Category Archives: History

Remembering S.E.K Mqhayi, Imbongi ye Sizwe

S.E.K. Mqhayi
Known more commonly as S.E.K. Mqhayi, Samuel Edward Krune Loliwe Ngxekengxeke Mqhayi died July 29, 1945. Mqhayi was a Xhosa dramatist, essayist, critic, novelist, historian, biographer, translator and poet whose works are regarded as instrumental in standardising the grammar of isiXhosa and preserving the language in the 20th century. Xhosa is an ethnic group of people of Southern Africa mainly found in the Eastern and Western Cape, South Africa.

Among those who revered Mqhayi’s poetry was Nelson Mandela, who described him as the “poet laureate of the African people.” Mandela was proud that he had not only seen twice in person, but had on one occasion, heard Mqhayi recite his poetry.

Mqhayi’s addition of seven stanzas to “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, which was originally written by Enoch Sontonga in 1927, was adopted by several African states as their national anthem including South Africa, Namibia and Zambia.

Sinking of the SS MendiIn reading translations of some of Mqhayi’s work, I found “The Sinking of Mendi” a 1943 poem about the sinking of the SS Mendi during World War I after a collision which resulted in the deaths of 646 men. The dead were predominantly black South African troops from the 5th Battalion of the South African Native Labour Corps on their way to serve in France. Most had never seen the sea before this voyage, and very few could swim.

According to Alan Straton’s article ‘The Cold Sea: Mendi Poems’, “S.E.K Mqhayi who was the Imbongi ye Sizwe (National Bard) of the Xhosa people at the time of the First World War felt deeply about the disaster as he had played a formative role in the recruitment campaign through a poem that he wrote calling men to arms titled, ‘The Black Army’.” Mqhayi intended to keep the “memory of this event alive in the oral narrative of the Xhosa communities in the Eastern Cape during the Apartheid years when black historical events were written out of the history books.”

Oral histories passed down from survivors and witnesses tell that the men trapped aboard the ship as it listed and sank into the fog covered sea were calmed by the words of Isaac Williams Wauchope, an interpreter and former minister, who called out to them:

“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen. What is happening now is what you came to do…you are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers…Swazis, Pondos, Basotho…so let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war-cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies.”

The captain of the boat that collided with the Mendi, which sailed away rather than offer aid to survivors, was later found to have been operating recklessly in the thick fog. As he was responsible for the deaths of 646 men, his license was revoked for one year.

Mqhayi also wrote to lament the westernization of Africa as he lived through the culmination and collapse of European colonization of the continent.

“Human movement in search of land grabbing land from chiefs.

Using the word of God as a tool

and instrument to rule kings and nations.

An education so inferior became an institution to prepare slaves

for new masters.”

He saw that the education the missionary schools provided was meant to erase his people’s history and prepare them only to be subjugated and enslaved by ignorance. He understood the importance of his cultural history and advocated for it though his poetry and prose.

Mqhayi ultimately hoped to inspire his people to future greatness by reminding them of all they have achieved in their cultural history, striving for “students of History to have a critical eye on the events that happened thousands of years ago, have a broader perspective of events around him and get armed for what is to happen tomorrow.”


For more on S.E.K. Mqhayi and the Sinking of the Mendi check out the links below.

https://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/13291/auto/0/SINKING-OF-THE-MENDI

http://mype.co.za/new/the-cold-sea-mendi-poems/88359/2017/06#ixzz5YUpFYJB0

http://museum.za.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=57:sek-mqhayi&catid=25&Itemid=168

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Struggling to Read “Lawrence in Arabia”

War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Unbelievably Boring Start to the Story of How American Business Destroyed the World

Scott Anderson, Lawrence in ArabiaI’m currently listening to Scott Anderson’s “Lawrence in Arabia” through my Libby library audiobook app and it is remarkably unengaging.

I’m struggling. Would it be better to read rather than listen to it? I’m not sure if that would matter much—there is so much history and political maneuvering, so many individuals beyond the principle figures that are constantly being introduced and threaded into the convoluted history of European and American interference in the Middle East on the brink of war that I’m constantly listening to portions again but coming away not at all more sure of what is happening.

T.E. Lawrence At a quarter of the way through it still feels like an introduction. Although, as I write this, Anderson is now touching on the beginnings of the Armenian Genocide, the German spy who’s brother and nephew would both go on to be the first and seventh presidents of Israel, and the scathingly passive aggressive letters Lawrence sent his incredibly abusive mother regarding the death of his youngest brother, who was her favorite child.

So, one hopes I spoke too soon and the threads of crumbling empires at war, religious communities searching for political identities and oil-hungry corporations manipulating them all begin to tighten together into a more engaging narrative.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what else I’ve been reading….

Listening to “Slow Burn”

IMG_8479(1)Chuck Grassley once wore a “Free Lisa Myers” button to pressure NBC in 1999 to air an interview with Juanita Broaddrick about her twenty year old allegations against Bill Clinton. It’s interesting how the search for truth regarding decades old allegations and the standards the Republican Party and their supporters choose to apply can shift so dramatically. Grassley clearly demonstrated his party’s malleable morals with his complete disinterest investigating allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, while Juanita Broaddrick openly discounted Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. But these details about recent events are not the most intriguing moments in the final episode of the second season of ‘Slow Burn.’

Episode 8, “Move On”, was a fascinating and disturbing episode from ‘Slow Burn’, one of the best podcasts around. The first season is about Watergate, the second is on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and you need to go listen to both. They’re both a shocking look into how history repeats itself, especially when those who made that history are still in power and allowed to manipulate the course of society and politics.

The first season of ‘Slow Burn’ focused on Watergate and was shocking in everything that I had never learned went on. I was born a decade after Watergate and only knew the general bullet points; the break-in, the secret tapes, Woodward and Bernstein, looming impeachment, resignation, Roach from ‘Point Break’ wearing a Nixon mask and yelling, “I am not a crook” while the Ex-Presidents rob a bank.

IMG_8481(1)Leon Neyfakh goes much farther beyond that, introducing us to Martha Mitchell and Wright Pattman, as well as the team behind the special prosecutors looking into the whole thing, and ties the events of the 1970s to what is happening today.

But where season one introduced a wealth of previously overlooked or forgotten facts, season two was fascinating in how it rewrote what I thought I knew and how the people involved have been portrayed.

It also demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Republican Party, and probably the Democrats too for that matter, and reinforces the idea that when it comes to politicians and those in power, it’s never about the crime or allegations, and it isn’t about justice for the victim or a platform for truth. It seems instead to come down to whatever is convenient to maintaining their grasp on power, even if it means Chuck Grassley has to hide his Lisa Myers button.

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