Annual Lecture

2012 RUTH FIRST MEMORIAL LECTURE!

My personal tribute to her is best cast in what Comrade Harry Gwala, another martyr of our heroic struggle, taught to young cadres and political prisoners on Robben Island. That included the president of the Republic and me. I was one of those who sat at the feet of this self-proclaimed Stalinist and master of the revolution. I do not recall who he attributed the quote to but the revolutionary mantra stayed with me: I have expunged reference to “man” for “woman”

“A woman’s greatest possession is life. Since it is given to her to live but once, she must so live it that in dying she must be able to say: all my life and all my strength have been dedicated to the finest cause in the world and that is the liberation of mankind.”

Enough said about the revolution and its poetry. The agonising question I have chosen to ask is in what way the heroic life of Ruth First should inspire my role as a judge in a post-conflict society; thus a transforming society or one in transition. I propose to explore that question within the overarching theme of courage of principle.

“Redefining Afrika’s Political Identity in the Era of Globalisation”- 2nd Mayihlome Annual Lecture

Trade is not new. Struggle is not new. Both are as old as human endeavor and for as long as the two have been at odds , there have been fierce battles fought . Whether it was called imperialism, colonialism, global oppression, apartheid the struggle by the many against the economic tyranny of the few remains one of the longest in human history. International trade too has an ancient history. The context for Afrika includes a conflation between colonial interests ,political subjugation and economic control. The story of Afrika after the invaders is essentially a story of the West’s insatiable appetite for raw materials, cheap labour and beautiful minerals ,wildlife and fauna all of which Afrika “Free trade” is not a new experiment either it has been tried before. Prior to the advent of colonialism, the region used to dominate international trade. Colonialism distorted the terms of trade and Third World countries were transformed from being exporters of manufactured commodities to being suppliers of raw materials and a market for British manufactures. What has changed are the uncomfortable, unfavorable and often immoral terms of engagement between the global South and the North.

The prevailing trade paradigm presupposes the existence of equal power relations equal gender relations, equal race relations, equal access to resources and equal voice in economic agenda setting. This is an absolute lie. Some are clearly more equal than others and their voices more audible than others. The ascendance of the World Trade Organisation in 1995 as the overarching body has given rise to continued discussions detailing the historical and structural inequities that prevail unfettered in the current global trading system. It is in fact the institutionalisation of every lie about the supposedly equal nature of power relations between the global communities.

THE 11TH ANNUAL STEVE BIKO LECTURE – “COMING TO SEE YOU SINCE I WAS 5 YEARS OLD”

I wrote this, this morning… so it’s fresh [laughs and applause]

I have spent most of the early morning from 3 o’ clock thinking what I’ll say to you… there is so much. First of all I want to say that I am in your country and have been drawn to your country, the beautiful South Africa – which for some years in our own struggle we referred to as Azania – because of a deep love for you, of your heroines and heroes, of your long long struggle toward positive humanity for yourselves and all oppressed people on the planet. You have been a great inspiration to all the people on earth who are interested in and devoted to justice, peace, and happiness. I was asked to provide a title for my talk and this is what came to me: “Coming to See You Since I was 5 Years Old: A Poets Connection to the South African Soul.”

The reason I have been coming to you for over sixty years is because when I was five years old, my eldest sister – Mamie-Lee Walker – came home from college, her freshman year, and taught my 11 year old sister and myself your national anthem, “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrica.” We were the only children of any colour who were taught this song in our tiny, totally segregated town, in the deep south of the United States in Georgia. The somber intense passion and dignity in the melody entered my heart and it has lodged there for the last 60 years. It did not just lodge there; it propelled me into the deepest of curiosities about who Africans might truly be, because in the deeply racist United States of the 40s and 50s (when I was born) Africa was shrouded in the most profound mists of distortion, racially motivated misperceptions, gross exploitation, and lies. Africans were almost cheerfully despised, considered to be savages certainly, and yet for me and my sister Ruth there was our sister Mamie coming home from college – whose fees my materially poor parents sweated to pay – there were the sounds of “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrica.” “God bless mother Africa” was sung so earnestly by her loving sons and daughters, her horribly abused children that had made an impression on our psyches never to be erased.

1ST MAYIHLOME ANNUAL LECTURE HELD AND DELIVERED ON THE 30TH MAY 2009 AT HOTEL 224, CITY OF TSHWANE, ARCADIA

Mayihlome evokes memories of one’s engagement in the on-going societal struggles to assert their rights and class position. I don’t forget that in our days, back then as students, we had used Mayihlome as an effective tool to communicate our Africanist views. We have also done the same in the youth movement. So Mayihlome, whatever our different interpretations may be, has for some time been an associate of the young, dynamic Africanists.

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