Asimbonanga uMandela still

• Today Nelson Mandela is in hospital, and while JOHNNY CLEGG composed ‘Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)’ during Mandela’s imprisonment, the song may as well fit in with the current situation, writes WONDER GUCHU

Just as there were choirs which pushed the struggle agenda during the liberation wars across Africa, there also were individuals who took up the struggle in song against colonialism.
The late South African diva Miriam Makeba, for example, was known for singing against apartheid, while in Zimbabwe, Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi also took on the war from the musical front with the late Jackson Kaujeua pushing it across for Namibia’s Swapo.
Not only were these individuals black but whites too such as Johnny Clegg and his group Juluka and then with Savuka.
Nicknamed the White Zulu because of his fluency in isiZulu, Clegg was born to Zimbabwean mother and an English father in 1953 in England but grew up in his mother country and then in Zambia before going down to South Africa.
His mother, a cabaret dancer, remarried a crime reporter when Clegg was 11. While in South Africa, Clegg would accompany his father into the black townships where he learnt a lot about township music as well as various black cultures.
When he turned 14, Clegg ran into Charlie Mzila who became his mentor on Zulu music and dance two years before meeting an 18-year old Sipho Mchunu in 1969 in Johannesburg.
Their chance meeting was in the form of a guitar strumming challenge, which led to their street performances and sometimes making it into venues where multi-racial groups were tolerated during the time of apartheid.
Even then, they had to lie low especially after the apartheid police arrested Clegg on several occasions for his friendship with a black man and for singing and dancing to Zulu songs.
Later, while teaching anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand, Clegg met producer Hilton Rosenthal who then signed him up resulting in the formation of Juluka that had Clegg, Mchunu, Robbie Jansen, Johnny Boshoff, Glenda Millar, Cyril Mnculwane, Gary van Zyl, Scorpion Madondo, Leo Turner and Derek de Beer as members.
Although the group came together in the early 70s, it was not until 1976 that they broke through with their hit song “Woza Friday” followed by the album “Universal Men” in 1979.
There is something in and with “Universal Men”, which reminds critics of Pablo Neruda and Jean-Paul Sartre or even John Berger.
Neruda was a Chilean poet who became a diplomat and later a politician. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 for his surrealist poetry and is mostly remembered for his collection “Twenty Love Poems” and a “Song of Despair” published in 1924.
Berger is British-born painter, art critic, painter and poet whose novel titled just “G” was awarded the Booker Prize in 1972 while Sartre was a French philosopher, existentialist, screenwriter, biographer, novelist and political activist.
With this background, one can easily understand how profound Clegg’s lyrics were and how people-oriented they were in the fight against apartheid.
Although the band disbanded in 1985, Clegg did not give up, forming Savuka which released the albums “Scatterlings of Africa” what could be his biggest political statement ever.
‘Copper sun sinking low/ Scatterlings and fugitives/ Hooded eyes and weary brows/ Seek refuge in the night/ They are the scatterlings of Africa/ Each uprooted one/ On the road to Phelamanga/ Where the world began/ I love the scatterlings of Africa/ Each and every one/ In their hearts a burning hunger
Beneath the copper sun/ Ancient bones from Olduvai/ Echoes of the very first cry/ “Who made me here and why/ Beneath the copper sun?”/ African idea/ African idea/ Make the future clear/ Make the future clear/ And we are the scatterlings of Africa/ Both you and I/ We are on the road to Phelamanga/ Beneath a copper sky/ And we are the scatterlings of Africa/ On a journey to the stars/ Far below, we leave forever/ Dreams of what we were’.
The other song, which endeared Clegg not only to South Africans but also the whole world, is about former South African president Nelson Mandela’s incarceration.
Titled “Asibonanga uMandela”, the song recites names of South African freedom fighters among them Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge and Neil Aggett.
Sung in Zulu, the song mourns and yearns for the release of Mandela; it mourns and regrets the deaths of Biko, Mxenge and Aggett.
‘Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)/ Asimbonang' uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela) Laph'ekhona (In the place where he is)/ Laph'ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)/ Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey/ Look across the Island into the Bay/ We are all islands till comes the day/ We cross the burning water/ Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)/ Asimbonang' uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)/ Laph'ekhona (In the place where he is)/ Laph'ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)/ A seagull wings across the sea/ Broken silence is what I dream/ Who has the words to close the distance/ Between you and me/ Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)/ Asimbonang' uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)/ Laph'ekhona (In the place where he is)/ Laph'ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)/ Steve Biko/ Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)/ Asimbonang 'umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)/ Laph'ekhona (In the place where he is)/ Laph'wafela khona (In the place where he died)/ Victoria Mxenge/ Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)/ Asimbonang 'umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)/ Laph'ekhona (In the place where he is)/ Laph'wafela khona (In the place where he died)/ Neil Aggett/ Hey wena (Hey you!)/ Hey wena nawe (Hey you and you as well)/ Siyofika nini la' siyakhona (When will we arrive at our destination)/ Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)/ Asimbonang 'umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)/ Laph'ekhona (In the place where he is)/ Laph'wafela khona (In the place where he died.)
Today while Mandela lies in hospital, we may as well sing “Asimubonanga uMandela”.
 

July 2013
M T W T F S S
« Jun   Aug »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031