The memory of water

Constant dripping, so the saying goes, wears away the stone. Yet, everyone who has visited a karst cave with their often astounding richness in rock formations will know otherwise: constant dripping creates the stone! Now, any speleologist (academese for cave expert) may frown over my lax use of the term “stone”. Fine, of course I mean those pillars and bumps and other formations expertly called stalagtites, stalagmites and stalagnates. Water drops, sintering through the earth and rocks that form the ceiling of a cave, containing minerals and other material, carry that material into the cave, where it slowly builds up into said formations. Talk about slowly – think tens of thousands of years, and then some.

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24 July this year sees the fifth anniversary of the passing of Chiwoniso Maraire, one of the world’s greatest musical talents, and revered as the Queen of Mbira in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. Born 5 March 1976, Chi died in 2013, aged only 37, the same age as Alberta, my ex-wife, at that time. I mention this because they were school-mates in Mutare for a while. My introduction to Shona culture and music owes much to her, and I added considerable efforts myself, reading and doing research, to the point of learning to play songs by Oliver Mtukudzi and, of course, Chiwoniso. I explored Zimbabwean music more and more, and Chi has since become a musical icon for me. Her music speaks to me more than many others. It is a sorrowful case of historical irony that I didn’t know her when she appeared at the Würzburg Afrikafestival in 2011. Some of my favourite live recordings were taken there. 
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A five-minute walk from my home, and you enter Melville. It’s a beautiful suburb, many streets are lined with trees, there’s artsy decoration in the streets even, you find small charity shops as well as up-market boutiques, galleries, restaurants and clubs. Especially around 7th street and 27 Boxes, nightlife is hot as it is a major attraction for students from the numerous nearby residences and for Jo’burg’s gay community.  

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R.I.P. Mama Winnie

Now her, after Bra Willie and Bra Hugh the third South African icon to die while I am here. I am not in the position to write much about “Mama Winnie”, the Mother of the Nation, as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is emphatically referred to. Her death has laid open the rifts that run through South African society – historical, racial, social, gender-related. Even in death, one might say, she polarizes, and thus her impressive legacy was not only praised but also denounced immediately after her passing, which is not just an act of highest indecency, it also echoes the rather tragic fate of a woman who found herself overshadowed by an iconic husband, belittled and vilified.

Yet her name and legacy will forever be remembered in every shouting of “Amandla – Ngawethu”, repeated a thousandfold over the two weeks after her passing, just like the thousands of “Long live!”, and most inspiringly in “She has not died, she multiplied”.


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Bra Willie & Bra Hugh

Since my arrival, two of South Africa’s greats have left us – first South African poet laureate Keorapetse William Kgositsile, or “Bra Willie” (d. 3 January), and now the father of African jazz and ambassador of African culture, Hugh Masekela, “Bra Hugh” (d. 23 January). Both were fighters for African freedom, which for both of them meant many years of exile from the South Africa under the Apartheid regime. Their view of African freedom was not only that of politics, it goes deeper, and targets what Frantz Fannon had called the “white masks” in black skin. Needless to mention, the arts, music, all of cultural heritage were, and shall I say, are vital (pun intended) in their fight. Continue reading

Gulu #2: Okot p’Bitek

Gulu is also the town where Okot p’Bitek was born. A friend from Zambia (hey there!, you know who you are 😉 ) recently introduced me to his best-known book, The Song of Lawino (1966). It’s a wonderful lament of a wife about her all-too European husband. He, Ocol, will respond later, in The Song of Ocol (1970). Very interesting author and scholar – read more here and here in German.

Settling in with hotel life

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