Retracing African space and international relations


Footprints About the Bantustan
© 1989
By Dr Tafataona P. Mahoso
Revised edition 2017 – 114 pages
Samwasika Heritage Products (SHP)2017
ISBN 0-908305-08-7

IN his anthology of poems Footprints About the Bantustan, the poet, Dr Tafataona Mahoso deconstructs the mirage of Western capitalism and its effect on African nations and other Third World countries.
Dr Mahoso, a native of Zimbabwe and citizen of the world, is cognisant of our human inter-dependency within the greater world of Western spaces of power and identity.
His auto-biographical collection of poetry traces his formative experiences as a young adult growing up in an oppressive racist Rhodesia and as a student in the US.
Here, the writer elucidates and expounds on the plight of the universal working class, from an eagle’s eyeview.
The poet, international mediator, intellectual, artist, historian and musician, Dr Mahoso is a unique lone African voice with feet anchored on two continents; wading the murky waters of the Atlantic’s passageway to slavery.
He backtracks to the African continent, where the African peasant is back-broken on ideologies and philosophies unanchored in our being; with the effects of Western policies, writ in the corridors of Euro-American powers; eventually trickling down to their former colonies.
With blood-boiling ink, Dr Mahoso interrogations existential questions regarding African sovereignty and African identity in relation to Western hegemony.
Re-published in 2017 Footprints About the Bantustan is written in the school of new internationalism.
Here, English is more than a language for the writer; it is a vehicle of ideas, an ideology, a force one can use for both construction or destruction.
The medium of poetry facilitates Dr Mahoso’s multi-lateral, synaptic leaps where he questions the sanity of world powers; he becomes ‘the voice of freedom in a new world order denied of the very freedom and sovereignty it espouses’.
With unsettling irony, wit and word-play, Dr Mahoso brings to the fore contemporary political history and its consequences on the working-class African and people of the world.
It is interesting to note that Zimbabwe was nine years old when these poems were conceived and composed by the author, pre-empting the current international political dispensation in relation to the African situation with precision.
Writing in his stream of consciousness poetry, Dr Mahoso does not miss the architectural landscape and un-civic spaces that surround the corridors of power in the US.
These fantastic edifices, built by slave labour, overwhelm many foreign visitors – especially young African students visiting the US for the first time.
Walking into a hall of refractive mirrors conflating two geographical spaces in the mind of the poet, the reader is given a kaleidoscope of the impact that Western history and politics has on the lives of the ordinary citizens of the globe.
Dr Mahoso’s concern is: “To link the struggle of the toiling masses in Zimbabwe with the international struggle of the working class.” (Dr Vimbai Chivaura).
In his book, the Zimbabwe situation is melded into the universal struggle of the working class – the povo, the ordinary and
For the writer, it is the working class; the Third World, southern Africa, Zimbabwe; you and me who are the victims.
Using literary devices; metaphor, pun, disambiguation, ambiguity, visual, literary and philosophical satire, Dr Mahoso’s poetic reflections reveal his resoluteness as a resistant, creative force whose confident diction, intuition and command of English can only come from a fount of history, experience and gifted intellect.
Pun and acerbic wit, wrought from observing the absurdity of the human condition of the ordinary peasant of Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the oppressed Third World, being subtly manipulated by the hidden hand of Western capital, is deftly articulated by the author.
In his poem ‘Guardian Angel of Consciousness’, Dr Mahoso interrogates the various restrictions imposed on African people during the Rhodesian era.
“Did you ever spend the prime of your youth
Stuck with a dying imitation
of ‘civilisation’ called Rhodesia?
They swallowed acids of reality
with the Milk of Magnesia.
Major General Amnesia said
it was treason to be candid.
And the board of censors hid
From machine gun fire
Behind a mountain of banned books.”
Here, Dr Mahoso’s sharp nib interrogates, analyses and deconstructs Rhodesian civilisation and its restrictive laws on books through the Board of Censors that denied African people knowledge of the world, through a limited and censored educational system.
Concomitantly, he reveals the manipulative character and force of white capital and its dependency on back-breaking African sweat, with the double entendre of a wordsmith; a swordsman, splicing and dismembering white capital motives and political re-engagements with their former colonised subjects.
Western economic mind-control is anchored in the prescriptive headlines that mould our perception of reality in his poem ‘Keeping the Faith of Philosophy Killers’, he writes:
“Faith is inscribed on a trillion single dollar bills;
In jingles on the surface of silver pieces Trimmed uniform in the molars of the Philadelphia Mint.
But if you have not been touched
By the terminal disease
You can see it;
Even on counterfeits: ‘the crisis is bottoming up,
Recovery is just around the corner’
the recession is bottoming up
In God We Trust;”
In the poem, Dr Mahoso is the visionary who sees through the sealed and guarded, yet diaphanous gossamer of US and Western international capital and its manipulative mandate prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank salesmen to the Third World, and partly responsible for Zimbabwe’s 2009 financial crisis.
Laden with pertinent historical references, the works are prophetically relevant to contemporary world history – whose effects critically touch southern Africa and Zimbabwe.
His poetry occupies a unique untrodden path in the space of Zimbabwe’s literary works; it is an inimitable and unequalled brand of Zimbabwean internationalism at its best.
First published by Nehanda Publishers in 1989, the anthology covers American and African relations through the eyes of Dr Mahoso from 1981 to 1989.
The bi-associative surreal graphics of silhouetted black foot prints depicted on the unadulterated white cover of Footprints About the Bantustan, juxtaposed on the map of Africa, allude to an ascending pan-Africanist vision and a stamp of his African identity.
Understanding the connotations of the word ‘Bantustan’ in the tongue-and-cheek title of the book is important.
It is ‘a reference to the musings of the poet’s mind’, says the author.
The title sets the tone of the poetry between the pages.
In the poem ‘Footprints About the Bantustan’, the author writes:
“Vultures hover around this reserve,
announcing the latest failures.
About this Bantustan abounds
a history that settler is bound
to deny. Mother, around this shred
of history left over by whitemen
from the Great Apportionment of
nineteen thirteen and nineteen
Thirty, rain teases tender crops,
It is Zimbabwe, nineteen sixty-nine at Muroti.
Nothing grows here but dreams and memory.”
The new revised edition published in 2017, rekindles Dr Mahoso’s prognostic observations that cogitated the author in the 1980s.
In the foreword first penned in 1988, the late Dr Vimbai Gukwe Chivaura astutely extolled: “Mahoso’s poetry is a first-of-its-kind to date to critically appraise the Zimbabwean situation and struggle consonant with its relations to the rest of the world and the struggles of oppressed humankind.”
Encapsulated in Dr Mahoso’s thought-provoking poetry is a visual, visceral and vital knowledge of world history.
Sites of resistance, which are actual sites of massacre and destruction become ‘memory pegs’ for Dr Mahoso.
“Chimoio, Nyadzonia, Sharpeville, Soweto, Kassinga, Motola, Sabra, Chatila, May Lai, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Big Mountain, Wounded Knee are almost household terms”; places that have come to denote subjugation, mass murder and demonstrations by indigenous people against an imposed Western world system of oppression.
A substantial part of his body of work deconstructs the Western architecture of religion, politics, culture, heritage, literature and sociology, peels away the plaster of the façade exposing the power struggles and dictatorial authorities that subjugate the lives and destinies of the masses.
In his book, Dr Mahoso takes a jibe at the world of commercial advertising, corporate brain-washing and branded logos on bricks and bill boards emblazoned in neon graphics that blind and bewilder the Third World visitor: Dows, ITNT, Pepsi Cola, Coca-Cola, IBM, UPI, CBS and VOA, which he calls ‘the voice of amnesia’!
These florescent icons declare the power of Western capital built upon the graves of First Nation Native Americans, Africans, Latin Americans and other ancestors of modern-day America.
His political poetry and social satire beams the truth like a waterfall of sheet lightning.
The reader is taken for a ride on the global Big Wheel of Western capital and the unfair fairground of global politics, then returned to the motherland, Africa, impoverished by the grandstanding of Western politics and hegemony, where bureaucrats craft crafty policies and declare ‘isims’ that continually marginalise and bleed the resources of southern Africa.
As an African son-of-the-soil and a citizen of the world, Dr Mahoso has set the bar of contemporary poetry in Zimbabwe light-years away.
An interesting observation is how Dr Mahoso has taken control and ownership of his intellectual property and literary estate by self-publishing – mustering one’s resources to master one’s destiny.
A passionate and unassuming soul, Dr Mahoso was born on January 4 1949, in the Eastern Chimanimani District of Zimbabwe.
He holds a Doctorate in History and is the current head of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).
Dr Mahoso also lectures on various subjects that include literature, philosophy, education, history, journalism and film. He is a well-respected mentor to many local and international students.
He was the former director of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and is a practicing traditional Ndau folk musician.
Although he is often erroneously misjudged as controversial and vitriolic, his love odes ‘Weeds for a Woman: Dedicating a Bouquet of Wild Flowers’ and ‘Love in the Shadow of Power and Possession’, reveal a self-effacing, sensitive soul and warm persona.
Dr Mahoso, the poet, is a man observant of nature and of the life-giving force of ubuntu/hunhu.
Since 1977, Dr Mahoso has tried to develop, through poetry a language, a vocabulary and an idiom of international solidarity against ‘settlerism’, foreign domination and oppression, now candidly elucidated in 27 poetic narratives and five chapters of thought-provoking revelations of international relations.
Thirty years ago, Dr Mahoso had foreseen the passing of ‘trends’ which are now poetically rendered in Footprints About the Bantustan.
Dr Mahoso’s book, Footprints about the Bantustan, won the Zimbabwe Book Publishers 1989 Award – (Second Prize) for Outstanding Book-of-the-Year.
The book is now required reading at the University of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Open University for students in literature and English and Communication Studies.
From 2000, poetry from this book came to constitute Unit Four in Module ECS402 for the Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Communication Studies.
I recommend the book as a universal and inspirational cross-disciplinary text for schools and universities – students of English, Journalism, Comparative Literature, Philosophy, History, Political Science, Law, Economics, Visual Art, Heritage Studies, Culture, Religion and African Studies.
A famous critic, Matthew Arnold, once said: “More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us.
Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry.
There is not a creed which is not shaken, not an accredited dogma which is not shown to be questionable, not a received tradition which does not threaten to dissolve.”
Dr Mahoso’s pioneering scholarship is no ordinary feat. Footprints About the Bantustan is a gateway to the understanding, rationalisation and re-reconciliation of African and socialist ideals made impotent by Western hegemony and capitalism.
An absorbing read from a gifted and brilliant mind!
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher.
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