There is a great loss today in Miriam Makeba. This clip of her singing “Khawuleza” in 1966 gives you a sense of how she used music as a form of resistance, as a way to sing the truth about South African apartheid in a way that honored those South Africans who were most severely subjected to brutality by the Afrikaner regime.
She grabbed international attention in 1959 when she starred in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa.
She then went to London where she met Harry Belafonte. He helped her get entry to the United States, where she released many of her famous songs.
She received a Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1966 with Belafonte for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba.
The album was about black South Africans living under apartheid.
When she tried to return to South Africa, she discovered that her passport had been revoked.
She testified against apartheid before the United Nations in 1963.
She was married to musician Hugh Masekela and Trinidadian civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, who was also the leader of the Black Panthers.
When her only daughter, Bongi Makeba, died in 1985, she moved to Brussels.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela persuaded her to return to South Africa in 1990.
She was always optimistic about post-apartheid South Africa, even though she acknowledged that it came with its own problems.
In 1964 Makeba spoke at the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid and the video below shows a brief clip of her speech. It is worth highlighting what she says in print, too:
If you were in our place, would you not resist if you were allowed no rights in your own country because the color of your skin is different to that of the rulers?
Notice Makeba’s use of the word resistance here. True, she used cultural resistance–music as resistance–in her work. But as with most freedom fighters in South Africa of all stripes, resistance was resistance. As the brilliant Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe famously remarked, cultural and armed resistance go hand and hand. Both are necessary. But imagine if we just change one word in her statement around to reflect Palestinians who are prisoners in their own land:
If you were in our place, would you not resist if you were allowed no rights in your own country because the color of your religion is different to that of the rulers?
And people wonder why it is that the word apartheid is preferred by many of us seeking to resist the colonization of Palestine.
In reading through various obituaries this morning I was reminded of her marriage to Black Panther leader Stokley Carmichael/Kwame Ture, whom I wrote about a few days ago ironically enough because I’ve been reading his book Ready for Revolution. There is a part of the book where he discusses one of Makeba’s concert tours in Africa, which I think is relevant today for a number of reasons:
Miriam was of course banned from the country of her birth, which was under a boycott anyway by the antiapartheid movement. So Azania (South Africa) was out. As were the Portuguese settler colonies of Mozambique and Angola, and Southern Rhodesia, where African brothers and sisters were waging people’s wars to liberate their homelands. But no problem: we knew we would one day visit them as liberated territories. Which happened right on schedule in most cases.
Which left one looming enigma at the very heart of the continent. The Cong. That vast, legendary, mysterious, tragic region in central Africa. Larger than Western Europe, immensely rich in natural resources, once home to powerful and complex African civilizations, all systematically ravaged by the most brutal European colonial rapacity the world had seen. The suffering Congo was a special case. Now nominally independent, the country had been systematically looted and degraded by the CIA puppet-tyrant Joseph Mobutu after the murder of the democratically elected Patrice Lumumba. A former corporal in the French colonial army, Mobutu had been put in place by his retreating colonial masters. This brutal puppet-dictator–propped up by the CIA and a cartel of French and Belgian capitalists–had enabled the foreign looting of the wealth, while overseeing the degradation of the social fabric, of this important, potentially great, country. A country that, properly governed with vision and integrity, should have been the engine driving economic development of the region. In the process Mobutu had managed to stash some $4 billion of his people’s wealth in his Swiss bank accounts. This was scandalous and tragic. There was absolutely no reason for us to go there, except for revolution. (705)
Ture’s book was published in 2003. Fast forward five years later and yet again the Congo is unraveling. I can’t help but wonder if all of this violence, killing, displacement, hunger, and now disease might have been different if Patrice Lumumba had not been assassinated by the United States. If the CIA hadn’t interfered with a burgeoning, liberatatory democratic process. Raoul Peck made a brilliant and moving documentary and a docudrama about Lumumba’s assassination. I found one clip of the docudrama on Youtube, but it’s worth getting Peck’s films and watching them. It gives one insight into past American aggression–in this case covert–in ways that shed light on current American aggression, which is both covert and overt. But those that Ture describes bled into the form of neocolonialism that continues to ravage the Congo and its people.
Today in the Congo there are tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting–Internally Displaced People (IDPs). Will they have a right to return to their homes? Even if they live near the Rwanda border and even though there are some Rwandans dispute the border? UNHCR reports these statistics:
More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.
There is a great article on Dissident Voice today by Roxanne Stasyszyn on the overall context of what is happening in the Congo. She reveals the racism, the neocolonialism, and the effects of global capital in ravaging and capitalizing on the Congo:
For people not already living there, Eastern Congo is a place almost unreachable and, according to many, even less desirable to arrive in. Most international news reporters describe Goma as “Hell on earth.”
The people who do reach Goma tend to fit into four main categories.
First, there are rich businesspersons and the aid organization types who circulate to and from Europe and America, back and forth between the big business offices in capital cities like Kinshasa (DRC), Nairobi (Kenya), Kampala (Uganda) and Kigali (Rwanda). The businesspersons are involved in minerals, aviation, timber, petroleum, weaponry and other international commerce.
Then there are the poor, displaced people who walk the dangerous and dense forests from Uganda, Burundi or Rwanda, fleeing one unsafe and impoverished situation for another.
Third come the passport-stamp seeking Western tourists that brag at cafes and Traveler’s Lodges in Kigali and Kampala about how they crossed the border and spent an afternoon in the “Heart of Darkness.”
Last are the journalists and human rights activists who chat with local people and try to find the most bloated belly for a photo opportunity.
Further, she explains some of the neocolonial aspects of the conflict between Rwanda and the Congo:
Dieudonne Amani is a 24 year-old Rwandaphone who has felt the lasting consequences of arbitrary colonial rule. The problem, he explains, is that Rwandaphones are not accepted as true Congolese and are ostracized within the DRC because they are the same tribe and culture as those congregated mainly in Rwanda. Yet Rwanda, he claims, also rejects them. They are people without a homeland, claims Amani, who are systemically persecuted by the Congolese government, by militia groups and by Rwanda.
“There are people sent by the authorities to investigate people’s origin,” he says. “Rwandaphones are a minority, non-Rwandaphones are majority. They wish to please the majority.”
The reason why other tribes do not like Rwandaphones, Amani claims, is a mixture of sculpted modern political mind and envy.
“I think Hutus are not as educated as Tutsi. If Hutus are not educated it is not the fault of Tutsi or anyone else, it is because they are stupid,” Amani says boldly. “For 34 years they had control of their country (Rwanda), what were they doing? Tutsi refugee’s sent their children to be educated. People say Tutsi are just as intelligent as the white man,” Amani pontificated with his index finger jutting into the air.
These claims are extreme and, in parts, ignorant of colonial leaderships’ structuring of education and employment systems along tribal lines, favouring Tutsis. Unfortunately, this argument of Tutsi being better managerially with money, government and development is heard often, repeated even by international expatriates. It is an explanation used commonly to justify and explain Rwanda’s post-1994 transformation to an international business port of Africa, and it ignores important facts, like Rwanda’s militarism and exploitation of Congo.
One of the main natural resources that outside interests–political and financial–continue to rape the land of is diamonds. One of those invested interests in the Congo
Before his assassination on January 16, 2001, Laurent Desire Kabila—the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—made a deal with the Gertler gang that would play out in favor of the current President Joseph Kabila and, it seems, be a central factor in relation to both Congo’s ongoing war and the bloody warlord’s battle in Kinshasa in March 2007.
Back in 2000, former Congolese president Laurent Kabila offered a monopoly on Congolese diamonds, and 88% of the proceeds, to Gertler’s International Diamond Industries (IDI) in exchange for Israeli military assistance to his new government. Top Congolese military officials apparently flew to Israel in 2000 to negotiate the deal. Gertler pledged military assistance to President Laurent Kabila through top Israeli officials.
The original Gertler-Kabila deal fell through after Laurent Kabila was assassinated for not cooperating with the Great White Fathers of industry (January 2001), but Gertler and Leibovitch and their disciples formed another company, Dan Gertler International, and advanced their Congo plan. By 2002 Gertler’s company was the leading exporter of Congolese gems, controlling a diamond mining franchise worth about $US 1 billion annually.
In 2003, the mighty Congolese diamond parastatal Societe Miniere De Bakwanga (MIBA)—which has been forever controlled by the Great White Fathers in Belgium, Israel and America—signed an exclusive contract with Gertler’s startup company, Emaxon Finance International. The deal involved Israeli’s Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization (SIBAT), and high-level Israeli defense and intelligence officials. Gertler and his buddies reportedly bribed Congolese officials and Angolan generals who, on and off, have commanded Angolan Army troops protecting Kinshasa, Congo’s capital.
Yes, the former colonial power of Belgium, in cahoots with the U.S. and its darling ally the Zionist state, can be implicated in the ongoing conflict in a variety of ways. These are the same forces–at least the latter two–who are responsible for the ongoing and ever increasing siege of Gaza. It is cold here in Palestine at night. And now there is no fuel. Israel’s Barak–Ehud, that is–has decided that because Palestinians who are responding to resisting the most recent invasion by the Israeli terrorist forces that they get no fuel. So Gaza is in darkness.
And metaphorically the world should be in darkness to honor the death of a resistance singer whose memory, I hope, will live on by encouraging others to use music as one of many modes of resisting foreign colonial occupation and colonization.