WE LOSE

Those com­mit­ted to the African re­nais­sance should sup­port Mandla Man­dela’s op­po­si­tion to al­co­hol, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

In his book, The House of Phalo: A His­tory of the Xhosa Peo­ple in the Days of Their In­de­pen­dence, JB Peires writes that many amaXhosa be­lieve that their king, Ngqika, “sold the land in ex­change for colo­nial as­sis­tance and a bot­tle of brandy”. Even though Peires writes mit­i­gat­ingly about Ngqika in this in­stance, this per­cep­tion was based on the re­al­ity that the amaXhosa king had re­signed him­self to the white man’s al­co­hol, so much so that Peires fur­ther notes that Ngqika “pur­chased it, danced for it, sold his wives for it, and ul­ti­mately died of it”. Peires crowns it by not­ing that “in the last years of his life [Ngqika] was a de­spised drunk­ard who had lost the love and re­spect of his peo­ple”. Writ­ing about Ngqika’s last mis­er­able days, the na­tional poet, SEK Mqhayi, in his book Abantu Be­sizwe: His­tor­i­cal and Bio­graph­i­cal Writ­ings, 1902-1944, notes that “the white man’s liquor, which is de­stroy­ing the na­tion, to which [Ngqika] turned to drown his mis­eries, had no ef­fect”. This tragic pic­ture came back to mind when two weeks ago City Press pub­lished a story about Mvezo chief Mandla Man­dela’s ef­forts to ban al­co­hol abuse in his vil­lage. Like Mqhayi be­fore him, Man­dela re­alises that the white man’s liquor is de­stroy­ing the na­tion, and, in­stead of fold­ing his arms, he is do­ing some­thing about it. Pre­dictably, in some quar­ters his move has been linked to Man­dela’s re­cent em­brace of Is­lam, which for­bids the con­sump­tion of al­co­hol. But the rev­e­la­tion that Man­dela’s cam­paign is trace­able to the year 2008, long be­fore he em­braced Is­lam, works in his favour. Africans do not need Is­lam to re­alise that al­co­hol is de­struc­tive for them. In fact, his­tor­i­cal records re­veal that Man­dela’s move is mod­er­ate com­pared with what was done by the BaSotho king, Moshoeshoe. Moshoeshoe did not seek to curb ex­ces­sive use of Euro­pean liquor, but banned it al­to­gether, or­der­ing that liquor found with any­one be taken from them and thrown out on the ground.

For those com­mit­ted to the African re­nais­sance idea, Chief Man­dela’s op­po­si­tion to al­co­hol is a wel­come and com­mend­able move that should be given sup­port. It is tragic, but a re­al­ity, that some of us are so trapped by poverty that we are in­sen­si­tive to the fact that it is wrong to seek to des­per­ately live while si­mul­ta­ne­ously killing oth­ers through sell­ing al­co­hol, even if they do so vol­un­tar­ily. Equally true is that the liquor es­tab­lish­ment has strate­gi­cally en­trenched it­self by giv­ing em­ploy­ment and hugely spon­sor­ing sports ac­tiv­i­ties. So, those ben­e­fit­ing from th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties will cer­tainly not be amused by Chief Man­dela’s en­deav­ours. And to cap it all, Chief Man­dela’s strug­gle is an up­hill bat­tle con­sid­er­ing that many African po­lit­i­cal elites think that the more ex­pen­sive and the older the whisky they buy, the more re­spectable they are to those they show off to, a clear in­di­ca­tion of psy­cho­log­i­cal in­car­cer­a­tion. So, ha­rangu­ing and forcibly block­ing peo­ple who make a liv­ing through liquor sales is not right, es­pe­cially if it is true, as some peo­ple of Mvezo al­lege, that Chief Man­dela stocks al­co­hol in his house for his friends’ en­ter­tain­ment. There is a much bet­ter way in which Chief Man­dela can un­der­mine al­co­hol use by us­ing his unique po­si­tion as a chief. Among the amaXhosa, liquor, es­pe­cially the brandy that killed Ngqika, is now oc­cu­py­ing a unique and in­dis­pens­able po­si­tion in the per­for­mance of cul­tural rit­u­als as if amaXhosa cul­ture com­menced with it. So, the prob­lem be­gins there, with amaXhosa le­git­imis­ing Euro­pean liquor as part of African cul­ture. In­stead of con­fronting pow­er­less Africans who are try­ing to make a liv­ing, even if in a self-de­struc­tive way, Chief Man­dela should have the courage to con­front the amaXhosa roy­alty to take a stand against re­duc­ing amaXhosa sa­cred rit­ual cer­e­monies into drink­ing par­ties that re­duce our young peo­ple to hope­less and help­less drunk­ards. One imag­ines that if Chief Man­dela does this, he will find many among amaXhosa chiefs who will re­mind him of King Ngqika. But that is no cause for de­spair – rev­o­lu­tion­ary change does not take place overnight. It is a pro­tracted process that re­quires not only com­mit­ment, courage and en­thu­si­asm, but also lots of pa­tience. This strug­gle may not be won in Chief Man­dela’s life­time, but let him be re­mem­bered as hav­ing lived up to the legacy of his grand­fa­ther, Nel­son Man­dela, of strug­gling for a no­ble cause. Se­santi is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Unisa’s In­sti­tute for African Re­nais­sance Stud­ies and the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of African Re­nais­sance Stud­ies’ deputy ed­i­tor

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