already have extended his grip on power by a further 10 years, adding up to four decades in charge.

There is nothing in the continent to inspire optimism.The urban black continues to measure their upward mobility by how fluent their young have become in English. “She doesn't speak Zulu,” they are always ready to chide those lacking the foresight not to engage their offspring in the vernacular.

Black children know more about Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift than they'll ever do about Malcolm X and Tsietsi Mashinini.

Just 22 years into this new dispensation, there is very little - and dwindling - to celebrate about blackness.

In his Porsche Panamera, Duduzane Zuma must be laughing his head silly as he nibbles on the roti served in Saxonwold whenever he hears of the drive to launch 100 Black Industrialists. He is not where he is as a testament of his shrewd business sense but merely by dint of being his father's son.

In this milieu of the dearth of things to celebrate about black lives, reductionists like the Last White Hope FW de Klerk have ventured to say blacks are more racist. They are rewriting history and with it a whole narrative of the lived black experience - in February, nogal.

There seems to be no one around with the cojones to call his bluff as standing up for blackness has been reduced to a shameful anachronism.

There is no Bantu Biko of our times!

The Star article tells of how “the SUVs with tinted windows” look “an incongruous sight in a neglected, run-down African capital city”.

This too is the South African story of blackness and its concomitant achievement.

Perhaps it is a good thing that the new hospital in Jabulani, Soweto, was named after him but perhaps we need playwrights at the Market Theatre to tell the story of his life.

Posterity needs to be told that this young ANC lawyer did not die for Nkandla.

When he died at just 35, Bheki Mlangeni had his whole life ahead of him, as the cliché goes. At the time of his death, black lives mattered to Mlangeni - long before this phrase became a slogan in vogue.

Black History Month should be about telling the story of his life and what he and his ilk died for.

One thing they did not die for was for a rising black elite to feed at the trough ahead of the masses living in abject poverty.

That done, we can know to spit on those who come cruising into Juba in their shiny wheels to flaunt their ill-gotten gains.

Happy Black History Month to us all who long to see it fleshed out.

Sunday Independent

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